Understanding What You Can Control

“Be careful for nothing, but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7). And all of God’s people said amen! But then they left church, and worry and anxiety climbed into the car with them and rode home.

Many people are prone to worry. Anxiety is often the result of worrying about the future. Stepping into the unknown is unnerving. The way most of us deal with our worry is through a sense of control, or rather, through our locus of control. Locus of control is a basic concept Julian Rotter proposed in the 1950s. Do you control your life, or does something else? This concept can be either internal or external.

Internal locus is the belief that personal decisions and efforts directly affect the thoughts and behaviors of a person—that is, you control your reactions to situations and your environment. External locus is the belief that behaviors and thoughts are determined by outside influences or environments. Embracing an external locus of control tends to make you more anxious, since most things we face every day are beyond our control: people we encounter, the weather, car accidents, traffic, news, or the latest market report. For example, if you get stuck in traffic, drenched in a rainstorm, and then fussed at by your spouse, many people would say you are having a bad day. Your environment and things outside of your control cause you to have a bad day.

Allowing things beyond our control to affect our thoughts and behaviors becomes a problem because we tend to focus and worry about things over which we have no control. When we try to deal with our anxiety by clinging to our own sense of control, we remain in constant fear.

Focus for a moment on just the retirement side of things: you know the future. Instead of using internal locus of control, the market dictates our investment saving strategies. Reacting to situations outside our control, bull and bear cycles of the market end up costing us double, because we sell after markets have fallen and buy after markets experience gains. No one person controls the market’s ups and downs, and even when the government steps in to try to help, things often don’t go as planned. But letting anxiousness about what might happen keep you from setting aside money you need for retirement will only lead to greater problems later.

Whether the markets are in a bull or bear cycle, you need to keep your saving strategy on course. If you always let outside factors control your feelings about retirement or investments, you will either panic, selling when the markets are down (the wrong move), or you will buy when the markets are up (again, wrong move).

We know from years of study and research, that fear of loss often causes us to miss out on the greatest rewards. Which brings us back to our question. Do you control your life, or does something else? The truth is, our lives are in God’s hands. We shouldn’t try to take back things we can’t control anyway.

Sure, we all have to prepare for the future. We don’t know if we will die tomorrow or live to be 102, but we need to do our best to prepare for anything God allows. By working hand-in-hand with His plan for us, we live successful lives. While this doesn’t mean our lives will be free from downturns and setbacks, we can rest in the knowledge He is in control, and we are not.


**Adapted from ONE Magazine