by Stuart Simons

When I start to think about control, so many things spring to mind that it’s quite hard to know where to start. It’s such an innocent word but creates havoc all the same. ‘You’re out of control’, ‘can’t you control your dog?’ ‘that behaviour is so controlling’, ‘I’m frightened I might lose control’. We hear these phrases every day and brush them off but when you look deeper in to the meaning of the word, there are so many problems that arise. 

A good dog owner will have control of their dog all of the time. Kind training and perseverance are necessary to achieve control of a completely different species. There are loads of things to consider when being in control of a pet but the most important thing is to remember the genetics. A dog bred from the Terrier group of dogs will have a seek and destroy instinct. They are what I like to call high alert dogs. Always on the look out for the next thing to alert their owner to. They are, for the most part, brave soldiers that are not afraid of new environments. My mum had a Wheaten Terrier crossed with a Miniature Schnauzer who would make a break for the outside world given the first opportunity. As soon as the front door was open, he took his chance. Control in that case was to simply make sure that he was safely in another room when the front door was opened. In complete contrast, my mum now has a Shih-Tzu who has absolutely no interest in the outside world, is happy to stay snuggled up with my mum in the warmth. If someone comes in to the house, she growls and snarls if they get too close to my mum. So now who is in control? Obviously these things can get better with training but they highlight the need for control and that it isn’t just a human problem. 

I’m afraid of flying. I do it, I have travelled all over the world for work and for pleasure but simply can’t shake the fear. Putting myself in the control of the pilot is a huge ask for me. Once i’m more than 6ft off the ground I know that there is very little chance of me being able to save myself. The fear of flying is nothing to do with physics. If I was to really look in to the way an aircraft is made and what they can withstand I would probably be sold on the fact that flying is the safest form of transport. No, it’s not the aircraft that gives me the willies, It’s the complete lack of control and not being in the cockpit myself (not that I have any clue about how to fly). Thinking about it, maybe i’m actually not scared of the actual flying? A few years ago I was visiting Spain. I have a little flat in Alicante and a few friends were taking a trip up some mountains to see ‘The Guns’ at the top. It’s quite a well known tourist attraction. We all bundled in to our friends Jeep and started the journey to ‘The Guns’. The road is completely fine for most of the journey, right up until you get quite high up the mountain. The road starts to get narrow and the side is next to a sheer drop. Reflecting on this, the feeling I got on that mountainous road was the same feeling I get when i’m at 36,000ft and going through a touch of turbulence. It’s fear. Fear that the person in control is actually out of control. Fear that they aren’t placing as much importance on that control as I would in their shoes. Half way up that mountain, I asked the driver to pull over and allow me to get out and walk the rest of the way. He obliged without complaint. I think he understood my thought process. I was exhausted but safe and happy.

The difference in both these journeys is clear to me, one I could do something about and the other one I couldn’t. The importance of telling the story of these two situations is to highlight things that we should consider when dealing with control.

For the most part, we have control of everything that goes on personally within our own lives. I didn’t have to get on the plane at all. I didn’t have to get in the car at all. For me, the difference is that I can stop the car and use my control to decide whether to stay a passenger or walk the rest of the way. You can’t do that on an aeroplane. 

Now let’s forget the vehicle analogy and look at relationships and friendships. I love my friends. I give them as much of my time as I can. I like to think i’m a good friend. In the past few years I have realised that my friendship comes with boundaries. I’m not sure whether my values have become more important to me as I have grown older or whether my boundaries are getting a little larger but they are certainly present and can change the way I think about someone. In the same vein, I have realised that I have no control over what someone thinks about me. I can plead and beg for someone to be a friend to me but in reality, once they have checked out, they have decided that my friendship isn’t important to them. maybe because of their boundaries and values. That is absolutely their right. That is within their control. It can be upsetting and come as a shock. Different things are important to different people and the reality is that sometimes things are too important to one person to continue a friendship. It’s a sad lesson but a true one. The important thing to remember is to not let yourself down. You are allowed to be you and have the values and thoughts that you have. Your opinions are as valid as the next mans. You can control you and you can be true to yourself. 

So what am I getting at with this article. I know, it’s taking me a long time to get to the point. 

The point really is about being present in your thoughts and understanding the difference of what you can control vs what you can’t. 

When you step foot on a plane, you have signed a contract with yourself to put your welfare in to someone else’s hands for the duration of the flight. The money you have paid is to a company that promises to keep you as safe as is possible whilst in their care. So if you want to travel and are not a pilot, you should do exactly what the crew say. Sit back, relax and enjoy the flight. You are powerless and out of control so why worry about it? Remember, for most of your childhood your welfare was placed in someone else’s hands and you survived. If someone has decided they don’t want to be your friend anymore, then it’s on them. You have integrity, you have an opinion and you can’t control other peoples thoughts. Make sure you control yourself before trying to control other people. Trying to control other people only ends in sadness and disappointment. Of course, we all want to continue our friendships and respect each others opinions but it’s a two way street and the other person may not be prepared to. That is out of your control. 

Deciding on what is within our control and what isn’t is actually quite easy once you get going. It has been a really important lesson to me over the past few years. I find meditation really helps me overcome my anxieties when it comes to control. 

Life is a ride. The biggest lesson I have ever been taught was to distinguish what I can control and act on it and extinguish what I can’t and simply ignore it. Worrying about what is out of your control doesn’t make it any more controllable.

Our mental health is so important in these challenging times so concentrate on what you can do and don’t worry about what you can’t.