The Three Boxes

I was a worrier.  A control freak.  I thought of worse case scenarios a lot.  I tried to avoid calamity, or even small setbacks, like the plague.  If something bad was possible, I thought a lot about it.  Before it even happened.  It didn’t matter what area of my life we’re talking about.  These boogeyman possibilities would pop into my head throughout the day, even in the midst of an otherwise enjoyable moment.  I wasn’t much fun to be around.   Something had to give – my sanity or the worrying.

For some reason, this idea raised its logical little head many years ago – worrying ain’t helping nothing.  Not one time had worry itself solved the problem, avoided the catastrophy, or even made me feel better.  No, in fact, it made me feel worse.  So, I knew I needed to replace worry with something else: action and peace.  Here’s what I came up with – put everything that is in front of you into one of three boxes and then take the appropriate action.

Box 1 – Things you have total control over

Examples might include

  • What attitude you take to work with you this morning
  • What you say back to someone who verbally abused you
  • What you absorb into your mind and soul through reading
  • Whether you do today what you’d rather put off until tomorrow
  • Whether you begin to save money for the future
  • How much effort you put into enriching your marriage
  • Whether you pick the phone up one more time to try for a job interview

Action Required: 100% Results.  That’s right, no room for partial delivery here.  Why?  If you can absolutely control it, then there is no reason whatsoever to not do it and do it right.  None.

Go back through the above list and form in your mind what you know would be the correct action for you to take in each situation.  Nothing to stop you from doing it, is there?

Box 2 – Things you don’t control, but do influence

Examples might include

  • How a co-worker responds to you
  • How your kids turn out when they’re grown
  • Who gets elected
  • Whether your spouse works to enrich your marriage
  • How your team works together
  • Whether the product you sell or market to retail actually sells through to John Doe
  • How long your car lasts

 Action Required: 100% Effort.  The key here is to do all you possibly can to achieve the best outcome.  You don’t control it, but you can surely influence it by intelligent thought and hard work.  Again, no excuses for not giving it all you can.

Box 3 – Things you can neither control nor even influence

Examples might include

  • Whether that hike you were looking forward to gets rained out
  • How the stock market fares this year
  • What the competition is doing
  • When the love of your life is going to walk into your life
  • How much food prices go up
  • Whether your new boss is someone you would have selected
  • How the other drivers act on the road

Action required:  Well, as I used to so articulately explain to the patient folks who worked for me, “If I catch you spending 5 seconds worrying about a Box 3, I’ll kick your a___!!!  I mean, why would you?  Worry about something you can’t do a dang thing about?  So, every now and then, just to be sure you’re not hanging on just a little bit, fold the top of the box over, take it out back, pour some gasoline on it, get the marshmallows, and set the sucker on fire.

So, there it is.  Oversimplified?  Maybe a little.  But it has surely helped me these past 10 years or so.  I don’t worry (well, maybe ALMOST never….).  In Box1 and Box 2, action is called for.  In Box 3, no action is required.  The only constant among all the Boxes is the total absence of the big “W”.  And when the big “W” leaves his place in line, taking his buddy Stress with him, other more pleasing states of mind take their place.  Like peace.  Joy.  Relief.  Energy.  Well-being.  I’ll take that trade anytime.  Give it a try.  It’ll take a little practice sorting all your issues into the right boxes, but soon you’ll start getting that incredible sense of clarity and freedom that sweeping away unproductive thought and action gives you.  And that’s going to make you a better, happier YOU.