Taking Control: How to get on top of things that get on top of you

This week we offer antidotes to 1998-style anxiety. Day One: Jane Clarke and John Nicholson consider the mechanisms of success.

Examine Yourself: What power do you really have to influence your own destiny, the events surrounding you or even the minutiae of daily life? Are you on top of things or are things on top of you? Or are you so obsessed with controlling events that "control freak" is the only proper description for you.

You arrive at work to learn that something has happened which forces you to change all your plans for the day. Which of the following best describes your feeling:

a Brilliant - at last a chance to improvise and show how flexible I am!

b I guess it's OK - as long as I have my say in making the alternative arrangements.

c This is a complete disaster. Plans thrown together at the last minute invariably go wrong.

Generally speaking, if there's an important job to do, do you:

a Let others get on with it - you're sure they can be trusted to do it right.

b Prefer to keep a close eye on things - it's important for you to know what's going on at every stage of the game.

c Do your utmost to make it work out, using the skills of the whole team.

If you are asked what the balance on your current account is, would you:

a Know the figure to the penny.

b Have a rough idea.

c Be unable to reply without first contacting your bank or visiting the cashpoint.

When preparing to go on holiday, do you:

a Create an exhaustive list of everything that needs to be done, then start to work methodically through it weeks in advance.

b Prefer to go with the flow and let others sort things out. You probably like to know what country you're going to, but are more than happy to remain in the dark as far as detailed arrangements.

c Feel reasonably on top of the things you need to sort out and confident that others will chip in to do their bit.

Think about your career for a moment. Is it:

a Very much up for grabs - you like to go with the flow.

b Mapped out in some detail. You have a pretty good idea what the future holds and wouldn't have it otherwise.

c Not that planned, though you're confident you'll always be able to make things happen for you.

In conversation with others, do you:

a Know your own mind and often find it difficult to shift your point of view.

b Listen to others' points of view, genuinely take them on board, but also use your powers of persuasion to get your own way.

c Think of yourself as completely open-minded and perfectly happy to let others have their way.

If you own or have regular access to a car, do you:

a Know when it next needs a service and what the routine is for getting one.

b Know where the plugs and points are and how the engine works. When something goes wrong you usually know what's happened and can often fix it yourself.

c Regard what goes on under the bonnet as a mystery - at least to you. You keep your fingers crossed that nothing will go wrong, and if it does, someone will surely know what needs to be done.

When you're at home, do you:

a Often find yourself unable to find essential things such as your keyring or purse.

b Have a reasonable idea where most things are.

c Know precisely where everything is - a place for everything and everything in its place.

Score your answers as follows:

1. a=3, b=1, c=2

2. a=1, b=2, c=3

3. a=1, b=3, c=2

4. a=3, b=2, c=1

5. a=1, b=3, c=2

6. a=3, b=2, c=1

7. a=2, b=3, c=1

8. a=1, b=2, c=3

Broadly speaking, the higher your score, the more in control of your life you are.

A score of between eight and 12 suggests that you spend a lot of time feeling at the mercy of events and relying on other people to make things happen. You may be content with this (anything for an easy life). But if you're not, it could be that other people are better at manipulating events to suit their strengths.

A score of between 13 and 19 means that you are pretty much in control of things. There are probably areas in which you could exert a firmer grip on the rudder of events. This may mean brushing up on your expertise, demanding that your voice is heard more often and more clearly, or refusing to follow blindly other people's lead - however decisively it is set.

A score of between 20 and 24 suggests that there may be more than a touch of control freak about you. You don't like relying on others, nor do you allow them to shine. And there's a danger that by insisting on exerting a high degree of control in so many areas you will be getting yourself bogged down, spreading your talents dangerously thin, and not leaving yourself time to achieve what you need to.

The authors are directors

of the business psychology consultancy Nicholson-McBride

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