As a mother, I’ve always intended to put my children’s well-being in God’s hands. But the truth is, from pregnancy on I’ve felt responsible for feeding them, protecting them, and loving them. I’ve been under the illusion of control when it comes to my family.
As a parent, I often convince myself that somehow I can control outcomes for my children. Even as someone committed to treating children with respect and honoring their inner voice and authority, sometimes I still hold onto this illusion of control.
But, the illusion of control robs our children of their own experiences in life. It robs them of the fundamental right to feel what they feel without judgment from us. It can force them to conform to our expectations to get what they need because they fear that we will judge their feelings.
Rather than accept where they’re at, we try to change them and the outcomes.
This illusion has its roots in childhood.
As children, most of us had the experience of the adults around us controlling (or at least trying to control) many aspects of our lives. We were told that when we grew up, we could make the rules. But as long as we were children we had to live by others’ rules.
We grew up believing that there was a time when we would be in charge and in control. By example, we learned to try and control the people around us. Sometimes this need to control was internalized and we became perfectionist, trying to control ourselves.
Control is an illusion. There, I said it. Accept it and move on. You are not in total control of anything at all. You can have some control of some things, but total control is not achievable. Take these examples – you are not in total control of your own mind. If you were, then you would not think of a pink elephant when I tell you not to think of a pink elephant, but I will bet you money that you thought of one.
You are not in total control of the way you feel. If you were, then you could just stop being anxious and stop worrying about everything right now and never be anxious again. And, you are not in total control of your behaviors. If you were, then you could stop blinking your eyes while being awake for the next 5 hours.
So, we are not in total control of our own feelings, thoughts, and behaviors – therefore there is no way we will be in control of anyone else’s thoughts, feelings and behaviors either.
Control is one of humankind’s greatest illusions. Let’s face it—even with all the information available and expansive educational preparation—unexpected events often interfere with our plans and our best efforts to control an outcome or an event (and even ourselves!).
You physically are a group of over sixty-trillion living cells that do what they do by themselves. Every second, there are trillions of things happening inside our bodies that keep us from dropping dead, and we have no control over it.
Blood is being pumped, cells are being created, hormones distributed; a trillion things out of our control have to happen just for us to digest food, and we are not even aware that it is happening right now.
People are aware of the fact that they are not in control of the inner workings of their bodies, but most people are not aware of the fact that they do not control what is going on outside of them either.
Most people believe they are in control, and the exact opposite is the truth. The dance of life: God/life leads and we follow in the dance of life. In other words, the physical environment does something, and your inner environment (mind) reacts to it.
We are under the absolute control of our environments. You get hungry you eat, need money you work, the phone rings you answer it, get cold you put on a coat, get hot you take it off, and if you have an itch, you scratch it.
Then there is larger environmental control; where and when you are born, if you are rich or poor, educated, talented, healthy, looks, sex and race, etc.
The easiest way to check if we are in control or not is to just look for someone that does not die like everyone else. No one beats death, not even the faith healers, and no one wants to die. The fact that everyone dies and in less than a hundred and fifty years tells you with no doubt that we are not in control.
Control is a deep, deep need.
Perhaps the deepest need people have is for a sense of control. When we feel out of control, we experience a powerful and uncomfortable tension between the need for control and the evidence of inadequate control.
Note that the need is for ‘a sense of control’, not just for ‘control’. This need around how we feel about control is much deeper and has a wider scope than just seeking power and the control it brings.
If you’ve ever seen somebody put on a lucky jersey so that their favorite team will win, you have watched the illusion of control in action. This cognitive bias is the tendency for human beings to overestimate the amount of influence they have over outcomes that they actually cannot affect.
Psychologist Ellen Langer first discovered and named this bias in the 1970s. In one of her experiments, subjects were given lottery tickets; either at random or allowed to choose their own. The subjects then had the chance to trade in their tickets for other tickets that had a higher chance of paying out. The subjects who had chosen their own ticket were less likely to part with it than those who had a random ticket. Though the lottery was random, the subjects acted as if they felt their choice of ticket had some bearing on the outcome—demonstrating the illusion of control.
Because control is such a core part of our fallen human nature, so is the false belief that there is an A action that will lead to the B result we want, if we can just figure out the right formula.
Missing from our belief system is the conviction that God will give us the grace to deal with the pain of living in a fallen world. Thinking we are on our own, we become obsessed with getting rid of the reality of a fallen world.
We are likely to spend much of our day unknowingly focused on trying to fix things in the world that are broken or that have the potential to cause pain. But God has never commanded us to repair the damage of the Fall. He simply asks us to trust him one day at a time until one day He makes things right.
We think control guarantees us the life we want. We try to control because we’re trying to guarantee the outcomes we think we need. Obviously, the benefits to having control are very attractive. We think if we can achieve our Outcome Focused Goals, we could create heaven on earth and we would be perfectly happy.
Unfortunately, trying to create heaven on earth is more likely to create hell on earth for others and ourselves. Ironically, our efforts to try to control things can often cause us to be more out of control.
The illusion of control can lead us to make bad decisions or take irrational risks. It can cause us to engage in magical thinking—like the wearer of the lucky jersey above—or even believe in the paranormal.
When things don’t go as planned, you have a choice – look outside or look inside. Looking outside is about control and looking inside is about lack of control.
When you look outside, what you’re saying is the universe didn’t behave per the plan, and you’re going to teach it a lesson. You’re going to tighten the screws until it does what you want; you’re going to add personal energy (probably all your energy) to lock things down; you’re going to control what must be controlled so the universe follows your plan.
The look outside approach can work, for a while. You can put your fingers and toes in all the holes; you can make sure everyone does their job; and you can be the master scheduler for the universe, but only for a while because the universe has limitless energy and you don’t.
And while your control-the-world strategy looks like it’s working, it’s not – not even in the short term. The universe is playing you – it’s sucking your energy while you tread water. The universe isn’t stupid – it knows you can’t last.
At its core, the universe likes to teach; and when you fight it head-to-head, it wants to teach you about opportunity cost. While you spend all your energy wresting it to a draw, it prevents you from moving forward. It wants you to learn you have finite energy and to be thoughtful about how you spend it.
I don’t know about you but, in the midst of my Life’s chaotic moments this article reminds me that the entire purpose of all that we do as parents is to “…[train] yourself out of the job.”
Live and Learn. We All Do.
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