Coming from substantial personal and professional experience, I’ve found that a deep-seated need for control generally stems from a place of deep inner fear of the unknown. I’ve studied fear closely in my work and explore it thoroughly in my book Joy From Fear, and as far as fears go—no matter how strong, smart, or talented you are—the need to always be in control is a destructive fear that can take hold of your inner world. Whereas constructive fears alert us to an actual threat (such as an intruder or unfriendly dog) and actually keep us safe as we navigate life, destructive fears (such as those that warn us that “everything will not be okay if we aren’t perfectly in control of X, Y, and Z”) do nothing but erode our overall well-being.
Despite the truth that even the most tightly controlled life can be filled with anthills and hurricanes, our minds work overtime to convince us that the key to a safe, happy life lies in having certainty. Those who subscribe to this belief often over-regulate their internal and external worlds in the quest for safety. Sadly, a toxic cycle occurs when we believe we can—or should—be able to control all of the constantly moving targets that life presents. The more we strive for control, the greater our stress and anxiety grow; then, we respond by trying to control the uncontrollable, and the unproductive cycle continues.
Even when we dot every “i” and cross every “t,” we too often wake up thinking, “If only I could control my diet, my work, my kids, my dog, my body, my age, my thoughts, my feelings, my living space, my relationship, my life, grocery prices, gas prices, climate change, politics, and natural disasters, life would be easy…I’d feel so much better.”
We often don’t have the courage to admit the truth: We have much less control over our lives than we want to believe; we simply can’t control the thousands of variables that are part of being human. We are powerless over everything except our own feelings, thoughts, and actions.
But what if acceptance of this powerlessness is the key to healthy balance and empowerment? What if the secret to outwitting the drive for control is to mindfully let go of the illusion of control so that you can breathe?