Master the Uncontrollable

dangerMy nephew and his wife recently moved into my neighborhood.  I was thrilled when they asked me to watch their 2 year old daughter, Mirah, for a few hours.  Let me explain –it’s been many moons since I’ve watched a toddler, but I was looking forward to it.  How hard could it be, I thought.  She hadn’t spent much time with me, and I was a little anxious about the initial mommy withdrawal.  Both her mom and I were pleasantly surprised as she walked in and immediately pointed to her painted toenails followed by a huge grin held open by her fingers.  She was anxious to display her attributes! 

We were having a great time keeping busy with kid things – running, reading, eating, etc.  After an hour and a half (but who’s counting), I noticed little Mirah scrunch down and make that face that tells you something’s just happened in the diaper department.  She immediately ran upstairs to see the deck with me trailing behind.  (Prior to the ‘Big Scrunch’ we were on our way to look at the flowers on my deck. I was groping for entertainment ideas.)  When I sat right behind her, I knew unequivocally that there was a gift in those pants.  I asked “Mirah, did you poop?”  She shook her head. (In her defense, it turns out that the word ‘poop’ wasn’t a word she knew.)  I now had to go to the place I dreaded.  “Do you want me to change your diapers?”  “No, I don’t” she adamantly replied.  When I asked her why, she responded “because it might be dangerous.”  Man, truer words were never spoken!   Let me say that anyone within a 100 yard radius would agree that she packed danger in those pants!   

Gratefully, her mom came minutes after our encounter.   As she was doing the dirty diaper change, I shared Mirah’s ‘dangerous’ response.  She laughed and explained they had been working on what is dangerous and what isn’t around the house.  Clever girl, she’d taken a new concept she was learning and applied it to a situation she could work to her advantage.  Now, that’s adaptability! 

How do you get out of a tight situation?  Do you retreat to what you’ve always done or are you willing to be adaptable?  Below are some points to consider … 

We react to situations in the same way we always have because it’s familiar — even if familiar is unpleasant and doesn’t work. Somehow from those reactions, we abdicate our real control.  If you want to maintain control of your career and life, you must first see yourself as having choices — which leads to adaptability and new outcomes.   Can you recall a time recently when you felt trapped or cornered at work?  Maybe you took on a demanding project because you didn’t want to disappoint your boss or coworkers even though your schedule was slammed.  After all, you tell yourself  if you do it, it will be done right!   Or, perhaps you have been putting off dealing with an employee who continuously comes to work late because you don’t want to confront her. You tell yourself she won’t change so why bother.  Basically, you leave yourself stuck when you react with only familiar and often self-destructive behavior.

This leads to perpetuating what psychologists call learned helplessness.

To change the outcome, start by recognizing that we have to let go of default thinking that says you can’t really change the outcome  of a challenging problem or situation.  Our task then is to first change our belief that a situation is unchangeable; then we can  adopt what is known as a mastery approach.  

 A mastery approach says we have more control over our situation than we give ourselves credit for.  This is not wishful thinking.  Try this new concept on for size – Write the following on a 3×5 card and pin it up where you can see it — “There is always something more I can do to improve my situation.”  Now your internal dialogue changes from “I can’t do anything about this,” to “What one new idea or step can I take now that I haven’t tried before?”  Then one new idea leads to two or three more.  

Little Mirah showed what’s possible if you try something new in a situation where you ordinarily wouldn’t have much control.  If you believe you have no choice, you are right.  If you believe you have a choice, you are also right.


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