Most of us want to let go of control and perfection. And most of us struggle with it. Why? Because of the biological, societal, and sometimes personal cards we’re dealt.
[Tweet “Not a moment that lasts too long, from the noon that transforms into evening to the future that turns into the past.”]
We’re wired to want control. The transient nature of life itself makes us want to hang onto the experiences, the people, the situations that make us happy or give us a sense of groundedness. And yet, it’s a losing battle. For there’s not a moment that lasts too long, from the noon that transforms into evening to the future that turns into the past.
And then there’s the pace of life in the 21st century. The speed of change around us disorients us and makes us run faster and faster to stay in control. How fast will we possibly go, given that life’s not going to slow down any time soon? Like the toilet roll that spins faster the closer it gets to the end, life has accelerated by leaps and bounds, even from the time of our own childhoods.
Add to that the fact that some of us – through a not so lucky combination of nature and nurture – are more prone to seek control because of low self-worth. Disconnected from our core, we desperately try and control whatever we can in order to find our ground again. And so we become perfectionists, setting ourselves targets that stretch us to the point of frazzled, and leave us unable to see the world in its wonderful shades of grey.
Like many of us, I’ve also struggled with this baggage of history, genes and circumstance. And here’s what helps me disconnect from the need to control and let go of the pull of perfection.
Know my Inner World
Recognizing when my inner state is not one of anticipatory joy and hope, but one of hanging on too tight and being fixated on a goal that may not even be tied to my natural strengths and limitations. I notice it when I’m about to start a new endeavor, like when I did my first corporate workshop. The inner tension and expected anxiety is not colored in excitement. Instead, it’s often a need for everything to go perfectly as in: “I must never make a mistake and everybody should be totally satisfied”. Recognizing these superlative worded expectations helps me distance myself from them, so I’m not carrying an unnecessary burden that weighs me down.
Change my Self-talk
We’re story-tellers – and much like the stock market, when we tell stories we cannot live up to, our internal stock price takes a tumble. Enough rounds of this, and we devalue our own worth. Changing our mental chatter to one that is more realistic is the best thing we can do to maintain our sense of self – and our sanity. In the workshop example, a change as simple as “I’d like not to make any major mistake so that the participants gain something of value” would be a much gentler way of relating to ourselves.
Sit with the Unease
I wouldn’t for a moment suggest that self-awareness and positive self-talk does away with the urge to control or the desire for perfection. In all my years offering cognitive behavioral therapy, I’ve found that it’s a combination of modifying our thoughts AND sitting with our feelings that we manage to master our lives. But sitting with our feelings is not easy – at least not in the beginning. It’s in focusing on the breath and watching the thoughts and feelings rise and eventually subside, as a dark cloud outside of us, that we create distance from the urge to act.
Focus on the Bigger Picture
The unfortunate thing about control and perfection is that it keeps us busy in the minutiae of life, and away from the bigger questions, and the larger purpose of our existence. I believe that there would be no sadder thought at the end of our lives than to realize that we never got to know our purpose, nor made a conscious effort to fulfill it. So when you find yourself trying to control situations, or people, or your body – which sadly is so promoted in our culture – ask yourself:
- How does this restrict my experience of life?
- What would my life be if I didn’t give in to this urge?
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[Tweet “We grow, we transform, we live life to its fullest in this continuous interaction of us and the world around us. “]
We grow, we transform, we live life to its fullest in this continuous interaction of us and the world around us. Hanging onto a certain way of how this interaction – or this world – ‘should’ be provides us with fewer experiences, and leaves little memories to weave the fabric of our lives.
It’s awe-inspiring to sometimes reflect on the chance that we’re even here in this moment, reflecting on life, on letting go, and on the choices before us. What were the chances that you or I would be the fortunate interaction of an ovum and a lucky sperm. That our parents would ever meet – and their parents and theirs…. That we’d be ruled by wills and beliefs other than our own that would make us into the people we are today. That of all the futures that may have existed for each of us, this is the one we have inherited, through little control of our own.
[Tweet “the beauty of life lies in chance, in transience, and in the opportunities that appear only when we’re open to multiple possibilities and to the entire spectrum between black and white.”]
Why then hang onto control when the beauty of life lies in chance, in transience, and in the opportunities that appear only when we’re open to multiple possibilities and to the entire spectrum between black and white.
I’d love to hear from you! Do you struggle with control and perfection? What are the areas of life where it shows up the most? And what have you tried that has worked – or not worked?