Many of us feel most comfortable when we think ahead, plan and prepare. But high-achievers, in particular, can fall into the trap of becoming a control freak.
Over time, demanding constant certainty from yourself and others can be tiresome – and frankly – annoying. Perfectionism, anxiety, and anger are all associated with a high need for control, which can obviously interfere with your relationships and happiness in a big way.
Although we may rationally know that life is unpredictable and perfection isn’t possible, it can be hard to let go of Type A tendencies. My client, Katie, struggled with this as a new manager who was tasked with delegating more. Logically, she knew her teammates were smart and responsible. Yet she found herself constantly checking up on them. She stayed late to re-do their work.
At the root of it, Katie’s inability to relinquish control came down to fear. Like many of us, she used control as a defense mechanism to deal with discomfort and worry. As we worked together, Katie learned to favor resiliency over certainty and control. She grew to shine in the face of setbacks. More importantly, she stopped over-functioning on behalf of others.
Curbing your inner control freak doesn’t happen overnight. Letting go is a process, but these three steps can help you get started.
1. Challenge your thinking
Fear causes us to think in distorted ways, including catastrophizing (“If this relationship fails, I’ll never recover”) or accepting unnecessary blame (“I screwed up, so I’ll fix it”). Challenging your need for control requires you to replace unhelpful negative thinking with realistic self-talk.
When you find yourself thinking along the lines of:
- My boss will rip this report to shreds because I made a few typos.
- One person canceled on the event/party, so now the whole plan is ruined.
Try asking yourself:
- Is my reaction useful?
- What others explanations exist [as to why they canceled last minute / my boss is upset]?
- How would a person who is easier going to respond?
- What’s the worst that could happen? (spoiler alert: it’s never as bad as you imagine)
Neutralizing negative thoughts helps ease the stress of everyday situations. You’ll find you experience fewer unexpected catastrophes (and freakouts) once you embrace a growth mindset. The only thing we ever fully control is our response to a situation, so by changing the way you talk to yourself, you can arrive at a more balanced perspective.
2. Take small steps.
Whether you’re managing a project at work or organizing a family trip, you don’t have to relinquish all control at once. Instead, start small. Handoff a single aspect of a project to a colleague. Trust them to do a good job, but know that if they don’t, you can always give feedback and correct the situation. No mistake is irrecoverable. As you see the benefits of collaboration in action, your comfort zone expands. Delegating becomes easier, bit by bit.
At home, begin to ask for help often rather than shouldering all burden yourself. Create a to-don’t list so you can prioritize more effectively. Start saying no to people or responsibilities. When you let go of what’s not working, you make room for a life filled with ease and less difficulty.
3. Reframe rest as recovery.
Control lovers tend to be optimizers. They want to squeeze the maximum amount of productivity out of each and every day. But this can leave you exhausted and burned out. Taking downtime doesn’t make you lazy; it’s essential to do your best work.
Carve out time to play, let loose, and explore. If you struggle with accepting the need for self-care, reframe rest as recovery. It’s well-spent, productive time that’s preparing you for your next big challenge.
As a recovering perfectionist myself, I know how hard it can be to let go of control. But resiliency, unlike control, is liberating mentally and emotionally. When you shed needless worry, you free up time, attention, and focus. You gain confidence that your strongest power comes from within – even if you can’t control other people or outcomes.