Stop Trying to Control Everything

Posted on December 22nd, 2011
Posted in Articles

“There is only one way to happiness and that is to cease worrying about things which are beyond the power of our will.” – Epictetus, Greek sage and Stoic philosopher, born a slave (55-135 C.E.)

If we don’t like our world today, our tendency may be to try to force things to bend to our will. This isn’t going the way we like, so we fret and fume and cast blame upon others – as if this will change anything. Most of all, we worry over the most insignificant things, trivial events and remarks and perceived slights. All of this adds up to a mountain of ill-will, all of it negative and counter-productive to effective long-term recovery.

There is one recommendation that we should take to heart: Stop trying to control everything. It isn’t possible to control everything in our lives anyway, and we can only really hope to put into place changes in our own behavior, not someone else’s. So, why take on the burden of the weight of the world? Why add to our own plate what we think are the mistakes or missteps of others with whom we interact? Who are we, anyway, to believe that we have all the answers or that only our way of doing things is the right way?

That’s correct. We’ve likely been guilty of thinking that we’re more the center of the universe than we actually are. In fact, each of us is but a part of a vast world. That does not mean to imply that any one of us or our efforts, individually or collectively, are unimportant. That is absolutely not the case. But we are not responsible for the actions of others, only our own. When we try to control what others say and think and do, we’re overstepping our boundaries. Not only that, but it’s totally pointless. When did it ever turn out that others who bent to our will and dictates ever a) learned anything from it, b) felt good about it, or c) changed their actions dramatically as a result?

Now, compound the problem by continuing to fret over what we cannot control and we’ve found ourselves in a vicious and never-ending cycle. Why in the world would any reasonable man or woman want to do that?

Here’s another reason to stop trying to control everything: It makes us exceedingly unhappy. When we’re always looking at why people don’t do things the right way (our way), or they aren’t acting fast enough, or don’t have the right attitude, what’s the net result? We continue to worry and stew, lash out verbally and possibly physically, and the situation never resolves itself. If those whom we’re trying to control acquiesce, they do so grudgingly, no doubt harboring ill will towards us. That’s never a good sign, certainly not for any fruitful or meaningful long-term relationship, whether it’s romantic, platonic or friendly.

If we acknowledge our tendency to try to control everything and recognize that this is counter-productive to our recovery and our long-term happiness, what can we do to stop this bad practice? The first step in changing our behavior is always to recognize that we need and want to change it. Then we need to identify ways in which we can begin to effectively change what we think and do to be something more proactive and desirable. Then, of course, comes the hard part: actually doing what we’ve identified as positive behavior that will yield a more desirable outcome.

We can discuss this issue with our 12-step sponsor and others in the rooms, with our spouse or loved ones, with our therapist, even with our close friends. Try to be like a sponge, soaking up all the good advice and comments without automatically condemning them as unworkable, stupid, out-of-touch or naive. If we listen, try to adapt what has worked for others to our own situation, and adopt a proactive learning approach, we will begin to see results.

Another benefit of quitting our incessant need to control everything is that we’ve freed up a lot of energy we can devote to more meaningful activities and pursuits. We have more room to fill up our soul with the joy of life.

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