Newsletters and Podcast Transcripts

Control Your Life, or Die

February 24th, 2012 by Steve Pavlina

On average, each highly stressful year that you endure shaves about 6 years off your lifespan.

People experiencing high stress have been measured to lose their telomeres much faster than normal. Telomeres are the caps at the end of your DNA strands that keep them from fraying. You slowly lose these telomeres as you age, but stress can speed up the process dramatically, effectively causing your body to wear out much sooner.

In this case, stress is the feeling that you don't have much control over your life. That feeling of being out of control is damaging to your health at the cellular level.

One especially common form of stress is work-related abuse. Your boss gives you more work than you can reasonably handle. You make a minor mistake and get chewed out. You get blamed for something that isn't your fault. Subjecting yourself to this kind of environment will likely shave years off of your lifespan.

If you think in terms of the 6-to-1 ratio, hopefully it will sink in to consider just how much damage you may be doing to yourself to tolerate such an environment, damage that can be physically measured in your cells. Do you really want to trade 6 days of life for every one highly stressful day?


The idea of detachment is not to get too attached to what happens in your life. Try to be at peace with whatever occurs. If your boss yells at you, shrug it off. No big deal. It's all good.

Detachment can be helpful in some situations, but it's only one tool among many. For many situations this tool just doesn't work so well.

I think detachment works best for infrequent situations. If you have a one-time problem like getting a flat tire, go ahead and shrug it off. So you'll be late for an appointment. No big deal. Stuff happens.

But if you're trying to practice detachment in situations where you have to keep reminding yourself to stay calm, such as if you're in a relationship that stresses you out, or if you have to deal with an ogre-like boss every week, then I don't think detachment will get you very far. Go ahead and try it if you want, but if you keep getting sucked into problems again and again, then maybe this isn't the best tool for the job.


In many situations a more effective strategy than detachment is to get clear about your personal standards and enforce them in your life. Stop giving dumb, angry, or stressed out people control over your time, your space, and your life.

Many times people end up in stressful situations because they've maintained low personal standards. They let other people talk down to them, treat them unfairly and disrespectfully, and take advantage of them. They're willing to trade their dignity and self-respect for a job, an income, a place to live, a family, etc. But in the end, these decisions so often lead to high stress and a feeling of not being in control. And that loss of self-control ages and kills people much faster.

In the long run, when you give away control over your life, you literally give away your life. It's slow suicide.

If you find yourself in a stressful situation, then perhaps it's time to start taking some control back. Raise your standards about what's acceptable to you in terms of how you're treated, how you're willing to invest your precious time, and how you want your physical environment to be maintained. Communicate these standards to others, and if they don't cooperate, stop dealing with them.

Most stress comes from other people. Which people are you letting in? Raise your standards there, and it will make a huge difference in the level of stress you experience.

Of course this will create some consequences. You may need to switch jobs. You may shift some of your relationships around. That's the price to be paid for a mistake you made much earlier. At some point you gave your power away, which was a dumb thing to do. Continuing to give your power away is even dumber; reclaiming your power now is the smart move. People may not want to give it back to you, but you don't need their permission.

It will take time to go through this readjustment process, maybe months and possibly years. But in the end, you'll have your self-respect back, and you'll have the opportunity to form positive new relationships that aren't based on unfair power exchanges. You can have a boss and coworkers that respect you and treat you with kindness and understanding. You can have family members that respect your boundaries. And you can have friends that relate to you with maturity and mutual respect instead of treating you like a doormat. But if you continue to maintain doormat-level standards, others will continue to treat you like one.

If you do nothing, the stress and lack of control you experience now will probably just get worse, and your body is already paying the price. You can choose to exercise your independent will and change course, or you can continue to commit slow suicide.

Stop Making Stupid Trades

One reason that people lack the energy for their grand creative pursuits is that they don't wield enough control over their lives. This lack of control is stressful. In dealing with this stress, such people lose even more time and energy to distractions and escapism. Testing has shown they their memories worsen as well. They become scatter-brained. It's no wonder that many of them can't even summon enough energy to figure out what they want to create, let alone take steps to create it.

Tolerating a stressful lifestyle isn't a path to fulfillment. The path to fulfillment is to your energy straight into your creative desires. To do this you must stop making stupid trades with your time and energy. Trading your time for a stressful job and trading a peaceful home life for a stressful relationship are stupid decisions.

Initially it's more important to avoid stupid trades than it is to make smart ones. You probably won't have the capacity to know what a wise investment of time and energy looks like until you withdraw enough of your energy from those bad trades and regain some control. Ask yourself which situations you'd willingly enter again if you had to make the choice today. If there are some trades you wouldn't make today, then you now see them as mistakes, so stop doing them.

Take Control

Once you've withdrawn your time and energy from commitments that were mistakes in retrospect, you can use that energy to exert more control over your life.

Assert control over how you spend your time. Get up when you want. Go to bed when you want. Exercise when you want. Work when you want. Pursue hobbies when you want. You decide how to spend every minute of every day. If that sounds like a fantasy, then you've allowed your personal standards to fall so far that they're actually lower than those of a pigeon. If a pigeon gets to decide how to spend its time each day, why should you deserve any less? Surely you can exert more control over your life than a pigeon can. You are smarter than a pigeon, aren't you?

Take control of your living space. Decorate it however you like. Maintain the level of cleanliness that you desire. Get rid of whatever you no longer want. Create a living space that pleases you. Don't worry about what other people think of it. Make it fully your own, even if there's just one room you can control.

Take control of your relationships. Spend time with the people you want, when you want, and how you want. Reject invitations that don't inspire you. Issue invitations for the connections and experiences you'd like to have in your life. Let people know where your boundaries are, and if they cross those boundaries, drop them, relative or not.

Is this going to make you an anti-social ogre? Nope. All I'm suggesting is that you raise your standards back up to those of a pigeon. You can still meet your needs without becoming a stressed-out, dominated doormat. With higher standards you'll not only be less stressed, but you'll be a lot happier too. People will treat you with more kindness, respect, and fairness if you stop tolerating the opposite. Money also has a tendency to flow more abundantly through the lives of people who respect themselves; giving your power away repels financial abundance and attracts financial slavery.

Stop making excuses for why it's okay to keep giving your power away. Stop acting helpless, needy, and desperate. Your life depends on this.

Reclaim your power, raise your standards, take control, and save your own life.