I have a new favorite word, perfect for someone who tends to be a bit of a “control freak.” I found it on one of those lists of words that have no English equivalent (which I think says a lot about our society), it’s ataraxia, from ancient Greek meaning: a state of serene calmness.
Or, in a much more detailed sense: A state of calm that all Stoic philosophers aspired to. It’s a lack of agitation that comes from understanding the ways of the universe, accepting fate, knowing what one can control and therefore focusing only on the things one can actually change.
Can you see why there’s no English equivalent? Can you imagine what it would be like to accept that we can’t change everything and center our attention on the things we can change? Consider your life now, how important is it for you to be in control of things? What would it be like if you recognized the lack of power you have to predict or prevent things? Might sound kind of scary right?
On tv the “control freak” is often shown as a lovable, yet neurotic character. They’re either stressed out, micromanaging everything, running around trying to put out life’s little fires or they’re incredibly uptight. They are perfect for comic relief – you can’t help but giggle as you watch the “control freak” try to loosen up.
In real life the truth is many of us struggle with wanting to be in control, especially those of us with anxiety. Being in control is our way of managing uncomfortable or negative feelings like fear, trust and self-doubt. But it’s also not uncommon for us to let the comfort of control run away with us, and sometimes just like that uptight control freak on tv, we need to practice relinquishing some control.
Here are a few ways we can begin to let go…
Explore your thoughts – Identify a situation where it’s important for you to be in control and ask yourself what would happen if you let go of some it? What situations are you needlessly holding on to control and what would it be like to hand these over to someone else?
Notice the feelings and the discomfort – Once you can identify situations where being in control feels important, where you couldn’t possibly let go even though someone else could easily help out, identify the emotions attached to these thoughts. What does control mean in this situation? Comfort from a fear? Trust? Self-doubt? Does the idea of letting go of something you control make your stomach queasy? Notice these feelings, then take a deep breath.
Now imagine – You’ve identified the thoughts and emotions that keep you wanting control, but now you’re going to imagine something different. Imagine giving a small dose of control to someone else, even if your initial thought is “they aren’t going to do it right,” imagine giving it to them anyway. Now tell that feeling in your gut it’s going to be “okay” and imagine the freedom you now have that your load has been lightened. Can you picture the extra time you now have? The weight being lifted off your shoulders? Can you feel the release?
Letting go of control is not always an easy task, it can be stressful and worrying. It requires putting your trust in others and becoming comfortable with the unpredictable. It also means we have to get better at forgiveness because sometimes others make mistakes, they don’t do things the “right way” and we may find ourselves wanting to jump back in the driver’s seat. If you try these steps and fail, I encourage you to try them again and again. Letting go doesn’t happen over night, but it can happen.
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