3 Practical Ways to Tame Your Inner Control Freak

horse, mouth, teeth, close up, yell, scream, shout, donkey

My name is Jordin Kelly and I am a control freak.

I try really hard to hide it (which is just another attempt to control stuff), but when I get honest with myself, the evidence is plain.

Let’s see if you identify with my maniacal control freak brain (I bet you will), then we’ll dive in to how to tame this beast.

The first sign I was a control freak

When I was little, like, one of my first memories little, my mom would lay in my bed and sing to me until I fell asleep. When I did fall asleep, which usually took a whole 30 seconds, my mom would get up and go to sleep in her own bed for the night to, you know, catch some Zs without a toddler kicking her in the gut every half hour.

It was a wise choice for her.

For me though, I hated waking up alone in the middle of the night.

If I had my way, she’d sleep with me the whole night through. And like most toddlers, by golly I was going to have my way.

I didn’t think just asking my mom to sleep in my bed with me for the whole night was going to get me the results I wanted. So, I hatched a cleverer plan: I was going to fake like I was asleep and then when she went to get up, I’d tell her I’m still awake so she couldn’t leave.

Then she would question herself and think, “Boy, she sure looked asleep but apparently she isn’t so I’d better wait even longer next time to be sure.”

If I could just stay awake long enough to get her nice and tired, she’d eventually fall asleep waiting to be sure that I was asleep. Then she would sleep with me the rest of the night and in the morning I’d just be like, “Oops, looks like you got too sleepy, Momma. But see what a good rest you got in my bed??”

Then she’d be like, “You know what, I did get a great night’s sleep in your bed. Let’s do that every night.”

Boom.

You tracking this plan? The minds of two-year old’s are far more devious than we give them credit for.

My poor mom…

Only problem with this plan was by the time my bedtime rolled around and my mom started singing, I could not fend off sleep for the life of me. I was like a helpless sailor falling asleep under a mermaid’s singing spell.

Every night I’d wake up, she would be gone, and I would have no recollection of when she left.

Fail.

That plan was smart but I came up with an even better one. This one was going to be fool proof.

When it was time for bed, my mom took her place next to me to sing and I cuddled up real tight with her. Real tight.

I interlaced my fingers in one of her hands, put one of my legs between hers, and twisted my other arm all in her clothes. I was terribly uncomfortable, but there was no way this woman was leaving my side without me waking up.

I remember her being like, “Jordin, what’s going on? Why are you tangling yourself up in my clothes?” To which I responded, “Aw I just love you so much, Mommy.”

I think she bought it.

Once she started singing, I fell fast asleep, completely satisfied with my plan. I was finally going to get her to sleep in my bed for good.

Except she didn’t.

My mom was like a super Houdini or something because I never woke up when she left. This is still one of the biggest mysteries in my life to date. I’m not kidding. I was straight up tangled in her clothes. It’s was total magic.

In the words of the poor kid who thought his mom ate his Halloween candy,

“You sneeeeeeeaky Mom!!!”

Cool story but is wanting to control stuff really that big of a deal?

Short answer: yes.

Long answer:

Even though I failed in my quest to get my mom to sleep in my twin bed instead of her big, comfy, king-size one, this story sheds some serious light on what happens when we try to covertly control a situation we ultimately have no control over.

I spent a lot of time thinking and plotting how I could control my mom to do what I want without her knowing I was trying to control her. I strained myself to stay awake as long as possible to make sure my plan to control her was effective. I acted a certain way to get her to think I was just showing her affection, not just trying to control her.

This may seem like small beans to you. Like something we all do in countless situations every single day. It’s just human nature, a harmless little desire to control things to get what we want. It’s EVOLUTION, in fact.

Nice arguments but listen to this: what could I have done in this situation instead of thinking and plotting and straining and acting and controlling?

How about sleep?

How about play?

I could have actually enjoyed my mom’s company and shown her genuine affection instead of manipulating her.

And did I mention sleep and play? Things we repeatedly complain about not having enough of. Maybe if we spent less time trying to control everything we’d have more time for stuff that will actually make us happy.

koala, sleep, tree, tired, sleepy, grey, cute, adorable
Let’s be more like this koala, I’ll bet she gets enough sleep and play in her life.                                                         Photo by Cris Saur on Unsplash.

Us control freaks choose overthinking, planning, self-discipline, and manufactured interaction over rest, play, enjoyment, and authentic relationships.

Those last four things are what we give up when we’re always focused on controlling every situation to get to the next goal, get the perfect body, get someone to marry us, get that promotion, get them to see our side, get them to like us…the list could go on forever, couldn’t it?

Our inner control freak may promise us some badass gizmos and cars and attention and wealth, and it may even get us those things sometimes, but what do we give up in the process? Is a promotion really worth missing out on family dinners and all the kissing executive ass you have to do to get it?

If you can tame your inner control freak, you’ll find that you can go through life without controlling it and still have just as much opportunity to get what you want. It is possible for planning and self-discipline to exist outside the realm of white knuckle control. You’ll see.

And for those of us trying to control everything perfectly so nothing bad happens, listen closely: bad things will still happen to you.

I’m sorry, but it’s true. No matter how diligently you prepare for all the “what ifs” and “just in cases” there will be a thousand more “what ifs” and “just in cases.” You’re going to drive yourself crazy, literally, always trying to prohibit bad things from happening.

Do you want to know why?

Because you have no control over bad things happening. Absolutely none.

As Paul Young says,

“A single cell in my brain could go haywire and kill me at any moment.”

Tragic? Yes. Hard to think about? Yes. True? Yes.

Take it from me: I’m a hard core planner. I love preparing shit. Getting it all organized and double checking I have all my bases covered. It’s my thing.

But I’m learning to plan and prepare up until the point it stops being fun and then stop. As soon as it starts to stress me out or feel overwhelming, I stop. I don’t really have control over anything I’m planning or preparing anyway, so why kill myself over it?

Let it go, my fellow controllers. You won’t find death when you loosen your grip on the reins of control. You’ll actually find life, brilliant life.

You won't find death when you loosen your grip on the reins of control, rather life, brilliant life. Click To Tweet

How to tame your inner control freak

I am working on taming my inner control freak on three fronts:

  1. Observing my desire to control and doing nothing about it
  2. Only controlling what I can control
  3. Learning to enjoy the process of life instead of just the end goal

1. Observe your desire to control

And then DON’T control it!

That’s it.

Seriously.

If you can cultivate the skill of self-awareness keenly enough to observe your controlling impulses and then decide not to act on it, you are well on your way to loosening your grip on plotting and striving and acting, and opening yourself up to more play, rest, and genuine relationship.

2. Control what you can control

There is controlling what you can control and then there is CONTROLLING WHAT YOU CAN CONTROL.

Can you tell the difference?

One is participating in your life, and the other is manhandling your way through life because it is up to you to prevent every single bad thing from happening to you and everyone you’ve ever cared about and loved.

We already covered how you don’t have control over bad or good things happening to you. So stop wasting your energy trying to control it.

However, you do have control over how you handle what happens to you. Controlling what you can control means focusing less on the outcome and more on your attitude along the way.

Which is the perfect segway to my next point…

Controlling what you can control means focusing less on the outcome and more on your attitude along the way. Click To Tweet

3. Learn to enjoy the journey

This is classic advice.

“It’s the journey, not the destination.”

We’ve heard it a million times but when will we finally take it seriously?

I’m still working on this one but have had some profound breakthroughs in this area that propelled my overall happiness through the roof. When we enjoy the journey, we learn that mind over matter isn’t everything and creatively adapting your strategy in each new phase of life while working toward a goal is so fun that it is almost a better experience than the goal itself.

Almost. I love me some achievements.

But the fact is, once you achieve your goal, there will always be more goals. I’ve learned that life isn’t meant to power through, bulldozing from one destination to the next. It is meant to participate in, adapt to, and learn from.

You still reach cool destinations this way (perhaps even cooler destinations), and you have a hell of a lot better time doing it.

If you are a control freak, you are not alone. Why not join arms with me against this energy-sucking beast and spend more time thinking about and doing stuff that gives us energy? I’d love to walk together with you.

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