What to do when you can't change a situation?


By Annie Malcolm


In our last post we blogged about why you don’t need to suffer from mental health issues to see a psychologist. In doing so, we opened up our toolkit (more on that later) to show the types of skills that we help people build to make changes in their lives. But what happens when you're faced with a situation in which change just doesn't happen, no matter what you try? Faced with a lack of control over outcomes, what is your best approach? Today we're looking at just that (Hint: acceptance and mindfulness play a role).

So what's in our toolkit for change?

Back to our toolkit. We covered a range of skills in our previous post on the types of skills psychologists can help with. These skills help to:

  • Sort out your life to achieve more through skills like examining core values, realistic goal setting, time management, and assertive communication.

  • Break unhelpful patterns and habits including self-reflection, goal setting, building motivation, and understanding the process of changing behaviours

  • Think clearer and react better by looking at core beliefs, changing negative automatic thoughts, managing emotions, using gratitude, and assertive communication.

  • Get more out of life by looking at your values, using mindfulness, achieving meaningful goals, and feeling gratitude.

So, thought seeing a psychologist was something that only helped those with mental health issues? Think again. As you can see, there are many skills that we can help you build to make a positive change in your life.


All of the toolkit skills are extremely useful, and we’ve used them over the years to help many individuals make positive changes in their lives. BUT… what happens when it’s hard to make changes? What happens in situations where:

  • The morning and afternoon commute to and from work in peak hour traffic keeps being a significant source of stress in spite of your attempts to vary the form of transport you take, the time that you leave, and the route that you take.

  • One of your oldest and dearest friends has a habit of turning up late, no matter how much advanced notice you give him, irrespective of the number of reminders, and of the severity of consequences if he does not turn up on time (for example, for an important meeting).

  • Your partner, despite multiple discussions over the years, persists with her annoying habit of chewing food noisily with an open mouth while attempting to hold a conversation with you.

  • There are uncertainties at work with ongoing redundancies and lack of clarity regarding the future of your position. No one can tell you what is going on, except that they don’t know what is going on.

When something like the above happens - where you've tried to bring about change in so many ways, over so many attempts, with limited success - what can you realistically do?

The thing about those situations above is that you don’t necessarily have control over them. You can try your hardest to make changes, drawing on those very skills that we talked about in our last post, but perhaps you can’t control how your morning commute will turn out, you can’t control whether you will be made redundant, you can’t control whether your partner chews with her mouth open, you can’t control your friend’s timeliness. Yes, you can try your utmost to make things change – you can problem-solve, help others set realistic goals, use assertive communication, but ultimately the outcome is beyond your control. What happens then? 


Well, some tools and skills – such as acceptance and mindfulness – are particularly helpful in situations where your influence is limited. Acceptance means just that – to accept the things that you cannot change, and importantly knowing what is within your power to change in the first place.

Mindfulness, or being in the moment without judgement, is another technique that we can draw on. Just think: if you are having a painful experience, sometimes controlling it is out of your hands. By telling yourself “I must get on top of this, I must learn more, work harder, push myself, increase my self control, and perfect my techniques to stop this once and for all!” what impact does it have on your own wellbeing? You may feel pretty frustrated, and maybe even a little like a failure.

So, rather than doing more and trying harder, rather than labelling things as being good or bad, we just notice without judgement – we don’t have to ‘buy into’ those thoughts that tell us that our friend should show some consideration and be on time, that people on the roads or on public transport should be more considerate, that your partner should show some basic table manners, and that there should be clarity and certainty at work.

By telling yourself “I must get on top of this, I must learn more, work harder, push myself, increase my self control, and perfect my techniques to stop this once and for all!” what impact does it have on your own wellbeing?

Does this just mean we’re giving up without a fight? Doesn’t that reek of defeat? Well that’s a valid point, and that is one interpretation you can choose to take away from it. But, another way of looking at it is also about being smart with what you focus your energy on. It means letting go in those situations where you are beating your head against a brick wall, continuing to get frustrated about trying to control things that are actually beyond your control, and instead focusing on learning new ways to ride it out.

And it also means getting inspired to commit afresh to those areas where real and meaningful change is within your grasp. Both acceptance and commitment are key elements to effective change. 


Want more? You can connect with The Skill Collective in the following ways:

  • Contact us to make an individual appointment to get started on making changes.

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