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The Paradox of Control and Letting Go

November 7, 2018


Control vs. Letting Go


Control is often an illusion. Yet most people, myself included (times a million), have a hard time releasing from it. We like to think we have more of a handle on things than we actually do. This kind of habitual thinking provides a necessary comfort. If we had no control, everything would be chaos always. And we do have some control over most things. The problem is that we tend to stretch some control to thinking we have much more control than is true.


Why is this a problem? Because the more we try to control things the less we are open to what is actually happening. And we often miss out on a lot as a result. Control is a form of wanting; generally, wanting something to go a certain way. Wanting is a constricting emotion. It's texture is narrow. Releasing from control—from wanting—on the other hand, is expansive.


My son's development consistently blows my mind. He goes from not crawling to crawling a million miles per hour. From not being able to stand to pulling himself up on everything. It's nuts. Just this morning, he showed a more intense than ever interest in this soft, bouncy blue ball we have. It was as if he wanted to play an 8-month old version of catch. But what was really happening was I wanted him to play an 8-month old version of catch. And I thought that by encouraging him and demonstrating catch in every thinkable way he'd come along. But he just wasn't interested. After about five-minutes it hit me: Theo was having a great time just being with the ball in his own bizarre way. Sucking on it. Looking at it. Touching it. Trying to eat it. Being awed when it moved on it's own. I was so busy trying to control the situation, trying to make a game of catch happen, that I totally missed out on the chance to just watch Theo do Theo. Once I released from any notion of playing catch, my entire felt-experience changed. I felt less tense. More present. More joyful at what was in front of me, even if it wasn't anything close to catch. I went from trying to control what was happening to being with what was happening.


This got me thinking that I do this all the time. I close in on something because I want it to go a certain way. This has worked in my favor enough—at least if you define "favor" as achievement and bringing things to fruition—that it's become somewhat habitual. The only issue is that it comes at the expense of so many moments of joy, ease, and expansiveness that accompany releasing from control. It's not just when playing with my son, though that's a great example. This is a theme that cuts across everything.


I'm reading Anne Lamott's new book Almost Everything: Notes on Hope. She makes the point that most truth is paradox. This, in many ways, is what makes life so freaking hard. The paradox here is that control can propel us to great heights and open up all kinds of neat opportunities. I don't doubt that part of the reason I have published a bestselling book, have another on the way, and get to coach world-class performers is because I'm a control freak. But this is the same reason that I too often miss out on moments of joy and wonder. Both of these things can be—and are—true at once. It's living the paradox.


If any of this resonates with you you might find yourself asking: "Well, what am I supposed to do about it?" I don't have an answer, and I'm not sure there is one. I think simply being aware of this paradox is sufficient enough. The more you can be aware of it the more you can notice how it impacts your life. The more you notice, the more you'll change in a way that is harmonious not just with what you want out of life, but also with what life is offering to you.


Coaching Corner: How to Lose Productively


When you win, everything is easier. You can celebrate, enjoy the moment, and continue building momentum to your next accomplishment.
Losing, on the other hand, is hard. It’s an emotional letdown. It feels like you wasted all of the hard work that you put in leading up to the race or event. Your ego takes a hit. Often, it feels like we didn’t just fail, but that we are a failure.
If we let failure settle in, it can worm its way through our psyche, transforming the story that we tell ourselves. Pretty soon, our inner narrative changes from one of positive determination to one of doubt and frustration. And as our story changes, our motivation goes with it.
So how do we prevent this downward spiral from happening?
1.    Set a time frame for you to be upset.
My High School coach used to say that after bad races, you can sulk the rest of the night, but when the sun comes up tomorrow you’ve got to get back on the horse. By setting a time where it was okay to be upset, it gave you permission to feel bad and a time when you need to start moving forward.
2.    Evaluate but don’t obsess over what went wrong.
There are dozens of clichés about learning from your mistakes, making lemonade out of lemons, and the like. It’s true that mistakes represent opportunities to learn and grow. But, for those of us who are pushers, we often struggle in having to figure out what went wrong. We obsess over the details, trying to find an answer. If we don’t find an answer, we keep pressing until we find something that satisfies our need to know.
Learning what went wrong is important but at the expense of obsession. Sometimes, life throws a wrench in your direction, and things don’t go your way. Even if you did everything right. Luck, weather, the cosmic world lining up against you. You need to be okay with letting go and moving on, even if you don’t understand exactly what happened.
3.    Let go. Move forward productively. Get back to work.
The last step is the most important. Get back to whatever it is you enjoy doing. The easiest way to get over a loss or failure is to go back to the work. Focusing on getting better, while remembering why you do the thing that you do.
 Losing is difficult. It sucks. It hurts. It feels bad. But what’s more important is how you do it and how you move forward. You can let a failure change your inner narrative, dragging you towards a situation where you are afraid to risk the next time you are in the same position. Or you can move on productively, allowing you to move on without letting the failure define you.



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