How To Create A Fulfilling Life In A World Where You Have Little Control

Life’s a whole lot more enjoyable and fulfilling when we’re not all worked up and stressed out. Can you agree with me on that?

Saturday evening I was rushing (read: full out sprinting) through the crowded streets of New York City to catch the 9:57 train home to New Jersey and unfortunately arrived at 9:59 to learn that train wasn’t waiting for anyone. My initial thought was no big deal, I’ll catch the 10:15 train. But then, rather than the track number coming up on the screen when it arrived to the station, the word “cancelled” appeared…and the next train wasn’t coming until 11:00.

Some initial “poor-me-ness” and hangry fueled frustration came rushing in, but after confirming there was, in fact, absolutely nothing I could do besides wait for the next train, I got a snack and relaxed until it arrived.

That’s not how I would have always handled that situation though, and it’s not how most did.

As I sat looking out the train window, eavesdropping in on the many conversations going on around me — listening to people express their frustration and inability to understand how they could just “cancel a train like that” to their significant others and friends — I was reminded of a large source of human suffering.

Most of us are raging control freaks living in a world where we don’t have much control over what happens to or around us.

We are constantly trying to micromanage our external environment to perfectly suit our needs and we’re quick to throw full out temper tantrums when the world doesn’t conform.

We form these elaborate fantasies and expectations about how things “should” be and are somehow totally and utterly shocked when we don’t get our way.

So what’s the solution here? How can we stop this frustration that comes in and robs us of our inner peace and fulfillment each time the world doesn’t reflect our idea of utopia?

I know what you’re thinking…we just need to curb our control-freakness. And in a way, yes.

But more so…

We need to shift where we direct all that controlling energy.

While there is little we can control in the external world, there are a few things we have full control of in our internal world. Most of us just never put any focus on them.

These things are called our perceptions, decisions, and actions.

Yep. That’s it. That’s all you can control. And all you’re truly responsible for.

But tell me, when was the last time you micromanaged your thoughts like you try to micromanage your boyfriends behaviors? And when was the last time you threw a temper tantrum about the action you decided to take rather than the outcome it gave you?

I’ve spent a great deal of time worked up and stressed out about things that were entirely out of my control. I’ve spent hours fighting and pushing to get things to go my way. And complaining when they didn’t. But none of that brought me the inner peace and fulfillment I deeply desired.

In fact, it wasn’t until I let go of the death grip I was trying to have on my external world and shifted that energy inwards that I finally experienced how fulfilling and fun life could be — even when it inevitably didn’t go my way.

So, how does one practically go about releasing that death grip?

There’s three simple steps I take myself through when shit hits the fan, my train gets cancelled, my car breaks down, it rains on the day I planned to hit up the beach, and life starts throwing all the lemons my way.

You could say, this is my recipe for making some spiked, CBD infused, chill the F out lemonade out of those lemons:

1. Acceptance

What got me past those initial bouts of frustration when I first found out my train was canceled was taking a moment to assess what was within my realm of control and what was not.

The fact that the train had been canceled and another one wasn’t coming for an hour didn’t fall into the category of things I can control.

But how I handled and related to that experience did.

Once we identify a situation as something we can’t change, we are left with two options: accept it or complain about it.

I’ve done a lot of research on what it takes to create a fulfilling life and I haven’t come across anything that included complaining as part of the protocol.

If “nothing” is the only answer you can come up with when you ask “whatchya gonna do about it?” choose acceptance over complaining. It is what it is. No amount of frustration, complaining, or anger is going to change that. It’s only going to change the experience you have.

2. Peace

After you accept the situation for what it is, it’s time to find peace in it.

I strongly believe everything is happening for us rather than to us and that we are always exactly where we’re supposed to be.

I wasn’t meant to be on that 9:57 train. I’m not sure why and I may never know.

Maybe I would have gotten in an accident driving home if I were on the road at a different time. Maybe I needed this event to give me the inspiration to share this process with you. Maybe this was given to me as an opportunity to practice more patience.

Knowing the reason and searching for the hidden blessings isn’t the point, though. Sometimes they take years to appear. Sometimes they never make it to our awareness.

But this principle of things happening for us rather than to us is always present. Find peace in the less than desirable situations by reminding yourself that if things were supposed to be different, they would be.

3. Gratitude

I’ve yet to find a problem more gratitude can’t help with.

Sure, my train got canceled. But at least I had money to buy a snack while I waited. And it gave me more time to listen to my book. And I had a safe car to drive home in from the train station. And I was only in NYC because I spent the afternoon with some of my favorite people. And, oh yeah, I’m alive, breathing and healthy, which is always enough.

Essentially, what we focus on grows. When we focus on the problems and what’s not going our way, they seem bigger than they are. Reminding yourself of all there is to be grateful for is the fastest and simplest way to gain some perspective on the set back and realize how small it is relative to how much there still is to be grateful for.

It’s freaking amazing and beautiful when things go just how we planned or expected them to — when you arrive at the train station at 9:59 to find the 9:57 train still sitting there. But, those moments can be few and far between.

And if we allow our fulfillment, happiness, inner peace, and love for life to only shine through on those moments, we’d be setting our selves up for a pretty miserable and frustrated existance.

So, next time life cancels your train, rather than breaking down in tears in Penn Station and cursing out the lady at the ticket window (yes, I actually witnessed a grown adult do this), reach for your inner tools of acceptance, peace, and gratitude.

If you make that a regular practice, I guarantee you’ll have a much more fulfilling and enjoyable experience on the rock!

About the author
Lessons to help you create a fulfilling and purpose-driven life! Follow Sam on Instagram or read more articles from Sam on Thought Catalog.

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