May 6, 2024

The Irony of Control

Blog article that highlights the learnings from the February experiments around letting go of control

The Irony of Control

In February, I began my next series of experiments which had to do with the second chapter of my book, ‘Four Words’. The four words in question are what my wife, Susie, said to me right after she found out thatWilliam had died – “It’s not your fault.” I have reflected a lot on this amazing act of selflessness and compassion, and the key lesson I have taken from it has to do with the notion of control. In this chapter, I explore the concept of control as well as the realization that the only thing we really have control over is how we react to whatever situations life throws at us.

February Experiment 1 – Observe what happens when I feel like I am not in control
My first experiment around the concept of control was to observe what happens to me when I feel out of control. While it’s hard to predict when we might be triggered to feel out of control, as a father of two sons, an eleven-year-old and a three and a half year old, I was pretty sure that something would come up. And it did. I was picking up my older son Kai from basketball and was in rush to get home.  As was often the case he was taking his time as he was socializing with his friends.  As someone for whom patience doesn’t come easy, I began to get triggered.  Fortunately, I remembered the experiment for the week and began to observe what was happening within me. What manifested for me was a heat in my chest accompanied by a feeling of anxiety. It was subtle at first but then it started to grow in intensity into feelings of frustration and even anger.

As I was observing myself, literally beginning to boil over, something interesting happened. This act of observing myself dissipated the emotions I was feeling around frustration and anger. Through observation, I allowed myself to not be overcome by these emotions. It’s a testament to how important it is for us to build self-awareness for what happens to us when we get triggered. By building self-awareness, we can catch ourselves before it’s too late and our emotions get the best of us. We cancreate what I call early warning signals so that we can step back and observe what is going within ourselves before it’s too late.

February Experiment 2 – When I feel like I am losing control, ask the question,“what can I control?”
For my second experiment of the month, the goal was to shift what I focus on when I feel out of control. Often when I feel out of control, I tend to focus on thething I can’t control, which only leads me to feel more frustrated. Instead of doing that, what I wanted to experiment with was focusing on what I can control by asking the question,“what can I control?”

During this week, we were hit with some heavy snow, which meant the kids had a snow day. Anyone who is parent knows just how disruptive kids cooped up at home can be when you have a busy day of calls and meetings. There were several moments when my two sons began to bicker.  Normally when this happens, I tend to lose it and start reprimanding them. In this instance, it gave me the perfect opportunity to practice the week’s experiment. Because of the self-awareness I had built the previous week, the minute I began to feel triggered I paused and asked myself what I could control. By doing so, I realized that I couldn’t control the fact that the kids were home and bouncing off the walls. What I could control was how I reacted to them, which was to simply ask them, in a calm tone, to keep it down while I was on calls and offer to take them sledding once my calls were done. Intentionally asking the question gave me a moment of pause to make a different choice, one that would bring calm to the situation as opposed to escalate it. For me, asking this question forces me to step back from the situation as opposed to getting caught up in it.

February Experiment 3 – Adopting a mindset of surrender
The third week of February is always a tough time for our family, as it coincides with the
anniversary of William’s death. This year was the fifth anniversary, which made things seem that much heavier. One of the things that really challenged me afterWilliam died was getting to a place of acceptance with what had happened. To do that you have to surrender to the fact that there are things at play around us that are beyond our control. My third experiment of February had to do with adopting a mindset of surrender to whatever came my way.

Despite my best efforts, I found that, due to the heavy emotions I was feeling, it was hard to surrender. It was hard because I didn’t want to feel these emotions. I didn’t want to have to commemorate the 5th year anniversary of losing my son.So, I fell into the old trap of trying to avoid or push these feelings away, which didn’t really help matters. All it did was remind me that not surrendering and pushing against my feelings only makes things more challenging. It brings to life what I have told so many of my clients, “what we resist, persists.” It was a tough week and it reminded me of just how helpful a mindset of surrender can be in difficult situations.

February Experiment 4 – Instead of pushing against it, flow with it
The nice thing about experimentation is that no matter what happens, you can learn from it. So, while my week 3 experiment didn’t feel like a huge success for me in the moment, it did allow me to modify the experiment the following week. My experiment for the following week was to implement the mantra ‘Go with the flow’ to let go of trying to control the different situations that arose.

The week in question was extremely busy. I traveled to New York to conduct a client workshop and then had a number of different client development meetings, which had me and my business partner running all over the city. With all this activity, there were numerous times when I had to stop trying to control the situation. Whenever I felt the urge to try and exert my control, I would silently in my head say, ‘go with the flow.’ The minute I did this, it softened any feelings of anxiety, and I would let go of my natural tendency to control.It is further proof of just how powerful it can be to set an intention and reinforce it with a mantra.

Control is a human construct intended to make us feel as comfortable as possible in a chaotic world. The irony of it is that by trying to exert our control over the uncontrollable, we only make our lives more complicated and uncomfortable. The sooner we realize that the only thing we have control over is ourselves, the sooner this life will seem less chaotic.