I’ve never been the kind of person to describe myself as a control freak. For the most part, I have a calm and carefree nature, and I tend to go with the flow when life throws curveballs at me. But lately I’ve been starting to wonder where the easygoing part of me disappeared to.
I’m going to guess that the majority of us would prefer to be in control of our lives rather than having someone else determine everything for us. This is definitely true for me, but I don’t think I’d realized quite how much control played a part in my life until I felt like I’d lost it (control, that is. Perhaps my entire mind as well, but I digress).
I was feeling anxious and out of touch with myself for a few months, and I eventually realized it was because I was trying to control things that were 100% out of my control.
I was in a pattern of expecting certain outcomes and spending too much time forcing things to work out the way I wanted them to in my head. I was also focusing too much on other people and how I wanted them to respond to the things I said and did.
By focusing on everything else but myself, I lost sight of the calm and collected version of Catherine. I was forcing myself into a cycle of disappointment, and everything seemed to be weighing on my shoulders.
I started to explore how control played out in my life in order to get clarification on what was holding me down. I asked myself where this need for control came from.
I narrowed it down to three things: my ego, perfectionism, and lack of trust.
My ego was telling me that things needed to go exactly as I wanted them to or else I was a failure, and it was telling me that people should do exactly what I wanted. Perfectionism was putting me into a place where I felt there was only one way to do things. Lack of trust reared its ugly head when I was afraid things would fall apart if I did not force them to be a certain way.
Part of the problem was that I wanted to make other people happy. I was forcing myself to do things because I wanted a specific reaction from people. I essentially wanted to be in control of their reactions. I forgot that focusing on myself doesn’t make me a selfish, unkind, or uncaring person, it just means I’m not forcing relationships or prioritizing other people above my own needs. I started to realize that it’s not my responsibility to take care of other people, nor should I be trying to change anyone.
So how can we let go of wanting to be in control? How can we stop focusing on the outcome we want and instead let things flow as they are supposed to?
By focusing on the things you can control. Remind yourself that you are in control of your own life, and believe that things will happen as they are intended to. Of course you can set goals and strive to get a particular outcome, but do not force something that doesn’t feel right. Realize that there needs to be space to flow.
In figuring out the role control plays in my life, I’ve come up with three tips that have helped me tame my inner control freak. Here they are:
1. Make a list of the things you can control.
Think about a time when you felt totally in control of your life. What was happening? What were you in control of? This is one exercise that really helped me realize that I do have power over many aspects of my life. Here’s what I came up with:
My health: I can eat more fruit and veggies, less cheese, and less bread. I can drink more water. I can choose how often I workout. I can choose how much I sleep (it’s hard, but it is ultimately a choice). I can choose my skincare routine.
My appearance: I control what I wear. I control the makeup I put on my face. I control the way I style my hair and the nail polish color I wear.
My mental stimulation: I can read a book when I want to. I can learn something new every day.
My productivity: I can decide if I want to snooze my alarm or not. I can decide when I take breaks from tasks. I can decide if I want to follow a routine or not.
My emotional well-being: I can choose what I focus my thoughts on. I can choose how often I meditate or practice mindfulness. I can choose to write when I feel upset and need to clear my head.
And most importantly, I can choose how I react to situations. This is probably the most powerful thing you can ever learn. The next tip explains how to do this.
2. Break the reaction pattern.
The way we react to situations ultimately leads to either harmful or beneficial consequences. When we are feeling like we don’t have control over something, we are likely to experience anxiety, mood swings, and frustration. All of this comes from the thoughts we have about the situation we’re in. In order to break the reaction pattern that often leads to harmful consequences, we can learn how to change our reaction patterns.
Typically a stressful reaction pattern looks like this:
Stressful trigger -> Stress reaction -> Negative thoughts -> Negative feelings -> Reactive harmful behavior -> Harmful consequences.
In order to break this reaction pattern, there are a few things we can do:
- Be aware of the trigger.
- Breathe when you feel your body start to tense.
- Practice self-compassion when your thoughts begin to turn negative.
- Recognize that your thoughts and feelings are nothing more than thoughts and feelings.
- Avoid over identifying with your thoughts.
The next time you feel stressed out because of something you can’t control, try practicing the things above.
3. Write down or recite affirmations.
One powerful tool you can use to help you feel more in control is to write or recite affirmations. I find these are most powerful in the morning to get your day started on the right foot, but they can also be helpful if you’re in the midst of mini-breakdown. Here are some affirmation ideas:
- I am 100% in control of my own life.
- I go with the flow and accept what comes my way.
- I focus my energy on what is most beneficial for me.
- I am safe and secure in myself.
And there you have my tips for dealing with an inner control freak! Though I haven’t quite perfected the art of letting go, I know what I need to work on and how I can cope a little better. I’d love to hear from you about the role control plays in your life.
Are you a self-proclaimed control freak? How do you deal with letting go of control? Leave a comment below!