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How to Stop Trying to Control Everything


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.


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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29 Comments. Leave new

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


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!


Thanks Sandra. You’re right – once you finally let go the feeling is very much liberation!

Thanks for your input 🙂

Zoe B


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.


Thanks Krystle.

Yes sometimes it can be easy to lose perspective on life!

Zoe B


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


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


Thanks Nick.

Yep I find the more we try to control something…the more it slips from our grasp!

Zoe B

Ephraim Doctor ngwenyama
December 17, 2018 11:36 am

It’s true


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..


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


how do you stop being a control freak, I have always liked to be in control and arrange things in my home life with my kids and wife, we are going through a very difficult patch at the moment and getting close to divorce but we both are willing to make changes need to fix things and make it all better but my biggest problem is to sit back and let others take control on things.


Hi Andrew, you could ask yourself this question: “what’s more important to me right now? My wife and my family or being in control?” Sometimes we have to make a choice and be aware of what control is costing us. Can you relinquish control for the sake of your family’s future? Something to consider. It’s so great that you are both willing to make changes. I wish you well with it and let me know how you go. Remember – control doesn’t really exist. It’s an illusion – we only think we have control! So is it worth sacrificing a happy family over? Sometimes we have to choose between love or control. Love Zoe B


Love made us controlled by who we love ,and sometimes we cannot get who we love.


I think you may be looking too profoundly into a mark and your psyche thus is partner your self with that name and you are filling in the rest making this an issue for you. Imagine that you don’t have an issue and that you have never trusted you did or that you were ever let you know had an issue, then continue carrying on with your life and would what you like to do. Keep in mind nothing is genuinely wrong with the exception of what you accept to not be right or detestable or terrible. Possibly you are on to something, as for instance attempt not advising your sibling to wash his hands on the off chance that you think he didn’t wash them, then check whether anybody gets wiped out inside the following few days.


I’ve come to the realization that I am a control freak; though I grasp it cognitively, I’m still reluctant to alleviate myself from it, which is another sign of control! I was given an “ah-ha” moment reading “control=security” and found it to be entirely true. I just want to feel safe. Safe financially. Safe emotionally. Safe physically. As a kid, I never felt none of things formerly mentioned. Uncertainty always lingered. I lived in fear. And I never felt safe in my own home. As a matter of fact, I never felt at home. They say you’ll try to get as an adult what you didn’t get as a child. And I find myself trying to do that. But it’s exhausting. It NEVER works out the way I planned. And I’m constantly being disappointed even by the smallest of things. I’m still young, and if I want a shot at having a descent life, I’m going to have to fix the brokenness inside of me and began to surrender, once and for all. Thanks for the wonderful post.


I am definitely a planner. Planning crept into my life when school started to get tough. Well in reality, planning has really helped me. I think the key though is to know when to stop. I have recently decided not to take my work home with me. Instead I work on my thesis, and prepare for my classes at work. Then when I get home I just relax. It is still hard for me. I’m a workaholic, but I think with time it will really help me to enjoy life more!


Omg! This post helped me a lot. I feel like I am going better everyday. Now I am trying to control less. I only spend 1 hour choosing my outfit according to the weather.


Great to hear Mert!


I loved your post. It has inspired me. It got my attention after talking to my sister how we both like to be in control of our husbands and children. Not sure why. Our mother was and is a dictator and perfectionist, so maybe we don’t know how to just let it be. I would love to know how to move forward. Even reading your post, not sure where to start. My husband and I are looking at retirement and planning, not sure where to draw the line !!!! Thank you again

Alexandra Wimmer
May 22, 2016 11:24 am

[★EDITED version:]

“… The irony is that both of these beliefs (control =security + certainty)
are complete nonsense because
there is actually no such thing as
control. We are never in control.
Of course! Us control freaks we know that too, probably even better than all the others. You don’t understand the concept of the two “beliefs” – actually “hopes” would be better fitting (in my case and many other’s).
We try to control a situation in order to do everything possible to get the outcome we wish, WITHOUT having to RELY on OTHERS. Now, if it doesn’t turn out in our favour → we have ONLY OURSELVES to BLAME. It gives us the “certainty” that at least WE have done »»everything humanly possible«« to get it right!
This way we limit the regret and self-blame of not having done enough when relying on others.
Compulsive thinking is so stressful. So we try to limit the stress where possible – and no, one can’t simply stop compulsive thinking/behaving … it IS COMPULSIVE.


So true, this is exactly how I feel. Security and having no one to blame but myself.

Heather Raymond
December 31, 2016 10:41 pm

I love the music metaphor! This will help me along my journey to stop controlling EVERYTHING


Thank you so much for this article, I found it in the right moment in life:
I have anxiety due to my perfectionist personality and that perfectionism makes me want to control everything, even the future like you mention or stuff that is impossible like the wind… I want every situation to be perfect and that causes me stress when I can’t get control.
The abalogy of the dance floor is excellent and will keep it in mind.
Could you recommend me a book about learning to understand control and what you write about? thank you, seriously made my day!

sharon selvidge
February 11, 2018 6:36 pm

I know that there have not been any posts for a long time, but in case the string is still going, I found this to be my aha moment in my life. I grew up unable to control anything in my life so I was on a dance floor with no options. But after reading the article and posts I realize that I am a control freak and it is ruining everything in my life. It has left me with few healthy relationships and left my everyday life miserable. I am going to try hard starting today to change it! I always thought it was just my depression and anxiety but THIS is what my issues stem from.


Really needed this advice right now – very well written, thanks!


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