Having control and being “in control” seem to be persistent human desires. Yet I believe most of us realize how little control we actually have; that in fact, control is a seductive illusion. We are all at the mercy of our biology as well as our environment- especially the whims of nature and the choices of other people. If we’ve heard it once we’ve heard it a thousand times: we are only in control of our own thoughts, choices, actions and reactions. Still we persist, saying to ourselves, “I can have a little more control if I ____,” then fill in the blank with whatever seems appropriate under the circumstance:
“…am the driver on our trip.” (but then the car’s brakes fail.)
“…use parental controls on my child’s computer.” (but then she connects with a questionable older boy while using her friend’s X-box.)
Both examples show choices we might make, but our choices are not the issue here; how we incorporate those choices into our internal dialogues may be crucial. If we allow ourselves to believe our choices enhance our control in each situation, we risk becoming complacent (eg: “problem solved!”) or compulsive (eg: “that worked- more controls might be in order!”) Even if our thinking doesn’t bring us to either end of the spectrum, it still perpetuates the illusion of having or creating control.
It might be useful to do a “reality check,” a process useful only if we can be totally honest with ourselves. The goal is to examine the sequence of events which took place when we sought to control something/someone. Start by identifying your control target then ask yourself exactly how you approached it. Consider each action you took, step by step, and describe the results of each step along the way. Follow your questioning to the end of your endeavor then evaluate the final result. To do so, ask yourself these questions: What deviations of my planned approach were necessary along the way, if any? Did my actions precipitate unwanted or unanticipated results? How did I feel as I progressed through my attempt to control? What might I have to do to maintain my control? Did my self- image change in any way during the endeavor? What did the process cost me? Am I content with my results? You may be surprised by your conclusions!
We can make plans, use caution, choose actions which seem right for us, while realizing our choices do not control the outcome. Acknowledging this to ourselves allows us more freedom of mind to manage unanticipated events or unintended results of our actions. Our internal dialogues will have included the concept that the unexpected is always right around the corner, and we will feel more able to deal with anything that arises.
If it were up to me, I would probably eliminate the word “control” from our vocabulary! We would do better to use words which more accurately reflect what we are able to accomplish with the resources available to us. We can direct change in ourselves and in our lives using the tools we have that can make a difference, that can matter: our thoughts, choices, actions and reactions matter. They belong to each of us alone, and are therefore our only dependable means of directing our lives along the course we desire.
I don’t suppose I’ll realize my wish to eradicate the word “control” from our vocabulary, since that’s not under my . . . uh. . . control. But I hope we can all be encouraged to concentrate our efforts toward change using the powerful means at our disposal. Aspiring to have or create control beyond those means is nothing more than a distraction which leads us down a path of futility. Let’s accept and use the power we have; it’s all we need.