AREA of Control

Acknowledging and using your AREA of Control is a large part of developing basic life skills. Learning to take charge of your actions, reactions, emotions and attitude makes developing other skills much easier.

In life we sometimes feel we have absolutely no control over a particular situation. And in some cases, feelings of helplessness can turn into feelings of hopelessness that result in a desire to completely give up trying to change or improve our situation.

The good news is you always have some control over any situation – if you focus on your AREA of Control. Although your AREA of Control cannot guarantee the outcome you want, it can help you better understand each situation and know that you did your best to handle it.

Keep in mind, however, that every person - with the exception perhaps of the very young, very old or mentally challenged - has his or her own AREA of Control. Therefore, you have limits – or boundaries – when interacting with most people. You can try to influence or persuade others, but you cannot ultimately control the thoughts, feelings and actions of others.

This is why it is important to focus only on the things you can control - your actions, your reactions, your emotions and your attitude. This can be a great source of personal empowerment because you will then be able to control at least some of every interaction and build a more successful future.

Leave the actions, reactions, emotions and attitudes of others to others. Other people have a personal responsibility for their AREA of Control, not you. Believing this can also help you avoid overwhelming feelings of guilt, anger or inadequacy when a grown child, spouse, boss, co-worker, friend, family member or anyone else doesn’t think or act according to what you believe is best. If you’ve made mistakes acknowledge them, learn from them and move on. You cannot change the past, but you can improve the future.


Controlling Your AREA

ACTIONS - The First Section in Your AREA of Control

In every situation, you decide what action you will take. Others may try to influence or persuade, but you make the final decision. In determining your action, take some time to think and consider various options along with the consequences of those options. Deciding what action to take can be helped by developing good problem-solving strategies.

REACTIONS - The Second Section in Your AREA of Control

In every situation, you decide how you will react to a particular person, place or thing. Again, taking time to think - even if it is just a few minutes – can result in a clearer and calmer reaction. Try to avoid haste and emotion, and don’t allow other people to “push your buttons.” Skills that can help choose the best reaction include conflict management and stress management.

EMOTIONS - The Third Section in Your AREA of Control

This may be the hardest section of our AREA to control. Human beings are emotional creatures – some of us more than others. Therefore, controlling our emotions 100% of the time is not only impossible, but doing so would make us seem more like robots. Learning to avoid emotional extremes at inappropriate times, however, is very important in having some control over any given situation. Thinking is very important in controlling each section of the AREA, and extreme emotions make that all but impossible. You have to be calm – at least somewhat - to be able to think.

“No one can make you feel inferior without your permission.” This is a powerful – and empowering – statement attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt. It is powerful because permission can’t be given unless you have ownership or control. And it is empowering because you decide whether or not you will grant that permission.

You decide whether or not you will feel inferior, angry, stressed, bitter or happy – not other people. (As mentioned before, others may try to influence or persuade, but we decide how we feel. Don’t let others “push” your buttons.)

You also decide to what degree you will feel these emotions. Everyone gets angry from time to time. But is it really worth it to get so mad that your head hurts, your blood pressure rises and you have a stroke? Coping skills such as conflict resolution and stress management can help keep extreme emotions in check.

ATTITUDE - The Fourth Section in Your AREA of Control

In every situation, you control your attitude. It would be great to have a genuinely positive attitude in every situation, but obviously that is not possible. Everyone has down days. And on these days in particular it is important to take control.

Sometimes acting positive can result in feeling positive. People react to what they see. Generally speaking, positive people attract positive people while negative people attract negative people. Acting may sound phony to some people, but in reality it is an attempt to overcome negative feelings rather than dwell in them.

An example might be someone who has a terrible time on his or her way to work – a flat tire, a speeding ticket, no open parking spaces, spilled coffee. This person can walk into the workplace miserable and take his or her negative feeling out on everyone, or he or she can try to leave non-work-related problems outside the workplace. A good day at work might even help lessen the aggravation felt earlier in the day. A similar scenario could be someone who has a terrible day at work and chooses the attitude he or she will show when arriving home.

In situations where a positive attitude is just too much to ask, consider having a neutral attitude instead of a negative one. With a neutral attitude at least you are open to the possibility that you might get something out of it. Examples of these situations might be going to a meeting, class, or lecture you feel is a waste of time; having to talk to people you don’t like, going to family or work-related events you are forced to attend. If you are determined to have a negative attitude, you will find negativity in everything. If you try to be neutral, a positive thought might just slip in.


Tips for Developing and Maintaining a Positive Attitude

• Avoid negative people, places and situations, when possible – especially when you are feeling down yourself. It’s one thing to feel you can help a negative person. But if you feel you are being pulled into his or her negativity, leave the situation or at least set boundaries for interacting with that person.

• Avoid self-putdowns. We are our own worst critics. Work on building a healthy self-esteem.

• Be aware of perception – sometimes we see only what we want to see. Don’t automatically assign negative meanings to the actions of others.

• Allow for mistakes and setbacks – yours and others. No one is perfect, so they are going to happen. Learn from them and move on.

• Laugh. Watch or participate in things that are funny; be around people who make you laugh out loud. It will ease stress and lower blood pressure, making it possible to be more positive.