I have an anxiety disorder, and I’ve found that this disorder is rooted in a deep-seated need for certainty and control.
Over the past few years, I have slowly learned to accept that I can’t control everything. Surrendering control to God gives me an incredible sense of peace.
(Side note: that doesn’t mean that I do this perfectly every day! It’s a work in progress and so am I.)
You may not think of yourself as a controlling person, but interestingly, most of us (even those who don’t have anxiety) are often trying to control things that we have no control over.
I first learned this from Brooke Castillo (I highly recommend The Life Coach School podcast – it’s amazing and you’ll see me mentioning it a lot on this blog!).
Here are four things you need to stop trying to control if you want to be happier.
When we imagine someone who controls other people, we often think of a cold, calculating abuser who isolates his or her partner from the rest of the world. We probably don’t think of ourselves!
Surprisingly, most of us try to control other people on a regular basis in a more subtle way.
The problem stems from us not taking responsibility for our own feelings. Our emotions are caused by OUR thoughts, not by the behavior of others.
Yet, we constantly blame other people for how we feel. We say things like “you hurt my feelings” or “I was mean because you were being rude to me”.
When we think someone has been mean to us, instead of changing how we think about it, we try to change the other person.
Here’s an example.
Let’s say my husband shows up late for dinner. If I’m upset, it’s not because he showed up late. It’s because of what I made that mean and how I thought about it. If I think “he doesn’t respect me” or “he doesn’t care about our family” or “he’s selfish”, I’ll feel angry or sad.
Conversely, if I think “he’s just busy at work” or “he’s trying to be indispensable to he doesn’t get laid off”, I’ll feel a more positive emotion like understanding or sympathy.
See the difference?
The two situations are exactly the same. The only thing that changed is my thoughts.
Most of us don’t recognize that it’s our thoughts about situations that dictate how we feel rather than the situations themselves. Therefore, we don’t work on changing our thoughts; we try to change the situations.
If I say to my husband “I feel sad when you come home late. You need to come home on time” and then I feel better when he arrives on time, I am feeling better because I controlled him.
This is something that we do all the time without realizing it.
When you argue with your husband and you’re angry at him, when do you feel better? Is it when you demand an apology and then he gives you one? This is controlling.
Instead of doing this, try changing your thoughts about the argument. Your thoughts are the only thing you truly have control over.
You do not have control over your husband, and if you’re relying on him to make you feel happy, you’re going to be disappointed a lot of the time because we cannot control other people. They will NEVER be able to do what we want 100% of the time.
The Opinions of Others
Another thing that most of us try to control (without even realizing it) is other people’s opinions of us. We often act kind, polite, funny, or intelligent because we want others to think highly of us.
We might “people please” and do things that we don’t even want to do just so that people will like us.
I have some good news: you can’t control other people’s opinions of you.
There will be people who like you and people who don’t, and guess what? That says nothing about YOU. It says a lot about them.
Their opinions of you are determined by their preferences and the thoughts that they have in their own minds, not by anything that you say or do.
“You can be the juiciest peach in the world, but there will always be someone who doesn’t like peaches.”
So…don’t bother trying to control what other people think of you. It’s exhausting and it’s impossible anyway! Just be yourself and behave how YOU want to behave.
How often do we resist circumstances we can’t change? This uses up a lot of energy and there’s no point in doing this. Accepting our circumstances is the only way we’ll find peace.
To be clear, we do have control over our results.
Here’s what Brooke’s model looks like:
Circumstances are neutral. Our thoughts about our circumstances drive our feelings which drive our actions which create our results.
[Circumstances are over here]…… thoughts -> feelings -> actions -> results
I can control my thoughts and feelings (to some extent) and therefore, I can control my results. Some examples of results are: how much I weigh, where I live, and how much money I make.
Some examples of circumstances are: my step dad has dementia, it’s 30 degrees in Minnesota today, and it’s not currently snowing. I can’t control circumstances and trying to do so is a waste of energy.
If there is a circumstance in your life that you are having negative thoughts about, try accepting it.
“Whatever the present moment contains, accept it as if you had chosen it.” – Eckhart Tolle
“Your past only exists as sentences in your mind.” – Brooke Castillo
As Brooke explains, the past itself does not cause you pain. Your current thoughts about the past are what causes you pain.
You can choose to think whatever you’d like to about the past. You can make the past mean whatever you want it to mean, so why not choose to tell a story that serves you?
In one podcast episode, Brooke tells the story of her past from a negative point of view. She talks about her alcoholic father and severely depressed mother, her home burning down, and how she gave all of her money away to a cult.
When you hear it this way, it sounds like she has had a terrible life.
Next, she tells her story from a positive point of view. She talks about how amazing her family was, how strong her past has made her, and how giving away her money to a cult ended up being the best thing ever because that event led her to meet her husband.
No matter what has happened to you, YOU get to decide how you want to tell your story. No one else has the power to control your thoughts. Only you do.
Even if you’ve endured a horrific past, you can choose to tell the story in a way that serves you. You can focus on how you’re a survivor, how strong you are, and how far you’ve come.
Whatever happened in your past, trying to argue with it or saying that it “shouldn’t” have happened will only make you feel terrible. You can’t control what happened in the past.
You can only control the way you choose to look at it now. Choose a story that serves you.
We cause ourselves quite a bit of anxiety and unnecessary suffering when we try to control things that we have no control over.
Let’s work on acceptance instead.
“When you’re tired of fighting, chained by your control…there’s freedom in surrender; lay it down and let it go.” – Casting Crowns