Breaking open the myths of control

Image by H. Hach from Pixabay


There’s nothing quite like the world falling apart around me to highlight my false beliefs about control. More specifically, it shines a spotlight on just how inverted my myths about (and attempted practice of) control actually are.

I have less control than I think

In the day-to-day, I tend to function as if I have some control over what happens to me.

Sure, I know I can’t control everything. (Like the weather, which does whatever it wants no matter what I might prefer.) But I am constantly falling into patterns of trying to control my environment.

Adjusting my actions to try to control what others might think about me. Trying to manage their actions and responses to me in ways that are most helpful to me.

Trying to manipulate situations to move in directions that will benefit me.

Spending energy trying to change other people to better suit my needs.

Attempting to organize my life in ways that will keep me “safe.”

And, of course, those things can and do influence my environment (although not always in the direction I had hoped), but they don’t control any of it.

I know that on one level all the time, but the shock I experience as things fall apart and there’s nothing I can do to shop it tells me that I hold onto the myth of being able to control my outer world much more strongly than I imagine.

Coming face-to-face with that reminder always leaves me feeling vulnerable and out-of-control (literally). I am forced to see that the reins I’m clutching so tightly in my sweaty hands lead to nowhere.

But this reminder of my lack of control of the world around me is only one half of the myth that gets shattered when my world falls apart.

I have so much more control than I think

At the very same time that I’m grasping desperately for control over the external world that I have no control over, I’m also busy avoiding responsibility for the one thing I do have control over.

Myself.

I make excuses instead to try to get myself off the hook.

“This is just how I am. I can’t change.”

“He/she/they made me react this way. I can’t help it.”

“My family/society/religion/prior relationships made me this way. I’m too old to learn a new way of being now.”

And there is some truth to these: I don’t change as easily as I’d like. I often find myself responding or acting in ways that I am not pleased with despite my attempts to do better. I am deeply influenced by my surroundings and my past.

But that doesn’t change the fact that I have more control over me than I like to pretend that I do.

In fact, I came across the report of some research the other day showing that the very rhythm of our breathing can affect our memory and our emotional judgments, especially our experience of fear.

If something so small as the breath can have that kind of effect, imagine how much the many other things we have control over also affect us: what we eat and drink, how much exercise we get, what activities we engage in, what information and entertainment we consume, who we surround ourselves with, how we spend our time, how much sleep we get.

On the heels of that first report, I came across a second one with research showing that our level of fear can change our political views, even if the level of fear is unconnected and unconscious.

While that is fascinating in the political realm, think about how that also applies to how our level of fear may subtly be influencing our interactions with others, our everyday decisions, and the way we engage with the world, even if we are completely unaware of it.

If you put those two reports together, that means that something as subtle (and controllable) as our breathing rhythm could be profoundly affecting much more of our lives than we think, all without us ever realizing it.

Choosing the right reins to focus on

Here’s the really amazing thing. Shifting my focus from trying to control the external world (that I have no real control over anyway) to putting more effort and energy into controlling myself—my actions, responses, choices, thoughts, attitudes, etc.—has done more to help me create a life I love than all the fruitless efforts I tried before.

I still fall into the trap (all the time!) of trying to control things I can’t control, but the reminders from the experience of life falling apart bring me back again and again to focus on what I actually can control. And I’m finding I have more control over myself and my experience of life than I used to believe.

In the end, I only have enough room in my hands for one set of reins. I’m working hard to make sure I pick the right set as often as possible.

For reflection

What have the times when the world has fallen apart in your life taught you about control? How has it shifted your relationship to control? Has that been helpful to you?

Do you tend to focus more on controlling yourself or on controlling others/the world around you? How has that focus helpful you? Has that proven to be a good use of your time and energy?

Are there areas in your life where you might benefit from putting more effort into self-control? What might that look like? What is one step you could take in that direction today?


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2 thoughts on “Breaking open the myths of control

  • October 25, 2017 at 10:14 am
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    Thank you for a helpful post.

    • October 25, 2017 at 11:32 am
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      You’re welcome, Amy! Thanks for commenting!

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