Note from Stephen: This is a guest article by Daniel A. Miller and is the topic of a new book by him. The topic of letting go of control is very important and I wholeheartedly support the perspective offered by this article and the author’s book. Please consider checking out his book and web site.
Are you stressed out and overwhelmed? Do you want more intimacy and connection with your loved ones? Are you lacking the time to pursue your passions?
There is a way to change all that: let go of control—or as I like to say, lose control!
Trying to control people and events harms us and everyone around us. It blinds us to options and choices we can make that would greatly improve our lives emotionally, spiritually, creatively and financially. Instead we worry incessantly and become imprisoned by our fears, anger and anxiety, all of which consume inordinate amounts of needless time and energy. This time and energy could instead be devoted to pursuing our passions—if we are willing to lose some control in our lives.
When we let go of control, our blinders come off and we can engage in life’s currents in an intuitive and expansive manner and thereby discover life’s possibilities. Moreover, when we stop trying to control others, the focus changes from them to us. We can then work on improving our shortcomings and enhancing our skills, talents and creativity.
In short, you will have more freedom and contentment when you lose control. Let me share two true stories that illustrate this in two important life arenas.
Letting Go of Control at Home Creates Intimacy
With families and close friends we often want or demand more than what is (or can be) given to us. For example, we may feel the need for more support, affection and validation from our parents. Similarly, parents may feel the need for more respect and attention from their children. Controlling actions are frequently the means used to try to fulfill these needs. However, pressuring others, particularly those closest to us, breeds anger and resentment. After all, who likes being told how they should be?
A case in point is the story of Emma, an only child who had immigrated to the United States from the “old country” after World War II, and her daughter, Anna.
Emma was ill-equipped to raise her five children in a culturally diverse country, and she made no bones about not enjoying being a mom. Once she even told Anna that if she could do it all over again, she would not have had children. Nevertheless, Anna was a dutiful daughter who dearly wanted a nurturing mother, and thus continually looked to Emma for support and encouragement. But it rarely came. Instead, Anna usually received criticism and demeaning remarks from her mother. Yet, well into her adult life, Anna persisted in seeking what her mother was unable to give her and always got the same results.
Then one day Anna had an epiphany that dramatically changed the relationship between the two women. Anna had seen a movie in which the heroine was viciously attacked, and the first person she called for help was her mother. This made an impression on Anna. She realized that her own mother would have been the last person she would have called under similar circumstances. From that turning point, Anna stopped trying to change her mother and began accepting her for who she was—and just as important, for who she wasn’t!
Interestingly, their relationship improved dramatically. The pressure was off Emma to be someone she wasn’t. Over time, the two became friends and equals, and Emma began to open up more to her daughter. When Emma later became gravely ill and was dying, Anna was there to share her mother’s final intimate moments, in which they selected the songs and prayers, even the clothes and jewelry to be worn, for Emma’s funeral.
Thus, Anna’s willingness to accept her mother as she was finally brought her the intimacy that she was unable to have by seeking it.
Letting Go of Control at Work Pays Large Dividends
The workplace is where humanity’s primal drive for sustenance and survival is most prominently played out. As such, it is a hotbed for costly and inefficient control practices. Being willing to lose some control at work brings unexpected rewards.
Many years ago I formed an investment partnership to purchase the largest and most expensive office building I had ever known. I was very excited by the property’s prospects. It seemed to have everything going for it—quality contruction and design, solid tenants and a great location. In fact, I proudly considered it my “flagship” property. However, shortly after the purchase the local office market took a dive and we lost key tenants. I devoted almost all my time and energy to trying to save the property from foreclosure, including coming up with expensive promotions, remodeling the common areas and offering rent reductions. I even changed the name of the building.
Nothing worked. We were on the verge of losing our entire investment. However, being the compulsive controller that I was, each defeat only caused me to press harder. Then one day one of my partners said, “Maybe the building is the heavy anchor that is weighing you down. Have you ever thought about unloading it so you can focus on your other properties?”
I was stunned. The truth and common sense of what he said were immediately apparent, but I had never considered it because I was so preoccupied with trying to “save” the investment. I then stopped “working” the property. I mentally let it go and focused on my other properties, which I had neglected because I had been compulsively seeking a solution to a problem that was not ready to be solved. In other words, I gave up control—although I didn’t think about it in those terms at the time.
A short time later a solution emerged that I never could have foreseen. Two of my passive partners met with the seller of the building (who was also our lender) and negotiated a sale of the building back to him at a price that recouped half our investment. My decision to back off turned out to be one of the best decisions I have ever made. By putting my time and effort into my other properties, their collective value appreciated so much within a couple of years that it made up for the loss on the flagship property many times over.
After that I began letting go of more and more control at work. I stopped forcing issues and pressing for solutions. In that manner, I allowed the work “currents” to flow more naturally, and I was able to engage those currents in an intuitive manner. What evolved was a highly efficient way of doing business in which I made fewer mistakes, had fewer diversions and had much less stress and anxiety. I eventually cut my work time by half and made more money.
I thus had much more time and energy to explore life’s possibilities. I became a fine artist (after never being able to draw as a child), a published poet, a seniors’ tennis champion and an author of a book about the benefits of losing control.
Letting Go of Control Helps You Find Freedom and Contentment
Work life and intimate relations are not the only life arenas in which not resisting life’s natural currents bestows remarkable rewards. In a similar manner, letting go of control expands your creative horizons, strengthens friendships and improves athletic and other types of performance. As it does, you will have the time and energy—and desire—to pursue your passions, and you will no longer feel stressed out and overwhelmed.
Because control is such a deeply ingrained pattern in most of us, releasing control can be very difficult, particularly in important life issues and challenges. For that reason, I recommend that you start by gradually giving up control in “low stake” areas of your life so that you can get comfortable with the process. As you begin experiencing the benefits of the process, you will gain the confidence to lose control in more vital areas of your life. And as you move forward, you will find greater freedom and contentment in your life.
Daniel A. Miller is a businessman, an artist and the author of Losing Control, Finding Serenity: How the Need to Control Hurts Us and How to Let It Go (Ebb and Flow Press, 2011), and writes about control issues at www.losingcontrolfindingserenity.com (where excerpts from his book can be read) and at blog.losingcontrolfindingserenity.com