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Speech of the Week: Control vs. Influence

To quote the good Doctor (Dr. Who, of course),

“Life is a mixture of good and bad things.”


Every day, you are faced with good circumstances, happy occasions, and less than pleasant occurrences. Things we are happy to be a part of, and things we wish we could avoid. In every situation, we have a choice of responses.” 


The quickest way to disappointment, frustration, and resentment is through trying to control things that are not you. As humans, we are created with the instinct to rule. It is completely natural. Babies cry to get what they want, to control people around them (not maliciously of course, this is by design). For the rest of our lives, we try to control things and people. But, as so many philosophers have pointed out, control is often an illusion. If we are truly honest, the only thing we can control is ourselves (and even that proves tricky sometimes). 


People with great power and money may have an illusion of control over people, but when you boil it down to brass tacks, they can never be completely sure that people are going to choose what they want. In the same way, you may feel in control of your life, and then some outside force imposes itself on you, and you discover, in fact, that you have very little control over most things. Just consider the weather. You have no more control over the weather than you do the neighbor's cat. What you can control is how you react to each and every situation with which you are presented. 


What does this have to do with fitness and nutrition?

Great question.


I’m glad you asked. Have you ever had the experience of starting to make changes to your nutrition, and all the sudden, everyone is asking you out to lunch, your coworker brings in a box of doughnuts, someone leaves candy in the breakroom, and your mate asks you to go for a drink. Temptation is quite literally around every corner, and it is a trainwreck waiting to happen. 


You can’t control the behaviors of others, but you can control how you respond to them. One strategy we teach is to go in with a plan. You know that there is a good chance there is going to be candy in the breakroom, so before you even go in, you make a plan to eat the apple you brought from home, no matter what's on the table. You make a plan for healthy options at restaurants your friends are likely to ask you to go. You make a plan to have one drink with your pal, and take a walk around the lake after. 


Now, if you can’t stick to the plan you make, don’t intentionally put yourself in situations that you know are going to influence you to make unhealthy decisions. If you know that you can absolutely not turn down fries when they are on the menu, suggest a different restaurant to your friends. If you know you can’t stop yourself at one drink, suggest an outdoor activity instead. 


And this is where influence comes in.


You may not be able to control people or situations around you, but your choices can and do influence them. Your suggestions and visibly eating and working out more mindfully will influence people around you, if you will speak up. In the opposite direction, if you are just going around the motivation-guilt wheel, you are more likely to be influenced by others' decisions, like the doughnut guy. 


Side note: don’t be “that guy” that is always clobbering people over the head with how amazing he eats and how fit he is and how you should be more like him. Those beefcake guys often don’t have any friends aside from other jerk-face beefcake guys. Don’t be like that. 


Invite your friends on that hike. Cook a meal for your friends. Learn how to have fun without the need for alcohol. Invest in deep relationships. Control your responses and your influence. 


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