Published on March 16, 2021

How to Control the Uncontrollable In Life

How to Control the Uncontrollable In Life

A lot can change in a year, can’t it?

Could we have guessed how out of control life could feel?

Looking back, do you wish you’d appreciated your life more or wish you’d taken a different path?

The pandemic has attacked every part of what it means to be human. A WHO study showed that the pandemic has disrupted or stopped critical mental health services in 93% of countries worldwide while the demand for support increases.[1]

With a long road ahead, we need to fill our heads with good stuff to support us (not the endless bad news and devastation that stand to monopolise our lives).

On top of the global deaths, financial stress and isolation, the coronavirus has caused a surge of divorces in the United States, China, Britain and Sweden.[2]

Even before the pandemic, mental health issues were a massive drain on the world economy costing $1 trillion each year in lost productivity.[3]

So, when you face something that’s out of your control, what can you do?

1. Understand that you could be suffering from a lack of control and not knowing what it’s doing to you.

If you experience any of the following, a lack of control could be impacting your personal and professional life, your happiness and even your success.

  • A need to gossip and find out what everyone else is thinking.
  • Reduced productivity at work or at home (or both.)
  • Unable to drop a subject or walk away from a discussion/argument.
  • Overworking and burnout.
  • Micromanagement.
  • Illness – physical and mental.
  • Exhaustion.
  • A feeling of Them and Us mentality – “People don’t get it!”
  • Defeatism.
  • Lack of creativity.
  • A lack of interest in hobbies and chores.
  • Feeling angry and resentful.
  • Stress.

These are just some of the things that a lack of control can do to you.

2. Ask yourself: Is it really true?

Start with you and what you think. It’s not an easy thesis to appreciate or accept, however, the way you see the world, shapes your world. So if you feel like you’ve no control, then that is the way the world will be.

Look around you, everything you can see started as a thought in a human’s head. That screen you look at, the shape, color, design were conscious decisions people made.


It’s hard to see the connection between what we think and what we get. If you’ve read my books, you will have read about negative spirals (and positive ones).

Take a moment to think about something that upsets you, that feels totally uncontrollable. Use the pandemic as your example – or something personal to you)

Now create a spiral like this one:

    For each bubble, write a feeling, an emotion, an action, or result. There is no set pattern to this. Write what feels natural to you.

    Notice how there is an arrow after the last bubble?

    That’s because unchecked a negative spiral can spiral out of control, keeping you trapped, feeling bad and getting poor results.

    We can’t magically make the issue disappear, but we can control how we feel about it.

    You don’t need to know how you will do this, but acknowledging how you see the world and what it does to you physically, emotionally and mentally, you can then decide “I’d like something better than this!”

    3. Create a mental health tool kit.

    I recommend people create a mental health tool kit.[4]

    For me, I like learning, so to boost my own, I’ve learned a new practice: Dialectical behavior therapy.[5] In DBT, you learn the first thing to do when things are too much for you is to R.E.S.T – relax, evaluate, set an intention and take action.
    Work out something that makes you stop in your tracks. Maybe it’s a song, playing hide and seek with the dog, mediation or something else. What might it be? Something where you stop thinking.

    It’s difficult to alter what you do if you are entrenched in what life looks like, so take a moment for you. You don’t need to sit on a mountain cross legged saying “Om” to find a minute of inner peace.


    4. Challenge what you know to be true.

    Working from home has featured in many coaching sessions often with clients stating there’s “Nothing I can do about this” or (my pet hate) “It is the way it is.” When I hear this statement, I know that this is often the root cause of why people are experiencing issues and suffering.

    You need to challenge what you believe to be true. Statements like:

    • I must work that many hours to get it all done.
    • Everyone is stressed out, there’s nothing that we can do about it.
    • It will be better when the pandemic is over – we’ve just got to put up with it.

    These are signs that you need to challenge what you believe.

    You don’t try to stop the sun from rising, why? Because you know it to be out of your control.

    Do you try to get out of the way of a stampeding bull? Yes, but why? Because you believe you have control.

    These are obvious examples but it’s not always obvious. In life, the statements that take away your control are likely to be more subtle and are the statements that no one pays attention to. So, learn to!

    5. Remind yourself there’s another way.

    To change what you get, you must change what you think. So before you get to the next strategy, what do you need to be true What do you need to believe?

    This is called reframing. The ability to find potential in the harshest of situations. It takes practice but if you persevere, you can find something good in anything and it will help you have more control of your thoughts. More control of your thoughts leads to better thoughts and better actions and results.

    For instance:

    • I miss going out – becomes – I’ve saved so much money.
    • I miss working in the office – becomes – I don’t miss that commute and I adore having hugs from the children/partner/dog/cat in between meetings.
    • I feel isolated – becomes – I am learning to appreciate my own company and the person I am.

    At this stage, you don’t need to believe it is true, you just need to be able to reword your thoughts.

    6. Let’s go on holiday!

    This is a strategy that is a powerful way to honor the person you are and not try and make changes in life by copying others. That approach doesn’t always work because you are unique.

    Imagine I was taking you on holiday in 5 hours time. All paid, anywhere in the world you like, no pandemic, just fun, relaxation, excitement, adventure; whatever defines your perfect holiday we leave in 5 hours time. What do you do now?


      For some, they tell me they’d panic “I can’t be ready in 5 hours time!” others would say “I’ve got my credit card and passport let’s go!”

      What is your natural response?

      Honor that.

      Whether you’re a list writer – go for it and worry about it later, or get everyone involved and plan kind of person. Think what process you would use.

      Use this information to help you understand what you need to do to be able to make a difference to how you feel.

      When you get stuck as often happens when an issue is too close to us, consider something you excel at, and how you migrate those skills. This is a strategy I teach, because the more you can understand about your natural way of handling life, the better the results you can achieve.[6]

      7. Turn your brain around.

      Remember that as you create solutions to the way you think and what actions you will take, your brain is going to prove you right regardless. If you say 1 + 1, your brain proudly jumps in with 2!

      The disadvantage of this is that it stops you from finding new better ways of working since your brain wants to keep you safe – believing you’ve done all you can and there’s nothing more that can be done.

      Imagine you had a magic wand that can fix the uncontrollable in any way with no restriction on cost, time and skill, what would you do?

      Ask yourself questions like:

      • “And what would that give you?”
      • “And why would you benefit from that?”
      • “And what would that lead to?”

      A great example of this in action was someone struggling with working from home. Working longer hours, they were exhausted and felt like quitting. Eating poorly and helping the children with their homework was the final straw.


      They felt like they had no life and couldn’t see it changing. They held on firmly to the belief that they had to wait for the pandemic to go to have “their life back”. This took all their control away and ensured they would be stuck for an exceedingly long time.

      Using this process, they joked they’d have a housekeeper, a nanny, a therapist on hand for massages and a chef. Their bank balance wasn’t suddenly the size of the rich and famous so this wasn’t an option. However, it enabled them to see that in their life they were making all the sacrifices and no one else’s life had altered!

      What madness to assume you have to do it all? They started asking for help and getting the family involved. And now they work a lot less hours and even manage to stay awake in the evenings to watch a film or read a book, which leads us onto the next point.

      8. Share your goals.

      If you’ve had enough of a situation, trying to fix it on your own will always be harder. We’ve all heard the saying a problem shared is a problem halved. The process of talking about something helps bring it to the front of our mind and work out what we want instead.

      So tell people what you need and ask for help.

      By now, you can see that control is not always about control but your perception of it. When you bring everyone together to a common goal that they feel invested in, they are more likely to persevere and keep going for each other. So don’t be shy to say:

      • On Thursdays, I need 2 hours to myself to work on yoga/gardening/me time.
      • I need everyone to choose a night when they will cook.
      • I need you to help me with this once a week so that I don’t end up doing too much and exhausted, unable to find the time to recharge before the working week.

      These aren’t always comfortable conversations, but they help restore a sense of control if boundaries are respected and enforced. Enforced sounds like a harsh word, however, to restore a sense of control in any environment, everyone needs to create the rules and lives by them.

      A team of researchers from the University of Illinois studied occupational stress and well-being, those who have greater “boundary control” over their work and personal lives were better at creating a stress buffer that helped protect them from falling into a negative-rumination trap.[7]

      After a few weeks of questioning if the boundaries are working, don’t be frightened to go through the process again and see what’s working and what needs to alter.

      Bottom Line

      Lastly, remember nothing stays the same.

      This golden nugget is essential knowledge we all need when we lack control. Good or bad, everything changes.

      More Tips on Taking Charge of Life

      Featured photo credit: Riccardo Mion via



      More by this author

      Mandie Holgate

      International Coach, Best Selling Author & Speaker inspiring people around the world to success.

      50 Words of Encouragement for Moving Forward 7 Types Of Emotional Baggage And How To Deal With Them How to Control the Uncontrollable In Life 6 Types of Fear of Success (And How to Overcome Them) Self Awareness Is Underrated: Why the Conscious Mind Leads to Happiness

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      Last Updated on October 7, 2021

      How to Make a Change With the Four Quadrants of Change

      How to Make a Change With the Four Quadrants of Change

      Quitting smoking is the easiest thing in the world. Some people quit smoking a thousand times in their lives! Everyone knows someone with this mindset.

      But this type of change is superficial. It doesn’t last. For real, lasting change to take place, we need to consider the quadrants of change.

      Real change, the change that is fundamental, consistent, and longitudinal (lasting over time) has to happen in four quadrants of your life.

      It doesn’t have to be quitting smoking; it can be any habit you want to break — drinking, biting your nails, overeating, playing video games, shopping, and more.

      Most experts focus on only one area of change, some focus on two areas, but almost none focus on all four quadrants of change. That’s why much of change management fails.

      Whether it is in the personal life of a single individual through actions and habits, or in a corporate environment, regarding the way they conduct their business, current change management strategies are lacking.

      It all stems from ignoring at least one part of the equation.

      So, today, we will cover all four quadrants of change and learn the formula for how to change fundamentally and never go back to your “old self.”

      A word of warning: this is simple to do, but it’s not easy. Anyone who tells you that change is easy is either trying to sell you something, or they have no idea what they’re talking about.

      Those who want an overnight solution have left the article now, so that leaves you, me, and the real process of change.

      The Four Quadrants of Change

      There are four areas, or quadrants, in which you need to make a change in order for it to stick. If you miss or ignore a single one of these, your change won’t stick, and you will go back to your previous behavior.

      The four quadrants are:

      1. Internal individual – mindset
      2. External individual – behavior
      3. Internal collective – culture/support system
      4. External collective – laws, rules, regulations, teams, systems, states

      All four of these quadrants of change may sound like they could carry change all by themselves, but they can’t. So, be sure to implement your change in all four quadrants. Otherwise, it will all be in vain.

      First Quadrant — Internal Individual

      This quadrant focuses on the internal world of an individual, and it concerns itself with the mindset of a person.


      Our actions stem from our thoughts (most of the time), and if we change our mindset toward something, we will begin to process of changing the way we act.

      People who use the law of attraction fall into this category, where they’ve recognized the strength of thoughts and how they make us change ourselves.

      Even Lao Tzu had a great saying regarding this:

      “Watch your thoughts. They become words. Watch your words. They become deeds. Watch your deeds. They become habits. Watch your habits. They become character. Character is everything.” [1]

      One of the most impactful ways you can make a change in this quadrant is to implement what James Clear calls identity-based habits. [2]

      Instead of prioritizing the outcome of a change (ex.: I want to lose 20 pounds), you prioritize your identity as a person (I want to become/remain a healthy person).

      Here are a couple of examples for you to see the strength of this kind of resolution:

      I want to watch many movies = I am a cinema lover
      I want to clean my apartment = I am a clean person
      I want to harvest my crops = I am a harvester (farmer)
      I want to swim = I am a swimmer

      This quadrant is about changing the identity you attach to a certain action. Once you re-frame your thinking in this way, you will have completed the first of the quadrants of change.

      Second Quadrant — External Individual

      This quadrant focuses on the external world of an individual and concerns itself with the behavior of a person.

      This is where people like Darren Hardy, the author of the Compound Effect reside. Hardy is about doing small, consistent actions that will create change in the long run (the compound effect).

      You want to lose 30 pounds? Start by eating just 150 calories (approximately two slices of bread) less a day, and in two and a half years, you will have lost 30 pounds.

      The same rules apply to business, investing, sports, and multiple other areas. Small, consistent actions can create big changes.

      This works — I’ve read 20 extra pages a day for the past two years, and it accumulated into 90 books read in two years. [3]


      Here, you have two ways of dealing with change behaviorally: negative environmental design and positive environmental design.

      Negative Environmental Design

      This is when you eliminate the things from your environment that revert you to the old behavior. If you want to stop eating ice cream, you don’t keep it in your freezer.

      If you want to stop watching TV, you remove the batteries from the remote and put them on the other side of the house (it works!).

      Positive Environmental Design

      This is when you put the things that you want to do withing reach — literally!

      You want to learn how to play guitar? Put your guitar right next to your sofa. You want to head to the gym? Put the gym clothes in a backpack and put it on top of your shoes.

      You want to read more books? Have a book on your nightstand, your kitchen table, and on the sofa.

      You can even combine this last trick with my early advice about removing the batteries from your remote control, combining the negative and positive environmental designs for maximum effect.

      Two Sides of the Same Coin

      If you just change your behavior and leave your intentions (thoughts) intact, your discipline will fail you and the real change won’t happen.

      You will simply revert back to the previous behavior because you haven’t changed the fundamental root of why this problem occurs in the first place.

      That is why you need to create change both in the first quadrant (internal individual — mindset) and the second quadrant (external individual — behavior). These quadrants of change are two sides of the same coin.

      Most change management would stop here, and that’s why most change management fails.

      No matter how much you focus on yourself, there are things that affect our lives that are happening outside of us. That is the focus of the two remaining quadrants.

      Third Quadrant — Internal Collective

      This quadrant focuses on the internal world of the collective where the individual resides, and it concerns itself with the culture of that collective.

      There are two different distinctions here: the Inner Ring and the Outer Ring.


      The Inner Ring

      These are your friends and your family. The Inner Ring is the place where the social and cultural norms of your friends and family rule.

      So, if everyone in your family is overweight and every lunch is 1,000 calories per person, then you can say goodbye to your idea of becoming healthy.

      In this case, the culture of your group, the inner norms that guide the decisions, actions, thoughts, ideas, and patterns of behaviors are all focused on eating as much as possible. [4]

      You need to have the support of your Inner Ring if you want to achieve change. If you don’t have this support, the the best way to proceed is by either changing your entire Inner Ring or distancing yourself from it.

      Beware — most Inner Rings won’t accept the fact that you want to change and will undermine you on many occasions — some out of habit, some due to jealousy, and some because supporting you would mean that they have to change, too.

      You don’t have to cut ties with people, but you can consciously decide to spend less time with them.

      The Outer Ring

      The Outer Ring consists of the culture of your company, community, county, region, and country. For example, it’s quite hard to be an open-minded person in North Nigeria, no matter how you, your friends, and your family think.

      The Outer Ring is the reason why young people move to the places that share their value systems instead of staying in their current city, county, or country.

      Sometimes, you need to change your Outer Ring as well because its culture is preventing you from changing.

      I see this every single day in my country, where the culture can be so toxic that it doesn’t matter how great of a job you have or how great your life currently looks — the culture will change you, inch by inch, until you become like it.

      Fourth Quadrant — External Collective

      This quadrant focuses on the external world of the collective where the individual resides, and it concerns itself with the systems, teams, laws, and rules of that collective.

      This quadrant is about the external manifestations of the collective culture. If the majority of the environment thinks in a certain way, they will create institutions that will implement that way of thinking.

      The same rules apply to companies.

      One example for companies would be those managers who think that employees are lazy, lack responsibility, and need constant supervision (or what is called Theory X in management).


      Then, those managers implement systems that reflect that kind of culture– no flexible work hours, strict rules about logging work, no remote work, etc.

      Your thoughts, however, may be different. You might believe that people want responsibility, that they are capable of self-direction, that they can make good decisions, and that managers don’t need to stand on their necks if they want something done (this is called Theory Y in management).

      Then, you would want to have flexible working hours, different ways of measuring your productivity (for example, not time on the job but work produced), and remote work, if possible for your profession.

      This is when you enter into a conflict with the external collective quadrant. Here, you have four options: leave, persevere, neglect, and voice.


      You can simply leave the company/organization/community/country and go to a different place. Most people decide to do this.


      This is when you see that the situation isn’t good, but you decide to stick at it and wait for the perfect time (or position) where you can implement change.


      This is where you give up on the change you want to see and just go with the flow, doing the minimal work necessary to keep the status quo.

      These are the people who are disengaged at work and are doing just the bare minimum necessary (which, in the U.S. is around 65% of the workforce).

      I did this only once, and it’s probably the only thing I regret doing in my life.


      This is where you actively work on changing the situation, and the people in charge know that you want to create a change.

      It doesn’t matter if it’s your company, community, or your country; you are actively calling for a change and will not stop until it’s implemented.

      Putting It All Together

      When you take it all into account, change is simple, in theory, but it isn’t easy to execute. It takes work in all four quadrants:

      1. Internal individual — mindset
      2. External individual — behavior
      3. Internal collective — culture/support system
      4. External collective — laws, rules, regulations, teams, systems, states

      Some will require more work, some less, but you will need to create a change in all four of them.

      But don’t let that discourage you because change is possible, and many people have done this. The best time to start changing was yesterday, but the second best time is today.


      Featured photo credit: Djim Loic via


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