How to Let Go of Control and Focus on Today

We can better navigate life's hardships by being realistically optimistic
By Mollie Donghia
Mollie Donghia
Mollie Donghia
Mollie (and her husband, Mike) blog at This Evergreen Home where they share their experience with living simply, intentionally, and relationally in this modern world. You can follow along by subscribing to their twice-weekly newsletter.
October 9, 2021 Updated: October 9, 2021

Letting go of control over situations that are outside of my authority is a hard tightrope for me to balance. For decades, I’ve had a natural tendency toward anxiety. When things were beyond my control, my mind would automatically fear something uncomfortable.

An uncertain health concern resulted in days of wondering whether it would turn into something difficult. An overwhelming season of motherhood resulted in me worrying my children might not be thriving. A big evaluation (back when I was an elementary teacher) resulted in me questioning whether I would disappoint my boss and have to undergo more guidance.

I had a fear of coming hardship. Many times when I expressed my difficulty with a situation to a friend or my husband, I was told “just let it go” or “don’t worry about it.”

If you’ve ever been given those common words of guidance in an anxious situation, you know that it’s easier said than done, unfortunately.

If letting go means being indifferent and not caring as much, how was I supposed to do that? As a more sensitive human being, I consciously carried the weight of others’ emotions. I felt deeply when those around me were sad or hurt. I became upset when I didn’t get the approval of others. I’m a common “people pleaser.”

So how was I supposed to just let it go? I didn’t want to be disconnected from my emotions, but instead, I craved a way to live life by letting go of my deeply rooted desire for control.

When Control Makes You Powerless

Fast forward to about six years ago, when my anxiety grew with each child, but also triggered growth, wisdom, and learning. Each postpartum season seemed to send me into a heightened state of anxiety. Hormonal changes, the addition of a new baby, and life’s constant demands produced a formula for uncertainty, leading to anxiety.

As humans, we desire control. It feels easy to remain inside our comfort zone. It produces a sense of calm when our days are structured and routine.

In our minds, it goes something like this: We make a plan. The plan follows suit. We reap the benefits of success and enjoy the outcome.

However, that’s not always the reality of life. When events happen that are outside my control (a sleepless baby, a health scare, an unexpected home repair), I often feel powerless.

What can I do in this moment to control the outcome? Sometimes, not much. But through these moments, I’ve discovered two powerful truths—truths that I have to remind myself of each time my mind seeks control over a situation.

Truth #1: Adjust My Expectations

If I adjust my expectations about the way things should turn out, I’ll have a more realistic mindset. Life has abundant blessings, but also many struggles. I don’t want to live with rose-colored glasses on, but instead, I want to prepare myself for the fact that in this life, we’ll have troubles. It’s up to me how I’ll let those troubles affect my overall well-being each day.

If I live with an expectation and need for good outcomes, I’ll constantly be disappointed and anxious when something goes wrong. When my expectations become a healthy balance of positivity and realism, the hardships of life—and the circumstances I can’t control—are easier to handle.

Truth #2: Don’t Over-Focus on the Long-Term

I like to set goals. Both Mike and I are idealists, so when we implement a new routine or element of parenting, we look toward the long-term benefits it will produce. But the funny thing about making plans for the future is that they have a high likelihood of changing. That’s the reality of life. After all, we’re not a bunch of programmed robots running around a factory floor.

If we sit around thinking of all the long-term outcomes, we’ll miss the opportunity to be present in the moment. For me, this means not allowing myself to dwell on scenarios that may or may not ever happen. Instead, I remind myself of this simple question: “What can I do today to make healthier choices for tomorrow?”

When my mindset is focused on the present, I’m less likely to feel overwhelmed and fearful of future events and more likely to feel gratitude by focusing on today. My mind isn’t taken up with thoughts about results or consequences down the road, but instead with making conscious, well-thought-out decisions to live for today.

Focus on Today

So how do we lessen our sights on the future and focus more on the present? Planning has its place (mainly in finances, career, and family planning), but I believe that placing the majority of my thoughts on what I can control today is a much healthier way to live.

The 90/10 rule is a common principle that can be used in many areas of life. Consider how you could use this rule to lessen your control of the future.

Allow yourself to make plans and think about the days/months/years ahead for just 10 percent of your time. That’s roughly 1.5 hours during our normal waking time. Use the other 14.5 hours thinking about and being proactive today.

Invest in relationships with those around you, practice healthy eating habits, exercise and stay active, enjoy life’s free pleasures, make wise choices with your money, laugh and embrace loved ones, slow down and make time to reflect on what you’re most grateful for.

For me, instead of worrying about how my kids will turn out when they’re teenagers, I’ll spend more time laughing, playing, and teaching them each day.

Instead of dreading future expenses or what might break down the road, I’ll spend within my means and limit my desires for impulse buying.

Instead of fearing a health concern with a family member, I’ll make a 15-minute phone call to talk, make plans to visit them, or go out of my way to show that I care.

Instead of wondering how anxiety will sneak up on me if hardships occur, I’ll focus on what I can control today without letting my mind wander to the worst-case scenario.

Ride Life’s Roller Coaster With Ease

Life will always come with the uphills and downhills, the blessings and struggles of circumstance. But if you learn to adjust your expectations with a healthy dose of positivity and realism—and focus on what you can control today—your days will be filled with more joy and less anxiety.

This isn’t a prescriptive way for everyone to live—what’s worked for me may also benefit you, too, but do what makes you feel supported and able to thrive.

Mollie (and her husband, Mike) blog at This Evergreen Home where they share their experience with living simply, intentionally, and relationally in this modern world. You can follow along by subscribing to their twice-weekly newsletter.

This article was originally published on This Evergreen Home.

Mollie (and her husband, Mike) blog at This Evergreen Home where they share their experience with living simply, intentionally, and relationally in this modern world. You can follow along by subscribing to their twice-weekly newsletter.