The Wisdom of Control

Unexpectedly, you find yourself on the foreboding frontiers of a pandemic. The threat of being hunted by an invisible predator never leaves you alone. It is disinterested in your needs, desires, or hopes. It does not care about you, your family, or your friends. Everyone is prey, a potential host, and a vector of transmission. This is how COVID-19 lives, proliferates, and survives.

Use your feelings of helplessness to strengthen your locus of your control. Remind yourself of the three forms of control: There are things in life you have no control over; there are things in life you have some control over; there are things in life you have significant, yet not complete, control over.

No Control

Remember – most of what you call “My Life” is not of your own making. You did not choose to be present here; you cannot stay here past your time. You had no control over when you born, the physiological traits of your embodiment, who your parents were, the conditioning you experienced, or the culture you inherited. You had no control over the economic servitude required to “earn” a living. And you had no control over your participation in the struggle to become human in an inhumane world.

COVID-19 is not of your own making either. Your only choice is to find a way through it. The stability of familiar routines no longer exist. The comfort of the familiar life you once enjoyed has disappeared. The busyness that assuaged your existential angst has morphed into a wretched uncertainty. And the future now hides behind a dense fog of ambiguity.

You cannot control the world around you. Sometimes there is only the grace of acceptance and the wisdom of understanding that which you have no control over in life.

Some Control

Here the locus of your control lies in the practice of processes, routines, and habits that increase the potential for a positive outcome. Focus your energy on pursuing the best possible course of action and let the outcome be what it may. Professional athletes already know this, but it applies to everyday life too. In contrast to the monologue of no control, this is the conversational realm of control. Concentrate on right effort and that alone. Sometimes it will work out in your favor. Sometimes it won’t. That the basic conversation we all have with life.

You can control your relationship with COVID-19. Engage in processes that reduce your risk of becoming infected – or infecting others. The beginning of the process is this: stop confusing your rights with your responsibilities. Contribute to the greater good by transforming minor inconveniences into positive routines by wearing a mask, practicing physical distancing, washing your hands, and maintaining strict social bubbles.

Engage in habits that make a positive contribution to an unpleasant and harsh reality. Life is and always has been a privilege. Be grateful that you are here.

You can control what you do but not the outcome; you may still become infected. No matter how hard you try, there will always be loss, suffering, and tragedy. Choose positive actions that contribute to individual and collective wellbeing under all circumstances. This is the essence of being human.

Significant Control

Significant control lies within. You can improve control of your thoughts, beliefs, and reactions. You have no control over the thoughts, beliefs, and reactions of others. Everything you think, feel, and believe is malleable. Change is what you are, not something that happens to you. Dedicate yourself to positive change. This is how you get out of your own way and become more resilient in life.

Take care of your mind. Broaden and expand it everyday. Make yourself large enough to accommodate your life. Know that your thoughts, beliefs, and reactions are a choice you make. They are plastic and malleable. They do not define you. Nor do they confine you. But they can hurt you – your body reacts as if all thoughts are real.

Pandemic stress is a powerful force of internal disruption. Choose to seek out, recognize, and confront those lines of force; refuse to allow the anxiety fester. You won’t always be able to control the way you want, so don’t expect to. Practice meditation. Practice mindfulness. Breathe.

Your Locus of Control

Coping with COVID-19 begins with understanding what is within and outside of your control. This is critical to your wellbeing. You must undertake the deep work of focusing mental energy, cultivating concrete action, developing new reactions, and learning the art of resilience inside the turbulent confluence of your everyday life. It is here, on the frontier of a contagion, that you will find the wisdom of control for living in uncertain times.


  1. The ideas about control presented here are ancient. I encountered these ideas while studying Stoicism, in particular The Letters of Seneca.
  2. This article originates in the vast divide between knowing something intellectually and meaningfully practicing it in everyday life. Acting, experimenting, and practicing control within our own unique situations and circumstance is the only path toward wisdom. A well-written article exploring this divide is Understand the difference between knowing and doing.
  3. The wisdom of control applies to every aspect of life, not just COVID-19.