Locus of Control-Use This Skill to Quickly Cope with Anxiety

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I want to share with you a quick activity I do with my clients to help decrease anxiety, and to increase the sense of safety and calm. I use this activity all the time in session with my clients and you can feel a noticeable difference almost immediately. 


So this activity is short and simple, but it can really help decrease anxiety because what it does is help you, clarify what you can and what you can't act on.

Because I mean that's what worry is, right? I mean it's thinking about a problem over and over again to see if there's a different solution or something you should be doing differently. So this activity is all about understanding your locus of control and it's really simple but you can use it with lots of situations. I use it in marriage therapy. 

You can use it with understanding problems with a co-worker or Fears about the future but the important part is that you draw it out on paper because there's something about drawing that helps the brain clarify problems and clear up anxiety better than just thinking about problems. 

So what you're going to do is you're going to start by drawing, two intersecting circles on a piece of paper. Like this. Whoa, those are great circles and write your problem or your question at the top of the page. 

So in this situation, we're going to be using the example of parents who are upset that they have an adult child living at home and that kid is not motivated. So then in this circle, you're gonna label what is in your control.

And on other the circle, you're going to label what's out of your control, and this middle section this where the circles overlap. This is your realm of influence, and we're going to talk about that more later okay.

So let's start with what's out of your control. So these parents they've got an adult child who's living at home and they're frustrated that their kid isn't going to college, doesn't have a job, and doesn't seem motivated and they are really frustrated. 

So they're putting a lot of energy into being upset about her lack of motivation and they keep trying to get her to change. So, if we start with what's out of the parent's control, they can't control whether their child is motivated. They can't control whether she gets a job. 

They can't control whether she goes to college. They can't control if she goes to therapy and they really, they can't control the outcome. They can't control whether in the long run, their child is successful or not. Right. 

Now, what's in their control, they are in control of their own money, they're in control of their own property, right? They can control their house and they can, they can choose if it's an adult child, whether she can be in their house or not, right? 

They can control their boundaries, they can control what they say, and they can control what they do. They can control, what skills they learn. Like if they learn parenting skills, specifically parenting skills for working with young adults.

 And they can control what they teach and how they teach. Now, let's talk about this realm of influence, right? So we, there are some things we can do that are going to influence other people's actions but don't control other people's.

 So there are a lot of ways to influence and I'm going to list some of them, not all these are the best ways of doing it. But I'm just gonna give you some ideas of what influence looks like, right? 

So influence can be, explaining Influence can be requesting. Like making a request. Will you please do this, right? Influence can be begging or pleading. Influence can be setting boundaries. That’s one of my favorites, so for example, if you don't get a job by next month, then you may not live here or if you would like to live here; these are the expectations, right?

 So these are examples of how we can influence other people and these things are going to influence the outcome, but they still don't control the outcome.

 So when I work with these parents, I'm gonna encourage them to stop putting their energy into this area, that's not in their control, right? Trying to change their child, trying to control the outcome for their child. And instead, I'm gonna encourage them to put as much of their energy as possible into their influence and into their realm of control, right? 

So instead of focusing on changing their child, they're going to focus on setting boundaries and what they say and do and how they set examples and skills and teach and things like that.

And this is all about putting your efforts into the process instead of the outcome, right? So, the process is this process of influence, of, the teaching of trying to change or trying to be a better person.

 And that means engaging, your efforts, and actions into things you can do now and into the things that are going to be most helpful. So, for example, begging and requesting might not be as helpful, but boundaries might be.

 Now we can also use this for pretty much any kind of stressful thing that's in our life. So for example you could use it with 2020 you know coronavirus pandemic right? 

And just really quickly. We're gonna talk about what that would look like. Okay, so what's in my control? I can inform myself. I can choose whether to wear a mask. I can choose what level of social distancing I'm going to do or not do. I can choose what I'm going to do to support my local healthcare workers or other essential workers.

I can also choose to improve my own health, right? I can choose to exercise and I can choose to eat healthily and you know, have good nutrition and things like that right. And what’s out of my control.

Other People's Actions- I can't control others' actions, I can’t whether their social distance, I can't control whether they wear masks. I can't control whether those masks cover their noses. I can't control some risk factors like risk, age. Or other, you know, factors and I can't control the government what the government chooses, right? 

I can't control whether my state has a mask mandate or not, but I can influence that by voting, I can influence that by talking with people. I can influence that by how I use social media whether I use that for good or evil.

 How I contribute to the public discourse is really my influence on that and then also the example, I said, Okay, so that's one way we can apply this cycle to what's going on with the covid-19 pandemic. So what this diagram is really about is about, where am I going to put my energy and where am I going to put my focus right? 

So am I gonna spend a lot of time getting upset about what other people are doing and what are their masks cover, their nose holes. Am I going to put a ton of energy into complaining about other people or being upset about other people's choices? 

Or am I gonna put my energy and my focus into this process? This process of dialogue or this process of improving, myself and learning new skills. Or this process of, you know, taking care of what's in my realm of control. 

And, often the best thing you can do is focus on the process, right? So with those parents of that, you know, the girl who won't leave home. They should be focusing on their process of setting boundaries having conversations and developing skills. Instead of just hyper-focusing on the outcome that they want, right? Her being a successful, independent adult. 

And the same thing goes with, you know, our response to the coronavirus pandemic. Are we going to focus on what other people are doing and what drives us crazy about what they're doing? Or the things that are out of our control, right? 

We can't control the case count and the number of deaths directly. We can most directly impact the people around us by choosing what level of social distancing, we're going to do. 

And whether or not to wear a mask and to wash your hands a lot. When you take the time to clarify, your role to make it really concrete, what you can change and what you can't change, then you're able to let go of that stupid anxious uncertainty, that's all about not being sure of what you should be doing.

 Anyways, I hope this activity was helpful. Thank you for reading.




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