Getting Back in the Driving Seat: Taking Control of Your Work, Life and Wellbeing.

Written by Dr Caroline Marlow, a Chartered Psychologist specialising in performance and wellbeing psychology and Director of L&M Consulting Ltd.

– Is too much of your day reactive?
– Do you lack the control that you need to do your job/role properly?
– Do you sometimes do things against your better judgement?

In today’s working world, the above can become the norm as our options appear depleted and our actions and decisions are influenced by external factors, pressures or social coercion. Making such externally-motivated decisions often have benefits. They might enable us to get the job done faster and within budget. We might gain rewards or reduce threats, e.g., by helping us fit in, keep favour with the boss, or have an easier time of it. But despite externally-motivated actions appearing to be the best option available at the time, they all have the potential, particularly if they dominate over time, to reduce our autonomy and psychological wellbeing.

So … What is Autonomy? Why Do I Need It?
Autonomy is one of the three basic psychological needs that underpin our psychological wellbeing by improving: our daily, positive emotions,; our overall happiness and life satisfaction; and our ability to flourish and function optimally. We feel autonomous when we are able to; have control of available options, freely choose what we do, and make decisions that are guided by our internalised motives. Our internalised motives are those that fit in and reinforce our deep-rooted beliefs of who we are and of the values that we hold dear. Also, those things that we find intrinsically motivating, that is, rewarding in their own right, e.g., learning, having fun, mastery.

Improving Autonomy
So what can you do to improve the ‘out-of-your-control’ situation and your autonomy?

The following pointers aim to help you increase your autonomy, functional ability and psychological wellbeing by enabling you to:
– See more and better options of how to deal with a concern(s),
– Make more internally-motivated decisions,
– Make better in-the-moment and long-term strategic decisions,
– Invest your future time and energy efficiently.

Each point can be considered individually or as a team, in relation to work or life in general, or to a specific issue or concern, e.g., improving your physical health, prioritising limiting funds, dealing with inappropriate management expectations or behaviour.
1. Be Aware:
a) Of your internalised motivations. Consider what makes you you. What values do you hold? What do you enjoy? It might help if you consider a time when you were at your best/most proud, or indeed, why you admire someone.
b) Of what motivates your decisions. Not everything you do will be motivated by internalised motives, but you should be aware of the overall balance between internalised or externally motivated actions and the implication of this on your wellbeing.
c) Of habitual behaviours that you do with little conscious consideration, e.g., always saying yes, constantly checking emails, or crashing out on the sofa with a beer or glass of wine at the end of the day.
d) That there is always a choice. That doing nothing to change a situation is the consequence of a choice to do nothing. You have accepted the status quo regardless of the personal impact.
e) That having autonomy is not the same as being independent. Instead, it is about having free choice as to when and how to engage with others. Indeed, as highlighted in a previous blog How to Thrive with a Little Help from My Friends, seeking social support is often instrumental to our ability to function optimally and to flourish.
f) Of others: Ensure that the effect of your decisions is in line with your personal belief of how others should be treated.

2. Take Control.
Take time to systematically consider your chosen concern(s) by completing the Circle of Control exercise below (based on Stephen Covey). The aim is to reduce the current concern(s) by highlighting what you can proactively do. You will need 3 sheets of paper, pens and some quiet time.
a) Make a comprehensive list of everything that matters within the concern, e.g., what causes it, how it impacts upon you or others. These issues are within your Circle of Concern.
Looking at this list:
b) Consider everything that you can directly control, i.e., what you can do to manage yourself, your actions, thoughts, emotions, physiology, language. These are indicated by “I/We can…” and should be moved to another list/circle – your Circle of Control.
c) Consider everything that you can have some influence over. This could be by developing a greater understanding of; the situation, alternative courses of action, or of another’s perspective and pressures. Or through developing your skill base or using your skills to build relationships or a better social network. These are indicated by, “I/We could overcome/do this IF…” and should be moved to another list/circle – your Circle of Influence.

Those issues left in the first list, the Circle of Concern, should only be those that are genuinely beyond your control or influence. Your greater awareness of these should be used to promote acceptance (which is increasingly realised as positive for wellbeing), or at least to reduce wasted time and energy. Any remaining concern can, of course, be reconsidered should future opportunities for influence and control arise.
d) Explore the steps that you have identified to gain influence and control, and then develop an action plan with realistic time-lines of how best to prioritise and focus your time and energy to achieve greater control. Throughout this, be mindful of making decisions and actions that fit in with your internalised motives, thus giving a further boost to your autonomy and wellbeing.

Remember: You can control more than you think. Be aware of your internal motives and use them to take control and to provide proactive focus and energy to make the meaningful difference to your own wellbeing and life, and to the lives and wellbeing of others.

This article was published in Football Medicine and Performance (Issue 29, Summer 2019).

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How L&M Can Help You.

L&M’s doctoral-level, psychological expertise in health, wellbeing and behaviour change enables us to provide the support to help you regain control of your physical health and psychological wellbeing, and to flourish. Please follow this link for more details and contact us to discuss your specific needs. We can also provide health and wellbeing presentations, workshops and away days for organisations.

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L&M’s Previous Personal Psychological Wellbeing Blogs
Are you Surviving or Thriving?
How to Thrive with a Little Help from My Friends.
Job Insecurity: Reducing the Effects on Your Wellbeing.

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