When I started working with clients, specifically adolescent to adult clients, I would teach them about the locus of control. Inside the circle are things I can control, outside are things I cannot. But it didn’t seem to resonate with my clients and I know it didn’t resonate with me.
A few years ago, I went to a training with some friends and one of my friends told me about this boat thing. It was the same thing as the locus of control, but you use a boat instead of a circle. My mind was blown. We were driving back home after this training and I could feel my brain exploding as we talked about this and how to draw it/visualize it/teach it to clients. (We were also driving by a Krispy Kreme at this point and I was also really excited about that too, but I digress…)
Basically, it goes something like this.
So you have this boat, floating along on the ocean. And anything inside the boat is something you can control. Because you are the boat. So I usually ask clients about things they can control, keeping it pretty simple. And the boat usually ends up looking like this:
Okay so sometimes I get some push back and clients say “whoa whoa whoa. I can’t control my thoughts!” True! But a thought is just a thought, no matter how convincing it might seem. This is the point where I say okay, we agree that you can only control these things right? Whatever is inside the boat, because you are the boat. I usually get a yes or head nod. Okay so, can we agree that if you can control these things in yourself, then you CANNOT control them in others? Big yes at this point. So the boat then looks like this:
So now, we have the things you can control, because they are inside your boat and you are the boat. Then, outside your boat, we have the ocean, where I put other people’s stuff and the clouds, with “weather” and “traffic” because, let’s be honest, at some point, you have driven on I-95, I-4, I-10, I-75 or any major highway and I bet you said some really choice words about someone else on that same highway.
Now, what happens when things you cannot control affect your boat? Your boat gets damaged.
So here is an example. You are driving to work and you get caught in traffic and you end up being late for work, as in hours late. Okay, well you can’t control traffic right? But it still stresses you out and potentially causes damage to your boat. What about when someone, perhaps you and a partner/spouse/parent/friend get into an argument. Words have meaning, see my prior blog on words & feelings. You now have this damage to your boat, how do you fix it? Put bubblegum in the leaks? Stand on the leaks and bail water? Abandon ship? Ahhh, but you can’t abandon ship, you only get one boat. Remember, you are the boat.
This is where clients tell me they have no idea. Okay well, let’s talk about this. Because I started this blog post discussing locus of control and that is still true. But I also want to talk about distress tolerance and my favorite topic ever, boundaries.
>>>Regarding my example of you being stuck in traffic, you can utilize different distress tolerance techniques, a.k.a. coping skills.
>>>Regarding my example of the argument with your partner/spouse/parent/friend, you can do some coping skills and set boundaries if necessary.
In order for your boat to be better, as good as new, you have to practice these things. Truthfully, you can only control yourself. Sure, as a parent you control what your kids wear, eat or watch, but really, how long does that last? Even when they are teens or young adults living with you, your control is out the window pretty much.
The thing is, you have to make sure you are okay so you can take care of or help others. Taking care of your boat, taking care of you, is super important. Know what you are willing to put up with regarding boundaries, making sure you set and maintain boundaries. Know how you can say no to someone because no, you don’t want to help your coworker move to a 4th floor apartment. There are so many ways to say no without being mean and it is okay to say no and set that boundary.