Controlling what you can in life

THE MIND-MONEY CONNECTION

Listen in as hosts Bright and Brian discuss how letting go and focusing on what you can control can help lead to a life of optimism and resilience.

 
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Brian:

Welcome to “Money and Mindset With Bright and Brian,” where we explore the connection between a positive, happy mind and a more confident financial life.

I’m excited, Bright. This is our first podcast. How are you feeling?

Bright:
I’m excited too. A little nervous, to be honest.

Brian:
I will admit the same. I’m usually cool, calm, and collected. I’m used to speaking to some pretty big crowds, but I am by myself, in my office, in the basement, and my palms are sweaty, but we’re going to get through this. This will be a lot of fun. And today, our show is going to focus on optimism and taking control of what you can control. But before we get into that, I just want to do a little intro, just so our listeners know who we are and why we’re doing this podcast. I’ll kind of kick things off. Hey everybody, I am Brian, and I am a total financial nerd. However, my official title at the bank, my title at Truist is Head of Financial Wellness, but I’ve pretty much built a career out of helping people get in a better place financially. That’s something that I absolutely love, I’m passionate about. Bright, tell us about yourself.

Bright:
So I’m Bright. It’s my real name. I didn’t change my name to talk about happiness. I also work at Truist, and I’m on our Culture Team and I study and practice positive psychology, which is the science of what makes a good life. How do we live a good life? And I do that for Truist. I help Truist teammates and client organizations answer the question for themselves too. And I think my essential question in life is, how do you really create for yourself a full and happy life, right where you are in the moment?

Brian:
Awesome. And I know just from the times we’ve chatted and worked together, Bright, you won’t say it, but you are a guru on how to be happy. Which is exciting. And I say we just jump right into things. I know with today and everything that’s going on in our world, sometimes we can just feel helpless. It’s tough, but is this normal, and what can we do about it?

Bright:
Yeah, it is normal. I mean, we’re in very un-normal times, and what I’ve been talking to people about and people have been talking to me about is that in un-normal times, everything is kind of normal. So every emotion that you’re experiencing is valid, and people should know that from the start. I’ve been hearing people talk about, “I’m hitting this wall. I’m hitting this pandemic wall where things just aren’t going the way I want them to, and I don’t know what to do.” And that’s normal for now.

What do you do about it? I think the thing that we can all do is take control of what we can control. The small stuff, the big stuff. Really seize on what is within your circle of control and act on it. And when we act on it, that helps us feel more control, feel more positive, more hopeful. We feel better and we’re more likely to take that next step to do something else. But that feeling of helplessness is OK. The worst thing to do is just sort of make yourself feel bad about feeling bad, right. That’s sort of doubling your suffering.

Brian:
Yeah.

Bright:
We don’t need to do that. That’s not helpful.

Brian:
No, that’s good stuff. And tell me more about this idea that we know helplessness is normal. It’s OK. Tell me more about just taking control of what you can control. Give me an example of that.

Bright:
Yeah. So, there are so many things that are out of our control right now, right? I mean, the pandemic in general, a lot of people are feeling upset about the political world for various reasons. When we are able to really look at the things that are within our purview, right, so the things that are directly around us—so things like what you’re eating, how you’re spending your time, who you’re spending your time with—when we’re able to exercise maximum control over that, we get that feeling that things are going to be a little better. Regardless of sort of what’s going on externally, when we’re in control internally, that’s actually what optimism is.

So, a lot of people have this conception that optimism is seeing things on the sunny side and always sort of flipping things to the positive. And that’s not necessarily what it is. Optimism is really about accurately understanding what you can control and what you can’t, and taking action on what you can control. So that’s called optimistic explanatory style, and it’s the way that optimistic thinkers think that helps them get things done in the world and stay more hopeful and more positive in the end.

Brian:
Yeah. That’s a fancy title. I don’t even know if I can repeat that, but what I just heard is optimism is not always the same thing as positivity.

Bright:
Totally.

Brian:
Is that basically what you’re saying? Tell me more about that.

Bright:
Totally. So, what we see is really that optimism is a thinking style, and positivity is sort of the emotional experience that can come out of that thinking style. So, optimism is how you look at the world and understand your role in it. And when we’re able to see what we can control and we act on it, that’s what actually breeds that positivity. So when we’re taking control, that’s how we’re actually able to feel more positive from the way that we think. So, what we know from sort of the cognitive model in psychology is that how you think drives what you do and then the results you get in the world. Right? So if we’re thinking optimistically—

Brian:
Powerful.

Bright:
—Yeah, I think so. I mean, it’s kind of a game changer, right? And when we’re able to think optimistically in this certain style, we see what we can control, we act on it, and that makes us feel better. That gives us feelings of hope, sometimes of gratitude, of pride. All of those good feelings that we need to sort of stay balanced in our lives and stay out of things like depression and high anxiety. It all starts in how you think, right. It all starts in deliberately choosing a different way of thinking about the world based on what you can control.

Brian:
Yeah. I think that’s good stuff. I mean, when I think about my day-to-day life and I think about optimism, sometimes I think I confuse real optimism with this idea of “turn that frown upside down.” Or maybe I just decide to ignore the bad stuff, and I’m saying, “I’m optimistic.” And I’m just saying, “I’m not going to read that.” Is there a difference between that sentiment and real optimism?

Bright:
Yeah, absolutely. And before I say that, look, just let me say, I’m all in favor of taking breaks from the news these days. I think it’s a survival strategy that most of us are going to need to employ. That said, a lot of people have that impression that to be optimistic or to be positive means that you’re kind of radiating sunshine all the time and when people give you negativity, you burst back with positivity. It’s really not what it means, right? And we’ve got to recognize that there are some complications with that. So, when we’re not anchored in reality and what’s really going on and we just decide to sort of switch to something and maybe ignore or devalue reality, it’s false. Right? It’s not sustainable, and it doesn’t work because it’s not based in reality. So when we’re talking about optimism, optimism is clearly anchored in what’s really going on. So it’s two things. It’s this accurate understanding of what’s happening, plus the ability to understand what you can control within that. I was not born an optimist. Right? Despite my name, maybe in spite of my name.

Brian:
What?

Bright:
Yeah. I know.

Brian:
When I first heard your name, I remember talking to my daughters, I’m like, “I work with a woman named Bright.” And they’re like, “What? That’s her real name?” And I’m like, “Yes.” And they’re like, “Is she the happiest person ever?” I’m like, “I don’t know. I don’t know her yet.”

Bright:
It’s a common misconception. So, I think of myself as a recovering pessimist, right? I kind of think that everyone’s born into the world with their own particular kind of weather. And some people are born sunny and some people are born thunderstorming. I was just born into the world sort of like, partly cloudy with a chance of rain. When I wake up in the morning, I’m not jumping out bed and clapping my hands and saying, “It’s going to be a great day.” Right? That’s just not who I am. But the reason I call myself a recovering pessimist is that I’ve learned, I’ve taught myself—and let me tell you, it’s taken a lot of work and it still takes a lot of work—but I’ve taught myself to find what I can control.

And it’s been a huge relief for me to know that I don’t have to be little Suzy cream cheese all the time, just bouncing positivity at people. But what I can be good at, what I can get good at and what’s helpful is to know what I can control. Right? What’s within my purview? What’s not? Right? So the things that are within my purview are me, and the things that are outside my purview are like everything and everyone else. Right? I can control me and the way that I’m thinking, I’m not going to be able to control you and the way that you’re thinking. I might have influence over that, but I can’t do that.

Brian:
Yeah.

Bright:
Yeah.

Brian:
And I do actually want, I know I’ve heard you talk about this before. I know there’s a difference between control and influence. I want to get into that in just a minute and kind of what that difference is because I want to understand it better, but I find this fascinating that some of us have a tendency towards optimism or towards maybe a cloudiness and so forth. I will admit I am a real optimist. I do wake up and I think it’s going to be sunny. I look at the bright side. And I don’t know where this came from. I really don’t. I’ve analyzed it and I can’t quite figure it out. I mean, some of it is the way my parents brought me up, but I know some of it is just the way that I am. So you and I are different that way.

I will say though, it sometimes gets me in trouble because, I’ll give you an example. During COVID[-19], when this happened, we just didn’t know what it was. It was all new. All we knew is that school was canceled for a few weeks, and I’ve got four children, and I’ve got one in elementary, one in middle school, one in high school. So we cover the gamut. But when this happened, I got out my whiteboard and I was like, “OK, Ford family. We’re not going to just survive, we’re going to thrive.” And I wrote that down on the board and everyone was like, “Uh, this is dad again. Super optimistic dude.” And I was all excited, right. Well, three weeks into this, I realized that this isn’t going away. This isn’t just three weeks of no school, because then we found out two weeks after that, that look, we’re not going back to school.

And then I watched some very important activities of my children get canceled, and I have a senior in high school, and that was tough. Her prom was canceled. There was no graduation. She didn’t get to go back to school and say goodbye to friends and teachers that helped her along the way. So anyways, as a father, I was like, man, this stinks. And now three, four months later, my kids will see me frustrated and they’ll look at me and they’re like, “Dad, are you thriving?” And I just want to wring their neck. And I’m like, “Oh.” And so it’s funny because COVID[-19] I feel like has just slapped my optimism down the drain sometimes.

And so even myself, I’m finding it difficult. But I will say that sometimes I do just ignore the bad stuff, and I like what you said about, you need to be grounded and rooted in reality, but also know what’s in control and what’s out of control. Well, tell me more too, Bright, about the difference between control and influence. What is the difference?

Bright:
So, what’s under our control is the stuff that’s directly around us. So, the actions that we can take. And the thing is, sometimes we misjudge what’s in our control and what’s not, right? So we’ve got to start getting really good at understanding what is in our control, and that’s going to be different for every person, right? So, you have a different level of control over your 6-year-old than you do your 18-year-old, right? You’ve got probably more control over your 6-year-old and more influence over your 18-year-old. Influence is where we can make a difference in something, but it’s not directly our decision. Right? So I think of it sort of as the difference between direct impact, which would be control, and indirect impact, which would be influence.

So when my mom’s doing something that I think she should be doing something differently, I can’t control her. Right? I can’t make her do anything different. What I can do is influence her. Right? And the way that I can do that is by talking to her, by being compassionate towards her, by understanding her position and trying to show her how I think and feel about it too. But in the end, I don’t have influence over it. If you take it to a bigger scale, right, you think about things like politics, right? I don’t have control over what any given politician is doing at any given time, but what do I have control over?

Brian:
What?

Bright:
I know. Too bad, so sad. I’ll just have to run for office someday, right? What I do have control over is my participation in our democratic system, right? What I do have control over is my vote, which is huge. And that’s what we’ve sort of got to be able to suss out.

And it’s more of an art than a science, right? Understanding the difference between what you can influence and what you can control. And one way to sort of test it is to do some experimentation, right? Try to figure out, all right, what’s under my control? Is this under my control? Are my eating habits under my control? Play around with that. So, when I’m at home on my own, my eating habits are 100% under my control. When I go visit family, not so much, right? I might get to choose from some options, but what’s on the table is what’s on the table. So maybe I’ll have influence there, but not control. So we can do some experimentation around this and play around with it in your own life and see where you have control, see where you have influence, and take action on those things that you can take action on.

And the rest of it, let it be. This is honestly one of the hardest parts of this is that when we identify that we don’t have control or we have little to no influence, it can be really hard to let something go. And it doesn’t mean that those things don’t impact us. They do, right? Absolutely they do. But when we’re able to let go of trying to have control, it gives us more freedom and more space to actually double down on what we can control. And it’s a really different way of looking at the world.

Brian:
Well, I think you summed up a lot of things in my relationship with my wife. We’ve got a great
relationship. We’ve been married 28 years, but just like any relationship, we go through tough stuff.

Bright:
Sure.

Brian:
But I need to remember that I can control me and I can’t control her, even though... And that’s probably the wrong word. What I mean is I can’t control our marriage, even though I have the best of intentions, but I can have influence on that. And just knowing the difference between the two, and then knowing what I can make a difference [in] and what I can influence and focusing on that, I think, is a good thing. But coming back to me, I’ve got control over me, my emotions. It’s fascinating. It’s good.

Bright:
And Brian, in relationships, we spend so much time trying to control the other person, don’t we? And it never works. It’s like 100% guaranteed to fail to try to control the other person. But when we’re controlling ourselves, it actually frees up that other person to do the same for themselves.

Brian:
Yeah. Well, look, it only took me 15 years to kind of figure that out. And then sometimes I have to relearn it when I’m getting myself into trouble in one of my various conversations with my lovely wife. And Bright, what else do we want to talk about when it comes to just optimism, taking control? What have we missed so far?

Bright:
Well, I think the sort of takeaway around, what do you do about this? So, a couple of things. So one, again, remember that it’s not about turning that frown upside down. It’s not about being sunshine all the time. You’ve got to honor those emotions, right? So particularly right now in this very unique moment, a lot of people are feeling sad. They’re feeling out of control, they’re feeling helpless, they’re feeling grief, right? More and more people are talking about how a lot of what we’re going through is grief, right? The grief of not seeing people you love. The grief of not being able to experience those important events that you thought you were going to experience. It’s sad and it’s scary. So honor those emotions. And even within that, look for what you can control. So you don’t have to be smiling about it to be optimistic, right? You don’t have to be happy necessarily or in a good mood to be optimistic, because it’s all about what you can control.

Brian:
Yeah. That’s good stuff. I need to remember that resiliency is connected with optimism and it’s
something that we can all achieve regardless of our background or our personal starting point.

And something I’ve better internalized today is that happiness, it’s not an accident, but it does take practice. And by doing a little bit here and there, I can change the way I think.

Thanks for joining us for this episode of “Money and Mindset With Bright and Brian.” Our next episode is going to focus on building financial resilience, and that’s what I’m really excited about because that’s my jam. Bright, you’ve been fantastic.

If you enjoyed the podcast, consider subscribing and dropping a rating or review in your podcast channel of choice. Join us next time for more tips on building financial confidence and living a happier life.

Thanks everybody. We’ll see you next time.

Introduction

When things get difficult, control what you can and let go of what you can’t. The result can be a wave of optimism that pushes you to accomplish great things—even in troubled times.

 

In this episode, hosts Bright Dickson—a recovering pessimist who specializes in positive psychology—and Brian Ford—a natural optimist who specializes in financial well-being—reveal how controlling what you can and understanding what you can’t control can lead to a healthier, more productive mindset.

 

Listen in as Bright and Brian cover:

  • Why feeling helpless sometimes is OK
  • How to understand what you can realistically control
  • The difference between control and influence
  • How letting go can give us more freedom
  • Optimism and the resilience phenomenon

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This content does not constitute legal, tax, accounting, financial, or investment advice. You are encouraged to consult with competent legal, tax, accounting, financial, or investment professionals based on your specific circumstances. We do not make any warranties as to accuracy or completeness of this information, do not endorse any third-party companies, products, or services described here, and take no liability for your use of this information.

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    Money and Mindset

    With Bright and Brian

    He knows finances. She studies happiness. Together, they offer tips on how to build financial confidence and live happier.