This is day 15 of #30DaysofVulnerability, answering the questions: “What happens when you try to control things?” and “What would happen if you stopped trying to control things?” More info here.
Writing about control before, I used the analogy of a violin bow: when I gripped my bow too tightly, trying to control the bouncing rather than letting it do its thing, I couldn’t get the technique right.
It’s telling that you could come up with any number of analogies to show that excessive control and rigidity is detrimental. I remember a particularly painful roller coaster ride that threatened to give me a migraine; halfway through, I deliberately relaxed instead of reflexively squeezing my neck and shoulders, knowing that would make the pain even worse. The best swing dancers adapt to the music, not planning their flourishes and flare but acting on the spur of the moment. And it’s well known that when your car skids, you don’t try to pull it back in the right direction but follow the skid.
In other words, roll with the punches.
Through a bit of self-reflection, I realized that the reason I try to control and plan things is so that I know what’s going to happen so I can prepare for it so I’m certain I’ll be able to deal with things. That was a bit of a shock – does that mean I’m not confident that I can deal with things unless I know what they are?
To survive in this world, we have to cultivate the belief – somewhere deep down – that whatever happens, I’ll be able to handle it. Because whatever is definitely going to happen – day after day after day. I went to a talk by a Buddhist who matter-of-factly explained that we go through life expecting everything – from our loved ones to our dinner to the guy in the next highway lane – to act the way we want. “Why don’t you spend more time with me?” “I don’t like this tomato sauce!” “Why are there no parking spaces?” – all that could be paraphrased as “Why isn’t the world conforming exactly to my wishes and whims??”
Well, when you put it that way…
It takes a supreme amount of self-confidence to be open to the unknown, to the “whatever.” We have to believe that, just as we have in the past, we’ll be able to survive the bangs and blows and disappointments. Planning and scheduling and over-preparing, beyond a reasonable amount, may just be creating an illusion of stability. Paradoxically, we show control by giving up control.
For control freaks, the unexpected becomes a problem, an anomaly. Sushi is my favorite food and – as silly as this example is – when someone suggests sushi for dinner and I was expecting something else, I find myself getting frazzled rather than jumping for joy. We risk ignoring or dismissing happy accidents because they’re not part of the plan.
So we have a choice. Be the stiff violinist, the thrill seeker with a headache, the mediocre swing dancer, and the car accident victim. Or be flexible, adaptable, wide-eyed, flowing – and confident.
Photo by Flickr user Nomadic Lass
Hi Kira, hope you are doing great. I would like to apologize once again for not being able to continue with your Optimism Experiment. How’s it going so far?
Let me take this opportunity to thank you for such a lovely post on over-planning “beyond a reasonable amount”. Even I’ve had similar experiences where too much planning has done much harm than good to me. Learning from my past mistakes and experiences, I’ve started letting things go the way they are because just as you have rightly pointed out, “whatever is definitely going to happen” in our lives no matter how much we prepare ourselves, it’s better to give up control over things we can’t control or we don’t know.
Thanks again 🙂 . And I want to share something with you. I’m initiating Brown Bag seminar at work which will take place every Friday. I guess I’ve done enough research and practice on coming Friday’s topic, so now I’m just going to “roll with the punches” before my practice goes beyond the reasonable amount.”
Hi Ayushma, the optimism experiment went well! I’m glad you’re still reading. Good luck on Friday!
Glad to know that the experiment was a success.
Well, thanks for encouraging me for the Brown Bag session this Friday. I’m going to talk on how to speak powerfully to influence people. It’s been 5 months that I am working for a software company here in Nepal and what I felt in these 5 months is that since most are from IT background, my colleagues are hesitant to speak to each other. In other words, I want to give a human touch to the company as a corporate communication executive through these Brown Bag sessions so that we can co-create learning and problem-solving skills and opportunities.
How’s your work going? It must be challenging to be a journalist. Keep me updated. Ciao 🙂
“We risk ignoring or dismissing happy accidents because they’re not part of the plan.”
That has to be weighed against the times when something felt extra good because it was part of a plan.
In my case, my lack of self confidence is justified by experience. If I don’t plan good stuff, good stuff seldom happens. Half of those really fun game nights wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t emailed a bunch of people ahead of time and picked a night.