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Are you trying to control too much?

The other day, my preschool daughter stubbed her toe and had a meltdown -- not because of the pain of the toe stub, but because (and I quote), "I wish things I didn't want to happen couldn't happen."

I'm with her! What a world it would be if things we didn't want to happen just couldn't happen! But while my husband and I try to teach her that there are things to be gained and even enjoyed by the mishaps and undesired situations in our lives, it reminded me of how often we, as adults, consciously or unconsciously try to control the world so that things we wish couldn't happen wouldn't.

Why do we do this? Usually, it's a coping mechanism for anxiety. We're anxious about losing status, love, money, the status quo, whatever, and so we try to control the elements around us in order to maintain it.

But it usually just leads to more (different) anxiety, perfectionism, and problems.

There are lots of ways to manage the underlying anxiety (I highly recommend therapy!) and some of my favorite coaching techniques below can help:

Notice Black-and-White Thinking

When we're anxious about something, we usually default to a narrow, black-and-white view of the world. It's us vs. them. All or nothing. Right or wrong. Good or bad. When you catch yourself thinking in a way that has no continuum, no gray areas, it's a good time to remind yourself to be flexible. To observe your thinking with curiosity and try to see the impact on yourself and others of your mindset and behaviors.

Watch out for Perfectionism

Perfectionism is just another need for control. This can show up at work, at home, at the gym, or really, anywhere you go. It's often hand-in-hand with comparison (and you don't even have to be comparing yourself to others - you can compare yourself to previous versions of yourself!) and is usually tied to black-and-white thinking.

When you see perfectionism in your life, it's valuable to ask yourself why something needs to be perfect (or even different) and to ask yourself to define "perfect." Spend some time thinking about what you think would be different if everything were "perfect" and what it would cost (emotionally, spiritually, energetically, financially, whatever) to get you there.

Focus on What You Can Control (and Not on What You Can't)

When facing a situation you want to control, it can be valuable to look at what you can control, what you can't control, and what you can influence. I like to put these in three columns next to each other and list out all the things that fit into each column.

For example, let's say you're worried about an upcoming important client meeting. Below are some things that might fall into each category.

No Control

- client reaction

- client questions

- other team members' performance

- outcome of the meeting


- prep my presentation

- understand the audience and goals

- be ready for tough questions

- my confidence


- other team members' performance

- outcome of the meeting

Not surprisingly, what causes us the most stress is the column of things we can't control. But if we stop spending our energy on that column and instead shift it over to the two columns of things we can impact, we might find both different outcomes and greater peace as we navigate through the client meeting.

And, as I always say, navigating this with a coach is always easier! Reach out if you want help.

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