Help! I'm completely in control of everything!

I just wrote a list of all the things I’m trying to control right now.

This isn’t even the whole thing:

*My health (various)
*If my dog is happy
*If my friend who had to suddenly leave the country is ok
*My parents' health
*The exchange rate between NZ and Australia
*Something too embarrassing to put here
*Whether anyone knows about that embarrassing thing
*Whether my girlfriend feels loved

*If my friends feel rejected that I’m not going out much atm
*Work (various)
*Whether I have enough money
*How stressed I am
*How enlightened I am
*My dog again, for some reason
*The State Of The World (various)

What did I learn from this exercise? Well, firstly, my little brain has been working HARD.

Secondly, my little brain apparently thinks it’s some kind of all-powerful god.

We all have a list of things we're trying to control - some people's lists are longer than others'.

Today's theory: the longer your list, the more stressed out you'll be, even if you're really good at controlling stuff.

First up, why do we want to be in control anyway?

"We are rigged to try to control things"

So says Tara Brach, my newest Font of Calming Wisdom.

Brach says it makes sense that we try to control everything. “It’s part of evolution. It comes out of loving life and wanting to protect life.”

But control gets painful when our controlling strategies are on full-time.

Many of us get stuck in Over-Controller Mode. Every little thing is a source of tension. You’re at an intersection waiting for a gap in the traffic, shoulders tensed, willing the other cars out of your way. You’re refreshing your inbox minute by minute, gut clenched, waiting for that much-anticipated reply.

In the Over-Controller Mode, Brach says, you’re a bunch of tense muscles, tensing against your very existence. And that’s a tough way to live.

Trying to control everything leaves you cut off from the world - even when you’re good at it!

But what about the things you can control, you ask? Surely if you can control those things, you'll be happy?

The thing is, those of us stuck in the Over-Controller Mode are often actually very good at controlling things. The problem is that there's a cost to this control, especially when we're good at it. It leaves you cut off from the world.

Let's say we're trying to control what other people think of us. I’m talking about those of us who, in social situations, will hide the fact that we're feeling overwhelmed, or tired, or bored. Those of us who do our best to be charming no matter what, to make sure everyone is having a good time (even if we ourselves are not). Those of us who do this even when it’s really hard work, because the alternative is always worse: the possibility that someone, somewhere might not like us. Brach says:

“When we’re in the Over-Controller, we’re cut off from other people, because we have an agenda. 

It's the feeling that when you’re with somebody else, unless you’re performing, or you’re interesting, or entertaining, they’re not going to like you. Can you really feel intimate with somebody else if you’re in control mode?

When you care about every little thing, you become a monster

Paradoxically, caring about everyone and everything else is actually a recipe for being extremely self-centred. Because what you’re really caring about is what others think of you, or whether things will work out the way you think they should.

Mark Manson puts it this way: you only have so many fucks to give. If you give too many fucks, you get stuck in your own head:

“When you give too many fucks - when you give a fuck about everyone and everything - you will feel that you are perpetually entitled to feel comfortable and happy at all times, that everything is supposed to be just exactly the fucking way you want it to be.

...You will see every adversity as an injustice, every challenge as a failure, every inconvenience as a personal slight, every disagreement as a betrayal.”

Woof.

In other words, we're all having a reality TV Sweet Sixteen, every day.

sweet sixteen.gif

Your concerns may be more noble. Worrying that you sounded snarky when you reminded the waiter about your coffee order. Worrying that your friend feels rejected when you’re too tired to return their phone call. Worrying that your dog is depressed because it’s raining and you cut his walk short.

But the effect is the same. You become the centre of the universe. As we talked about in our recent issue on self-confidence, each day becomes a case of You vs The World.

  Ok maybe I should be worried. He's reading self-help books.

Ok maybe I should be worried. He's reading self-help books.

Don't try to control the controller

The tricky thing is, if you try to stop the Over-Controller, you’re just trying to fight control with more control.

Brach says you need to find a way to relate to the Over-Controller with compassion, with patience, with humour.

The Over-Controller is like an Instagram ad inside your brain. It knows everything you’ve Googled, everything you’re worried about. And it definitely has Some New Thing for you to try.

Let's say you’re worrying about some aspect of your appearance for the one millionth time. How this internal dialogue often goes is:

You: 'My skin is terrible. I am so sick of obsessing over this.'

Over-Controller: 'You should try this Korean skincare routine.'

You: *Spends months and several dollars researching Korean skincare routines. Applies diligently, and waits patiently. Feels like shit when it doesn’t work*

How this internal dialogue might go instead:

You: 'My skin is terrible. I am so sick of obsessing over this.'

Over-Controller: 'You should try this Korean skincare routine.'

You: 'Heyyy bb! I almost thought you weren’t going to make it to this pity party! Let me buy you a drink you marvellous weirdo.'

Also You: *Still spends months and several dollars researching Korean skincare routines. But sees it for what it is. Something that looks like The Answer, not because it will work (it might, it might not), but because doing something feels better than doing nothing.*

There is comfort in the inevitable suckiness of life

Like so many things, this stuff is also about acceptance. Accepting things as they are. Accepting the fact that you are trying desperately to control the world around you. And also accepting that - even when you can do that successfully - life doesn’t necessarily get any better. You just get more tense.

Accepting that, if you do manage to relax those controlling tendencies, you’ll be more relaxed, but life will probably suck in some other way you can't even think of yet.

I believe that today we are facing a psychological epidemic, one in which people no longer realize it’s okay for things to suck sometimes….

When we believe that it’s not okay for things to suck sometimes, then we unconsciously start blaming ourselves. We start to feel as though something is inherently wrong with us.

--- Mark Manson

The trick, Manson says, is to expect problems in your life. And to realize that having problems is not in itself a problem.

This is a release of sorts, not from suffering, but from feeling that suffering makes you a failure. It’s a release from the toxic belief that you could be happy... if you were just a completely different person.

So, to summarize: notice the Over-Controller. Smile wryly at their delusions of grandeur. And remember that just because life sucks sometimes, that doesn’t mean that you do.


Uncontrolledly Yours,

Graham.