Control Is an Illusion

Have you ever had one of those “this shouldn’t be so hard” moments? I had one a few weeks ago, when what was supposed to be a fun dinner at my home with girlfriends turned into a circus of mishaps, missed opportunities and not very good wine.

It was disappointing, because I had been looking forward to the evening and needed the recharge we can only get from our girlfriends. But – as often happens in the real world – work interfered with my best-laid plans and my prep time was cut in half. We still had a nice evening together, it just wasn’t up to my normal hostessing-with-the-mostessing standards.

The evening provided me with a light bulb moment: no matter how much we plan, we’re less in control than we think we are.

I’ve always known this, of course – we all have. And anyone who’s ever trained tried to train a puppy is intimately familiar with the idea that control is an illusion. No matter how hard you try to make a situation go your way, there are countless forces beyond your control that can sabotage your best-laid plans at any second.

Not Everything Needs to be Controlled

I’ve learned that the best way to accept the fact that control is an illusion is by trying not to control everything. Paradoxically, the sooner we relinquish our need for control, the more control we have.

Part of the fun of having a puppy is the unpredictability and messiness of it all. Sure, we all love a well-behaved dog who will come on command and speak only when spoken to, but is there anything cuter or more life-affirming than dirty puppy paws and a sloppy, slobbery puppy kiss?

A colleague of mine recommended the book The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson. It’s as informative as it is cocky, and it’s great on audiobook as well.

But, if self-help isn’t for you, here’s the thesis: don’t care so much! Life is full of stressors; the secret to managing them is being selective about the stressors you accept into your life. We can’t control how others behave; we can only control our reaction to their behavior.

Pointless Road Rage

Have you ever ridden with someone who gets angry at other drivers for failing to signal a lane change, tailgating, or any of a hundred other driving faux pas? I just don’t get it. First, being angry at the other driver is pointless (they can’t hear you cursing at them), and, second, there will always be terrible drivers. I travel a lot, and the one constant is people claiming that the drivers in their city are uniquely horrible at the art of operating a vehicle. (It’s a strange point of pride, now that I think about it.)

My remedy is this: I just assume that everybody else on the road is in a hurry and that my safety and convenience are the last things on their minds. I also assume they’re angry and intoxicated, just for good measure. Consequently, I’m a pretty relaxed driver because I assume – correctly – that the behavior of other drivers is completely out of my control. I drive at a reasonable speed and I leave plenty of time to get to appointments. That way, at the very least, I’m not part of the problem.

The same idea applies to control: life is full of things we think we need to manage, but once we accept that not everything needs to be, or can be, controlled, life becomes a whole lot easier.

The world is full of other drivers, people who put you and your needs at the very bottom of their priority list. It’s also full of puppies with dirty paws and sloppy kisses.

If you don’t allow the former to get you rattled, you make room in your life to enjoy the latter.