Control is an Illusion: What to do when things do not go your way

What do you when you want things to go your way and they don’t go as planned?  Instead of straining to control a situation that you have no control over, remember that control is an illusion.  Instead, try these simple strategies!

This week, I worked myself up into a dither because I was waiting to hear about a potential project and did not get a response.  I spent a lot of time stewing and feeling annoyed because my schedule was being interrupted and I was STUCK!  Interestingly, one of my friends told me that she felt incredibly stuck because she too was waiting to hear back from someone about her special project and she felt that she could not move forward until she knew whether or not her project was going to go ahead.

In this less-than-wonderful state, I had occasion to speak my smart friend Michelle.  After listening to my pouting, she said very simply, “Astrid, control is an illusion.”  Those words were exactly the medicine I needed! 

Writing 2500 years ago, Lao Tzu said the same thing:

Attempting to control external events
will never keep us safe.
Control is an Illusion.

Whatever we try to control,
we separate from ourselves.
Whatever we try to fix,
we ruin.

Life is sacred,
and flows exactly as it should

Thank you, Lao Tzu.

That’s right, folks.  We cannot control external events.  We cannot control other people.  When we think that we can control others, we have given our power away to them.  The only thing we have control over is ourselves.  And only if we stop and consider our thoughts and feelings and examine the impact that they are having on our actions.

For me, for example, I wasted a morning being annoyed when there were a lot of other things on my plate.  I started to doubt my abilities and felt resentful about the other parties to this project.  It was all about my wanting to control this situation.

Fortunately, the moment that Michelle reminded me of the futility of my stewing, I remembered that there were lots of things that I could do to take charge of my situation.

First, it helps to think about other ways to interpret the situation.  It is holiday time.  People are busy.  In a project involving a number of other people, this means multiple schedules, which makes it even harder to stick to a plan.  It is tempting and easy to fall into the mode that something is wrong with you when other people are not responding to your schedule. In the words of Lao Tzu,

“Whatever we try to control, 
we separate from ourselves.”

And so, my friends, you have choices.

You can choose to believe the most empowering interpretation of the events.  Because chances are, it is not about you at all.

Second, look around and see what you can do.  In my case, I can go ahead and spend some time with my project even if I have not heard back from others.  Then, when they do respond, I will be that much further along.  Seems pretty obvious, doesn’t it?  Not when you are straining to control others! And sending a barrage of emails demanding an answer—while mighty tempting—might sabotage the project! 

Indeed, as our wise Chinese master reminds us:  “Whatever we try to fix, we ruin.”

So the next time you are tempted to control others to squeeze into your box, remember the words of Lao Tzu, try these simple strategies and then let go.   Things happen exactly as they should, even if at the time we do not like the results.  Trust that it will all work out just as it should.

© Astrid Baumgardner 2010