A few years ago I learned a very important lesson about control thanks to two people in my life. These two people have issues that they have not been able to work out between them. Because I care about them both, I wanted them to do things my way and figure out a way to forgive each other and mend their relationship.
But they were not and still are not ready for such a step. So I was forced to realize that it is really not within my realm of control to make this happen. I could communicate with both of them, offer my perspective, even tell them what *I* wanted, but the bottom line is that what they choose to do is not something I can control. Ultimately I did express my opinion (which was very difficult and scary to do, but I did!) and this combined with my new realization about control, paved the way for a peaceful empowerment inside of me that I had not experienced before.
Before we talk about what we can control, let's start with what we CANNOT control.
We CANNOT Control:
1) Other people
2) The weather or natural disasters
3) The price of tea in China
4) The price of gas
6) The inevitability of death
...I'm sure you can think of more - please feel free to add to my list!
I suspect you may already have an inkling where this is headed. The ONLY thing that we will ever control is OURSELVES. The really good news is that this is all you really need AND with this alone you can make your life as awesome as you allow it to be.
“The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life.
Attitude, to me, is more important than facts. It is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than failures, than successes, than what other people think or say or do. It is more important than appearance, giftedness or skill. It will make or break a company...a church....a home. The remarkable thing is we have a choice every day regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. We cannot change our past...we cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude...I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it. And so it is with you...we are in charge of our attitudes.”
― Charles R. Swindoll
There is a reason that this quote is famous - it's because people sense the truth in it and it inspires them.
I mean really, this idea seems so blatantly obvious I almost question writing about it. But it is evident to me in my every day life that although this idea is not new or unknown, very few people actually embrace it.
Most people want to exert some kind of influence over their environment so that it suits their needs and desires - this includes the people in their lives. However once you've realized that controlling others is not possible, you will also realize that if you base your happiness on others' actions, you are basically confining yourself to being happy when people act the way you want them to! Sounds like a formula for being pretty unhappy.
Yet this desire to control has been ingrained in us since the time we were small. Indeed, most of our parenting culture is based on trying to control children - what they eat, when they sleep, how much TV they can watch, what words they use, what clothes they wear, what they learn - this list can go on for quite some time. And our school system is even more insistent in its drive to confine, conform, and control. "Classroom control" is a regular term used by and about teachers. It is shameful if you do NOT have control over the 30 or so humans in your classroom at any given time. If there was ever a time when it was evident that I could not control another human being it was in my first year of teaching.
And so I learned to use punishment and shame to get my students in line. I'm not proud of that now, but the truth is I did what I needed to, to survive in that environment.
It also is the perfect example of why so many people think we NEED punishment to shape childrens' behavior.
But I digress. I actually didn't start this post with children and parenting in mind. It just happens to be very relevant. When I started writing I was actually thinking about adults and how most of us do not have a good grasp of this concept.
Let go of the desire to control anything other than yourself. Work on what you do have control over - your thoughts and actions. When you do you will experience a great sense of freedom, peace, and joy in your life. You will find it easier to process and release feelings - which sometimes course through us before we can "control" them. You will experience deeper connection in your relationships. You will notice when your desire for things to be different is causing you unhappiness and then you can adjust accordingly. You will become more empathetic and compassionate towards others. You will worry less, obsess less, stress less, nag less, and force less. You will love more, be more present, be more flexible, more creative, and more content.
I say that this has been the most important lesson of my life so far because it applies to everything and everyone, every day of my life. I still want people to behave differently than they do sometimes, but I notice that desire when it happens and then I can let it go. So to those two people in my life who cemented this concept in my life I say, THANK YOU and I love you.
I loved this post, Susan! You are so wise, and this idea is one that bears repeating. and repeating. and internalizing, even if it seems obvious at times to you (I mean, sometimes the wisest words seem like the most obvious ones in retrospect). You have such a good attitude about the importance of our attitudes towards whatever life sends our way that is out of our control-- it's inspiring! <3
Thank you Allison! It's funny because I've had conversations about this a few times but never felt inclined to write too much about it. But you are right - sometimes we "know" something but it takes a lot of learning and relearning to really soak into our bones. I mean I still want to change people - mostly when their being controlling, haha. I'm glad you found this inspiring <3
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Wife, mom, information and peace seeker.