“My name is Amy and I’m a recovering control freak.”
I often joke that I am a recovering control freak but, in reality, I’m dead serious. My recovery has unfolded over many, many years. Though it has required a great deal of effort, eventually, it stopped requiring a lot of will power. You see, especially perhaps for a former control freak, relinquishing control feels incredibly good.
Three realizations have worked together to make it easier for me to let go of control.
1) Control is an illusion.
I first learned this one on my yoga mat. No matter how hard I wished, or expressed my desires to my teachers, or groaned and moaned (yes, at one time or another I tried all these things and more), I could not control the course of a yoga class.
The teacher was going to do what the teacher was going to do. It was my job to follow along and seek the gifts in what s/he did. In short, the only thing I could control in a yoga class was my response to each posture the teacher guided me through.
The day I made the leap from yoga class to life with this lesson was transformative. I found myself responding to my little children and puppy rather than directing them. Compared to the white-knuckle grip I was fighting to maintain, this felt softer, more open, and way more sustainable.
(Please know I have had to make this shift over and over again. Luckily, it’s very helpful to approach life like we do a yoga class – as an opportunity to practice.)
2) Being in control is very, very exhausting.
Given my first realization, you’d have thought this one would have been obvious to me, but no. Almost every time I find myself feeling drained and on the brink of collapse, I discover that it is because I have gripped down and am once again trying to control life.
Please note that I am exceptionally good at planning, foreseeing and avoiding logistical disasters, and reading the proverbial tea leaves. But no matter how hard I work at setting things up so that life will go the way I want it to (or the way I think it should go) life does exactly what life does.
All that work is exhausting and often doesn’t work anyway.
Does this mean I have stopped planning? Stopped organizing? No. But I now do so with an element of flexibility and the confidence that I have absolutely no idea what’s going to happen. This change in my inner stance is much less taxing.
Plus, when life takes one of its U-turns, I can go along for the ride and maybe even learn something as I do.
3) I never feel more out of control than when I am desperately trying to be in control.
This realization (which is my most recent, by the way) has been the one that has allowed me to fully transition from a control freak to a person who is able to roll with life’s surprises.
Again, it was self-awareness that led to understanding. I didn’t just notice how I was feeling, I wondered why I was feeling wildly out of control. My curiosity helped me grasp that control, because it’s an illusion that is exhausting to maintain, is uncomfortable and anxiety-inducing. When I step back and redirect that energy toward myself – controlling my desire to be in control instead of trying to control the world around me – I feel 1,000 times better.
The only control we have is self-control
All three of these realizations share the same foundation: You and I will never be able to control what life brings our way. This kind of control is an illusion. Not only is trying to be in control of life exhausting, but it makes us not-so-pleasant to live with.
On the other hand, it is always possible for you and me to control how we respond to what life brings our way. Living this way inspires and requires creativity, flexibility, ease, and grace. My desire to live like that makes my desire to be in control fade (almost) clean away.