Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today

Three Questions to Ask to Best Cope With Change

How to prioritize your time when the unexpected occurs.

Source: SergeyNivens/Adobestock

You know life changes, but the unexpected happens and the disruption is unsettling. Like most human beings, you probably don’t like most changes you didn’t choose for yourself. Interference is annoying. Loss hurts. The unknown is scary.

Whether you are reluctant to accept the present or you staunchly believe the past will re-materialize, you are wasting your precious energy.

These three questions will help you prioritize and focus your energy to best cope with change:

  1. What is in my control right now to create or influence?
  2. When I listen to my thoughts and track how I’m spending my time, how am I using my energy?
  3. What will it take to shift my thoughts and actions to focus more on what is in my control to create or influence?


Technology has increased the rate of change faster than our human development. Skills and knowledge have a shelf life shorter than ever before. Friends, laws, shopping malls…every year is different. It’s hard to plan and you can’t depend on your habitual ways of doing things.

Control doesn’t mean you get your way. Expecting things to turn out the way you want them to will make you feel out of control and powerless.

Instead, control is the sense you get when you take advantage of the current circumstances to create and find your way forward.


On a sheet of paper, draw three columns. Identify a situation at work, in your relationships, or in your life that frustrates you.

Label the first column, “Out of my control.” List everything about this situation you have no control over.

Label the second column, “In my control.” List everything about this situation that is in our control, starting with the attitudes and the emotions you feel every time you think about this situation.

Label the third column, “Who I can influence.” Is there anyone you can talk to or any action you can take that could affect a situation you have no control over? Maybe you can influence someone who can change a rule, re-focus a group, or put in a good word for you. Choose to advocate for what you are passionate about. List the action you can take here.


How frustrated and tired are you at the end of the day? The wearier you are, the more likely you are spending time complaining, pushing, and expecting to change things out of your control. You may be afraid of the future, angry the world changed beneath you, embarrassed that you can’t do things on your own anymore but need to count on others for help. You might even be sad about the losses you are experiencing.

Your emotions and thoughts expend energy. We all have pictures of what we thought a situation, relationship, or job would look like. Then something else happened. How much energy are you spending clinging to your expectations or working in ways that are becoming obsolete? You are constantly making choices about how to expend your energy; no one else is to blame.


Set an alarm on your computer or phone to go off every two hours for at least three days. As soon as you hear the alarm, write down your thoughts and describe what you are doing. After three days, list how you spent your energy in order of repetition. What thoughts and actions showed up the most?


Compare your lists of Control and Energy. When you focus on what you can’t control, you have little energy left to create. You become a victim of your circumstances not the master of your future.

Ask yourself the three questions:

  1. What is in my control right now to create or influence?
  2. When I listen to my thoughts and track how I’m spending my time, how am I using my energy?
  3. What will it take to shift my thoughts and actions to focus more on what is in my control to create or influence?

Focus on what you can control, like taking care of yourself, finding a different way to relate to people you don’t like, and developing new skills that interest you. This makes you powerful.

The present circumstances are real. Choose to work with what is on your plate, whether you like it or not. Find a way to make it work for you.

There are many times in life where you don’t get what you want yet the results turn out to be better than you had expected. There is always a possibility that the worst will happen. Just as strong is the possibility that the best can happen. Learning, testing, slipping, and jumping forward is a continuous process that will keep you on top of change instead of feeling like you were thrown under the bus.

Based on the Alcoholics Anonymous creed, I wish for you the willingness to accept the things you cannot change, the courage to change the things you can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

NOTE ON GRIEVING: Sometimes you need to let yourself be sad about the loss you feel when things change. Give yourself the time you need to do this before you push yourself to move on. If you find you can’t move on, seek help from a therapist who can help you cope with the loss.


For more ideas on how to outsmart your brain, visit Dr. Reynolds' website and book, Outsmart Your Brain.