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!