Control What You CAN Control - Justin Lioi, LCSW - Brooklyn, NY

In a time of so much out of our uncertainty, it’s important to get a realistic sense of what’s in our control, and what’s out of it. Mixing these two up could mean a lot of wasted energy. We need to control what we can control.

As you’re going through your day to day, there are 3 tasks that I’ve been finding really helpful. And the order is important, so listen up!

1. Acknowledgement

I think before we come up with any great self-care methods. Before we focus on the positive. Before we start doing all the things that are designed to make us feel better, we need to acknowledge that we feel shitty.
Or scared.
Or angry.
Or are grieving for a way of life that we are not going to have right now.
This may not be a popular thing to say and most of what you see in the media is telling you that you can and should run the other way from all those “negative” feelings.
Now I love a good self-care strategy. And this isn’t a post telling you to feel fear and just douse yourself with sadness.
It’s to say, yes, acknowledge that you are uncomfortable. That there is so much we don’t know.
So sit with the difficult, uncomfortable, vulnerable feelings. Feel them.
Know that feelings do come and go so you’re not likely to get stuck on one feeling and that’s that. Time’s up.
Remember that the pressure you’re going to put on yourself to not feel those shitty feelings is not going to make them go away. It’s going to make them come out in unexpected, less controllable ways.
They’ll show up in physical symptoms. Or in a growing irritation that you take out on your partner, your kids, your friends during your online meet up.
Acknowledge it without doing anything else.

2. Create Rituals

Ok, now that you’ve not been wasting your energy on pushing those negative feelings away, you’re going to be able to see a bit more clearly the difference between what you can accomplish and what is just pushing a large rock uphill and having it roll back on top of you.
This is where rituals come in.
Take your cue from the kids that are doing well right now. They are the ones whose families have been able to provide a sense of structure for their days. It’s how pre-schools get through their day: they get the kids to know that first comes circle time, then it’s letters, then story time, then music, then lunch, etc. They know what’s coming next, they know what has past. This lets them feel a sense of control over their day–just the knowing.
You can do this for yourself. Did you have a morning or bedtime ritual for yourself before that you’ve let slide? Begin to reconstruct it in a way that works for you. If you didn’t, there’s no better time to start one.
Plan out how you’d like your day to go. When does work start and end? When is planned time with the kids and when is planned time with your partner? If you’re living alone, when do you plan your online hangouts?
I’m not saying you should do this, and if you’re having a fine time free-flowing your day, then keep at it! But most of us find some comfort in the rituals.
I like knowing that my morning will flow from exercise, to journaling, to coffee (I’m one of those people who embraces the coffee making ritual too. I’ve got one of those stovetop Moka pots and though it takes longer, I prefer it.)–and all of that before I have “check my email” time.
Don’t be rigid about this and don’t berate yourself if you miss something or you had to change something around on your kids. It may or may not make things more difficult, but it’s not about being perfect, it’s about having some control over an uncontrollable time.

3. Reflect, but Don’t Keep Score

At the end of the day, get into bed knowing you did as much or as little as you could that day. Beating yourself up for not getting something done, not being the most attentive husband or father, is not going to do you or your family any favors. you’re not going to become a better man by punishing yourself.
If you’re someone who keeps a gratitude list, this is a great time to use it to reflect on things that you may not have noticed in the past that you are grateful for. Challenge yourself to find something really small that brings the slightest smile to your face.
As the ways you didn’t meet the mark come up (and they will), gently remind yourself of what you did accomplish and put those other things on the top of the list to get done tomorrow.
Or consider whether they’re something you really need to do and, if so, if they need to be done right away.
Reflection should be a time to examine what you were able to accomplish, not as a time to tally up your failures.

Control What We CAN Control

There’s a lot going on right now and it’s a scary time. That’s not always easy to say–that I’m scared, but it’s important for me to admit it so I don’t have to stay there. So I don’t have to let that consume me. I can be scared and take care of others. I can be scared and ensure that I’m taking care of myself. And I’m not always scared. I’m happy a bunch too. I laugh a lot. I also get anxious and sad. Allowing myself access to all these feelings makes everything, even the scary times, much more bearable. Because after acknowledgement I have some rituals to follow!

If you’re struggling right now and think talking to someone might be helpful, get in contact and we’ll have a 15/20 minute consultation to talk about your situation and whether counseling might be something you’d be interested in trying out. Questions about Online Therapy? There’s a page for that!

Justin Lioi, LCSW is a men’s mental health and relationship expert. He is a Brooklyn therapist (as well as also seeing clients online throughout New York State and internationally.) He received his degree from New York University and has been working with men and their families for over 10 years. Justin is on the Board of the National Association of Social Workers and writes a weekly column for the Good Men Project called Unmasking Masculinity. He can be found on local and national podcasts talking about assertiveness, anger, self-compassion, all with the goal of becoming the man you want to be.