The paradox of control

Shutterstock

Of all the bizarre relationships humans have with their feelings, our relationship with the feeling of control might top the list.

Here’s why: We try to control things we can’t control.

And we don’t try to control things we can control.

Let me explain.

I can’t control what you, the reader, think of this article.

You can’t control what other people think of you. You can’t make your followers like your latest Instagram post, force your boss to promote you, or get people to love you.

Yet we spend much of our lives trying to control these uncontrollable variables. People suppress who they are in order to belong, sports fans engage in bizarre rituals to magically influence a favorable outcome, and writers spend inordinate amounts of time trying to figure out how to get more page views and retweets.

In my case, with this article you’re reading, I’ve spent more time than I care to admit moving paragraphs around, changing the title (for the tenth time), and tweaking the wording.

Yes, all that effort might make this article a better read. But none of it will allow me to actually get inside your head, flip a switch, and change your opinion from negative to positive.

The more we try to control what can’t be controlled, the worse things get. It’s like holding sand in your hand: The tighter you squeeze your hand, the more sand slips through your fingers.

What’s more, in an effort to control other people’s opinions of us, we end up betraying who we are.

That’s one side of the coin.

On the other side are variables that are within our control.

We can control how we respond to a negative comment.

We can control what to do when we’re cut off in traffic.

We can control whether simmering feelings of anger snowball into rage.

In these moments, we pretend like we don’t have a choice, but we do. Although we can’t control what happens, we can control our response. “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing,” Viktor Frankl writes in one of my favorite books of all time, Man’s Search for Meaning, “to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

The serenity prayer, popularized by Alcoholics Anonymous, echoes the same sentiment: “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.”

So let go of what you can’t control.

And focus on what you can.

You’ll be far happier as a result.

P.S. If you liked this article, I’m confident you’ll love my forthcoming book, Think Like a Rocket Scientist.

I’ve been ecstatic about the early reviews. The book was named a “must read” by Susan Cain (NYT Bestselling Author of Quiet), “endlessly fascinating” by Daniel Pink (NYT Bestselling Author of Drive and A Whole New Mind), and “bursting with practical insights” by Adam Grant (NYT Bestselling Author of Originals).

After you pre-order the book (AmazonBarnes & Noble, and IndieBound), please send your receipt to rocket@ozanvarol.com. Within seven days, you’ll get digital access to the book to read on your favorite device. That means you can start reading it NOW, months before the book is published. You’ll also get pre-order bonuses worth at least 10 times the cost of the book. You can head over to this link to learn more about the pre-order bonuses: rocketsciencebook.com.

This article first appeared on OzanVarol.com.