Modest Control

The degree to which we feel we’re in control of a situation can influence the way we feel about that situation.

This is often true superficially, in the sense that it can be comforting to have our hands on the wheel compared to careening through unfamiliar terrain while in the passenger seat. But research has also shown that our sense of control can influence everything from our self-reported levels of happiness, to our degrees of depression, to our lifespans.

More control over our lives is positively correlated with a slew of beneficial physical and psychological outcomes.

Interestingly, this seems to be the case even when our perception of control is only perception: when our sense of control is all in our heads.

This has been on my mind quite a lot, recently, as the world is awash with unknowns, and such ambiguity can catalyze a sense of helplessness even in people who typically feel like they’re on firm footing.

I can’t change the fact that I have no idea what will happen next, how safe or unsafe my loved ones and I might be, and whether or not I’ll be economically secure in the future. There are too many variables at play, and though there are things I can do to improve my chances on a personal and local scale, nothing is certain, and the scope of the current batch of world-spanning problems put them beyond my practical dominion.

What I can control, though, is how I decide to respond to these uncertainties.

I can decide, for instance, that to the best of my ability, I will eat well, exercise, and maintain my psychological equilibrium.

I can decide—again, to the best of my ability within a context at least partially shaped by forces outside my control—to use this time to grow and develop productive habits. At the barest minimum, I can attempt to avoid stifling my curiosity, succumbing to intellectual passivity, and developing negative habits.

Everyone’s ceilings and floors will be different in this regard, and for some, simply maintaining a neutral sense of okay-ness will be a heroic, impressive outcome, given their circumstances.

For others, learning new skills, building new relationships, dreaming new dreams may be both prudent and attainable, with focus and effort.

In both of these cases, and for all other points on the possibility spectrum, we can achieve a sense of control, even within a vortex of unknowns, by determining what powers we possess and focusing on how we will choose to wield them.

Simple, small things are enough. Modest control, intentionally applied.

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