Mission Control Do you tell your spouse how he or she should drive, get things done or respond to your relatives? Learn how to be comfortable when not in control. BY DR. NEIL FIORE
You don't have to be in a tower to have control issues.
Why Do I Feel So Uncomfortable When I’m Not In Control?
Control vs. Trust
Like so many counterproductive habits, trying to control others can be a way of coping with insecurities. But what's to fear? How about your survival and safety? If your sense of trust in the world––and in your parents––was broken at an early age because of natural disasters, illness, or war, for example, you learn to cope alone and try to control as much as you can without relying on others. This can cause you to become hyper-vigilant and alert to your surroundings—often making it difficult for your to get a good sleep, enjoy vacations or just relax in general.
Let's use sleep as an example. The act of falling asleep requires you to let go of the conscious mind control and to trust your sub-conscious. After all, when you go to sleep, it’s only the conscious part of you that rests while the night shift takes over. When you stop trying to control everything your autonomic nervous system, smooth muscles and sub-conscious mind continue to work, digesting your food, replacing damaged cells and looking for creative solutions to keep you healthy. Letting go of conscious control, however, can be very difficult if you don’t trust that you’re connected to a larger support system beyond your conscious mind and its struggle to remain in control.
Control Is Addictive
Once you've had a taste of control, you’ll find you always need more; you won’t be able to have enough control to feel secure, safe and invulnerable to loss and pain. Why? Because our security in this world is limited and there’s no guarantee that you’ll be invulnerable to hurt and loss. If, for example, you have a family history of money worries, you might try to control your spouse’s spending by creating a strict budget. Trying to control his or her spending won’t solve your addiction to control or your insecurity about money. Even more money won’t cure your habit of trying to calm these worries; you’ll just be grabbing for more control.
The Solution: Let Go and Discover You're Supported
When you first learn to swim, you use your muscles to struggle and stay afloat. When you’re exhausted from all the hard work, you then discover the water holds your body and you can float almost effortlessly. It’s the same with learning to let go of struggle and control—you'll find that you are held by the earth, a chair, a bed and your body’s ability to relax.
You can begin by experimenting with accepting the fact that you are human and, therefore, vulnerable to hurt and loss and joyful surprises regardless of how much control you try to have. Some of my most vigilant and controlling clients learned to relax their need for control by first consciously letting go of their breath. They overcame their insomnia and controlling habits very slowly. They began by observing that when you let go of holding your breath and muscles, your body takes care of inhaling and the chair and the floor support you without much effort on your part. So let's give it a try.
Try Three-part Breathing: 1. Inhale. 2. Hold your breath while tightening your muscles. 3. Exhale slowly and completely as you float down into the support of the chair and floor. 4. Perform this three-part breathing a few more times with your eyes closed so you really feel the experience of letting go and finding that you are supported by the chair, the laws of nature and by your body’s wisdom.
Repeat this exercise throughout your day whenever you feel insecure or become aware of the impulse to control others. Soon you’ll discover you can let go of muscle tension and build a sense of connection with a trustworthy support system. You’ll be teaching your body and your conscious mind and ego they don’t have to struggle alone. You’ll be accessing and putting to use more of your brainpower thereby becoming more effective and efficient with less effort. That'll make you breathe easy.
Dr. Neil Fiore is a psychologist practicing in Berkeley, CA, a coach, a speaker, and author of Awaken Your Strongest Self: Break Free of Stress, Inner Conflict, and Self-Sabotage [McGraw-Hill, 2006]. His bestselling guide to overcoming procrastination, The Now Habit [Putnam, 2007], is revised and available at iTunes under "Audio books," and at www.audible.com under "Self-Development." You can schedule phone sessions with Neil at "Coaching" along with his "Free Articles & Tips" at www.neilfiore.com.