Letting go of control… and being OK with it.
That is one of the greatest struggles many of us deal with on a daily basis, myself included.
Because letting go of control goes directly against our modernized, industrialized way of living – we are go-getters, doers, architects of our destiny. We build things and make things happen on our own terms; we don’t wait for anything to happen on someone else’s terms! At least that’s what I learned growing up from teachers, sports coaches, movies, songs, magazine articles, and so forth. So allowing things to happen was not in my DNA. I had never been one to sit back and passively let go of control.
Over the years, however, my perspective has shifted. I’ve learned the hard way that a great deal of the control we believe we have over our lives is an illusion. For example, I’ve since met….
- the young man who had his life turned upside down by cancer
- the young woman, and mother of two, who lost her husband to death at 27
- the whole neighborhood of families who lost their homes in a hurricane
- the hard-working employee who lost her job when her employer of 25 years filed for bankruptcy
- the 10x marathon runner who lost his leg in a hit an run car accident
- the mom whose son has Down syndrome despite her doing everything right during pregnancy
- and dozens of other people just like them…
It happens every day – situations we think we have control over, but we really don’t.
So what can we do?
Let GO! Be mindful…
The Mind is the Battleground
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the mind is our biggest battleground. It’s the place where the strongest conflict resides. It’s where half of the things we thought were going to happen, never did happen. It’s where our expectations always get the best of us. It’s where we fall victim to our cravings to control the uncontrollable.
And if we allow these thoughts and cravings to dwell in our minds, they will succeed in robbing us of peace, joy, and ultimately our lives. We will think ourselves into deep heartache and even depression.
Truthfully, there’s so much about life that we can’t control, it makes no sense to waste all our energy on these things and then blatantly neglect everything we CAN control.
We can decide how we spend our time right now, whom we socialize with – whom we share our lives with. We can choose to love and appreciate the people in our lives for exactly who they are. We can choose how we’re going to respond to life’s surprises and disappointments when they arise, and whether we will see them as curses or opportunities for personal growth.
And most importantly, we can choose to adjust our attitudes and let go of all our worries about everything we can’t control, which in turn frees us up to take the next best step forward in our lives.
Quotes to Stop Worrying About the Uncontrollable
Like you, I still struggle with letting go of control sometimes. So I’ve implemented a simple strategy for helping myself with this predicament. In a nutshell, I proactively remind myself NOT to worry about things I can’t control. Anytime I catch myself doing so, I pause and read the following seven quotes (taken from our books and email newsletter archive) to myself. Then I take some deep breaths, and reassess the situation with a more mindful presence…
- You can’t control everything that happens to you, but you CAN control the way you respond. And in your response is your greatest power. Yes, most of your stress comes directly from the way you think and respond, not the way life is. Adjust your attitude, and all that extra stress is gone.
- Don’t bother worrying about whether there will be problems. There will be plenty of them, and you’ll work your way through every one of them.
- If you worry too much about what might be, and wonder too long about what might have been, you will ignore and completely miss what is. Realize that worrying is a misuse of your incredible creative energy. Instead of imagining the worst, imagine the best and how you can bring it about. (Marc and I show how in the “Happiness” chapter of 1,000 Little Things Happy, Successful People Do Differently.)
- Today is a choice. Today, choose grace over impatience, beauty over negativity, and presence over panic.
- There is absolutely nothing about your present situation – even the aspects you can’t control – that prevents you from making little bits of progress today.
- You are alive and breathing, so behave like it. Let go of what’s wrong and grab a hold of what’s right. Make things happen, and then let things happen. Learn, accept, explore, create and experience, every single day, one tiny step at a time. (Marc and I build tiny, life-changing daily rituals with our students in the “Goals and Growth” module of Getting Back to Happy.)
- Keep being mindful. Keep breathing deeply. Things ultimately turn out best for people who make the best out of the way things turn out.
And because there’s an obvious correlation to this post, I’ll leave you with a little something I have pinned to my office bulletin board for 2023:
5 Rules of Happiness:
- Don’t Hate
- Don’t Worry
- Give More
- Expect Less
- Live Simply
Which quote or reminder above resonated the most with you? And what else do you try to keep in mind to stop yourself from worrying about things you can’t control? Leave a comment below and share your thoughts and insights with us.
Also, if you haven’t done so already, be sure to sign-up for our free newsletter to receive new articles like this in your inbox each week.
Photo by: Jared Erondu
My 51 years of living has taught me exactly what you have discussed here. Trying to always be in control has hurt me in many ways. But I’ve made adjustments. I’ve learned that we all need to loosen up and let more things happen on there own. This is really tough to do sometimes of course, but it’s extraordinarily liberating! When we are hastily running on a a hamster wheel of stubbornness, we completely miss out on a lot of incredible scenery. Your course has been helping me let go and refocus on what can be controlled, instead of worrying about everything else. It is a gradual process, and I’m getting better. Thank you, yet again, for all the support.
Jeremy Benz says
I love how this post conveys the importance of acceptance — to simply make the best of reality instead of trying to change it all the time. This article, like your book and all your bi-weekly blog emails, has given me a calming perspective. I’m finding my way to a more mindful presence, step by step, with your continued guidance.
M&A, I’m thoroughly enjoying your articles, books and emails. And this says a lot because I’m not too keen on the Tony Robbins era of personal development advice. But I truly appreciate your perspective. As it relates to this worrying about things I can’t control, I’ve been down that road many times.
As my 50th birthday approaches, I’m struggling with the difference between what I expected my life to be like at 50 and the reality how it is. My life is not at all how I expected it to be. And it’s difficult to accept that I have not achieved what I dreamed of achieving, largely because of an illness I have no control over. For so long I desperately tried to control the uncontrollable. But I’ve learned to accept myself and my circumstances… and I’m still learning.
It was really helpful to read your common-sense reminders here. As I meditate on them and ritualize them (incredible strategies I picked up from your course and coaching) and try to apply them to my unique circumstances, I know they will guide me in my inevitable moments of delusion.
Eric R says
Great article – thank you for sharing. While I was driving on the interstate recently in fast moving bumper to bumper traffic I realized we all dislike the tailgater (which we can’t control) – yet many of us become the tailgater (which we CAN control). Indeed, we can’t control the person behind us or the person in front of us. Time to take a deep breath, give everyone around us some space, and keep moving forward while enjoying the view – the rest is out of our control.
Samuel Rotich says
Am so much excited and happy to read your inspirational messages from Kenya. Truely speaking I have always been trying to make my way in most of the things I do. This has made me to be disappointed when I couldn’t carry the day. The lesson I have learned from this is to live each day at a time and stop worrying.
The one thing you said that had never occurred to me is how much time I lose getting to the things I CAN control. That time I spend worrying could be spent cleaning my bathroom or folding those clothes that have been sitting in the basket all week long. My life could be more pleasant if I used that time to accomplish the things I say I never have time for. That’s real change! !! Thank you!
Jeff Shoup says
I really enjoyed your article. I do worry a lot about things I can’t control. Being a perfectionist has been a blessing and a curse. At 50 I am nowhere near to where I thought I would be. I’ve started over so many times I’ve lost track. It makes me feel like a failure. But I think this time I’m approaching it in a different state of mindfulness. I have to tell myself each day to stop worrying of what might be. Stepping back and seeing the situation and how it relates to the world makes me realize that it is not the end of the world. But there are aspects of it that I can change to make a difference in someone’s life. Point number 3 really made a profound impact on my life.