Control Issues: From Emotional Traffic Jams to the Freeway

If, as Tom Cochrane sung, life is a highway, then surely most people want to be in the driver’s seat. I, for one, rather like being in control of things – where I’m going, how fast, with whom, where to stop for snacks etc.

But I find that this tendency can get me into emotional traffic jams, such as feeling stressed when other people do silly things, causing arguments over who is right/better, and other hurtful, damaging feelings.

This is an interesting aspect of human nature that would be easy to label as bad. But I’d much rather find a way to leverage this desire for control into something positive instead of call it bad, denounce human nature, repress myself, and cry cynical cries about how we’re broken and need the sweet tears of Zeus to fix us.

Controlling things has a lot of upsides.

For instance, once I realized that I could control the weather with my thoughts, I experienced an endless summer full of bubbling brooks, the smell of bright, blooming flowers, and golden wheat fields full of prancing unicorns. Then I woke up. But during that time of absolute control, things were magnificent.

In real life it also has a lot of benefits. By controlling my actions I was able to turn a job interview I was bombing into a job offer. And then by controlling my other options I was able to turn it down or accept it as befitted my interests.

And by controlling how much cake I eat I’m able to provide my body not just with chocolaty rocket-fuel for the whole day, but keep myself in good health long term.

But you know the cliche: Change what you can control, accept what you can’t, and have the wisdom to know the difference. There is, of course, a dark side of control. Specifically: of needing it.

The high-brow, fancy-pants medical term for this is “stress.”

If I could lend a hand to any character from Greek mythology, it would be Sisyphus. That poor, beleaguered bloke keeps rolling his boulder up that hill only to find it slipping from his hands near the top, forcing him to restart. If I could, I’d tell him to give it up. Maybe that boulder doesn’t want to go up the hill. Maybe it’s afraid of heights. Sure maybe he was given the task as punishment, but sometimes punishment only goes on until we stop punishing ourselves hmm?

In real life, most of our control-related stress has to do with other people. And a clue as to when you’re hearing or experiencing these things are the words “always” and “never.” As in:

  • Why does she always nag me?
  • Why doesn’t he ever do the laundry?
  • Why doesn’t Bob ever clean up after his dogs?
  • Why doesn’t my wife ever just say what she means?
  • Why is he always playing those damn video games?

This sort of thing rarely ends well. Not only do we stress ourselves out over what someone else is doing, but the person doing it probably isn’t about to change. And it’s not because they hate you and want to make you miserable. We all have different values and priorities, and those are going to be expressed in unexpected ways. How marvelous!

I spent countless hours combing through some ancient tomes and plumbing the depths of arduous psychological literature to find out what we could do about this need to control other people.

It was well worth the effort, for what I came up with works like several charms at once. It’s hoitie-toitie, high-falootin’ technical term is the “I don’t give a fuck” technique.

It’s quite simple once you get the hang of it: Start by observing some inconsequential behavior you disapprove of. Now stop caring about it. Focus on something else.

I don’t mean to be a smarmy wise-ass. Okay, I don’t mean to be exclusively a smarmy wise-ass. There is no 12-step “letting go of control issues” program. You just have to stop doing it.

Realize that a toilet seat not left in the ideal position for your needs is completely fucking irrelevant when compared to the importance of your relationships with other human beings.

That your partner buying the premium brand laundry detergent and breaking your budget rules is completely fucking irrelevant when compared to your relationships with other human beings.

That drowning in minutia, paper cut harms, and phantom insults suffocates our ability to relate to, confide in, stand alongside, and cooperate with other people.

For instance, in almost every relationship I have or have had (romantic or otherwise), I tend to spend less money than the other individual. Now, this used to stress me out. I felt like I either had to spend more, or force the other person to “come down” to my level. On occasion, this created tension and conflict.

Then I realized I could stop caring about it and focus on actually building that relationship instead of trying to fix something that wasn’t broken.

How liberating.

Seriously, start a timer and hold your breath for the next 4 minutes, then come back. Notice how good that felt? Well letting go of the need to control others is at least three and two-thirds times better.

To make this process easier and fulfill my personal desire to use human nature to my own advantage, we can also learn to relish in the things we do control – such as how we use our minds and bodies. The ability to focus is one of the most enjoyable things I’ve ever had the pleasure experiencing.

When we learn to access deep control over our own persons, the satisfaction we get from that can help alleviate the need to control others. After all, control really has to do with creating a sense of security and safety. Controlling other people is one way humans have tried to accomplish this for ages. In every recorded case, it ultimately hasn’t worked out.

On the other hand, self control is real safety, security – even certainty. It’s you’re personal, 4-lane superhighway, and you’ve got the keys to the Ferrari. All you’ve got to do is master the controls.

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AJ Walton

AJ Walton will show you how to travel the world on your budget, how to make money on the road, and why you don't have to live the way others expect. Get the free guide: 101 Ways To Make Money While Traveling

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