Roman emperor and philosopher Marcus Aurelius once wisely proclaimed, “You have power over your mind- not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.” When the outside events seem to permeate the mind and impact our ability to make decisions, we have ourselves a problem. New weaknesses begin to emerge, and latent ones begin to become more pronounced. The better we become at channeling our energy towards the one thing we truly possess power over, the greater the influence we can have on the events which try to take our power of mind away.
Human’s abilities to manage impulsive responses, to control seemingly overwhelming emotions, and to anticipate behaviors in pursuit of long-term goals, are what have separated us from all other living things that we as a species are aware of. When our ability to harness these abilities is stifled, the repercussions on individual and macro levels can become resounding. Lapses in judgement can prove catastrophic, not only for the consequences they could cause for others, but also for the ways we reflect on ourselves, and how we act subsequently based off these lapses.
POWER OVER THE MIND
So, why is it that some seemingly have the ability to respond to difficult situations with poise and composure, where some might have greater difficulty exercising power over their mind? There are a number of factors that result in a depletion of one’s ability to maintain control. A good amount of these factors is being provoked by the state of the world as we know it. Let’s examine a few aspects that could be contributing to some lack of control in our lives.
- Distress- Whether it’s the loss of a loved one, a fight with a partner, or any serious incident that may come to mind, the more heightened our negative emotions become, the less capable we become of acting in ways that we would otherwise identify as being beneficial.
- Unfamiliarly/uncertainty- For some, this was a daily way of life even before the pandemic struck. Worried about the trajectories of our careers and our financial freedom, or unsure of our standing in the relationships that matter most to us, or the well-being of our families. All these things will overload our ability to make sound decisions. Anything new that we must do will require more cognitive energy.
- Negative anticipation (illusory fatigue)- The way we approach situations that have yet to arise will influence that situation. If we anticipate that something will be difficult or taxing, the faster we will experience mental fatigue. Kind of like a self-fulfilling prophecy.
- Cognitive dissonance- This is when our thoughts or attitudes are inconsistent with the behaviors we are upholding. This can also be when we are presented with facts that contradict our current view of the world. The more internal conflict we experience, the greater the likelihood of succumbing to overwhelming emotions and impulses.
- Sleep/Nutrition- These are two integral aspects of maintaining control that are most often overlooked. If we don’t nourish our bodies, and if we don’t give our bodies and minds ample time to recover, we will notice how decisions we could have normally made consciously end up becoming automatic responses that may or may not be beneficial. For many of us, external factors make even the most basic requirement more complicated to meet.
We all have the aptitude to control our reactions to stress or unanticipated events. Self-control is by no means innate, as it is a skill that can be acquired like anything else. If we are cognizant of the circumstances that may exhaust our capacity for positive decision making, we can better prepare for when those circumstances arise. If, from an outside perspective, we can practice respect and empathy for those whose situations compound their difficulties, we as a community can better enact change that suites the greatest amount of us.
Before telling yourself that your struggles are due to a lack of willpower, understand that willpower will only get you so far. Power of mind is something that is build, not inherited.
The sooner we recognize what structures need to be reinforced, the sooner our strength will be established, and our anxieties can be dimished.
If you are struggling to be in control of your life, contact us at Tampa Therapy Group (813) 613-8587.
Andreas Balasis, LCSW at Tampa Therapy Group