You want to feel in control of your life. It’s an innate human desire. However, you have less control over your life than you may like to believe. Understanding the nature of control, or human agency, is a crucial element in grounding your life in wellbeing.
Think of control as a spectrum between two poles. The two poles are complete control on one end and no control on the other. In between the two poles is a spectrum of varying degrees of control.
There are some aspects of your life within your control. There are some aspects you have no control over. In between lies a spectrum of partial control; that is, you have the capacity to interact, engage, and influence situations but you cannot control the outcome. Understanding these three domains is a cornerstone of mental health.
What elements of your life do you have complete control over? A better way to think about this is what elements you can learn to have complete control of. This applies to the inner realm of your thoughts, feelings, attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors. Theoretically, you can learn to have complete control over how you interpret and react to the various situations and circumstances of your life.
What elements are out of your control? The fundamental context of your life is out of your control. You had no control over when you were born, your genetics, family, race, gender, social status, and cultural milieu. You have no meaningful control over time, aging or your mortality – you will die. The Earth rotates. We belong to seasonal cycles and circadian rhythms. You live because of a planet that sustains a remarkable array of life.
In between these two extremes are varying degrees of control. The ways in which you engage with the practical realities of your life can influence what happens to you. This is the creative realm of control. You have a capacity to act, react, interact, engage, interpret, observe, reflect, and change.
You have the capacity to create your own actions in the world. You can attempt to produce certain results from those actions. Sometimes the results will be desirable and other times they will not. Most importantly, you can reflect on your actions and learn from them. This will not change the past, but it may improve the quality of your actions going forward.
When you learn about the nature of control and the influence of your actions you gain self-awareness through subjective experience. You do not need to read theories of human agency, self-conscious behavior, cause and effect, or reflexivity to improve your quality of engagement with life.
Many experiences in life fall on the spectrum of partial control. In other words, your experiences are conversational and involve constant interplay. What you say, do, and believe carries energy. In a fundamental sense, life is creative, generative, and improvisatory. Creativity is the way to feel in control of your life.
You may think that developing a strategy, planning, setting goals establishing priorities, making schedules, completing tasks, and conducting regular reviews is a way to exert control. In artificial settings, these tools may offer some help. The problem is that they originate rationalism. Rational thinking cannot corral the full force of life.
Your experiences in life originate inside the full force of life. They exist in a state of flow, constant emergence, and change. The unexpected will find you. Uncertainties will surround you. You will endure liminal periods you could never have planned for. Your material possessions will not protect you. And the mystery will haunt you, whether you want it to or not.
Creativity is the best you can do to exert a sense of control over life. The trick is to stay in the conversation, even while enduring periods of spiritual darkness. Life is indifferent. It doesn’t offer guarantees. But there is always possibility and potential that inspire meaning, insight, and awareness.
There are specific creative acts that are of value. Accommodation is a creative capacity that allows you to accept and integrate a difficult experience, irredeemable regret, and irreversible change in your life. Adaptation is a creative act that helps you to redefine your relationship with something challenging or transformational in your life. And gratitude is a creative force that’s helps you to find stability and equilibrium throughout the confluence of life.
Creativity is a fundamental source of control. As you move through your life you learn to control your interpretation, orientation, and relationship with the onslaught of situations and circumstances that surround you. You also learn about what you cannot control and, more importantly, when an attempt to control something is futile and only leads to self-harm.
Life will not always go your way, but you always have the capacity to respond creatively to any experience. Health challenges can be a particularly harsh test of your ability to accommodate and adapt your life to a new and undesirable reality. However, creativity can also imbue everyday experience with new energy and inspiration.
Creativity is not a panacea, but it is a core capacity for living a fulfilling life. It allows you to stay in the game and engage with whatever emerges in your experience. Even though many elements of your life will forever remain beyond your control, creativity can help you learn to get better control over you.