Karen's Blogs

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Control versus Controlling

I get some of my best ideas for blogs from counseling clients. For example, one day in a session with an anxious client who tries her hardest to control what will happen in the future, we got to talking about whether by giving up excessive control she was letting go of all control. My take is that you can stop being controlling—of the future and the present—without relinquishing control over your life.

Many of you view control as all-or-nothing—you either have it or you don’t. To reduce anxiety and feel confident and secure that things will work out, you work diligently to get people to do exactly what you want, make rigid, must-follow plans, or need to do the “right” thing. You’re trying to ensure that when you get to the future, all will be well, and the only way you know for that to happen is to micro-manage your life and the people in it. Without that ability, you believe (erroneously) that you lack control.

The truth is that the only place you have real control is in the decisions you make in the here and now. You can predict, but cannot know what those decisions will mean for the future. Taking this job or marrying that person at the time might make sense, but all of us recognize that neither careers nor marriages always turn out as we hope. By trying to control how things will work out in the future, you almost ensure that you’ll be disappointed or frustrated. So many factors can intervene to blast even the best decision in the present into a different (unacceptable) orbit.

However, just because you can’t control everything and everyone does not mean that you have no control. Being controlling is a fruitless approach to achieving satisfaction or security. Taking appropriate control in the present is a far more effective way to achieve a hoped for outcome. More often than not when we’re overfocused on the future, we don’t give our all to the choices we have before us in the present. By trying to make things turn out well at some future date, we cede control over doing what’s best for us in the moment. When you think about it, now is all we have any control over (if that).

How many of you think of yourselves as controlling, that is, needing to direct everything and everyone around you? Does that help you achieve lasting happiness? Does that work against it? Consider what you have control over and what you don’t. Does the issue need to be all-or-nothing or could you accept that you have some power (which you should exert) but not complete power? The best perspective is to do what you can and know in your heart that you’ll be fine however things work out.

More on Food and Mood
Food on the Brain

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