How to Stop Trying to Control Everything

| November 5, 2013 | 13 Comments

control

There’s one thing that I find crops up time and time again when I work with people in a coaching capacity. It usually comes wrapped up in various guises or stories, but once we drill down through all of the layers, we end up at the same place. I’m talking about one small but very powerful word.

Control.

That’s right. Often people will come to me with a huge, long, winding story about something that is frustrating them and stopping them from achieving what they want. We will talk it through and more often than not there will be an element of control involved. The types of control issues vary, including feelings of being out of control to a desire to try and control others or certain situations.

Why oh why do we love to Control?

As human beings, what is it that’s so alluring about control? I see a few common beliefs crop up with clients who feel the need to control.

The first is that control = security. People feel safe when they are in control. If they are in the drivers seat then everything is OK. They have got it handled. Nothing can go wrong.

The second is that control = certainty. This is probably one of the biggest beliefs that I see. As humans, we crave certainty like nothing else. We just want to know what will happen so we don’t have to worry about anything! In-fact a desire for control often stems from a desire to predict the future. We try to come up with a plan for the worst case scenario.

The irony is that both of these beliefs are complete nonsense because there is actually no such thing as control. We are never in control. Ever.

This is a fact of life. And in my experience, the sooner we grasp this and learn to go with the flow a little more, the easier life will be.

In-fact as morbid as it sounds, the only certainty we have in life is death. This is the only guarantee. We know for sure that one day we will die. But that’s it folks! Nothing else is certain! No matter how much we may fool ourselves into believing it so.

I myself have been working on going with the flow a little more and letting go of my old habit of over-planning.  The over-achiever in me still rears it’s ugly head every now and then and tries to control certain outcomes by planning everything to a tee. The thing is, what I’ve noticed during my own control experiment is that when you trust that things will work out, things often flow much better than you could have ever planned. And it’s a much easier way of living without all of that over-planning!

Now I’m not saying to do away with all formal planning and just hope for life to drop things into your lap. That would be foolish. Of course, we still need to make loose plans to get things done. We can however, be open to ‘how’ things get done. I’ve talked about this before with goal-setting and what I called Open Minded Action. It’s this idea that we take action to make stuff happen but then we remain open to how the results form.

Why control is dangerous

The thing is, when we rely on control to make us feel good (ie when we have it we feel great, but when we don’t we feel terrible), we will constantly be on this rollercoaster ride otherwise known as life. We will never feel consistently happy. And the unfortunate part of the equation is that more often than not, we will be disappointed, because as I mentioned before, control does not really exist (except in the mind).

The only thing that control can guarantee you is a lifetime of frustration. I know people who try to control the tiniest of things. For example, the speed of their computer or the traffic flow or the way the wind is blowing. I see them boil up with anger and frustration as they desperately attempt to control these things that are essentially out of their control. And it always ends the same way – in defeat. Because the reality is that we cannot control these things, we can only work with them. Quite frankly, it looks exhausting!

The alternative to control

So what other options do we have? And why should we give up our beloved control in the first place? Well, I have a proposition for you.

Think of the world as if it were one huge dance floor, and life as one beautiful, flowing dance. Each time the music changes, you effortlessly dance to a different beat. You flow with the music instead of against it. You don’t try and control the music! And it’s the constant changes in the music that make the dance of life so exciting and fun! How boring would it be if we were to dance to the same tiresome tune our entire lives?

This is how the happiest and most successful people live their lives. They dance to the rhythm of life and they look at each challenge or each thing that is out of their control as an opportunity to shine. They adapt and they mold into the circumstances that are thrown at them! They sure as hell don’t try and control them! How ludicrous to try and control something that cannot be controlled! What an utter waste of time!

And the irony is that the more they let go and go with the flow, the more control they actually have over their lives :)

Simple Life Strategy: How to Stop Trying to Control Everything

1. Consider what your beliefs are about control? Why is it so important to you?

2. Ask yourself this question: “What do I gain from control?”

3. Once you have an answer, check in to see if you really do gain what you think you do! (usually the answer here is no)

4. Consider the concept that there is no such thing as control and the only certainty we have in life is death (a heady subject, but a useful one nonetheless)

5. Choose to let go of any beliefs you have around control

6. Experiment by noticing the next time you feel the need to control something and simply decide to just go with the flow and see what happens

7. Take this a step further and start to look for opportunities when things out of your control pop up. How can you use this as a positive?

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Category: emotions, simple life strategies, success

13 comments on “How to Stop Trying to Control Everything

  1. I just read your article and it happened to pop up at a critical time as I am working from home and being profusely distracted. I’m in the kitchen, in the bedroom and then of course in the bathroom whereby I start analysing my skin and then my hair and its lack of lustre. Yes, it seems thinner than usual, quite flat. The next thing I know I have convinced myself that I am of course losing hair. Balding at a rapid rate. So of course I try not to google this but as fate has it I do! I have alopecia. I must!? The curse of google. Before long I fear I will have to succumb to a wig.
    In all my fret and obvious premenstrual emotion, I read you blog and it talks about control. Well the dance part got me and the tears starting rolling down my freckly face. I love dancing to different tunes. This is the perfect analogy. Let’s hope that going with the flow will take me away from my ridiculous worry. Thank you my sweet friend. xxxxxx

    • So good to hear this Em! Control is such a tricky emotion…it has many disguises and is at the crux of most of our issues…although most of the time we are blissfully unaware. I feel very humbled to hear that the article had such an impact and happy that it distracted you from your worries!

      Even though it can take some practice, I find that going with the flow is a much, much more satisfying way to live!

      Thankyou so much for the comment :)

      Zoe B X

  2. Thank you Zoë. Yet another awesome post – and I find the same with clients (and myself at times!). Letting go of the need to control everything is very liberating. We never know what’s around the next corner, or what the coming day will bring.
    Carpe Diem!
    Sandra

  3. Krystle on said:

    Thank you Zoe for this article. It puts into perspective what life is about and we need to do to start enjoying it. Stop letting other things control or take control of our precious time.

  4. I learned a long time ago (when I became a mom) to pick my battles. Those are the things that are most important and that I can control. It’s difficult to give up control and watch things happen, but it works.

    • Hi Tina,

      I like your idea to ‘pick your battles.’ We can’t control everything, but it’s good to figure out what things are most important to us.

      Zoe B

  5. Nick Ritchie on said:

    very nice article! so many people feel like they can ‘control their lives’ through controlling behaviors..

    I’m like, ‘cmon guys, it doesn’t work like that!’ ha ha

  6. Kungphoo on said:

    I am not a control freak, but i do like to be in control.. I really just like to know what is going on, and that everything is in line..

  7. Hi Kungphoo,

    I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being in control if it’s in a healthy way! We need a little control to get things done! :)

    It’s only when excessive control gets in the way of our own personal happiness…then we need to make some changes.

    Zoe B

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