To all the “control freaks”: your life will be much easier and you will be much happier if you recognize that you can’t control it all.
While this advice is easily given, it is often very difficult to receive. Why do so many of us feel that we have to tightly manage and influence everything that happens in our lives – both professionally and personally? Has it always been this way?
Or are our attempts to control merely an allegedly “proactive” response to today’s high degree of uncertainty?
There is increasing pressure to “take charge,” “take control,” and “take the bull by the horns” in order to manifest our destiny. These attempts to control our environment, however, fail to recognize that the only thing that you absolutely can control is your response to any given situation. That’s it.
Any attempts to control, manipulate, or force changes in your external environment frequently fail – probably because everybody else is also attempting to control that same environment in a way that reflects their goals.
As a reformed “control freak,” I recognize that learning to let go can be pretty terrifying. Based on my own and others’ experiences, learning to let go is not a one-step process. Instead, recognizing that we can’t control it all requires transformational changes in our perceptions and beliefs in several areas:
- Perceptual Change #1: Releasing the fears associated with being vulnerable. To many of us, vulnerability represents gullibility and a greater probability of being hurt.
- Perceptual Change #2: Recognizing that we are capable of handling whatever challenges come our way. Too often, we actually minimize what we are capable of doing and becoming, so we try to force changes in our environment in order to “ensure” that we will succeed.
- Perceptual Change #3: Accepting that we cannot predict the future. NOT knowing what can or will happen is actually a good thing. This requires us to be present in the moment (rather than continuing to “live in our heads” as we seek to control everything around us).
- Perceptual Change #4: Forgetting that the only “time” that we can control is the present moment. The past has already occurred and cannot be changed; the future has not yet arrived and is only speculation. The present is the only place where we truly live.
No wonder giving up control is so difficult! These perceptual changes challenge some of the fundamental beliefs and values of control freaks.
But once we can make these transformational changes in our perceptions, a surprising thing happens: we actually paradoxically feel more free and more “in control.” Many of the fears about what might happen miraculously vanish. Rather than forcing behaviors from others, we learn to trust others more – and, if their actions are not what we want, we surprisingly become more tolerant of those actions because we fundamentally believe that we can proactively respond to whatever life throws at us.
It is exhausting to be a control freak. Even if we are controlling in order to make things better for others, eventually we become discouraged and disillusioned when our well meaning actions are not appreciated. Why continue to put ourselves through this emotional roller coaster? Learning to let go might be the secret to learning to fully live.
Dr. Geri Puleo, SPHR, is the President and CEO of Change Management Solutions, Inc., an eLearning and Coaching company focused on eradicating workplace burnout through the B-DOC Model. An entrepreneur for over 25 years, keynote speaker, author, blogger, business coach, university professor, and researcher, you can see her “in action” by watching her TEDx Talk on YouTube. To contact Dr. Puleo, please go to www.gapuleo.com.