When Life Doesn't Go As Planned: Letting Go of Control

I used to think I could set a course, work hard, and arrive at my destination.

I’m a planner

I like it when life goes according to plan. I like things to be dependable and consistent. I like to know what’s going to happen. In other words, I like to feel in control.

But often life doesn’t go according to plan. Your mom’s diagnosed with cancer. You have a miscarriage. Your son flunks out of college.  Your car breaks down on the way to an important meeting.

How do you feel when life throws you a curve ball?

  • Guilty
  • Ashamed
  • Like a failure
  • Overwhelmed
  • Anxious
  • Sad
  • Angry
  • Afraid
  • Inadequate

We often end up judging and blaming ourselves for things that we cannot control. That isn’t fair.

No matter how hard you try, or how good you are, or what you do, there are simply some things that you can’t control.

Not everything’s your fault. Some things are, of course, and it’s important to take responsibility when you really did do something wrong, but I’m talking about all the things that happen in life, that catch you off guard and send you into a tail spin, because they aren’t what you expected or wanted.

It’s hard to surrender control

As much as you want to control life, there’s also relief in accepting that you don’t control everything that happens.

Trying to control everything and everyone, trying to make your life go just perfectly, is tiring. It’s a huge burden to carry – to expect that you will always know what to say and what to do, how to make everyone happy, how to succeed, the right way to do things, and what everyone should be doing. You can’t and shouldn’t be responsible for controlling and fixing all that.

Acceptance is freedom

Accepting that life is unpredictable and at times, out of control, allows you to move forward. If you don’t  accept this truth, you keep fighting hopelessly against reality. You remain caught up in the suffering and struggle of trying to control, fix, and change what you can’t control, fix, and change. More effort, more perseverance, or more self-control won’t always create the outcome you seek.

You can hold tighter to what you wanted, what you expected, or you can release your expectations and embrace what is. Accepting what you can’t change doesn’t mean you’re stuck and doomed to misery. You may not be able to change the situation or other people, but you can change how you react and think.

Accepting that many things are out of your control, isn’t giving up or giving in. It’s not weak or passive. It doesn’t mean someone else wins and you lose. It’s simply knowing the difference between fantasy and reality. It allows you to put your effort into what you can actually control.

Acceptance places you firmly in the present

How to let go of control and cope when life doesn’t go as planned:

  • Figure out what you have control over (your own actions and emotions), what you have influence over (perhaps your child’s beliefs), and what you have no control over (the traffic, the weather, your mother’s drinking, or your brother’s snide comments).
  • Notice when you’re trying to control people or situations that are out of your control.
  • Pay attention to your feelings, thoughts, and self-talk. They let you know how you’re interpreting what’s happening. Check them against the reality of what’s within your control.
  • Grieve your losses and disappointments. They are real and deserve to be acknowledged.
  • Remember you’re not alone. Nobody’s life turns out exactly as they planned. We don’t need to compare our hardships, just know that we all have them and can empathize.
  • Look for the positives. Eventually, you may be able to see positive in even life’s most difficult challenges (but don’t judge yourself if you’re not to this point yet).
  • Remind yourself that sometimes good things are unexpected, too – like an unexpected raise, an unplanned, but very much wanted pregnancy, or changing careers at mid-life.
  • Enjoy the freedom of not being responsible for everyone else’s behavior.
  • Focus on what you can do and do it well.

I know that it’s not easy to let go of expectations and trying to control things, but I also know it’s worth it. I wish you well.

 

*****

 

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© 2016 Sharon Martin, LCSW. All rights reserved.

Photo by David Marcu on Unsplash