Control Is An Illusion

By Janice Perkins, GC4W Thought-Leadership Contributor

Control is an illusion. How do we satiate our need for control in a prolonged crisis? We have a basic human need for stability, predictability, certainty, and consistency. Looking back over the last two years, all four of those things have been removed from most of our daily lives due to the pandemic. Our minds use control as a way to find a balance in these four things so as to remove fear and take us out of fight/flight/freeze.

Through my own battle with chronic illness years ago, I had to realize that I had never had control over my health. Having good health gave me a false sense of control. When all four of those qualities leave, our minds have to come to terms with the loss of control and that it was never really there to begin with. In the movie “Days of Thunder” in the 90s, Nicole Kidman plays a doctor who has treated race car driver Cole played by Tom Cruise. She says “Control is an illusion, you infantile egomaniac. Nobody knows what’s gonna happen next: not on a freeway, not in an airplane, not inside our own bodies and certainly not on a racetrack with 40 other infantile egomaniacs.”

This is the phrase I heard echo in my mind as I tried to resolve my own loss of control over my health a decade ago. It is the phrase I keep hearing time and time again during this pandemic. If you refer to Maslov’s Hierarchy of Needs, you can see that when we are in times of uncertainty, our physiological needs and safety needs are put at risk. We revert back to these areas to shore up that certainty before we can move back up the pyramid to comfort, feel loved, have self esteem and become all that we need to be. What can we do when we feel this tension and struggle for control? What do we do when we can’t see around corners to shore up this deep seated need for safety? We must resolve this to be able to move back to higher versions of ourselves.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Self care

This should be a daily practice, but in busy times when things are stable, we just keep moving forward. In uncertainty, self care is paramount to our survival. Our mental selves need the slow down and comfort. We have to go inward to find the comfort our minds need; our resolve, our resilience, our history, our beliefs can. We must comfort ourselves from within. In a world where we are always looking outward for assurance and protection, this is a new practice. I am in charge of me and how I feel and how I react to the stimuli around me.

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Perspective

In a downtown area of a city, if you needed to see around a corner, you could go up to the roof and look down. Looking long in our minds can have this same affect. If we look at 5 years from now or 10 years from now mentally, how can that shift the uncertainty I feel today? Can I begin to see more of the whole tapestry that’s being woven versus just these threads that seem to be unravelling? Just like in viewing a waterlily painting by Monet, I must step back to enjoy it and see the big picture.

If I go to the roof and look long, I can also look back. Those who have history and experience can look at the data points, the struggles and triumphs of life from the roof so that the noise and trials of the street level are not as constricting. Remind yourself of a crisis that has been overcome.

Ownership

In uncertain times of prolonged crisis, it can help our need to control by assessing what is mine. What things in my world and life can I impact by my decisions alone. In essence, asking myself what can I control? I can control how much I sleep. I can control what I eat, how long I work, how I treat others, and how I treat myself. I can control how much I smile or laugh in a day, how much time I dedicate to friends and relationship and how much I watch Netflix. Realizing I haven’t loss complete control over everything can settle the mind and give back safety and reassurance.

Letting Go

For some of us, these two years were our first experience at “losing control” over large sectors of our lives. After being reminded of the things I do have control over that affect my safety and well being, doing a visual or actual exercise over the things I cannot tells my mind that it has permission to stop looking for danger continually. This is the long standing beauty of the Serenity Prayer – God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.

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Try this visual exercise to release: Close your eyes and tighten your fists in front of your palms up. Imagine all the things in your life that you cannot control but feel anxiety about being held tightly in your grip. Take a deep breath and open your fists exposing your palms to the ceiling. Take another deep breath and imagine those things floating or falling out of your palms. Allow yourself to know that you were never in control of them in the first place, they are not your responsibility. Repeat this visualization each time you feel anxiety and the need for control returns.

Photo Source & Janice Perkins

About our thought-leadership contributor, Janice Perkins

Janice Perkins: is the Owner of Capacity Communication and the Director of Marketing – Marshall Goldsmith’s Methods of Leaders. Marshall Goldsmith’s Methods of Leaders is a global project started as a way to make the knowledge of the world’s most influential business thinkers from the MG 100 Coaches accessible for current and future leaders around the world. Their mission is to share the collective knowledge of the world’s greatest leaders with the world’s most influential people — those current and future leaders, managers, entrepreneurs, and self-starters who can make a positive impact on society — and to make it readily available, affordable, and accessible anywhere, anytime. Janice has been working as Director of Marketing for Methods of Leaders since last year.

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