Why Control is an Illusion, and How to take it back anyway

We don’t have as much control over our lives as we think. Paradoxically, we also have more control over our lives than we think.

Most of us major in minor things. It’s true. We gossip, talk shit, talk about other people, procrastinate, succumb to resistance, have limiting beliefs, make excuses, feel like we’re not good enough, et cetera. And we let these minor things make the major decisions. This is the true blocker of success for most people.

On the flip side of the coin, we may become acutely aware of all the negativity in our lives, and decide to fight it by being extremely positive and extremely busy, all the time. In this case, we’d be focusing on the thing we have control over, right? Wrong. This is not the right course of action either because you’d be trying to force a positive outcome from reality, and it will inevitably come crashing down.

The popular self-help answer is to hustle, think positive thoughts, don’t quit, and you will get there. This is bullshit, and it’s actually really toxic, too. The problem with this answer is that life will inevitably bring you down, and you’ll start to feel guilty about how you’re not being positive, and how you’re slowing down, etc, which will catapult into a negative spiral. Rather than accept and own up to your shitty mood, or your lack of sleep, and move forward from there, the popular self-help culture paints an impossible ideal that just makes you relate to your current reality in an even worse off way.

So where’s the right balance? How can we focus on our circle of control, to move forward in the direction of our goals, while also accepting, rather than resisting, the reality of our lives today?

The right balance comes when we realize that we can’t obtain our goals through force alone. It’s the realization that you’re not the only person here on earth, and that you have to work with the nature of things, rather than try to force your will onto the world every waking moment.

Essentially, it’s the realization that you can only ever be a CO-CREATOR, and all success can only ever be the result of you working WITH the world.

One way is to realize the ancient eastern wisdom that we don’t exist as our self-concepts like we think we do, and the actual truth is that we are the universe itself. Therefore, this means that if we are forcing our way through the world, that is how we are relating to ourselves. Whereas, instead, if we decided to surrender our hastiness, and come from a place of authenticity, acceptance, and a willingness to improve the situations that the present moment brings forth, we’re actually now relating to ourselves in that way. If your true self is the entire universe, and the only relationship that ever matters is the relationship you have with yourself, then all of a sudden, all the places in life that you feel a resistance to, are actually just parts of yourself that you haven’t integrated, or unknowns that you haven’t triumphed over yet. Therefore reality requires working with it, rather than forcing on it.

Wow, that was pretty woo-woo. Let’s try a more grounded example. Another way to think about it is that any result is the combination of many causes. Everything is an interaction effect with many factors. For instance, many people find it easier to get work done at a coffee shop rather than at their home office. Why? Because some people find that the arousal of being around people leads them to be more alert and focused. Not to mention that it’s too awkward to look at other people, so you might as well just start getting your shit done. What this means you’re not as invincible as you think you’re, that you’re actually an active participant in life, and that you need to be your own scientist in order to understand the factors that come into play in a given situation so that you can optimize your result. Once again, this requires working with life, rather than forcing against it.

Self-help and popular law of attraction advice will throw you into a fantasy land real quick. The actual truth is that bringing your goals to fruition requires showing up, learning, a positive but realistic mindset, and consistency of habit. You don’t have to recite affirmations and try to walk like Connor McGregor to start “feeling” successful and then get all deflated when you can’t keep the shtick up for more than 5 minutes. Yet this is basically what many laws of attraction coaches and self-help books preach. The fundamental difference here is their failure to understand that any sort of law of attraction can only occur in a co-creative process and that that basically means that a grounded, realistic approach is the best approach to life anyways.

Where do we have control?

  1. Creating systems of where our energy, time, and focus goes

The Ability to use our metacognition and executive control is one of our highest areas of control. This is one of the abilities that make us human. This involves introspection about your values, what you want out of life, scheduling, planning, journalling, etc.

2. Our Attitudes

How are you relating to the present moment? You have a continuous choice throughout the day to relate to the moment positively or negatively. Take your control back.

3. Our Behaviors

After you know how you should be spending time your, and the frame of mind you want to be coming from, the only thing left is to actually do the work that will move you forward, and to do it consistently! Ultimately, the only thing you fight and that can stop you from doing what you need to be doing is resistance. Be aware of resistance and do it anyway.

A Psychology Undergrad sharing wisdom through insights about psychology, self-development and spiritual growth.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store