August 13, 2018

Ever feel like your alarm goes off in the morning, you step out of bed, and whoosh—you’re on a rollercoaster for the next eight to 12 hours, just being pulled along for the ride?

It happens to the best of us—especially in this 24/7 #digital world where we’re constantly distracted and pulled in different directions by pings and dings. But even when it feels like everything’s out of your hands—emails from your boss come in at record pace, the train doesn't feel like showing up to take you to work, the microwave breaks and your frozen burrito will forever remain an inedible brick—it's important to remember that you still have control over your day.

You have power over how prepared you are, your attitude, whether those sandals that give you blisters every. single. time. get to live to see another day—and so much more, big and small.

Feeling in control of your day can make you feel more active and engaged, and it can also lead to serious long-term benefits. One study found that people who feel in control and believe they can achieve goals are more likely to live longer and healthier lives. And other research has shown that autonomy—the feeling that your life is self-chosen and self-endorsed—is the number one contributor to happiness.

Autonomy—the feeling that your life is self-chosen and self-endorsed—is the number one contributor to happiness.
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So, how do you unlock that I-run-the-show feeling? You remember all the actions and attitudes you do control on a daily basis. Here, 12 ways you can flex your autonomy:

1. How You Approach Mondays

Instead of dreading the start of the week, remember that you get the benefit of the “clean-slate effect”. Mondays are your chance to change your outlook, leaving some of the previous week’s bad vibes in the past, and approaching this week with a positive mindset aimed at accomplishing your goals. Take control of your fresh start by mentally releasing what you don’t need to carry into a new week.

2. Whether You’re at the Right Mountain

In his wise and compassionate commencement speech, the writer Neil Gaiman talks about moving toward your goals—and how often it feels like you’re at the foot of a mountain. You can’t quite see the top, but you know it’s there. What you must do is take a few steps and continue up to the summit. But more importantly, you must check in and ask yourself, “Am I moving up the right mountain? Is this the path that feels right to me?”

Use this question to make sure you’re focusing on the right mountain—aka the most important task—before you dive into each day.

3. How Prepared You Are

For that work meeting, that phone chat, those eight friends who are coming by for a dinner party. By doing research, prepping in advance, or making sure you have enough cheese and crackers for eight, you have control over how prepared you feel for things that are on your calendar.

4. Your Sleep

If you’re busy, have late-night or early-morning commitments, dealing with insomnia, or feel stressed out, you might feel like sleep isn’t in your control—who actually gets the recommended 8+ hours every night anyway?! But even if you feel like you can’t sleep more, you can try to sleep better.

That whole “don’t-scroll-your-phone-before-bed” advice actually works. Read a few pages of something calming instead (I recommend Oprah’s The Wisdom of Sundays), or, spend a few bucks on an eye mask to shut out the rest of the world. You may not be able to stop your neighbor’s dogs from barking all night, but these are things you can control.

5. How You Deal With Fleeting Annoyances

The snobby barista, the guy on the subway shoving his enormous backpack in your face, your gossipy coworker. It’s easy to get irked by other people, especially if you’re already in a cranky mood. But while you can’t control their actions, you can control your reaction. These interactions are temporary—unless you decide to cling to being annoyed for the rest of the day. Actively choose to let go.

6. How Heavy Your Purse/Backpack Is

We carry around so many things that don’t serve us. When I recently took out all the random junk in my purse—including what felt like four pounds of loose change—my whole body felt lighter. Life-changing.

7. How Present You Are

Ever speed through an entire day not really “checked in” to what was going on? Same.

One way to feel more alert and alive is to simply listen: When someone’s talking, try to zero in on the words they’re saying. Think: How are you going to respond? Grounding yourself in your surroundings can help you come back down to Earth and feel more responsive and engaged and, yes, aliiiiiiiiive!

8. Your Social Media Diet

Unfollow people who bug you. Delete apps that don’t add anything to your life. Limit scrolling to once or twice a day. Thank me later. (And, um, remind me to do this myself!)

9. Your Clothing

Clothes have a powerful effect on how we feel in our bodies. For example: If I throw on my itchy bra in the morning, I swear I’ll be irritable all day. Ignore the shirts that don’t fit (you really want to be constantly readjusting it during the work day?), the shoes that give you blisters, and opt for the things in your closet that make you feel your best.

10. Your Social Obligations

Nobody wants to be a flake, but also remember that no friend wants to feel like you’re forcing yourself to hang out with them. You don’t have to have plans every night or fill up every moment of your day. You can cancel, postpone, raincheck. Your friend will understand, and probably revel in their own freedom.

11. Whether You’re Hangry or Thirsty

I’m convinced eighty percent of my bad days could be fixed with a granola bar and a bottle of water.

12. The Stories You Tell Yourself

Here’s the biggest one of them all: You do have control over how you talk to yourself. You control whether you think this is going to be a tough week or a great one, whether you’re walking into a challenging situation or one that might teach you a new lesson, or whether you believe the world is against you or, perhaps, on your side.

You’re the CEO of your mind—and, in ways big and small, your week. Now, go flex that autonomy.


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Need a little help remembering your power? Try our Be Your Own Cheerleader meditation in the Shine iOS app.

Read next: 5 Ways to Regain Focus When Your Day Veers Off Track