Volume 1, Issue 2, February 2023
If you served in the military no matter what branch of service you were in, you learned at some point the importance of having space to maneuver. Whether you were maneuvering pairs of boots, a tank, a ship, or a fighter jet, having adequate physical space was essential to executing maneuver smoothly and safely. Likewise, when we encounter challenges in life, our minds need maneuver space to mentally negotiate difficult moments. This series will highlight each month a different brief cognitive tool that you can use in your daily life to potentially create more maneuver space. Remember having maneuver space, or space to think is a gift in life. Once you create it, use it to your advantage!
Check out Maneuver Space: Volume 1, Issue 1
Zones of Control
Command and control is a key concept in our nation’s warfighting doctrine. However, control in the military does not always mean having total supremacy over every event, action, and service member in one’s command. There are entire complex command and control systems set up because leaders realize direct span of control is limited.[i] Sometimes in life we need to remind ourselves about span of control. What really do we control? Life is challenging when we don’t feel in control. We feel vulnerable and maybe even expend lots of mental energy and physical resources to make us feel in control again. If being in control makes us feel so comfortable, how do we create more mental maneuver space by embracing what we really can control? Perhaps the method of conceptualizing control as zones can be useful:
Zone of Control: I sometimes like to mentally draw a circle around my feet to remind myself exactly how much I can directly control in life. “I cannot control all events outside of myself, but I do have some control over what happens to me and my reactions to events.”[ii] There are many schools of thought, philosophies, and explanations about what humans really can control in their life, but when you boil them down, they often fit into three categories: what we think, what we say, and how we behave. With this knowledge, life’s zone of control at its most simplistic form is essentially just…you.
Zone of Influence: The second circle we can draw is that of the zone of influence. Most things in the zone of influence we can only at best, monitor and potentially encourage or discourage, but not fully control. “I do not have total control over other people or events at all times. However, I am not powerless to influence the behavior of others or the outcome of some events.”[iii] Things that are in the zone of influence we may have to learn to sometimes accept in life. Acceptance is not changing one’s mind or beliefs. Acceptance is more about being willing to sometimes experience difficult emotions and trying to be psychologically as flexible as possible in understanding that we can’t control every aspect of life.[iv]
Zone of Everything Else: The third circle we can draw is that of the zone of everything else. The things here we have minimal to no control over. Why is it that some of the things that reside here often feel like they are in control of us? One only needs to sign into social media or turn on the news to potentially experience this. While we certainly have the right to be concerned with things in this zone, we have minimal to no control over them. When we let the things in the zone of everything else affect how we think, what we say, or how we behave, we are giving them control. Something or someone else is now in charge. When we let this happen continually, we also potentially surrender space in our minds to maneuver.
Most will likely agree, it feels better to be in control than have something or someone else be in control. The concept of control, specifically in the military, highlights how a commander monitors and influences the actions they ordered. In life, we can similarly implement such a model, potentially by embracing the things we can most control, accepting that we can only influence the things that we have little control over, and minimizing or even eliminating in our life the effect of things that we have no control over. Reminding ourselves to focus and prioritize things in our zone of control helps create more maneuver space in our minds, and potentially, improved quality of life.
About the Author: Mr. Bongioanni is a licensed mental health counselor who also works for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. He is also a senior leader in the U.S. Army Reserve. His professional interests include human behavior, applied psychology, and military cultural competence. The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, the U.S. Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.
[i] Department of the Army. (2022). Field Manual 6-0 Commander and Staff Organization and Operations. (p. 1-2 – 1-5) https://armypubs.army.mil/epubs/DR_pubs/DR_a/ARN35404-FM_6-0-000-WEB-1.pdf
[ii]Resick, P. A., Monson, C. M., & Chard, K. M. (2014). Cognitive processing therapy: Veteran/military version: Therapist’s manual. Washington, DC: Department of Veterans Affairs., 147.
[iii] Resick et al., (2014), 147.
[iv] Walser, R. D., Sears, K., Chartier, M., & Karlin, B. E. (2012). Acceptance and Commitment Therapy for Depression in Veterans: Therapist manual. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, 16.
[v] Adapted From: Covey, S. (1990). The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change. New York: Free Press.
As the Voice of the Veteran Community, The Havok Journal seeks to publish a variety of perspectives on a number of sensitive subjects. Unless specifically noted otherwise, nothing we publish is an official point of view of The Havok Journal or any part of the U.S. government.