I’m starting to realize that I can’t control everything.
Yesterday, on a long drive home, I was thinking about my weekend adventures,Â 1 and wondering why I responded so sulkily and unwillingly to a change of plans.Â The things we ended up doing were probably a lot more fun than what I’d decided ought to happen, or, at the very least, were no less fun.Â But I had to keep reining in my grouchiness and reminding myself – duh -Â that I was having a good time.
I plan my life as though I can force the world to bend to my will. And I keep doing this, even though I’ve experienced some crushing disappointments because I’ve dreamt up scenarios which depend entirely on things I couldn’t control. I sometimes imagine how the future is going to happen in vivid detail, as they do in sportsÂ psychologyÂ – except that instead of envisioning myself dunking the ball, I decide what the other players are going to do. And you don’t have to be a psychologist to see that the actions of other people are completely outside of my control.
Even worse,Â I often find myself trying to recreate the magic moments that I’ve been lucky enough to experience – some happy accident of connection or timing that I try to reassemble, Frankenstein’s-monster-style.Â The results are predictably disjointed.
I can look back at the worst of these attempts and see that I was missing out – while I was trying to make some particular thing happen, the potential for magic was all around me, and I was sulking and struggling against it.Â So many wonderful moments missed, so manyÂ opportunitiesÂ lost because I was so fixated on my own willfulness and disappointment.
It struck me that this self-sabotage is something I’ve been doing my whole life; trying to force the future to take the shape I’ve decided it should have, against all experience and good sense. I’ve always known I was doing something wrong, but this was the first time I was able to articulate what it was.Â And when I finally did, the realization struck me like a thunderbolt.
Now, the habits of a lifetime aren’t undone in one moment of clarity; they take active and constant work to change. But even before I’d been able to articulate what the problem was, I’d been working towards it, catching myself as I begin to make an impossible-to-achieve plan or, more often, as I struggle to force it to happen.
Boiled down to its essentials, this is aÂ processÂ of becoming self-centred, instead of outside-centred.Â 2 The only variables IÂ canÂ really control in any situation are my responses; I can’t change the weather or the world. Â I can catch myself responding poorly and reframe that emotion, cheering myself up considerably in the process. Â And I hope that eventually I can work backwards, ceasing to respond badly and eventually not making so many impossible plans in the first place.
I’m trying really hard to quit trying so fucking hard.
And I’m making progress; a number of times this weekend, I found myself trying to force something that just wasn’t happening. I could feel myself being stupid and annoying.3 Though I wasn’t successful Â in entirely stopping myself from reacting badly toÂ thingsÂ not going as I’d planned, I was able to rein myself in4 and had, overall, an awesome weekend with some great people.5 I hope that now that I’ve got a better idea of what I’ve been doing wrong all this time, I’ll be able to work more effectively to change it.
I know that I’m trying to wean myself off of being a control freak by switching to a new, more pliable venue wherein to exercise control, but hey – babysteps.
- I was in Detroit, and we went to the Motown Museum, which I heartily endorse – something about that place made my knees weak. [↩]
- You could also express this as becoming less self-centred, in terms of believing that the world should conform to my desires, and more outside-centred, in terms of recognizing what I can and can’t change. [↩]
- Note to self: Everclear is not a beverage that aids you in your struggle against being stupid and annoying. [↩]
- Mostly; see note about Everclear. [↩]
- With apologies for being stupid and annoying a few times. [↩]