“Trying to control outcomes will make you miserable,” says George Jerjian in his article, “68-year-old who unretired: I went on a 30-day silent retreat – what I learned about how to live a happy, regret-free life,” posted on cnbc.com.
Admittedly, I used to be a control freak – and a worrier at that. In the past, whenever I’m scheduled to give a talk or facilitate a training workshop, I exhaust all my efforts one day before the scheduled event trying to figure out, imagine, or ascertain everything that could happen during the event proper – from what I’m going to do, say, feel, dress, etc. to how the audience would react, unto the best or worst outcome of the event or engagement.
Or, even just for an ordinary day when I’m about to leave the house for an important meeting which could purportedly make or unmake my plans, I try to “ascertain” (and inevitably worry) about all the possible best and worst scenarios that could come out of my meeting.
Yes, in our global village (to use Marshall McLuhan’s term) of sophisticated and explosive information and media technologies, it seems that we can’t be uncertain anymore of the outcome of both our grand and paltry undertakings. Yet, howbeit we can employ the ‘science of ascertaining results’, we still can’t avoid the bare truth: We’re imperfect beings, and we’re living in an imperfect world.
The never-ending drive for “perfection” or the need to be in control of everything – our diet, our work, our kids, our body, our age, our thoughts, our feelings, our living space, our relationships, our life, gas prices, grocery prices, climate change, politics, and even natural disasters – stems from our deep inner fear of the unknown – or, if not, of “losing” (losing the desired outcome, the contract or deal, the house or car or money, one’s face, friends or loved one, or even life).
But, the need to be always in control is a destructive fear that can take hold of our inner world. A toxic cycle occurs when we believe we can control all of the constantly moving targets that life presents. Sadly, the more we strive for control, the greater our stress and anxiety; and we respond by trying to control the uncontrollable, and the unproductive cycle continues.
Rightly so, as pointed out earlier by George Jerjian, “trying to control outcomes will make us miserable.”
Now, let me put forward the following insights:
The simple truth is that, by nature of our imperfection, we have much less control over our lives than we want to believe. We simply can’t control the thousands or innumerable variables that are part of being human. Weare powerless over everything except our feelings, thoughts, and actions.
However, the preceding thought shouldn’t stop us from exerting any degree or control (it’s natural to want some control over life), from striving, or from trying – that’s plain passivity or defeatism.
While maintaining that we cannot control everything, we may as well re-focus our attention, rather than on the undesirable outcome, more importantly on the “next steps” or the “flexible what’s-to-be-done.”
In other words, by focusing on the desirable outcome – and imagining (or claiming) that it has already happened and feeling grateful for it, we magnetize not only our attention but also our efforts towards the positive outcome.
3. If, at all, the desirable outcome doesn’t come to fruition, it’s no reason to fret or sulk in sorry despair. On a positive perspective, we can consider it as yet a “work in progress” – that it’s not a failure or end of the journey; rather, it’s but an opportunity to grow from the lessons learned. Remember, one good preparation for a “worst case scenario” is acceptance, and thereby moving on.
Ah, in closing, I can’t avoid bringing to mind this beautiful serenity prayer:
“Lord God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; the courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference.”
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