The Paradox of Control and Letting Go


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Control is often an illusion. Yet most people, myself included (times a million), have a hard time releasing from it. We like to think we have more of a handle on things than we actually do. This kind of habitual thinking provides a necessary comfort. If we had no control, everything would be chaos always. And we do have some control over most things. The problem is that we tend to stretch some control to thinking we have much more control than is true.

Why is this a problem? Because the more we try to control things the less we are open to what is actually happening. And we often miss out on a lot as a result. Control is a form of wanting; generally, wanting something to go a certain way. Wanting is a constricting emotion. It’s texture is narrow. Releasing from control—from wanting—on the other hand, is expansive.

My son’s development consistently blows my mind. He goes from not crawling to crawling a million miles per hour. From not being able to stand to pulling himself up on everything. It’s nuts. Just this morning, he showed a more intense than ever interest in this soft, bouncy blue ball we have. It was as if he wanted to play an 8-month old version of catch. But what was really happening was I wanted him to play an 8-month old version of catch. And I thought that by encouraging him and demonstrating catch in every thinkable way he’d come along. But he just wasn’t interested. After about five-minutes it hit me: Theo was having a great time just being with the ball in his own bizarre way. Sucking on it. Looking at it. Touching it. Trying to eat it. Being awed when it moved on it’s own. I was so busy trying to control the situation, trying to make a game of catch happen, that I totally missed out on the chance to just watch Theo do Theo. Once I released from any notion of playing catch, my entire felt-experience changed. I felt less tense. More present. More joyful at what was in front of me, even if it wasn’t anything close to catch. I went from trying to control what was happening to being with what was happening.

This got me thinking that I do this all the time. I close in on something because I want it to go a certain way. This has worked in my favor enough—at least if you define “favor” as achievement and bringing things to fruition—that it’s become somewhat habitual. The only issue is that it comes at the expense of so many moments of joy, ease, and expansiveness that accompany releasing from control. It’s not just when playing with my son, though that’s a great example. This is a theme that cuts across everything.

I’m reading Anne Lamott’s new book Almost Everything: Notes on Hope. She makes the point that most truth is paradox. This, in many ways, is what makes life so freaking hard. The paradox here is that control can propel us to great heights and open up all kinds of neat opportunities. I don’t doubt that part of the reason I have published a bestselling book, have another on the way, and get to coach world-class performers is because I’m a control freak. But this is the same reason that I too often miss out on moments of joy and wonder. Both of these things can be—and are—true at once. It’s living the paradox.

If any of this resonates with you you might find yourself asking: “Well, what am I supposed to do about it?” I don’t have an answer, and I’m not sure there is one. I think simply being aware of this paradox is sufficient enough. The more you can be aware of it the more you can notice how it impacts your life. The more you notice, the more you’ll change in a way that is harmonious not just with what you want out of life, but also with what life is offering to you.

— Brad

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