In the head-spinning rush of our days (the commute to work, balancing a ton of projects, a multitude of distractions), we often feel like we’re just responding to our day, versus leading it. The demands, expectations and obligations feel like one giant to-do list life just bestowed on us.
It can feel like we’ve lost our free will.
The debate about free will has raged for centuries across philosophers, psychologists, religious academics and late night convos in cozy Brooklyn bars over vintage typewriters.
Whether or not free will is ‘real,’ research has shown that when we believe we have more control and can exercise free will to our benefit, our performance at work, school, and other key parts of our lives improve. So, when our life feels at the beck and call of externalities, small reminders of our free will can significantly reduce stress and feelings of helplessness.
Here are few ways you can take note of the often overlooked parts of your day that prove your sense of control. You are a free agent to run this beautiful life of yours:
Take an Autonomy Audit
Run inventory on the parts of your day that are already reinforcing your sense of control. Do you have a morning routine you love? A flexible dress code at your work? Reaffirm where you’re exerting control by hitting pause to reflect on the seemingly small, but important, facets of your day that prove it.
Reflect on an empowering moment of control
As humans with built in negativity-bias, we’re great at ruminating on the parts of our days where we feel we’re losing control or falling behind. But imagine you’re examining your life from a third-party view. Reflect on a powerful moment you had where you made a choice that energized you. Broke off a toxic friendship? Took a trip that challenged you? Pay homage to the choices you’ve made along the way that have gotten you to where you are right now.
Switch up parts of your routine.
Assert the control you possess over your day in small choices. Flex those “yeah, guess-who’s-running-this-ship?” muscles.
Whether switching up your Spotify playlist, taking a different commute home or taking a five minute walk when you need it today, remind yourself that your decisions, even ones that typically seem mindless, are evidence you get to curate your day.
Say no when you want to
In setting limits, we can assert our freedom, giving us more directive over how and where we spend our time. Find one meaningful way to set boundaries by saying no to something or someone that doesn’t uplift you (a coworker who’s distracting you, weekend plans you don’t feel up for). Reallocate that time to something that fuels you, like a passion project you just kicked off, a weekend bike ride, or cathartic ugly-crying to This is Us (speaking for a friend).
Switch to a language of privilege
When we view what fills our day like obligations it weighs us down and we can be quick to forget that what seems like obligations are often the things we chose. Make a powerful change in your vocabulary by switching from a language of duty (“I have to go to work today”) to a language of privilege (“I get to do work I’m proud of every day”), better recognizing the opportunities that make up your life.
While your day feels like everyone and everything is in the driver’s seat but you, never doubt that this life is yours to own.