Thursday, May 26, 2005

Control? Control is an illusion…

I’m a reformed ‘control freak’. Well Ok, not totally reformed, a ‘recovering’ control freak then.

Life as I’d known it changed when I learned one inescapable truth. We are in control of only one small thing in our lives, that’s the choice we make, at the exact instant we make it. Before that moment, and after it, virtually everything else is out of our control.

You (yes, me too) are in control of nothing else.

The belief that we’re in control, is an illusion, and one that can lead to the misery we’ve been talking about being the result of ‘hope’. I thin that it’s not hope, but the choices (or lack of choices) we make that govern the direction of, and the happiness we derive from, our lives.

Dr. William Glasser has written quite a bit about this, in fact it was reading one of his books (Control Theory) that helped to facilitate the change process for me and allowed me to start letting go of my controlling behaviors. He states:

“We almost always have choices, and the better the choice, the more we will be in control of our lives."

Glasser understands that often we can feel as if we've lost control of our lives, or that we feel we're in a hopeless situation. He believes however those feelings are a choice. These choices he refers to include not only how to and when to act but, how we feel as well. How we feel is not something that’s controlled by others or by external events. We choose to feel, however we feel, in other words we ‘choose to allow’ some, or all, external influences to impact our feelings.

Glasser also maintains that: “We can choose to feel miserable or we can learn to make the better choices that are available to us.”

There are ten axioms in Glasser’s “Choice Theory” (he renamed his Control Theory) you can read a little more here if you’re interested. The crux of that theory is that all of our behavior is choices, those choices ultimately drive the physiology of our behavior, and how we feel. In the simplest of terms, if you’re feeling ‘unhappy’ make a different choice!

In reading the comments to yesterday’s post (and once again thank you all!) it’s pretty apparent this is a subject that touches us all. For the record, I’m not immune to any of this. I wrestle with feelings of insecurity, inadequateness, being ‘out-of-control’, powerlessness, being despondent, all of it (thankfully, usually at separate times). Much of what I’m posting here is from my journey, my discoveries, and what works, and doesn’t work in my life.

Here are some of the thoughts others expressed from yesterday:

“I have a lot of experience of unfounded hope breeding despair” – Nic

“Without dreams, and the hope that they will come true, the world would be a black hole of sameness.” – Karyn

“there are people who have to learn not to abuse that hoping reflex within them, since they're no more able to control what becomes of their hopes” – Firehawk

“when hope is used as a complete, full-time substitute in place of any form of personal balance, then most assuredly it will lead to despair.” – Braleigh

“not only to the idea that unfulfilled hopes bring unhappiness, which is certainly true, but also that some people's hopes and dreams are, for want of a better word, evil” – Spirit of Owl

I believe that if we carefully examine those times when hope has bred despair, despondency, we’d find that it was a lack of action that was really at the root of that despair. I can’t dispute that the hopes of some are evil, pure evil, from our point of view. I have trouble imagining for example the type of abject hatred that some harbor to even formulate the incredibly brutal acts they ultimately perpetrate on others. It’s just too far outside my reality set.

However, I do grasp that it’s their understanding, that unless they perform these ‘actions’ their hopes will be doomed to failure. It’s this basic belief that drives their physiological behavior. Or, at least that tenet is at the core of Glasser’s theory. That our actions, our behaviors, are ultimately driven by our hopes, our dreams, and our beliefs, each action is performed in an effort to realize our goals.

But let’s put aside for the moment, the evil hopes, and concentrate on the broader spectrum of what we would consider ‘non evil’ hopes and dreams. To me, it’s the illusion of control that’s at the root of the despair we sometimes feel (I’ll refrain from the whole ‘allow ourselves to feel’ thing). That having that illusion can draw us into unfounded ‘belief’ that all is well, when in fact it’s not. What if, on the other hand, you operate under the assumption that nothing, except your choices, at the exact moment you make them, is under your control? Wouldn’t we then we start to look more closely, and with more frequency, at the results of our choices (at least I do).

It’s this constant, and consistent, re-evaluation that yields new decisions, uncovers new choices, that can ultimately move us around the debris we find in our way.

We have decisions to make when life hands us back results we didn’t expect or desire as a result of a choice and the subsequent action. To use the example of submitting something to a publisher that Karyn mentioned, if the manuscript gets rejected, there are choices, a few might be:

  • Choose that the rejection defines you as a writer, and stop writing
  • Choose to continue to submit to others and to work at writing.
  • Choose to become despondent and do nothing.

In fact, you could actually make any of those same choices, if it had been accepted!

It’s my contention then, that it’s our actions or inactions that ultimately leads to despair. That if we’re actively choosing, and acting, in accordance with our hopes, our dreams, and not sitting idly by waiting for the universe to magically bestow upon us the fruit of our dreams, it’s impossible to slip into that dark place.

In that by taking charge over the one thing we can actually control, our choices and therefore our behaviors, we take control of our lives, and our feelings as well. I’ve certainly become discouraged at times, feeling like life had a never ending series of debris to toss in my path, ways to negate what ever efforts I made, but, in every situation where I persevered, pressed on, was not dissuaded from my goal, I ultimately got where I thought I’d wanted to go.

In some cases however, the all the stuff in the way, should have been an indication I wasn’t going to like, where it was that I was headed. In retrospect, I can see that now, I couldn’t then. Back then, I thought I was in control, that if I just pressed hard enough, paid the price, it would be worth it eventually. Sometimes, it just flat wasn’t worth a tenth of the effort, in fact in retrospect I probably wouldn’t have even attempted it, knowing what I know now.

I’d like to say I have developed this ‘Zen-like’ approach to the world, but I haven’t. I try, to be the ‘observer’ of my life, seeing both the path and the journey, but I can’t always do that. About the best I can really do, consistently, is continue to put one foot in front of the other, each day, and choosing ‘right or left’ at each fork in the road, or roadblock along the way.

I have too much passion for life to simply be an observer, to let life happen to me. I feel a real need to make active choices and decisions about the directions I take. It’s not always easy, and I rarely make the right choice the first time. I know this though. I would not change a thing in my past, as every little thing I did along the way got me to exactly this spot. I’m enjoying this part of my life, my wife, our home, our shared life together. I’m even enjoying my job, the work, the challenges (but not the commute!) and being independent again.

So, do you agree or disagree? Is control a reality or an illusion? As always, your thoughts, comments and impressions are encouraged!


Karyn Lyndon said...

I know it sounds weird, but when I get a rejection, I look at it as just one step closer to being published. Stephen King had a huge stack of rejections before he sold Carrie.

And if it's a detailed rejection with the editor's likes and dislikes...I'm thrilled that a real live New York publisher actually read MY book!!! How cool is that?

The latest one went all the way up through three levels to the executive editor before it was rejected. That means that two sets of savvy editors had accepted it. I could curse the clouds and wring my hands that I was robbed of my chance by the evil, ignorant bitch (may she burn in eternal damnation.)

But, instead, I CHOOSE to keep HOPING and emmerse myself in writing the next book...which is even better than the last...because with every word I'm a better writer.

Of course, the KNOWLEDGE that it's only slightly easier to get published than winning the lottery helps my ATTITUDE. Unfortunately, only people close to the business understand that. But if (when) it happens, will it be worth all the angst? Abso-freakin-lutely!

Firehawk said...


Best case scenario: you control what you do for a period of time. All the rest--all the ripples in the pond that arise from your thrashing enthusiastically toward a goal--that stuff is totally out of your hands. Pure control, pure foreknowledge of right...that's way outside our grasp, and it's a good thing. If we had to own up to all the aspects of everything we did, knowing that it was all on us, and we were driving the whole time, there would just be a longer line at the mental hospital's medicine dispensary.

Control is ephemeral, and a deeper question might be this one: would greater control of our enviornment make us happier, more fulfilled in the end, more satisfied? I wonder about that.

Choices do govern the course of your existence. You choose how to respond to the chaotic circumstances in the world. You choose how to respond to success and failure. They each have their darker aspects. I have no snazzy chart to point at, but I'd bet that wealthy celebrities are more unhappy, than poor shlubs just hoping their old truck will make it another year.

The trouble with putting it all on choice is this: we don't always have a clear idea of where we want to go, what we want to do. Some of us are not so sure, or end up making decisions that counteract each other and leave us standing in the same dusty, worn out spot for years. That's probably the great thing about Alpha personalities, control freaks, and so forth: they tend to have a deathgrip on their goals. They often reach them, even if they find they're not all they hoped in their fruition.

I can tell you this from personal experience: there are those of us out here who are afraid of both failure and success. We are caught in the groaning vortex of conflicting emotions that serve to hold us still in anything secure, anything that avoids the end game of our own ambitions. That, too, is a choice, but what is control? Can we claim that cowardice doesn't play a part? If it didn't heroes would be the rule, rather than the exception. If we were not all our own worst enemy, what would our world need with sad songs and lamentation?

The truth is this: we are all mortal upon this earth, and our only real and reasonable pursuit must be perfecting the art of being ourselves.

Bill, that was a great monster of a post, and this whole string of them has been fascinating. You'll have to break the mood with fart jokes next time, just to give our minds the chance to come down from thermal overload!

Karyn Lyndon said...

I'm not afraid of success! May the Lord smite me with it!!!

(And I also love sad songs and lamentation.)

Bill said...

Karyn: I love that attitude! It's one of the reasons I started the blog, I wanted to practice writing, have somebody read it, and get some feedback. I'd love to have a 1000 readers a day.. but I'm very happy with the number of folks who have made the choice to read my stuff, and tell me what they think!

If I can ever get back to that book, I hope I can have your attitude once I start submitting it... Fear of success... well that I have :) (I know I'd get over it quick it I ever find it though!!

Firehawk: You said:
"there are those of us out here who are afraid of both failure and success".

I can attest to that, I'm one of them. I struggle every day with that, sometimes it can be near paralyzing... so bad I don't even want to go to work. But I 'choose' to go, immerse myself in the process, and the fear recedes somewhat, often entirely.

I am going to take a break from this for a while, but, I'll probably return to this type of discussion from time to time... I just wish we could all 'sit around' and discuss it sometimes! :)

Fart jokes huh? I can only imagine the 'Google' referrals those would bring!! I may have to try it!

Oh... one other thing, when I refer to fear of failure/success, it's mostly a professional thing, from a personal stand point, I'm very happy with the success *I* am :)

and as always, thanks for taking the time to let me know your thoughts!

No_Newz said...

Wow, you could write a self help book about this! Yeah, so what if I am a bit controling at times? Some one has to be! (LOL at least that's what I tell my old man)
Lois Lane

Bill said...

Lois: You can choose to be in charge if you want to :) I suspect hubby doesn't mind all that much, besides then nothing is his fault right? :) Thanks for stopping by...

About the 'self-help' thing... is it really self-help if you get advice?

By the way... you're the 3rd person who's mentioned, or asked, if I did 'motivational' type things.. speaking/writing... Hmmmmmmmmm

RealLady said...

mmmm...I can see the smoke comming out your ears baby doll and hear the gears a turning! another new career for Bill is now in the horizon! :)

Trevor Record said...

I was writing a comment, but it ended up long...

I'll going to put up my thoughts in a blog, probably to be finished on friday, as I have to go to a concert tonight.

Greg said...

Well, at least you've come back to earth.

I suspect you'd find that (when you tossed the nearly infinite number of variables into it ALL) that at best you can only influence existence, even your own. Some folks do a better job of it than others. I imagine those are the ones who realize it doesn't really matter if they control anything or ever know the meaning of life...ignorance is bliss?
Conversely and fearfully there are those who think a predestinator (or is that a prestidigenator?) gotz' it all under control... afterall its really not their fault...lets blame god!
I love this life but I believe it "balls to the wall" out of control.
or from a thought of mine...

The White Chair
In the desert with squinted eyes to see
find silently sitting the white wicker chair
aligned to the sea for each days crash of the sun
Where is Thee that left it here?

In great wheels of light the universe turns
Orion guards the left and tumbles
The Bear on the right hunts the blazing night
Sparks fly from the rims, stars fall over the horizon

But no one sits in the white wicker chair
No commander bakes in the sun
No one hears the freezing desert song
Heedless, headless this vehicle goes on.
Where is Thee that left it here?

Braleigh said...

I most definitely fear both success and failure. Too often I think I'll use either as an excuse to quit. I lead a life of inaction.

Comfort Addict said...

That's a good post, Bill, full of good ideas. I like a combination of learning and choosing. When I make a choice and I don't like the result, I try to see what I can learn and let that inform future choices.

By the way, thanks for visiting my blog.

Bill said...

RL: Just what we need 'eh? Yet another career shift!! :)

Trevor: I'll be looking for your post! (btw... long comments are welcome here!)

Greg: Good to see you my friend! (Greg is the guy who was down on hope for those of your keeping track)

I don't know about being back on the planet bro... it's a bit too congested down here!

I'm just clearing my head is all, thankfully these kind folks stop by, read and comment!

Nice poem... you always were the poet of the duo

Braleigh: You just went and got a J-O-B didn't you? That's an action.. fear is, in my mind anyway, our friend, we just can't let it dictate our lives.

Comfort Addict: Thanks! Learning to make better choices the next time is definitely a part of the process... That way we can try the same thing, in a different way, and get (hopefully) different results!

Once again, thank you all!!

Spirit Of Owl said...

Bill, thanks so much for sharing your thoughts. At this point, I can't agree with the point of view that you're presenting.

Breathing for the most part is handled by the autonomic nervous system, but it has the strange property that it can be taken over by conscious will and effectively controlled. This is unique in the body, but something that is frequently exploited by religion and science since many other anatomical systems can be indirectly and beneficially affected by this simple control of breathing.

However, in my own mind I know absolutely for certain that sometimes, not always, but sometimes, there is no choice in how you feel. None.

This doesn't mean I completely disagree with what you are saying. In many ways, I am absolutely striving in my own life to prove that you can choose to function despite emotion - but not that you can choose to actually feel differently. If I'm honest, sometimes I find that I actually do have that luxurious quirk of mind available. But more often I do not, and those are the times when people charge me to "buck up" and "sort yourself out" the most.

I must say, though, that in many ways it's been humbling reading your posts. Thanks again.

Bill said...

Spirit Of Owl: Thanks for sharing yours as well! Breathing isn't the only autonomic function that's controllable. I've read documented accounts of folks who can control heart rate and blood pressure by conscious thought. However, like breathing, if what's being done consciously endangers the body those autonomic take over again... it is an interesting phenomenon though!

Psychologists/Psychiatrists will tell you, you can't control emotions, they just happen, but, what you can control is how you react to (or feel about) them. I don't know who's right... I just know what I've found.

To 'Cowboy up' isn't (in my mind) really the answer, although I’ve sure done enough of it. For me to actually 'feel' differently, I have to really get past that emotional point and gain some objectivity. Only then am I able to decide how I want to 'feel' next time... Sometimes I'm successful, sometimes not.

It's those times where I succeed that motivate me to continue to work on the process.

I’m not sure in what way you found my posts humbling, as that was not their intent; in fact just the opposite is true. It’s my hope that someone along the way will be empowered to improve their life.

Regardless, thanks for reading, and for sharing your thoughts with me here.

Frank Ferguson said...

Several here have said, (or implied), that you "can't control how you feel" and I agree. And Glasser agrees. And goes on to say that we DO control or CAN CHOOSE to control our thoughts and our actions. By making a concious CHOICE to change our THOUGHTS and ACTIONS we CAN and DO indirectly affect our FEELINGS and our PHYSIOLOGY (i.e. nervousness, sweaty palms, headaches, etc). That's Glasser's "Total Behavior" model.

Bill said...

Frank - Thanks for stopping by.

I'm familiar with Glasser's "Total Behavior" model, and it's really an extension of his earlier work.

In essence, we can not control our initial emotional 'feelings', we can however control what we think, and feel about them.

It's the conscious choices we make that ultimately effect how we feel, or at least that's my take on it.