The time I lost control

I recently had a week’s leave…..and ended up working every day!

I don’t say this to brag. In fact the opposite because I want you to chastise me for being so stupid. I know the value and importance of recovery time after exercise (and I give my brain a lot of exercise) and yet I missed a valuable opportunity.

Which started me thinking about why I did this. Why did I think (or perhaps I didn’t) that the ‘urgent’ tasks I undertook needed doing on my week off? Why hadn’t I already completed them, delegated them of left them for a few days?

I needed some answers.

What I found out is that unfortunately, given how important it is to our success, we don’t always feel in control. Psychologists have a phrase for this, it’s called locus of control. The most successful people in business and life are those who have what is called an internal locus of control, the belief that their actions have a direct effect on their outcomes. People with an external locus, on the other hand, are more likely to see their actions as dictated by external forces.

I was displaying an external locus of control. I was losing control and needed to change my mindset. I was allowing what Prof. Steve Peters, the renowned sports psychologist, calls my ‘Chimp brain’ to take over from my Thinking brain.

Now some of us are inherently prone to an external locus; you know who I mean. Nothing is ever their fault. They blame any external factor they can think of for the woes they suffer.

The rest of us can fall into that mindset – even though it’s not our natural state of mind – when we become overwhelmed by too many demands on our time, attention and abilities. Most of our daily challenges are best served by our Thinker, but when we are feeling stressed and out of control the Chimp tends to take over.

Now this isn’t something that happens consciously; we have become victims to what scientists call emotional hijacking, and it affects our performance and decision making. When this hijacking occurs we start to feel overwhelmed and lose energy and motivation. Our decision making skills and productivity plummet. We no longer make rational decisions.

Time to regain control. Here is my formula:

  1. Why am I feeling like this – it’s called self-awareness – and I need to know why I am feeling like this (overwhelmed) and put that feeling into words.
  2. Write it down – verbalising the feeling of overwhelm and writing it in a journal is the next step in regaining control.
  3. List all the stresses and daily challenges I face and goals I want to achieve.
  4. Separate the list into two categories: those things I have control over and those I don’t.

The point of this exercise is to identify the stresses in our daily lives, which we all have, that we have to let go of because they are outside of our control while at the same time identifying those areas where our efforts will have a real impact. As theologian, Reinhold Niebuhr put it ‘God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.’

Noel Guilford, Principal at Guilford Accounting
Noel Guilford is the principal of Guilford Accounting a small business accountancy practice specialising in advising owner-managed businesses on current accounting, finance, and tax matters. You can reach him via email at or by phone at 01244 660866. He is the author of the 'Figure it out - an entrepreneurs guide to understanding your business numbers' which you can obtain by visiting​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​ His latest book, How to Build a Successful Business' will be published in 2018.

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