I have a confession to make. I am a recovering control freak. Yep. It’s true. For those of you who know me, this comes as no surprise (well, maybe the “recovering” part does).
As for the rest of you- well, now you know too. And maybe you can relate.
These days, there is no shortage of events to remind us just how “not in control” we are. It plays out in our amped up levels of anxiety, pushing us deeper into frustration and fatigue. This is particularly true when our experiences earlier in life taught us that bad things happen when other people are in control of our surroundings. But the truth is that things are out of our control far more than we might realize- we just don’t feel it like we feel it right now.
Before the “new normal”, that which was beyond our control might have felt less “in our face”. Because of the changes we’ve all encountered and the limitations we are forced to deal with, tools like distraction, connection and even geographical adjustments are more difficult.
At times, the chaos and lack of control can have me raising an eyebrow heavenward, asking “Are You gonna do something about this or what?” (Remember, I said recovering control freak.) Often, the silence that replaces the response I’m hoping for is additionally unnerving.
In times when we are forced to embrace the suckiness that we might normally be able to avoid, it can be helpful for us to learn some ways to deal with things outside of our control more effectively.
One of the most effective tools in combating the challenges we face when things are out of our control is something called Radical Acceptance. While on the surface, “acceptance” can make it sound like the most obvious of our tools, the “radical” part makes it much more complicated to carry out when we take a deeper look.
Radical Acceptance says, “I will accept this completely, from the depths of both my emotional and rational mind.” It requires us to fully accept reality as it is, not as we want it to be. Further, RA takes the stance that to fight against the pain we are experiencing in our present reality is what creates deeper suffering.
Radical Acceptance does not mean that we aren’t going to do anything to improve our quality of life amid the things happening that we can’t control. And it doesn’t mean that we are condoning or comfortable with the way things are.
Accepting all of what our reality is and all of what is beyond our control frees us up to put our emotional and mental energies into building a life worth living, instead of fruitlessly fighting against what is true of our present circumstances.
For those of us who really struggle with accepting the things that are beyond our control, we can learn to get comfortable in those situations by practicing Controlled Chaos. We can try this in small ways like asking someone we trust to plan an event or schedule a day together with your partners or a friend. The trick is to make sure they do not tell you what is going to happen on your outing. You’re simply along for the ride, accepting the events as they unfold.
This allows you to practice letting go of control and the need to know; focus on staying present and reminding yourself that you are safe in the “not knowing”.
By engaging in the moment by moment, you can practice being present and sharpen your adaptability skills. If you’re a person who believes in God, this can also be a place where you can practice Controlled Chaos, trusting God to lead your steps as you work through learning how to let go of control.
Work Through Past Fears
When we find that our emotions are heightened in relation to certain experiences in our present, there is the chance that what we are really fighting against is something that happened in our past. When it comes to issues of “control”, this is often the case.
To help prevent amplifying the discomfort of distressing situations, it is helpful to examine past experiences related to things being out of control or beyond your control. You can start by exploring the answers to questions like:
· What do I believe about not being in control?
· Can I trust others to be in control if I am not? (This includes trusting God.)
· Do I often question others judgment when I’m not the one in control?
· Am I constantly trying to take control of situations, even when I don’t need to?
· Did bad things happen in my life as a result of others being in control?
· Have I had negative experiences resulting from my abdication of control?
Exploring the answers to these and other related questions can help us discover some of our barriers to letting go of control. This can also help us recognize where we can benefit the most from some of the practices discussed earlier, like Radical Acceptance.
Make a List
Sometimes we get stuck in a pattern of rehearsing the things that are wrong which we have no control over. To help improve our perspective, it can be beneficial to remind ourselves of the things we do have control over. This can benefit us when we are practicing Radical Acceptance by helping us create positive statements like “I radically accept all that is happening right now that is beyond my control and I will (insert something you can control here) to reduce my stress/improve my situation (etc.).”
Your list may look different, but here are a few from mine:
I can control the words I say
I can control the way I treat people
I can control what I focus on
I can control the amount of rest I get
I can control what I participate in today
I can control how I care for myself, mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually
Got the idea? I’m sure you can come up with tons of things if you give yourself the space to think about it. Get creative! (And share your ideas if your feeling generous. I would love to hear them!)
I am confident that developing the tools we’ve explored here can help you build the life you want to build; despite the things you can’t control.
I know it’s tough out there. I know we have plenty to be concerned about. I know there is more than enough uncertainty to go around. But I also know that you are powerful, perhaps more than you realize. Rather than focusing on the things you can’t control; choose to focus on the things you can.
And if we hold a faith in God, then despite all our questioning, we know Who holds our tomorrows. We may not be in control of it all, but we know the One who is.