Curbing the need to over-control

136When we are in the grip of one of life’s transitions, when someone is pushing our buttons or when something unexpected turns up, it’s tempting to grab control and try to force an outcome to fit our own agenda. After all, sitting with vulnerability, anger, frustration, disappointment and a myriad of other emotions can be deeply uncomfortable. And it’s important to be in control, right? It’s important to be moving the chess pieces in our own universe rather than let events hold the upper hand?

But there can be problems with this approach:

  • We often cannot see the big picture and so have little idea of what the outcome could be if we allowed it to unfold by itself. By trying to control the situation too soon, we block its inherent potential and could lose the opportunity to transform ourselves and our circumstances.
  • When we are motivated by fear, vulnerability and anxiety, we’re not really thinking straight. We’re consumed by our flight instinct and a need to feel safe at all costs. If you’re being pursued by a tiger, then get the hell out of Dodge (or wherever your tiger might be). But if you are trying to over-control one of life’s many changes because you just cannot bear the discomfort of uncertainty, you may be stuck in your safe zone and miss the chance to transform your life for the better. Fear is not a positive start point for inspired action.
  • It’s almost impossible to control everything that happens to you or other people’s behaviour. You will exhaust yourself trying and quickly feel rather like a hamster in a wheel, as more troublesome events and challenging people present themselves to you continuously.

If you are a planner or list-maker by nature, you will be even more tempted to put structure, timeframes and boundaries into whatever uncertainty is around you. And while planning is essential at times, it’s can be counter-productive when used as an initial knee-jerk reaction to feeling vulnerable.

So, what can you do when you feel out of control of events and people? How should you handle those sometimes deeply unsettling feelings of uncertainty?

1)   Cultivate your curiosity. Consider how your life might change for the better if you allowed a change or event to unfold a little before you try to force it into a certain shape. Is it possible that this change might bring you more opportunities or options if you allowed some time for it to develop? In what way could you explore the possibilities of this change, transition or event to better understand its positive potential for you?

2)   Engage active distraction. Your emotions provide you with great guidance – they indicate when you are happy and peaceful and when you are feeling anxious and vulnerable. Instead of leaping to try to control the unknown, how could you distract yourself? What circuit breakers can you employ to allow things to progress a little before you decide to leap into action? For some people this might be exercise or meditation or the movies, for others it might be a chat with a good friend, a walk in the countryside or cooking creatively. The idea is to choose something which lifts you out of the urgent need to control or fix a situation. Choose something which either requires you to focus or which provides plenty of stimulation. You need to shift your attention away from what is and see the broader world around you.  The rule of thumb is to move into action only when you are feeling good, rather than from a position of anxiety.

3)   Accept what is. This is a hard one for many of us but acceptance can provide a clear pathway to feeling peaceful. When you step back and look at a situation from a broader perspective, you may quickly realise that there is little you can do to control it anyway. Accepting things as they are allows you to more easily consider what might be possible, rather than spending endless time worrying or feeling frustrated or angry. Imagine all the time and effort you spend swimming against a strong tide, when it’s likely that the tide will sweep you towards the beach anyway. It’s simpler just to surf the waves into shore.

4)   Trust your intuition. It knows when you should allow events to unfold and when you really need to act. Your intuition is your inner guidance that normally makes suggestions seconds before your brain gets in the way to try to run the show. It may often contradict your brain but its guidance shouldn’t be dismissed instantly. It has our best interests at heart, while our brain can sometimes be serving our frightened ego.

5)   Remember the well-worn advice – you cannot control how others behave, you can only control your own response to them. While it’s not always easy to change how you feel or your own practiced behaviours, it is possible and more likely if you have a real desire to experience your life differently.  If you are consumed by the outrageous or offensive behaviour of someone at home or work, try focussing on something that is working in your life. It could be your fabulous garden, or your footy team or simply the joy of being around your children and animals. Explore all the positives and enjoy the feeling of relief that there are good things in your life as well as frustrations. Wallow in the good feelings before you turn your mind back to resolving more challenging issues. It will allow you to step back enough to look relationships with more perspective. It will also allow you the emotional space to engage your intuition and increase the likelihood of finding different solutions to seemingly deadlocked situations.

6)   Choose to be happy rather than to be right. Can you let go of the need to be right, to control the beginning the middle and the end? If you had the choice between being right or being happy, what would you choose? What has happened to you in the past when you have chosen the need to be right, to have the last word, over the need to be happy?

Managing your urge to control every unfolding situation can be life-changing. It can also provide emotional relief when anxiety and worry has left you feeling frazzled. This isn’t about advocating inaction – far from it. It’s about planning and acting from a place of considered perspective, from informed choice and from thoughtfulness. It’s about knowing that you haven’t acted out of fear or frustration but from feelings of inspiration and hopefulness.