Have you ever wondered why your life, literally and physically, moves out of balance when you are going through a stressful time? Your diet is usually the first thing to go out of control. You stop cooking, and even when you eat out you stop taking the right decisions and start picking all the wrong foods.
Your closet, room and home is usually the next thing to go out of control.
Give me your diet journal for the last one month and I can probably tell you how productive or nonproductive your month was. Let me visit your home on a surprise visit and I'll probably tell you exactly which phase of life you're going through.
And then as these little things go out of control they create a cycle of more panic and anxiety in your life, which in turn leads to more things going out of control.
On the other hand, have you also noticed how doing just a few simple things, can have a profoundly positive impact on your life and your self-confidence? For example, when you consistently wake up early in the morning, work productively (just for a couple of hours a day), when you consistently eat right, play music, workout; go for a run; or do whatever it is that you do; life feels so… awesome and even your work life and productivity begins to improve.
All of us has at least one thing which if we do right and consistently, we feel in control of our lives and when we don't do that one thing… that's usually a sign that we are losing control and going into a state of depressed helplessness.
That one thing can be different for different individuals. For some, it's waking up early. For others it’s making their bed after they wake up. For many others I know, their daily workout happens to be that thing. Everyone is different but most people have at least one thing which creates a perception of control for them. It makes them feel happy, makes them feel like they are in control of their lives and doing that one thing, makes them feel strong.
We are creatures of control. In an uncertain world where most of us have very little control over anything, including our survival, any perception of control that we can create for ourselves makes us feel safer and stronger than folks who are unable to create that perception.
In the larger scheme of universe where you are an insignificant speck of dust, who could cease to exist because of a simple road accident, an illusion of control makes you believe that what you do matters and as a result of that, you matter.
If you can pick up one habit, and stick to it, even when life throws its shots at you, you are telling yourself that you take active deliberate decisions and your life runs on those decisions; not a random chain of events controlled by mere chance. You are taking a stand against helplessness. This is why social scientists call these keystone habits.
This is why when you pick up a keystone habit your life starts to change. For example, most smokers who cultivate the habit of running quit smoking. Most folks who start working out or practicing a musical instrument get better at their work life.
You might say that the perception of control is just an illusion, and I might even agree with you, but that perception of control is exactly what allows us to get up in the morning and go to work. That perception of control is what allows survivors to fight dreadful diseases and even though this would sound a little cliché I would argue that this perception is exactly what powers most of our space programs and allows individuals to climb mountains. Of course rockets have exploded in the past and people have died while climbing mountains but that perception and illusion of control is what enables the astronauts and the climbers to roll the dice, take a chance and succeed.
I have a personal theory that as nerds most of us love programming because in an uncertain world, programing computers creates a perception of control and that perception makes us feel strong and empowered. Hey, we can't change everything, but at least we get to control what's behind the screen of that machine.
All my life, one of the most valuable things I’ve learned it is the idea of inching forward slowly and yet consistently using keystone habits and creating a perception of control is your only chance at that forward movement.
This is why every time I start feeling a sense of helplessness, I fall back to some of my keystone habits to regain that perception of control again. I start writing code each day; I start my daily work out session and I come back to this blog and start writing consistently. And I begin reading. These are four keystone habits that help me inch and claw out of dark and depressing times.
And before I know it, I feel empowered to change things and I'm control. I know the control is just a perception but it still works magically when it comes to taking me out of a state of helplessness and making me productive again.
What are your keystone habits? Did you do them today? Did you take a stand against the punches life throws at you, and actively take out time to do something you committed to? If not, please give yourself a moment today to think about which your keystone habits are and then make an active effort to execute on them.
I won’t say it’ll change your life, but if you are experiencing a sense of helplessness, there is a good chance it’ll pull you out of it and empower you to change things. One inch at a time. This is your way of telling yourself that you may not be in control but at least you are not completely out of control either.
Go on. Pick a few keystone habits and give them time, consistently. There is a high chance you may regain your perception of control and life will begin to come back in balance soon. If you haven't given keystone habits a chance, you should. I wish you good luck.