Controlling Your Inner Control Freak

Last week’s family dinner wasn’t going as planned.

“I’m trying to let go of being in control,” my 82-year-old mother whispered.

“How’s that working out for you?” I asked.

“Not very well,” she replied.

My mom fully owns her need to control situations—specifically family dinners. Where people sit, what they eat, how much time we need to sit and visit before a meal is served and just how they generally go down. I’ve witnessed this for over 40 years—not in a bad way, just aware that my mom likes things to play out a certain way (her way).

I can’t really blame her for this desire to control. When you raise six children and run a business, a lot of things are out of your control. Family dinners, however, are not. Or so she likes to think.

We all have areas of our lives we long to control, don’t we? But we aren’t always self-aware enough to recognize the impact our desire to control plays on our mood, our productivity, and our relationships.

The next time you’re wanting to control a situation, pause and ask yourself these two questions:

  1. How do I want to feel right now? Sometimes elevating out of the moment and seeing the bigger picture can help you loosen your grip. At dinner, for example, my mom was upset that half the family was eating while standing in the kitchen—not while sitting in the dining room, where she wanted them. But they were having a ball—talking, laughing, watching the kiddos. And isn’t the point of family dinners exactly that? So what if it wasn’t happening the way she orchestrated? It was still happening. The joy and togetherness she ultimately wanted to feel was, indeed, happening. She just needed to step back so she could see it. If things aren’t panning out how you want, determine what you can do to change that.
  2. What is my best and highest use right now? You only have so much energy. Control freaks can easily misspend theirs by obsessing over things that others can handle—or may even handle better. If you must control something, choose that something wisely. Delegate or let go of the rest—or pay the price. A former colleague of mine, for example, liked to control every single detail of projects, and it was detrimental to the team. Projects that should have taken days turned into months, with endless rounds of revisions. It slowed the organization down and caused tension with vendors and business partners. Identify your best and highest use and spend your energy there.

You can’t control it all. Asking these two simple questions, however, can offer the perspective we sometimes need.

And no matter what, remind yourself that the one thing you can control is your reaction to any situation.

Sit back—or, rather, stand up—and enjoy the party.

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