“I want to feel in control of my life.”
“Take control of your destiny!”
“Things just feel so out of control.”
As a life coach who spends quite a few hours each week on the phone, I have an ear that’s attuned to the word choices that people use. I notice when people say they “can’t” or “don’t know,” and I listen closely for “always” and “never” (two of the most limiting phrases in our language when paired with a negative affirmation).
And, ah, yes–control. Lately, this is the word I’ve been most attuned to–noticing when someone starts talking about control and interchanging it with the concept of power, when the two are worlds apart.
There’s control, which in our culture usually looks like setting a goal, defining the action steps, and then going after that goal. If we miss the mark of the goal, then we re-evaluate what happened and see how to course correct. That’s it! We’re making things happen. The goal is set. We’re looking to aim right in the bulls-eye, nowhere else.
Then there’s power, which as a concept, gets all muddled n’ murky.
The Truth About Control
The truth? You ain’t got none. None of us do. We can choose our intention and our attention, and that’s about it.
Right about now is the part where people start to recoil and click away. Who wants to talk about not having control? It feels so…powerless. (More on that in a moment).
But let’s just get realistic–there is no control. There could be a major earthquake in the midst of me typing this. I could twist myself into any number of contortions trying to make someone happy, and it still wouldn’t be enough. The entire banking system could collapse, based on a series of choices made by thousands of other people in the banking industry, none of which I have any control over (even if I can vote for my elected representatives, I certainly can’t control who’s the CEO of Enron).
The Power Paradox
The idea that we have no control can feel powerless for many–unless you see what power really is:
Living your life outside the boundaries of control.
Paradoxically, if we’re willing to ditch the illusion of control, life gets more powerful.
Here’s an example of what it could look like:
Let’s say you’ve started an online business, and you’ve got a blog going and you’re trying to put yourself out there. You see all of these online buddy networks out there, cliques of friends who are all friends with one another. You don’t see how you can get any traction for your business when those groups feel so closed. You resent it on some level. You feel controlled by limitations and lack. You know you’d be willing to work hard and do what it takes to get things moving, but–well, shit. There just is no movement.
Viewed through the lens of control, there’s resentment, grasping, and scarcity. There’s a control dynamic that gets played out (Work harder, expect to see certain results, get upset if you don’t, look outside yourself to see what else you can do, work harder, do those things you are “supposed” to do, expect to see certain results since you followed the “rules” of setting up an online business, get upset when it doesn’t go that way…)
Dear Reader: Please take a moment to consider that if I’m describing you right now, there’s a really good reason for that. The reason is: I’ve BEEN THERE.
This example can go any number of ways–whether it’s an online business or working to improve your marriage or trying to get your kids to behave, we tend to follow the same patterns.
Control is suffering, all the way. Sure, there are things you can do that raise the likelihood of you seeing the results you want–for instance, having a nice website design if you have an online business.
But for every successful person with a great website, there’s someone with a sucky website who is doing fantastically. For every person who follows all the “right” steps to lose weight, there’s someone else who does the same thing and can’t lose a pound. Examples of this in life abound.
So, again, on some level–there is no control.
So if you want to release the illusion of control, how do you flip it?
External to Internal
Viewed through the lens of “I have zero control over this” the circumstances very quickly stop being external, and turn internal.
If you do your very best, and if you recognize that on some cosmic level beyond your little will, you have no ultimate control over whether or not people buy your product, or your business is a smashing success, or that blogger pays attention to you, or…
…then what? What is next for you?
That’s where the questions start to get interesting.
For all the successes I’ve had, I’ve had failures in business–I’ve launched things that had a lackluster response, I’ve had people promise things and not deliver, I’ve spent money and only later realized that it was a complete and utter (grasping!) waste of money spent.
In many ways, I’m lucky to have had those experiences when I had them, because they all caused me to butt up against my issues with control.
When I really sat with whatever “failure” had just fallen before me, and asked myself, “Well, now what?” an interesting thing happened:
I had nothing else to lose.
Eventually, I came to see that that’s a really awesome place to be.
Nothing Else to Lose
Releasing control and realizing I had nothing else to lose, I was free to: take on pro-bono clients if I couldn’t find paid clients (ditching the ego’s chatter about how “lame” that would be), and write about whatever I wanted to write about (ditching the ego’s chatter about how I was “supposed to” write about certain topics and “stay focused”).
In that space of having surrendered my attempts at control, I enjoyed and felt more grateful for whatever did come my way. I was only free to do that because I wasn’t focused in the other direction–control–upset that my work hadn’t steered things in the direction they were “supposed to” have gone, given my hard work.
Switching it Up
Ditch feeling “in control” of your life. Aim for feeling powerful, instead. Powerful is integrity, freedom, choice, a focus on yourself, and aiming true. Powerful is holding steady to your own values, not someone else’s.
Want to “take control” of your destiny? Ditch that as an aim. Aim for simply asking yourself each day, “Is this my (non-perfectionistic) best?” If it is, awesome. You’re living powerfully. There’s nowhere to get “to,” other than where you are–what peace, in that! If you didn’t do your best? Ask yourself how that feels and if there’s something you want to change about that. Then choose (that’s powerful!).
Tired of things “feeling so out of control”? Recognize that they’re always “out of control,” and the difference in feeling is the degree to which this is made into a problem.
When it’s a problem that things are out of control, then it feels like a bad thing that they’re out of control. When you ditch the illusion that they’re supposed to be, this eliminates one more problem from your life.
What if it weren’t a problem that nothing is in our control? What if everything happened exactly the same, anyway? What if we enjoyed ourselves more along the way, because we weren’t scanning the room, assessing and appraising, to make sure that everything met our expectations?
Closing the door to control is the equivalent of tipping over a wall that keeps you from your power. The choices of control and power are made again and again, all throughout our day.