February 16

From Control Freak to Hakuna Matata: Embracing the Joy of Surrender

"I'm not a control freak. I know exactly how things should be done, and if you'd all just do it my way, everything would be fine!"

This article in the NY Times describes a micromanager who was so much of a control freak that she “cleaned out employees' desks when she felt that they were too messy and deleted e-mail messages from employees' computers when she thought that workers didn't need the notes anymore.”

Such behavior sounds laughably like something that would fit well in the plotlines of The Office. But if you are anything like me, the words ring uncomfortably true and hit too close to home.

Self-awareness

I’ll admit it—I engage in similar “tidying up” tactics with people in my family who, let’s just say, don’t prioritize (as in, ever) cleaning up their surroundings. Nor do they worship the Zero Inbox strategy (an aggressive email management system that aims to keep the email inbox at zero or close to zero at all times) like I do.

I would try similar maneuvers at work were it not for the somewhat rigorous security and HR policies that, I’m convinced, were designed, in part, to reign in control freaks like me, to prevent us from accessing team members’ email accounts or attempting to clean out their desks. Undeterred, though, I have resorted to the collaborative approach to control: suggesting workplace cleanups as team-building activities—a suggestion that keeps getting vetoed, though. Wonder why?!

Well, one thing I know for sure: I’m not alone. I belong to a tribe of well-meaning but “can’t help ourselves” group of over-zealous planners and doers who feel that if the world just followed our instructions, it would be a better place. Depending on where we fall on the spectrum, the world refers to us as affably, as control nuts, and at other times as annoying control freaks.

Control Nut or Control Freak

This delightful article describes the evolution of the term “control freak” and makes the distinction between a control nut and a control freak. The former, apparently, is seen as less pejorative—a control nut, according to the article, is “a freak you kind of like.”

So, whether we see ourselves as mild control nuts or full-blown control freaks, it’s time to cop to the truth:

We spend much time focusing on things we can’t control and overthinking our way to catastrophes that rarely materialize.

Instead of spending our energies understanding our emotional responses, we try hard to control the external environment, over which, frankly, we have absolutely no influence.

Sadly, the story never ends well. Not only do we not get the results we hope for—getting others to change their behavior and actions—we end up stressing ourselves and disrupting our mental health when things don’t go as planned.

According to experts, the only way to loosen that grip, unclench those fists, and let go of the control freak within us is through the practice of Surrender.

Surrendering is a process of letting go of control, accepting what is, and finding peace in the present moment. It’s like waving the white flag to the universe and saying, “Alright, you win, but can we make it interesting?'"

The Art of Surrender

"To let go is to release the images and emotions, the grudges and fears, the clingings and disappointments of the past that bind our spirit." - Jack Kornfield.

Here are some practical ways to practice the art of surrender.

Acceptance

Surrendering starts with acceptance and getting rid of the notion: “If you don’t control your life, life will control you.” The reality is that most of life’s events will indeed end up controlling you, regardless of whether or not you try to control external circumstances. Why even bother fighting?

Mindfulness and presence

Life happens one moment at a time. Practice mindfulness to stay present in the moment. When you stay present, you are less likely to be consumed by worries about the past or the future. Focus on your breath, senses, and the environment around you.

Trust the process

Develop trust in the natural flow of life. Understand that challenges and difficulties are part of the human experience, often leading to personal growth and learning. Trust that things will unfold as they are meant to.

Letting go of attachment

Letting go doesn't mean giving up, but accepting that things are beyond your control.

Identify attachments or expectations that may be causing stress. This could be attachments to specific outcomes, possessions, or relationships. Practice loosening your grip on these attachments and be open to different possibilities.

Cultivate gratitude

Focus on the positive aspects of your life. Gratitude helps shift your mindset from what you lack to what you have, fostering a sense of contentment and peace.

Be less judgmental

Let go of judgment, both of yourself and others. Accept imperfections and differences without passing harsh judgments. This creates a more compassionate and accepting mindset.

Embrace the chaos, laugh at the unexpected, and dance in the rain without checking the weather app. Life is too short to be spent in a constant battle with the uncontrollable.

Surrender is the most powerful thing you can do. It doesn’t mean you are weak; it means you are smart. Eckhart Tolle.

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