4 Ways To Be In Control of Your Life

November 10th, 2013 by LaRae Quy

Early in life, I made a decision to be in control of my career. I decided I wanted to work for the Foreign Service so I could travel and live an exciting life. I applied but didn’t pass the foreign language aptitude test. But I refused to let this stop me from pursuing my path; I wanted to live an exciting life, so I turned my attention toward the FBI.

Within six months I was hired as an FBI agent—a record in speedy recruitment. The average waiting list is three years. I had people walk up to me and say, “You were very lucky.” But no, I don’t think so.

It’s not that I don’t believe luck doesn’t exist; it’s just that I think it can be created and controlled. Luck happens when we seize opportunities to improve ourselves and our situation. It definitely doesn’t happen if we silently wait and hope for our lives to change.

I wanted to be in control of where I took my life—not a passive spectator. Things don’t always go according to plan. My experience with the Foreign Service is only one example of where life has not always unfolded in the direction or manner that I wanted. When disappointments, roadblocks, barriers, or obstacles kept me from my path, I took them as opportunities to re-evaluate both my plan and my options.

If you are a startup or business owner, it is impossible to be in control of markets, competition, and economic downturns. But this is exactly when you need to be in control of your own emotions, thoughts, and behavior so you can manage them in ways that will allow you to keep moving forward. In other words, you need mental toughness.

Here are 4 ways you can be in control of your own life:

1. Focus On A Game  Plan, Not Goals

We live in a very goal-oriented society. Once we achieve our goal we feel terrific, but then there is the realization that we have just lost the thing that gives us direction. Goals are temporary and temporal; they can be too rigid to change with circumstances. If we’re too wedded to them, we won’t be able to adapt to those changes.

If I’d continued to beat my head against the closed door at the Foreign Service, I would have gained nothing but blood and bruises. That is not mental toughness; that is being stupid.

Often, goals need to change as new information becomes available. So while your approach might shift from time to time, your game plan never does.

Goals are essential if progress is to be made in life, but we are tempted to let them take the place of the bigger picture. Once they do, it’s hard to pivot and move in a new direction when events take an unexpected turn.

Goals are a measure of where we will be and when we will make it there. We try to predict how quickly we can make progress, even though we have no idea what circumstances or situations will arise along the way and impede our progress. 

TIP: Our game plan is hitched to something bigger such our purpose. Your purpose will not change, even if your circumstances do. When confronted with obstacles, keep your eye on your purpose but be prepared to let go of your vision of an immediate goal in order to get there. Other, more expansive goals might become available as you move forward.

2. Work At Ways To Remain Positive

Living on a cattle ranch, I had a couple of different options on how I looked at cow turds. Either something to be avoided, or something to be used. When dry, they make excellent frisbees, and they are also dynamite fertilizer for the garden!

If you are positive about the events in your life, you are more alert to the possibilities that whiz around you everyday. People who are positive and in good moods actually take in more visual information, while those in bad moods don’t see as much around them.

Always look for opportunities. Luck happens because you’re motivated to take the steps necessary to succeed. You make it easier for luck to find you because you are more open to life’s forking paths, and see possibilities that others miss.

TIP: The best way to train your brain to think differently is to change your attitude. Respond to negative thoughts with something more positive. Instead of saying, “I’m going to mess this up,” say something like, “This is my chance to shine and I’m going to do my best.” Changing your internal conversations can be powerful if you want to change your life.

3. Foster Mental Flexibility

Luck tends to smile on folks who have a more relaxed approach to life. They have clarity of purpose and don’t worry too much about the details. For example, rather than aiming to become the top cardiac surgeon at John Hopkins, they vow to be a doctor who helps save lives.

If you’re a flexible thinker, you consider a range of different possible consequences of your actions rather than categorizing them as either positive or negative. You are also more likely to consider both optimistic and pessimistic explanations for other people’s behavior. For example, maybe a lack of understanding indicates someone isn’t paying attention, but maybe not. If they consider both options, they will not automatically assume something is negative.

TIP: If you you tend to be either optimistic or pessimistic, remember to factor this in when you’re thinking about things. It is a reminder to yourself to consider the other side of the coin.

4. Move Out Of Your Shell

Researchers have found that people who call themselves lucky are more likely to be extroverts. Because extroverts are curious about others, they are more likely to have opportunities present themselves since they not only meet lots of new people, they also keep in touch with a larger group of friends.

Whether or not you are an extrovert, you can still be curious about your environment and the people around you. Inquisitiveness is one of the most important traits of mental toughness. It is having the curiosity to see beyond your current circumstances so you can create your own luck and move forward. In one study out of the University of Edinburgh, researchers found that those of average intelligence who are curious and conscientious do just as well in school as those thought to have greater intelligence.

TIP: Ask questions. We tend to associate questions with childlike behavior so as grow older, we want to be the expert rather than the student. Be a student and ask questions! When you learn something new, express an opinion about it and ask why. Why is Italy your favorite foreign country? How do you make kale taste good? Why do you like your job? Explore by the use of questions and once you’ve gotten an answer, reflect on what you have learned.

© 2015 LaRaeQuy. All rights reserved.

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Author of “Mental Toughness for Women Leaders: 52 Tips To Recognize and Utilize Your Greatest Strengths” and “Secrets of a Strong Mind.”

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20 Responses to “4 Ways To Be In Control of Your Life”

  1. Debbie says:

    LaRae,

    I always love your posts! I totally agree with points 2, 3, and 4. It’s important to remain positive, flexible and venture out of the familiar. But, I do have to take issue with #1 – Beware of Goals. I think goals are important for many reasons, including keeping us motivated and keeping the subconscious busy creating our own goals instead of someone else’s. I think it’s important to understand our definition of goals and how we frame our goals. It’s key to identify the real underlying goal. In reading your post, I interpret your real goal was to live an exciting life and be able to travel, and the Foreign Service was just one way of achieving that goal. That’s where your flexibility came into play to achieve your goal in a different way. (Full disclosure, I’m in the final edits of my goals book – The G.O.A.L. ™ Technique: 8 Steps to an Energizing and Sustainable Goal Achievement Framework and I work with clients to help them identify and change the subconscious beliefs that keep them from reaching their goals.)

    • LaRae Quy says:

      Debbie, I truly appreciate your response. I want you to know that I believe goals are essential if we are to keep moving toward our dream. And in ordinary circumstances, I believe goals are an excellent way to calibrate our journey and bring order to both thinking and actions.

      When confronted with an obstacle or unexpected adversity, however, one of the most important tools for survival and eventaul success is a flexible and agile mind. This means that while the dream is still there, the goals might need to change in order to reach it. Too often, we become wedded to our goals and use goals to measure our success…but if the game has changed, those goals will not aid us in moving forward. They need to be thrown out so that new goals to reach our dream can be implemented.

      I hope that makes sense…I do believe goals are essential, but they are only the means to the end. Often, I find that goals supplant the real dream and become the end in themselves.

      All best with your book!

  2. Luck is where opportunity meets preparation. It must be seized to be fulfilled. Enjoyed your post LaRae

  3. I’d say: Take a risk or two. Luck favors the risk taker.

  4. Something similar happened to me…

    I started my blog and everything else I got after I lost my bodybuilding competition. My end goal was to inspire people and I was 120% sure I was going to win…

    As soon as I lost, I lift my head up and said, ok it’s time to keep pushing forward.

    I’m loving your posts!

  5. Karin Hurt says:

    Fantastic post. “luck” often comes after years of hard work and preparation…. puttting youself in the right place at the right time over and over again.

  6. Awesome article. You are spot on in your observations, and such a prolific writer. Thank you for all of the great info you share with us regularly. You have an amazing outlook that will lead people to success.

  7. I have always had the same view about luck, LaRae- we must be prepared and have a mindset of welcoming opportunity. Things will pass us by if we don’t keep growing and learning.

    I know that for me I am always trying to learn about new leadership views so that when clients approach me about different topics, I am knowledgeable and able to speak about new concepts. I actually feel empowered when I learn new things.

    We all make our own luck. We just need to be open to preparing and growing.

    Great post, LaRae!

    • LaRae Quy says:

      I love your attitude, Terri! The key is to keep growing and learning…so many times we slip into complacency which leads to mediocrity. And then moan that our luck has run out…

  8. I love what you write about hitching your heart to your purpose. Going after an MBA, or working to become a vice president or writing a book can be great goals, but they are just part of life’s journey and as you write, temporary and temporal. It’s all about living our life with purpose.

    By the way, I had no idea cow turds made excellent Frisbees. ☺

    • LaRae Quy says:

      Haha…stick around a Wyoming cowgirl and you’ll learn lots of very useful stuff 🙂

      As I’ve gotten older, it’s been a natural question to ask of myself: what is my purpose? And how do I live a life on purpose, rather than by chance?

      Thanks for stopping by!

  9. How true this is LaRae when you say this! “Luck happens when we seize opportunities to improve ourselves and our situation. It definitely doesn’t happen if we silently wait and hope for our lives to change.” What most resonated with me in your post was that we always need to keep our eyes open to opportunities. We must be aware, always keeping our heart and mind open to what is around us. That’s where so many things can happen for us. GREAT POST!

    • LaRae Quy says:

      I do think opportunities come in many different forms, and sometimes they don’t look like opportunities at all…but by embracing our situation with awareness, we always find lots of different ways to move forward.

      Have a great week, my friend!

  10. Alli Polin says:

    Cow turds! Ha!

    Luck is generated through our choices. You’re also spot on that it’s not making a choice and hanging on for dear life until it all works out. Flexing our style and accepting that our path will shift opens up new possibilities that we’ll never see from an all-or-nothing view of the world.

    Also, love your point about getting out of our shells. Our old nanny had a million crazy opportunities presented to ehr because she learned people’s names, was consistently curious about others and had a welcoming energy that drew people to her.

    Thanks, LaRae!

    • LaRae Quy says:

      I love that story about your old nanny! It’s often the little things we do that creates the biggest opportunity – and subsequently, our luck. Flexibility and agility of mind is incredibly important in so many parts of our life…it’s very easy to become dogmatic and resistent to new ideas.

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