Selective Optimization of Control

We’ve all been there. Sometimes it happens in a big life transition, other times it’s something unexpected happens and turns your life upside down, but whatever the circumstance, we’ve all experienced that time where you feel like you have no power in your life. In these moments, life feels like it’s spiraling out of control and all we can do is just hang on.

Recently, I heard a rather useful concept worth knowing. The concept was called selective optimization of control or, in layman’s terms, the process of pulling yourself together. Selective optimization of control (Going to call it SOC now cause it’s less wordy) is actually something most people do without even realizing it. Have you ever met somebody who cleaned a lot when they were stressed? If you have, then you encountered somebody engaging in SOC.

SOC in it’s basic form is the process of finding places, activities, or circumstances where you can feel in control to compensate for the ones you do not. So, for example, your job is prompting you to move to another city far away from your current area. You feel stress because there is very little you can do right now to make that huge transition easier. So, you might cope by doing something that makes you feel more in control. Examples would be organizing and cleaning your house, taking a walk or run, exercising, or doing something you feel like you have some level of mastery over such as playing a musical instrument you are good at or playing an easy level in a video game.

You can even see SOC on a larger scale when a tragedy happens. For example, whenever there is a school shooting there is a natural push for some sort of gun control law, increased school security, censorship of violent video games, etc. There is also almost always at least one small group of people that will claim the shooting was a conspiracy and never happened. All these actions are actually an attempt at SOC. When a school shooting happens it highlights the fact that in many ways we have very little control over the actions of others. The reaction to this is then to regain a sense of control by doing whatever we can to feel like we have mastery over the situation. For some this is pushing for laws that make you feel safer– for others, this will be seeing the whole incident as a hoax or conspiracy and feeling like you have control because you can see what is “really” happening.

So, the point of talking about this is that this is something you can use in your day to day life. Find healthy ways to manage your stress by finding positive forms of SOC that you can use. Pay attention to what makes you feel more control in your day to day life. What do you feel like you have mastery over? It doesn’t have to be something particularly productive, it just has to be something you can pour yourself in and makes you feel better when having a bad day. Also pay attention to what makes you feel less in control. If your life is already upside down, should you be working on that stressful project that can wait until next week? I usually don’t endorse procrastination, but this can be one of the few times where putting something off may be healthy so long as it is done intelligently.

Image provided by Maarten Takens and Vic

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