What would happen if we started to focus only on what we can control and let go of what we cannot?
It is so normal and common to want to control what happens around us. We want so desperately to know that we can count on people in our future. We want to know what is going to happen.
However, this illusion of control can lead to a lot of painful disruptions in our life. What would happen if we were able to step into that vulnerable place and accept that we are not as in control as we want to be?
Locus of Control: External or Internal
It is true that we do control part of our lives. We can decide what to eat for breakfast, how much time we spend with loved ones and the color of shoes we wear today. In the world of psychology, this is often called the locus of control. It is the perceived view of what we can manage in our lives. Some people tend to have an external locus of control and there are those with an internal locus.
Those people who see their world through an external locus of control look to external happenings as controlling their lives. They don’t believe they can make things happen because of what is happening outside of them. On the other hand, those with an internal locus of control believe that if things are going the way they want them, they are the ones who can control them.
There have been many psychological studies done on those with an external vs. internal locus of control and it is true that the internal locus of control leads to healthier outcomes.
When we believe we have more control we feel less anxious and our stress levels come down. When we feel anxious about things we want to control we are left with little motivation and increased stress levels.
Feeling Out Of Control
It is so uncomfortable to feel as though things are not happening the way we want them to. It may be a relationship or some planned event. Suddenly, it feels as though things are falling apart around us. Our anxiety increases and we begin to demand from others that they respond to the uncomfortable feelings we are experiencing. The narratives in our head go something like: “this shouldn’t be happening, it wasn’t supposed to go like this, this unacceptable.” It is a feeling of being out of control.
But really, what is out of control in these moments? For most of us it is the illusion that how we want things to be should be happening and not what is actually happening. Our expectations are not being met by the people around us. We feel as though the world is failing.
If we can slow down in these moments and take stock of the situation, what is really hard is the fear that is arising. It may be fear of failing (ourselves or someone else). It may be the fear of not getting what we want and the disappointment that comes with this as well. This fear can lead to us putting our discomfort on to those around us in the form of blame and demands.
Is it possible to acknowledge the vulnerable part of us that is afraid? The part of us that wants so badly for things to go the way we want?
In her book, The Blind Spot Effect, Kelly Boys has this to say about being with that vulnerable place:
“What if, by acknowledging uncertainty and ambiguity and opening ourselves to the truth of it, we can free ourselves to be in a flow state, deeply in touch with our intuition and inner knowing? What if — even though we think it’s the scariest thing to let go of control — it’s the wisest thing to do?” (Boys, 2018)
Reality Wins Over the Illusion of Control
No matter how much we want to be in control of our lives, the reality is that we have very little control over the actions of those around us.
Our partners, children, friends and family cannot be counted on to meet our expectations. In fact they are continually failing at this. It is in these situations that we can fall back on our ability to accept what we can do.
Developing a more internal locus of control allows us to understand that no matter how things are in reality, we can still connect to what we do have control over – our own behaviors and choices. When we get caught up in the process of wanting to control others and focusing on what we don’t control we end up losing ourselves in stress and anxiety.
How This Shows Up In My Life
In my personal experience, I can recall a time in my life where I used to throw a lot of dinner parties as a way to keep in touch with my community. I loved the opportunity to share a meal with people I care about. Oftentimes the people I invited would be late for the time we agreed upon. Sometimes it would be several minutes late. As the food I prepared got cold I would seethe with resentment at their ingratitude. How could they be so disrespectful?
Over time I began to realize that what time people showed up was not in my control. What was in my control was to invite people, make a good meal, and enjoy my friends at whatever time they arrived. When I let go of the need to control when the party started I let go of all of the anxiety that I originally felt. I also got in contact with the vulnerable place in me that felt hurt by people coming late. At some level, I felt like people didn’t really care about me if they chose to be 30 minutes late. In reality, people came with immense gratitude and appreciation.
Letting go of what we can’t control can be a wonderful way to find more flow in our lives.
I encourage you to consider what you can and can’t control. How much time do you spend struggling with the things in your life that you can’t control? Consider if you want to continue feeling anxiety about these things.
Wishing You The Day You Need To Have!
Boys, Kelly. (2018) The Blind Spot Effect: How to Stop Missing What’s Right in Front of You. Louisville, CO. Sounds True.
Photo by Mikail Duran – Unsplash