Some of us have a tendency to want, or possibly to need to micro-manage every aspect of life. It’s something that is fed by anxiety, and in turn feeds our anxiety even more, creating a vicious circle. If this is you, then you are not alone, but equally you are not doing yourself any favours in terms of your stress.
But of course you must be wondering just what on earth you are meant to do about ‘letting stuff go’ when that option seems so extreme. The Internet is full of pretty quote cards about surrendering to the universe. This sounds beautiful in some ways, and for just a moment you might think this could be the answer. But in reality, how many of us can really just take that leap of faith into the unknown and stop sweating the small stuff?
Then of course, with micro-management of our lives and the anxiety that comes with it, is the struggle to choose when we are faced with a decision. When we are feeling the responsibility of life so intensely that we need to micro-manage it, reaching a decision on something can be scary.
The Instagram-quotable ideal that we are encouraged to aspire to is that idea of total surrender. Being so Zen that nothing can touch you. Letting life happen, and ‘feeling’ which path you should take when faced with a choice. Or if you ascribe to the Law of Attraction, it’s the idea of being in flow with the universe.
Whichever version of that sounds the most appealing to you, it’s usually a different story once you try to incorporate it into your life.
I get the concept of allowing and being open, rolling with life and trusting the universe, I really do. It sounds lovely. But as with most extremes, it’s just not realistic for most of us.
The trouble with aspiring to something unattainable is that we get overwhelmed; we feel that we have failed before we even get started. So then we don’t move or change at all. We don’t relax, don’t make a leap of any kind, and we don’t even unclench a little bit. Decisions are put on ice while we worry and ruminate some more. We stay tightly wound, wishing for the control that we will never have.
You can see the cycle of events in many areas of normal life. I think that weight loss is a really relatable example. When our ‘winter coat’, if you will, is a bit bigger than our goal summer body, the task of losing the weight we want to lose seems overwhelming.
We look at fitness models and photoshopped celebs on social media, and we feel that the gulf between where we are and where we want to be is so huge that it overwhelms us. So of course we get stuck. We cannot decide on a workout routine, nor can we choose which healthy eating plan to follow.
We don’t really get started on our weight loss or fitness plan, because we are so overwhelmed by the goal. Ultimately, we end up on the sofa at home, feeling bad about ourselves. We forget the really obvious solution of taking baby steps in the right direction and aiming for smaller milestones along the way.
It’s the simplest solution in the world – and we totally miss it every time because that’s what overwhelm does to us. It takes our perfectly logical brains and puts them into a spin so we can’t see straight.
Truly impossible goals
The same can absolutely be applied to getting our lives together. Control over our lives is not just an overwhelming goal, but something we can never attain because there are too many external factors. We can’t stop a force of nature like a flood, we can’t prevent a car accident that wasn’t our fault, and so on.
The ideal of letting go of control and becoming totally Zen is also quite unobtainable for most people. Why? Let’s just give the endless list of reasons the umbrella term of common sense!
So then what are the baby steps? What’s a more realistic, middle ground goal to aim for?
I would suggest aiming for a bit of a perspective shift to begin with. Get enough headspace to see the whole picture – life is complex and we can only control our own actions, which play a very small part in the big picture. Then from your new viewpoint, how about taking the focus off of control, and instead consider influence as your aim.
There are many things you cannot control, but that you can influence.
You can’t control whether or not you win a huge cash prize. But you can influence your chances by entering a lottery syndicate with friends, for example!
You can’t control whether or not you do well on the stock market, but you can influence your chances by educating yourself more on the risks and best practices.
You can’t control the behaviour of your most difficult colleague, but you can influence it by staying calm and positive in their presence.
You can’t get that beach body overnight, but you can influence your progress by making healthy choices day after day.
You get the idea!
Let’s say you have been struggling with making decisions, feeling indecisive and a bit disempowered. How does this new perspective make things look?
The trouble with making a big call on whether to take ‘path a’ or ‘path b’ is similar to the trouble with feeling the need to control every aspect of life – it comes down to the weight of responsibility. What if we do something wrong, or choose the wrong path? Will life fall apart and will that be all our fault?
It is perfectly human to have this concern. But it’s better to work on our perspective and overcome it, as it doesn’t ever serve us in the long run.
Our brains are wired to look for danger, to ultimately keep us safe. Sometimes this works in our favour, and other times it leads to overthinking, worry and anxiety. The trick is to find the middle ground; somewhere between worrying over every minor detail and surrendering to the universe, there is a sensible, moderate place to come at life from.
There are a great many things that we cannot control, but could exhaust ourselves trying to control. Instead, the sensible middle ground is to focus on influence. We can give ourselves the best chance of things going our way by influencing with good behaviour, educating ourselves and so on.
There are a great many choices to be made; some will go your way and some will not. We can’t see into the future, so always making the best call is impossible. Again we can influence our chances of making the best call by keeping our sensible perspective, thinking, but not overthinking to the extreme, rendering ourselves too tired to make a decision.
It’s really about moderation.
If you would like more help with making good decisions, and not beating yourself up in the process, then take a look at my Kindle book on Amazon.