Control or Let Go?

by Alina on May 31, 2016

in Decision-making, Gut Feeling, Happiness, Leadership, Need a Change, Power

Analytical Thinkers’ Guide for Letting Gobatmandown

As analytical people, we often try to control situations to create or get what we want. It seems logical: we want something, so we make it happen.

Intellectually, this is clear that in many situations that we’re trying to control, all we need to do is be ourselves, do our best work and allow the world to respond to us, and hopefully, the response is in line with what we want.

Why is this so difficult to let go, though, without forcing a desired outcome?

What can we do to have an easier time letting go, without feeling that we’ve given up?

We try to control because

– we want things to happen a certain way

– we are afraid that others will forget or screw things up if we leave the situation in their hands

– in our minds, we make letting go equivalent to not caring

– we are afraid of what will happen if we let go, kind of like letting go of the steering wheel while driving

– we care deeply

Letting go is a challenge because

– if we miss out on the desired outcome, it feels like our responsibility if we chose to relinquish control

– all hell may break loose, and again, it would feel like our choice and responsibility

– if we let go, and our kids eat junk, don’t brush their teeth, and don’t finish their homework, if our subordinates don’t complete the projects that we delegated, if our loved ones don’t feel engaged, or get too engaged, again, it’s on us, and all hell will break loose

– deadlines may be missed, miscommunications may increase, chaos may arise, and it’s all on us

Basically, letting go is a challenge because of the belief that the certainty of resulting chaos is our responsibility.

So, we hold on, we control, and we do everything we can to keep the world from falling apart.

We understand that this is not healthy, but typical advice on letting go is hard to accept, because it feels so counter-intuitive. Here’s the typical advice on letting go:

“Doing nothing is better than forcing a situation.” (Well, certainly, we can do something to make things better, right?)

“You can’t control others anyway, so why try.” (We can certainly try to change people’s minds, no?)

“The Universe has bigger plans for you, so you can let go of control.” (Not sure whether the Universe cares, but we care, so it’s up to us!)

“Relax and go with the flow.” (What flow, if we’re not creating the flow?!)

It’s solid advice that doesn’t resonate. Here’s why: have you ever seen a person who is stressed, anxious, or extremely focused, get completely relaxed when you tell him to relax? Have you ever seen a crying person calm down when you tell him to stop crying? Typically not.

The situation is similar with analytical thinkers: telling them to “let go” is not effective because they need a reason to change their behavior. And not any reason, but a reason that feels valid and logical.

Analytical thinkers have reasons for trying to control situations, and those reasons sound rational to them. So, here are some sensible, convincing reasons to help analytical thinkers let go in situations when control is not working.

  1. Let go when controlling a situation feels rock bottom horrible. If you are already holding everything together as tightly as you can, and feeling rock bottom horrible, it is unlikely that you can possibly feel worse when you let go. Imagine being in the water with a large sack of rocks, because, say, it’s your job to get the rocks to the other bank of the river. No matter how great of the swimmer you are, the sack with rocks is so heavy that it is making it impossible for you to swim. Let go of it. Yes, you’ll lose the sack of rocks, which is your responsibility, but maybe, just maybe you’ll survive.
  2. Let go when getting what you want doesn’t depend on you. You’ve planned an outdoor wedding without plan B, but you cannot control the weather. Let go. You made sure that your kids have learned their lines for a school play, but you cannot say the lines for them on stage. Let go. You delegated an important presentation to your subordinate, and made sure that she has all the resources to make it brilliant, but you can’t do the presentation for her once you’ve delegated. Let go.
  3. Let go when you’re not getting what you want. When you are not chosen – by a client, by an employer, by a partner, a manager, a lover, a friend – despite having put out your best work, let go. When you make a joke that doesn’t land, and you retell it again in a different way, but it still doesn’t land – let go. When you implement a new protocol, reinforcing it many times over time, but it absolutely doesn’t stick with your team or your family – let go. You’re not getting what you want anyway. Let go, and try something different.

When you are at a point when you understand that letting go can be better and healthier than holding on, the next question is “How?”.

HOW do you let go, physically and psychologically, knowing that you’re risking all hell breaking loose?

Remember the reasons above: you’re feeling horrible, you’re trying to control something that doesn’t depend on you, and you’re not getting what you want anyway. Letting go couldn’t be worse than this.

Place your attention on something else that feels engaging. It may take you many times to consciously shift your attention to something else, but after a while, it will feel easier. This is pure neuroscience, as our brain strengthens connections that we cultivate, and overrides the connections that we ignore.

Let time pass. “Time” could be a few days, a few weeks, a few months, or a few years. Let enough time pass until letting go feels more natural than holding on.

Everything passes. This, too, shall pass, and make room for something different.

Leave a Comment


Previous post:

Next post: