Planning too much means you may lack self-confidence

planning

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

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The Self-Worth-o-Meter 

self-worth-o-meter

This is day 10 of #30DaysofVulnerability, answering the question: “Why do you want to control things?” More info here.

There’s a little counter in our brains, installed when we were very little. It’s called the Self-Worth-o-Meter, and it’s constantly measuring what we’re doing.

But not all Self-Worth-o-Meters are created alike. Some count units of input and some count units of output. Some measure work but not family, or family but not work. Some are broken and stuck on 0, while others are humming along, steadily increasing. 

My Self-Worth-o-Meter, I’ve realized recently, measures only (mostly) outputs related to intelligence. It shoots up when I write a thoughtful article but not a silly one; it ticks down when I don’t know what to say in an intellectual conversation. It’s tuned out when I’m showing love for my parents or being brave enough to travel.

Inputs are very much under my control: I can work hard, put in the hours, and be a good person. I’m not in control of the outputs – how many pageviews my articles get, whether I impress my bosses, how my friends see me – but those are the very things my Self-Worth-o-Meter pays the most attention to. So I’m constantly seeking to control the uncontrollable. 

Who wired me this way? It’s hard not to get a buggy Self-Worth-o-Meter if you grow up being told you’re smart because you aced the test, because you won the award, because you got into the smart classes. It’s already been documented that the Western style of teaching – which focuses on intelligence – is much less motivating than the Eastern style of teaching – which focuses on effort and hard work. Tell someone they’re smart, and when they fail, they’ll start thinking they’re dumb and give up. Tell someone they worked hard (or not enough) and they’ll work harder.

Luckily, we can rewire our meter, tuning it to the things that are in our control and adding attachments to receive data from other areas of our lives. We may have to shave away some confused emotions and mistaken assumptions, but it’s doable. And let’s remember to check on it every so often – maybe put it on our calendar the way we do the fire alarm. Faulty machinery is emotionally dangerous.   

Photo by Flickr user papadont

Control, or how to stop squeezing the life out of life 

Control

When I used to play violin, my bow grip was too tight. It worked most of the time, and I managed to get into some elite orchestras and play some solos. But when those light, bouncy spiccato passages came up, I stumbled. I was supposed to nearly let go of my bow and let it do the bouncing itself, naturally, but I couldn’t. I wanted to control it, which slowed me down and threw off my rhythm.

I think I approach life like I approached that violin bow. 

A recovering perfectionist, I want control. I want to control my health, my career, my relationships. But at some point, it’s too much. My heart aches like my fingers used to ache from violin. I feel rigid, tight, tense, gripping, pressured. I just want to breathe and let it go and soften – or do I? 

Brené Brown says life is full of vulnerability, full of uncertainty, risk, and raw emotion. Much as we’d like to control it, we simply cannot. I simply cannot

I might lose a job, or have my money stolen. I might get cancer through no fault of my own. I might have to say goodbye to a loved one sooner than I expect. I might get a cavity, the flu, or a hangnail. I might feel anxious, sleepless, or apathetic. I might say something embarrassing, do something mean, or write something dumb. 

On the other hand, I might get a job from a random tweet. I might ask a second-degree connection out for coffee and gain a lifelong friend. I might try a different hobby and then meet the love of my life while practicing it. Oh wait – all of those things have happened already. 

I can’t have it both ways. I can’t control all the bad things while letting the good luck happen. I have to just embrace that fact that life is darn unpredictable, and sometimes that leads to blissful accidents, and sometimes it leads to plain old accidents. If you grip life too tightly, you can’t make beautiful, bouncy, playful music.  

Photo by Flickr user Lif…