By John Sonmez August 24, 2015

Are YOU In Control of Your Life?

Are YOU in Control of Your Life?

Perhaps not.

If you’ll allow me to put my philosopher’s cap on for a minute, I’ll try to explain why—oh, and it’s related to self-discipline.

Free will or determinism?

For a long time, a debate has raged over whether or not we, as human beings, actually have free will or whether we are just a product of the stimulus of our environment.

I’m not brave enough to tread too deeply into that murky swamp of religious zealots and dead philosophers, but I do want to at least address how we are able to control our lives—if we do indeed possess the power to do so.

If we do possess this power—and I believe we do, otherwise I wouldn’t be writing this post—then this ability to control our actions resides in our consciousness.

What I mean by this is: if we are able to control our own actions to some degree, it is simply our thinking and self-aware mind that have to be the ones in control.

If some other aspect of our biology is controlling our actions—or influencing them to a high degree—we are, in fact, not in control. We might as well subscribe to full determinism in that case, because there is essentially no one at the helm of our ship.

Or perhaps a more apt metaphor would be to say the rudder is not connected to the steering wheel. We can spin the wheel as much as we want, but it doesn’t actually cause the ship to change direction.

That is why I say, IF we have free will, it is only achieved through using our consciousness to actually steer the ship.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that our consciousness itself is not governed by deterministic methods—that’s a whole other conversation that goes far too deep for this article. Rather, it means that for free will to exist at all, our consciousness must not only be at the helm of the ship, but also have the full capacity to direct its course.

The more our consciousness is able to achieve this feat, the more capable we would then be of exhibiting free will.

Who’s at the helm of your ship?

Depositphotos_1084973_m-2015Now that we’ve laid that groundwork, we can get to the core of the issue.

Who, then, is controlling your ship?

This can be a tough question to answer.

Your immediate thought might be, “Me! I am, of course.”

But is that really true?

Let’s examine the evidence, shall we?

Please be seated. Now, do you swear to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth?

Good. Let’s get started.

Have you ever desired to act in one way, but found yourself acting in the exact opposite manner?

No explanation needed. A simple “yes” or “no” answer please.

Next question.

Have you ever tried to go on a diet, but found yourself unable to stick to it long enough to reach your desired weight?

Have you ever tried to start a fitness routine and failed to motivate yourself to go to the gym in the morning?

Have you ever committed to some other form of higher achievement, perhaps reading a book, advancing your career in some way, or even blogging, and failed to carry out those actions as you intended?

Don’t worry. I’m guilty as charged as well.

This doesn’t mean that you and I don’t have any control over our lives. But the amount of negative answers we give each question determines the degree to which we are “in control” of our lives.

Simply put: if you can’t actually do what you want to do, then you can’t really claim to be in control, now can you?

Your worst enemy is yourself, after all.

It all comes down to self-discipline

Ah ha! You didn’t really think my goal was to talk about philosophy, did you?

No, indeed my plan was to extol the virtues of self-discipline once again.

It’s not that I’m a masochist, it’s just that I’ve come to realize how valuable—and essential—self-discipline is if you actually want to have control over your own life.

Man waking up and yawning in bedI’ll soon make an impassioned plea and tell you just how dire your situation is, but before then, let me brag a little bit.

  • Every morning, I wake up and either go for a 10 kilometer run or go to the gym the lift weights for an hour.
  • Every day, I fast until 5:00 PM, at which time I eat my first meal.
  • I abstain, for the most part, from drugs, alcohol and many other indulgences.
  • I write a blog post, at least once a week, make sure I have three YouTube videos ready to go out each week, and engage in many other activities that I don’t always find desirable.

I rarely miss a workout, skip a fast, or drop the ball, because I know that every time I do I am giving up control of my life to some external force.

Now, realistically, I don’t have to do any of this stuff.

I could just live a “normal” life—okay, well, my wife disagrees there. But I think I could just live a normal life.

I don’t even really have to blog, or do anything else for that matter, since I’m for all intents and purposes “retired.” (See chapter 55 of my book, Soft Skills: The Software Developer’s Life Manual, to understand what I mean.)

I certainly don’t have to fast until 5:00 PM every day.

But, I do it anyway. Why?

It’s not because I’m so awesome or stoic. I mainly do it because I want to have control—to the greatest degree that I can—over my own life.

I want to develop, and maintain, the kind of self-discipline that allows me to achieve any goal that I set my mind to.

I do not want to be constrained by weakness, fear, doubt, laziness, or any other malady that would inhibit my consciousness from having as much control over my body as possible.

Some people think I’m crazy. They don’t understand why I would train my mind and body in this way, when I don’t have to.

I understand their thinking, but I also think they are crazy, because by the literal definition of the word, they do not control their own actions and they don’t even know it.

It’s more dire than you think

Mechanic in red OverallI’m not trying to be a drama queen here, but I want you to understand the full implications of what I am saying.

To the degree that you lack self-discipline, you are not in control of yourself or your own life.

If you lack self-discipline, life is literally living you.

Other people and events are controlling you.

You are allowing yourself to be, at best, randomly controlled by whatever circumstances happen to come your way; and at worst, by any person who chooses to manipulate you in the same way a scientist might compel a rat to run a maze for a block of cheese.

(Check out Fooled by Randomness for a fantastic book on this subject. I just finished this book, but thoroughly enjoyed it.)

Seriously take a moment, right now, to think about how much of your will you are able to manifest within your own person.

If you set your mind to a task, can you actually accomplish it?

How would you rate your own personal ability to successfully execute your own plans and desires?

Do you rule over chocolate cake or does chocolate cake rule over you?

It’s very difficult to explain the full gravity of this situation.

Who’s driving your car?

Confused by the ship metaphor? Here is another attempt:

Imagine you are driving a car.

Now, imagine that I take away your ability to turn left.

Without the ability to turn left, your ability to drive the car would be fairly crippled.

Anytime you wanted to turn left, you could try and turn the steering wheel, but nothing would happen.

Now, imagine that I also disabled your breaks.

Imagine that I also removed your ability to accelerate.

Finally, imagine that I took away your ability to turn right or even shift gears.

It would be a pretty scary situation. If you’ve ever had your brakes fail or have tried to drive a car that has been disabled in some way, you probably can recall how terrifying of an experience that can be.

But, unfortunately, most of us are living our lives with one or more controls completely disabled.

In fact, many of us are living our lives with only the ability the change the radio station. We are in the driver’s seat, supposed to be driving the car, but we are unable to actually steer, speed up, shift gears or slow down. We are just along for the ride.

This is exactly what your life is like without self-discipline.

Just like a person sitting in the driver’s seat of a disabled car can’t claim to be in control of it, a person lacking self-discipline is not in control of their own life.

I don’t know about you, but when I sat down and really thought about this situation, it scared the hell out of me!

I began to realize that a large portion of my life was probably not under my control.

And here is the scariest part of the whole thing—at least in my opinion.

You cannot will yourself to realize the truth of this situation.

You cannot force yourself to wake up from this dream.

There are only a few lucid moments of life that you have to even understand your plight.

Consider your very reading of this post as one of those elusive, lucid moments.

Depositphotos_25566013_m-2015Unless you actually take some kind of action now to remind yourself about the situation of “uncontrol” that is likely present your own life—by either making a change to exert more control or setting a reminder to do so at some point in the future—you may never get the chance again.

You may even be agreeing with what I am saying, but later on, whether or not you actually remember that you want to make some kind of change in your life to exert more self-discipline and actually follow through is completely up to chance.

Unless, of course, you actually do something right now—like bookmarking this page and putting in a calendar reminder to reread it again in a week, for instance.

In fact, the very idea of this post came to me in a random thought, which might have been lost forever had I not immediately written it down where I would surely see it again.

How to gain more control over your life

I’ve already mentioned one way in which you can actually gain more control over your life. You can, right now, decide to do something that will force you to rethink and revisit these very thoughts in the near future.

I’ll even help you do so—by leaving this post on a bit of a cliff-hanger.

If you are afraid of being in the driver’s seat of a car that you’re not controlling, check back next week, when I’ll do a follow-up post detailing some specific techniques you can use to increase your self-discipline and exert more conscious control over your own life.

If you don’t want to leave things to chance, and want to be sure not to miss the post, sign up here and I’ll send you an email when the follow-up post is published.

About the author

John Sonmez

John Sonmez is the founder of Simple Programmer and a life coach for software developers. He is the best selling author of the book "Soft Skills: The Software Developer's Life Manual."