Resilience Bites #4 – Control the Controllables

When we see a social media post starting with ‘Good morning inmates’ we know that we are not alone in our sense of frustration with the way our daily lives have changed so dramatically in a few short weeks. 

Rationally we accept that the changes are needed to stop the spread of this virus, but emotionally we are being triggered by a lack of certainty (‘the rules keep changing, when will the restrictions end?’) and a growing sense of loss of control and autonomy.

Looking at the findings from Neuroscience, we start to see why our brains are reacting this way. In 2008, David Rock, founder of the Neuroleadership Institute, published his now famous SCARF® model. In this, he identified 5 core human needs, Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness and Fairness. When these needs are not met, they can send us into what’s called a ‘threat’ state. You can download Rock’s white paper on SCARF here.

Autonomy is having ‘a sense of control over our destiny’ or ‘a perception of control over events’, so it’s easy to see why the current situation is threatening this particular core need.

Our Brain on Lockdown

When our brains go into a threat state, we experience our own form of lockdown. Our ability to think clearly is reduced, our perception narrows, and we can start to see things in terms of black and white, right or wrong. We start to focus on what we feel we can’t control, and this puts us further into a threat reaction.

So what can we do about this?

At BrainSmart we help people using a process called ‘Control the Controllables’ so they can determine the elements of any situation that they have some control over and those that they don’t. They also identify what they can influence and do something about, and whether they can take action or learn to let go.

For example, as individuals we can take back control by ignoring the ‘stay at home’ requests from the Government and be prepared to pay the price, as happened with many over the Easter weekend. The price in this scenario is not just the fine imposed, but the risk of unknowingly spreading COVID-19.

Alternatively, we can regain some control by redirecting frustration about the current loss of freedom and autonomy. We can connect it to other core values such as Fairness – by doing the right thing, we are doing our bit and contributing to society.

We can choose to redirect our energy into what we CAN influence and control, fulfilling at least to some degree our need for autonomy. For example, “I am in complete control of what I can do within the boundaries of my home” (with the exception of having friends around!) or “I can influence how long we stay in self-isolation by doing my bit now. The more people adhere, the sooner we can all be free again”.

In summary

As with many interventions in change and resilience, the first step is building self-awareness. When we become aware that our needs are not being met, being compromised or challenged, we can take a step back and become objectively curious, then access the rational part of our brain to reframe what’s challenging us into a benefit or opportunity, or just learn to make like Elsa from ‘Frozen’ and ‘Let it Go!’.

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