My wife and I had a wonderful lunch on Saturday, just the two of us, at an outdoor Mexican cafe. The sun was bright but not hot. The wind was a soft, cool breeze. Our lunch was one of the most peaceful and relaxing times I can remember, it was perfect.
And then out of the blue, a small car comes roaring off the highway and right in front of the restaurant side swipes another driver then slams on the brakes, makes a sharp turn to the right, and drives off even faster.
A brief, loud, dangerous, completely random moment.
It is not the accident itself that has me thinking, it’s the randomness of it. The driver that was hit, where were they going? What were they hoping to achieve that day? How was their life altered by that single random moment? Most importantly, will this knock them off course? Will it change them and alter the direction in which their lives were headed?
The answer is actually pretty simple: Only if they let it.
A single car accident may not have a great impact on our lives, but what about a random event at work? You have been working day in and day out on your career, you have a goal, you can see it, and then a random event happens that could through you far off course.
The truth is that random events happen in our lives everyday. Some are small, others are huge. There is no way to predict or anticipate them. The only control we have is how we react to them. We cannot control events but we can control our reaction. We are in complete control of what comes next, and therein lies one of the greatest freedoms we will ever know.
“Why is the human need to be in control relevant to a discussion of random patterns? Because if events are random, we are not in control, and if we are in control of events, they are not random, there is therefore a fundamental clash between our need to feel we are in control and our ability to recognize randomness.” – Leonard Mlodinow
Mlodinow is right. We cannot control random events, but with hard work and a whole lot of patience we can control our reaction to the randomness of the world we live in. Try these three steps to take back your control:
1. Slow Everything Down
Nothing can be gained from reacting quickly and impulsively to an event, whether it is a car accident, a breakup, or burning your toast in the morning. Our first in the moment reaction will usually just make the situation worse. Humans are generally not very rational, at least not at first. Think about what your first reaction would be if someone hit your car or you burnt your morning toast. Two very different events. One large, one small. But our first reaction is what? Anger? Depression? How will either of these two help you?
They won’t. Slow everything down, get past the anger and the depression and ask yourself “How can I gain from this?” or at least remind yourself that this is a random event and it will not deter you from your goal.
2. Remind Yourself of Your Goal
When these challenges come you way, and they will, the idea is not to run from them. Do not let them have power over you. Remind yourself of exactly what it is you are looking for in life. Thinking about your goal will help you to recenter your thoughts. Get your thoughts away from the negative emotion of the event and toward the positive action that you can take.
3. Take Action!
When life pushes you sometimes the best thing to do…..is to push back!
After you have taken a pause and let go of any anger or resentment you may have, and after you have reminded yourself of your goal and just what it is you are hoping to achieve, then it becomes time to act.
In this life we can choose to define our goals. We can choose to be slowed by randomness or to not let it stop us. This choice is a willful action, the greatest power we can claim, and the fuel that successful people use to achieve their dreams. Act! Fight back! Or simply put one foot in front of the other. Choose to keep moving and to keep pushing to achieve more.
We cannot control what life throws our way. Man has never had that gift. But what we do have is the unique ability to choose our reaction. Once you give yourself this freedom, you will never look back.