Ep #163: Controlling the Controllables

The Widowed Mom Podcast | Controlling the Controllables

I know what it’s like to go through life feeling like things are going exactly the way they’re supposed to. And then, your spouse dies.

All of a sudden, everything feels out of control. 

We start questioning everything, getting caught in loops of worrying, dwelling, and fretting about things we can’t control. But we don’t have to control everything to feel in control of our lives.

How? Tune in to find out. 


Listen to the Full Episode:



If you want to create a future you can truly get excited about even after the loss of your spouse, I invite you to apply for Mom Goes On.


What You’ll Learn from this Episode:

  • Why you feel like you have less control than ever. 
  • How you might be confusing what you can control and what you can’t control in life. 
  • Examples of what’s out of our control and what’s in our control.
  • The magic recipe for controlling the controllables.


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  • If you are a Life Coach School certified coach, I’m working on an Advanced Certification in Grief and Post-Traumatic Growth Coaching just for you. If this sounds like something you would love, email us to let us know you want in on the interest list to be notified when it launches!
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Full Episode Transcript:

Welcome to The Widowed Mom Podcast, episode 163, Controlling the Controllables.

It’s easy to feel out of control after your spouse dies. And the reason we feel out of control isn’t actually because we have less control than we did before our spouse died. It’s because we’re spending so much energy focused on what we can’t control that we block ourselves from seeing what we can. And the truth is, we don’t have to control everything to feel in control of our lives. We just have to know the difference between what’s controllable and what isn’t and adjust accordingly.

And the less energy we spend focused on what we can’t control the more energy we have to focus on what we can. How do we do that? Let’s talk about it in this episode.

Welcome to The Widowed Mom Podcast, the only podcast that offers a proven process to help you work through your grief, to grow, evolve, and create a future you can truly look forward to. Here’s your host, Master Certified life coach, grief expert, widow, and mom, Krista St. Germain.

Hey there, welcome to another episode of the podcast. How’s your summer going? Hopefully when you listen to this I will be on my way back or just back from our cabin, our family’s cabin in Colorado. Really looking forward to getting out there for almost a whole week and a half. So, we’re heading out there here in a couple of days and trying to do all the last minute things, including recording a podcast for you so that it’s ready when I get back. So haven’t read any listener reviews lately and I wanted to read a couple.

I so appreciate when you leave a listener review because that’s what the little algorithm responds to. The more listener reviews there are and of course the more positive they are, the more this podcast gets out in front of other people who need it. And that’s what I want. There’s, gosh, 12 million widows, let’s reach at least one million of them, that’s still my goal. So, two reviews to read to you today. One is from HDL6891 and it’s titled lifechanging.

And this listener wrote, “After my husband died I was stuck in grief. I could not see an end to the sadness and I had no idea how to help myself. Then I found Krista’s podcast. What she said made sense and gave me reason for hope. I was empowered by the knowledge that this life can be good, even wonderful and that everything I need to create it is within me.” Yay, that’s what I love hearing. Everything that you need to create whatever you want, an excellent life is already in you. We’ve just got to get some stuff out of the way. So that makes me super happy to hear.

And then the other one I wanted to read is from, I’m going to say J Tory Bio 26. I never know what usernames actually are intended to communicate. But the title of the review is lonely and missing him. And this listener wrote, “Thank you, your podcast has been a godsend to me. I was looking for someone that I could be able to relate with, that could relate to my situation. I lost my husband almost two years ago on May 6th, after being together for 34 years and everything you say in your podcast resonates.” You are so welcome. Thank you for taking time to leave a review.

And two more things I want to tell you before we jump into the podcast. One, if you’ve been considering joining Mom Goes On, my coaching program for widows who want to genuinely love life again, even though their spouse died, the price is going up. So those who join on or before July 31st will get the current pricing. Anybody who joins after July 31st will be subject to the price increase. And it’s a hefty price increase so I just want to tell you now. If you’ve been on the fence, you probably want to get off the fence.

And also, if you don’t know, we always have backed Mom Goes On with a money backed guarantee. I’ve never really made a super big deal about it. But you can’t just kick the tires and check it out, and poke around. You actually have to do the work. But for those women who do the work I know this program works so it is not a problem for me to offer a money back guarantee because I know if you come in and you actually do the work and you participate in the program you’re going to change your life.

There’s no doubt about it in my mind, but I haven’t made a big deal about telling you that. So, I’m telling you that. The other thing I want to tell you is for those of you who are Life Coach School certified coaches and you know who you are, my grief and posttraumatic growth advanced coaching certification is in the works. If you would like to be on the list of those who are notified first when that certification is ready for you then just email us support@coachingwithkrista.com. And we’ll get you on the interest list. That way you find out first.

I imagine it will fill quickly. And I’m really excited about it. The more work and thought I have put into it the more I get myself excited about helping other coaches feel comfortable coaching this stuff that scares them because everyone experiences grief, even if your clients are not coming to you for grief, chances are high that they’re going to have a grief experience.

And if you aren’t comfortable with it and you don’t know what you need to know, and you haven’t done the practice that you need to do then it’s much more likely that you’re going to hold back from coaching that client bravely. And you’re not going to tell them what they really need to hear in their own best benefit, for their own highest good. And we’re just not going to settle for being scared of coaching grief anymore because it doesn’t have to be that way. I love it. It’s all I do all day every day. I can’t imagine doing any other kind of coaching.

And I know that it’s possible to coach grief, feel good about it and really do some powerful work with clients even if it’s not your niche. So just wanted to remind you of that.

Okay, let’s jump into what I really want to talk about today which is controlling the controllables because I know what it’s like to feel out of control. I know what it’s like to go through life thinking things are going the way they’re supposed to go, or the way I want them to go. And then all of a sudden to have your spouse die and feel completely out of control, start to question everything. And what I see so often is that it seems like we’re more out of control than we’ve ever been and that we have less control than we ever have. And maybe that is the way that we’re experiencing it.

But the reason that we’re experiencing that way isn’t what we think it is. It’s not that we actually have less control than we have had in various other points in our lives. It’s usually because we’re starting to spend more energy focused on what we can’t control which then gives us less energy left to focus on what we can. And we start getting very confused about what we can control and what we can’t. But what’s important to remember is that we can sort these things out.

We can figure out the difference between what we can control and what we can’t. And it’s often not what we think it is. So, I’m going to give you some examples in this episode. And I really want you to consider where you might be confusing what you can control from what you can’t in your own life. Because we really don’t have to control everything, we just have to know the difference between what we can control and what we can’t and then adjust. And then by adjusting, by spending less energy on what we can’t control, we have more energy to spend on what we can. And that’s the magic recipe.

So that’s where we are. So, here’s what’s not controllable. Whatever’s happening in your brain and your body due to grief is not controllable. Our body responds in many different ways to grief. Our brain is changing, has changed. What’s happening in our brain is not something we can control. Widow fog for example, if you are having widow fog, if things feel cloudy to you, you can’t control that. You didn’t cause it. There’s nothing wrong with you because it’s happening. It’s not something you can control.

When your loved one dies your brain is literally trying to find them in ways that won’t make sense to you. Sometimes that means magical thinking, it’s that place where we know they didn’t go away on a business trip but a part of our brain keeps wishing that that were true or believing that it is. We know that we can’t actually text them but yet we pick up the phone and start. We know that when the garage door opens it isn’t actually them coming home from work but yet a part of us responds as though it were. Our brain has to have some time to adjust.

So, there’s a lot of things happening in our brain that don’t make sense to us logically, that also aren’t indicative of us having done anything wrong, and are completely out of our control. Our brain’s going to need to do what our brain’s going to need to do to adjust and adapt to our loss. It is not something that we can control when we notice ourselves yearning for them, when we notice ourselves having illogical thoughts, going back through the past and thinking, well, if only I had done this or if only I had done that, it would have prevented it, counterfactual thinking.

I should probably do a whole episode on that. These are things that just happen as a part of grief. Now, we can notice that they’re happening and we can change our brain in terms of what we ask it to do for us in the future once we notice. But what we can’t actually control is what happens without our conscious choosing in our brain or in our body for that matter. There’s so many things happening hormonally. Maybe you’re struggling to sleep, who knows what it is? It’s different for every person. I hesitate to even give blanket generalizations because I don’t want you to compare and despair.

But whatever’s going on in your body, in your brain due to grief is not controllable. Agreed? Okay. What is also not controllable is how other people have responded to what has happened in your life and how they are treating you. That is not controllable. We can’t control other people’s responses. We can’t control other people’s thoughts about what’s happened, we can’t control other people, the things that they say or do.

You’ll notice different people in your life are responding differently to the same loss, including probably your children, same loss but everyone’s having a different response. And none of that is within our ability to control. We will also notice that we want to control how other people respond to decisions that we’re making now that our spouse did die. But we can’t control that either. We can’t control how other people respond to the choices that we make, our children, our parents, our in-laws, our friends, any of it.

We’re going to make decisions, they’re going to respond in the ways that they do because of their unique perspectives on life, their thoughts, their feelings, none of that is within our ability to control. We also can’t control that it happened in the first place, anything in the past is not controllable. We can’t control that our person died. We can’t control how they died. We can’t control when they died. We can’t control that it happened. But notice how often we are still in our mind trying to go back there and control it. So, we can’t control any of those things.

We can’t control the weather, we can’t control what’s happening on the news. We can’t control anything that’s in the past. There’s so much that we can’t control. We can’t even control the thoughts that pop up in our minds, we can’t control that. Thoughts just pop up. We don’t really have any ability to choose what our subconscious mind is doing and what thoughts pop up. But what is controllable is how we respond to all of those things. What is controllable is how we choose to respond to what’s happening to our brain because of grief.

How do we choose to respond to our own widow fog? How do we choose to respond to the fact that our person died or anything that’s happened in the past? How do we speak to ourselves about all of this? How do we choose to respond to other people who don’t like our decisions or who have things to say about our grief? That is controllable.

But I want you to imagine if you give a lot of time, even within your own brain, even if you’re not actually taking action. But just even in your own brain, if you’re giving your time and energy to thinking about and wishing that you could control or change something that’s in the past. Or something that has to do with someone else, or something that’s happening in your brain or your body that really isn’t within your ability to control.

And you spend all this energy toward something that bears no fruit, how much less energy you then have to focus on areas of life where you actually can move the needle. And that’s what I want you to start thinking about. So, I’ll just give you an example.

So, I was coaching someone today actually inside of Mom Goes On and she was beating herself up about financial decisions that she had made. And she was making the decisions that she had made mean that she was no longer capable of making good financial decisions which is a prime example of focusing on something we can’t control. Decisions are over, they’re done, they’re in the past.

So, continuing to spend our time focused on decisions we’ve already made and then weaponizing how we made those decisions against ourselves makes us less able to make good decisions now and in the future. So, what we did is we slowed down a little bit and instead of spending our energy focused on decisions she shouldn’t have made, it’s what she was telling herself. Or then generalizing it to mean that she was bad at decision making and can’t be trusted to make decisions, we slowed down just a little bit.

And we focused on one decision and sought to understand why she made it. And when we spent a little time there it was actually very quick. What we uncovered is that the reason she made that particular financial decision is that she felt pressured. And the reason she felt pressured was just because of a story in her mind that someone had asked her for money and if she didn’t say yes, they would feel bad and she didn’t want them to feel bad. And so, she put pressure on herself to do that.

Seemed like the pressure was coming from outside of her. It wasn’t. It was coming from a story in her mind. Seemed like it was external but it was internal. But because she was willing to slow down what she could then see is that there’s actually nothing wrong with her. Her decision making ability isn’t impaired or somehow damaged. She just in that moment believed a story that made her feel pressure and from pressure she made a decision to give someone money that she didn’t really want to give them.

She created pressure with her brain and then she acted from it. And because we slowed down to understand that pattern then she could see that she was actually more powerful than she thought. And decision making was less daunting than she thought. And then we can focus on what we can control in the future. We can learn okay, so I noticed that I have this pattern of thinking that I don’t want other people to feel bad. And that when I do that to myself then I feel pressured and then that’s when I might make a decision that is against myself. It’s not the decision that I want to make.

So, the aspect of that that I can control is what I choose to believe about someone else feeling bad and my role in that. I can choose to believe that it’s okay for other people to not like my decisions. It’s okay for other people to feel bad. I didn’t cause it and it’s not mine to solve. And then when I remind myself of that in the future, and I focus on what I can control then I make decisions that are more aligned with what I like. So that’s just one example of it.

And more broadly speaking thinking about finances because a lot of us have struggled with this. What we can’t control about our financial situation is anything that’s happened in the past, anything that’s happening in the stock market. We can’t control inflation. We can’t control other people’s financial decisions. We can’t control other people asking us for money. We can’t control the amount of insurance that we got when our spouse died or the amount of insurance we didn’t get when our spouse died. We can’t control any of that. It’s all outside of us.

But we don’t need to when we can bring ourselves back to what we can control with our finances which is how do I talk to myself about money? What am I choosing to believe about myself and my ability to manage money? Do I have a financial advisor? I can control that. Maybe I start searching for one. Or maybe I have one but I haven’t been honest with them or I haven’t been reaching out. And so maybe I can make an appointment with them and be honest about my concerns.

Maybe in the past I have kind of just let them get by with not really explaining things to me in detail because my inner critic was telling me I was an idiot for not understanding. So, what I could do is be kind to myself and tell them to slow down and insist that they explain things until I fully understand what they’re talking about so I can make an informed decision. And I’m not going to listen to my inner critic who tells me that I should understand this or I’m never going to be able to handle it or any of that nonsense.

I can control the actions I take today and in the future about money. If I’m hiding, if I have shame about money, if I have anger about money, whatever I’ve created emotionally around money I can look at that and change that. But I don’t have to stand there and stare at my phone and look at my balance and focus on what happened in the stock market today because that’s not something I can control. Does that make sense to you?

So, here’s the problem. Most often we just forget this. We don’t even realize that we’re focusing on what we can’t control. And so, we have to be able to bring ourselves that kind of awareness. So, for me this weekend that looked like noticing that I was watching a lot of news. I was feeling very stressed about things happening in the world and feeling out of control and watching a lot of the news to a point where it wasn’t healthy. Because watching the news doesn’t help me feel any better at all. The news profits on me feeling scared so that I will keep giving them my attention. That’s how that works.

So, I had to be able to stop myself and say, “Okay, this is not helping. What can I control and what can I not control?” Well, I can’t control what they’re telling me on the news. But that doesn’t mean it’s not important to me. And that doesn’t mean that there aren’t things I can do that actually do influence what I care about. Do I want to give money to particular causes? Do I want to volunteer my time in particular ways? Do I want to vote for particular candidates because that’s what I actually can control?

As opposed to sitting there and watching the news and letting my brain go nuts about how everything is out of control and I can’t control it. And all that negative talk that takes me actually nowhere positive and gives my power away to consumption and to the news. Instead of taking it back and asking myself, okay, what can I do that could move the needle in places that I care about? So that’s what we’re doing here. I’m not saying stop caring about the things you care about, not at all. I’m saying, what can you do to influence the things and areas of life that you care about?

That’s where we want to focus our time because otherwise our brain will likely want to worry about, dwell on, rage against, otherwise spend energy on things that simply aren’t within our control. And it will feel productive in the moment. But if you step back long enough you will see it’s not. It’s not actually helping you spend energy in ways that move the needle and help you make traction on things that you care about. So, what I want to ask you to do right now is think about what can I control today? What can I do today to move the needle in a direction I want to see it move?

Where is my brain likely going to get stuck in a loop worrying about, dwelling on, fretting about things that I simply can’t do anything about? Is it going to get me caught in a loop about how my spouse shouldn’t have died and how I should have been different in the past? Is it going to get caught in a loop about what a terrible parent I am and how the wrong parent died? Is it going to get stuck in a news cycle like I did this weekend with just consumption? What’s going to happen? What is likely to happen?

What are my own patterns where my brain is going to hyperfocus on what it doesn’t like and the aspects of what it doesn’t like that I can’t control? And then where do I want to be ready to pivot my brain? What do I want to remind it that it can’t control? Because it definitely can’t control that my spouse died. It definitely can’t control anything from the past. But it can choose what it wants to think. I can choose my thoughts. I can choose my response to my inner critic. I can choose how I want to feel and think thoughts that make me feel that way.

I can choose how I want to act. Those things are within my ability to control. I decide how I want to spend my time. I decide how I want to spend my money. I decide what kind of parent I want to be. I decide how kind I’m going to be to myself. Those are things I can control. So, you have so much power than you’re thinking, period. You don’t actually need more power. You just need to get better about knowing the difference between what you can control and what you can’t and pivoting accordingly.

And when you do that and you spend more energy on things you can control you will have more energy to spend on things you can control because you won’t be wasting so much of it on things that don’t move the needle for you. Alright, that’s what I have for you this week. I hope that helps you. You’re so much more powerful than you think. And I really am talking to you. This is not like there are certain special snowflakes listening to this podcast who are more powerful than they think.

All of you listening to this podcast are so much more powerful than you think. You have everything you need inside of you to create the life that you want. You just have to believe it. You have to see it. And there might be some garbage in the way. And if there’s garbage in the way and you want my help, that’s what I do. And I would love to help you with that. But promise you, you do not need to control what has happened in your past.

You do not need to control other people. You do not need to control things that aren’t yours to control to still genuinely enjoy your time on the planet even though your spouse died, it’s true. Alright, love you, whatever you’ve got going on truly tell yourself you’ve got this. Alright, take care. I’ll see you next week. Bye bye.

If you like what you’ve been hearing on this podcast and want to create a future you can truly get excited about after the loss of your spouse, I invite you to join my Mom Goes On coaching program. It’s small group coaching just for widowed moms like you where I’ll help you figure out what’s holding you back and give you the tools and support you need so that you can move forward with confidence.

Please don’t settle for a new normal that’s less than you deserve. Go to coachingwithkrista.com and click work with me for details and the next steps. I can’t wait to meet you.

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About your coach

I created a new life using small, manageable steps and techniques that made sense. The changes I experienced were so profound I became a Master Certified Life Coach and created a group coaching program for widows like us called Mom Goes On. It’s now my mission to show widowed moms exactly how to do what I’ve done and create a future they can look forward to.

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