“It’s My Way or the Highway”: Releasing Control

Have you noticed that you’re starring in your own movie? It’s true! Each moment of your life and career, you are directing your epic, Academy Award-winning journey. But you have a special restriction that doesn’t apply to big-screen feature films: You can only direct your part of the script. Of course it would be nice if you could direct the actions of all the characters in your movie— the guy driving slowly in the left lane, the train passenger who speaks too loudly on her phone, the gossiper at your workplace. But unfortunately, that’s not how life works.

So, here you are, continuing to write your part of the script each day, and then jumping into the role like a natural. But have you paused to wonder why you’ve chosen to run your life this way? Have you considered what compels you to rigidly manage every aspect of your day, with a secret desire to also control the uncontrollable? Is it anxiety? Lack of perspective? Distrust of yourself and others? The answer is “yes” to all of these and more.

There’s a word in that last paragraph that represents a common theme in your movie. “Control” can become the default mode when fear manages you. In fact, control is another form of resistance! Throughout June, I’ll explore Control with you. We’ll start by laying out the nature of uncertainties and unknowns so you can understand what prompts you to take control. Then I’ll help you assess whether you’re a Control Freak. And finally, I’ll take you through some workable solutions that will reinstall equilibrium into your life and career.

What’s Real to You May Not Be.

When you’re buried in overwhelm and feel the need to closely regulate the wheels of progress, you can barely hear what others say, think and feel, no less accept their perspectives as useful or relevant. In this cortisol-laden state, you’re likely to develop a distorted view of your colleagues, finding too little value in their contributions. How you see them is real to you but may bare little connection to reality. You think you’re seeing clearly, but it’s an illusion created by the cortisol, which instead puts your brain in a fogged state. Your skewed assessment can lead you to inauthentic conclusions about these important team players: “They don’t understand the urgency of this project or the pressure we’re under.” “Their skin isn’t in the game, so they’re being careless.”

Control, in this respect, can lead to irrational thinking, which is thinking without perspective– just when what you need the most is better perspective! It’s a state of mind wherein you’re SO SURE that you know how the project should play out that you keep pushing and insisting that it’s done your way— what the late Judith E Glaser called “Tell, Sell, Yell”. This approach not only costs you your allies at work, but it has adverse effects on your health, wellbeing and your opportunity to grow emotionally. Ever notice how when you’re in control mode that you often feel frustrated? When you release the need to control, you’re free to re-lease your life through acceptance and co-creation. That’s when the real work gets done!

Why We Control

Uncertainty and pondering the unknown are uncomfortable states of mind for most of us. We prefer a roadmap to help us navigate through our lives and careers. We want to know the “sure things” so we can avoid the messy. We’re also insecure about our ability to think critically, tempting us to believe there’s only one way to execute tasks– the “right way”, which is “my way”. And my colleagues couldn’t possibly know what it is. This provokes us to micromanage by pushing an enormous amount of information towards colleagues because only you know how it should be done. This also conveniently eliminates the possibility that someone else will put forth a better idea and thereby diminish your worth.

Fundamentally, fear is behind our impulse to control. Consider the types of fear that drive your controlling tendencies. It’s likely that somewhere in there is the fear of being wrong about your general blueprint and thus not achieving the goal. Then there’s the fear of no one else being capable of doing it “perfectly”— translation: As well as you can. And don’t forget about the fear that others can do it as well as you, which may lead them to discover the truth that “you’re an impostor”.

The Next Steps

In releasing control, it’s necessary to first release the idea of perfection. Drop those imagined consequences and grant yourself a bit of perspective. Realize that, in most cases, the worst that could happen really isn’t that bad, and that what seems real isn’t necessarily so. Play around with these concepts and start the process of retraining your brain. It sounds simple, but we certainly know it’s not easy. Then prepare for my follow-up article, which will include a little quiz to determine whether you’re a Control Freak.

If you enjoy what you’re reading and are considering living life more fully, schedule a complimentary consultative session with DRIVEN HERE.