I had a simple, but profound experience in the swimming pool last week – I floated on my back for the first time in my life. I do know how to swim and enjoy being in the water, but for some reason I never was able to figure out how to float on my back when I learned to swim as a kid and as an adult it hasn’t really been something that has come up as an issue in my life (although it has always been something that I wanted to learn, felt a bit embarrassed about not being able to do, and also didn’t quite understand).
Thanks to the help of my friend Steve last week, I was able to let go and allow the water to support me. It felt scary at first, but once I figured it out, it was an incredibly liberating and relaxing experience. As I was floating there in the pool I had many thoughts, feelings, and insights – the biggest of which had to do with my own obsession with controlling things, and my deep desire and fear about letting go.
How controlling are you? Would you consider yourself very controlling, moderately controlling, or not controlling at all? While each of us falls somewhere along the continuum of control and for some of us this is a bigger issue than others, for most of the people I know and work with, control is an issue that gets in our way – especially in the most important (and stressful) areas of life.
What causes us to be controlling?
There are many reasons, beliefs, and emotions that lead us to hold on tight and feel the need to control others, situations, circumstances, money, communications, food, workflow, details, our environment, and various other “important’ aspects of our lives. However, here are three things that are usually underneath our controlling tendency:
- Fear – We worry that things won’t turn out, we will get hurt, bad things will happen, etc.
- Unworthiness – We don’t feel as though we deserve support, help, or for things to go our way.
- Lack of Trust – We’re scared to let go, count on others, and to believe that things will be okay without us managing every aspect of the situation, relationship, conversation, etc.
What does being controlling cost us?
There is a huge cost associated with being controlling. This negative impact is not only on us and our well-being, but also on those we love, the people we work with, and everyone around us. Here are some of the biggest costs:
How can we expand our capacity to let go of control?
There are many things we can do to let go of control. With compassion for ourselves, it’s important to remember that this is a process and something (especially for some of us) that may not come all that easy. Many of us have been literally “trained” (directly or indirectly) to be controlling and in certain environments and situations (at work and at home), being controlling has been encouraged or seemed necessary for our own survival and the survival of those around us.
That being said, here are some things you can do and think about to expand your own capacity to let go of control in a positive and liberating way:
1) Be honest with yourself – Make an authentic assessment about your own controlling nature. It probably varies a bit for you (as it does for most of us), but at the same time we all have certain tendencies, especially in the most important and stressful areas of our lives. With empathy and honesty, take a look at where, how, and why you hold on tight to control in whatever way you do. And, be real with yourself about what this costs and how it impacts you and those around you.
2) Ask yourself, “Am I willing to let go of control?” – This is an important question to ponder and to answer honestly. In some cases and in certain situations, the answer to this question may be “no.” It’s important to honor that if that’s the case for you. And, at the same time, the more willing you are to ask and answer this question, the more likely you are to start letting go of control consciously (assuming it is something you’re truly interested in doing). You may not know how to do it or what it would look like, but authentic willingness is always the first step in positive change.
3) Consider who could support you – Getting support is one of the most important (and often most vulnerable) aspects of letting go of control. Even though we sometimes feel like we’re all alone, that no one “gets it,” and/or that we couldn’t possibly make ourselves vulnerable enough to ask for help (especially in certain areas of life), it’s difficult to let go of control without the support of other people. The irony of asking for help is that many of us don’t feel comfortable doing so and fear it makes us seem weak or needy, and on the flip side most of us love to be asked for help and really enjoy helping others. We can’t do it alone! And, the good news is that most of us have lots of people in our life that would jump at the chance to support us – if we were willing to ask for help more freely.
4) Surrender – This is the bottom line of letting go. Surrendering doesn’t mean giving up or not caring, it means trusting and allowing things to be taken care of by others, by the process, and by the Universal Intelligence governing life – some call this God, some call this Spirit, some don’t call it anything, but most of us have an experience of It at some level. Surrendering is about consciously choosing to trust and have faith. It is something that can liberate us in a profound way and is all about us choosing to let go.
When we look back on our lives in hindsight, we usually see that “things happen for a reason.” What if we lived in the present moment with this same hindsight awareness? As one of my mentors said to me years ago, “Mike, you’re living your life as though you’re trying to survive it. You have to remember, no one ever has.”
Letting go of control is about loosening our grip, allowing ourselves to be supported, and trusting that things will turn out as they are meant to. Is this easy? Not always, although it can be. However, as we practice this and expand our capacity to let go, we’ll be able to release and transform a good amount of unnecessary stress, worry, and anxiety from our lives, our work, and our relationships.