By Mark E. Smith
We all need a sense of control in our lives to feel… well… in control. In fact, a sense of control is vital to our contentment.
However, there’s a paradox to control in our lives, a bell curve. While feeling a sense of control is fundamental to contentment in our lives, if we take it too far, we crest a bell curve and it begins to harm us. Specifically, when we try to control that which we inherently can’t control – from worrying about the weather to what a health issue may bring – we devolve from contentment into stress, anxiety, and fear. Interestingly, trying to control that which we can’t control makes us even more powerless because it escalates our emotions to a state that can become irrational – that is, out of control.
I’m very much a control-oriented person, and I’ve seen both sides of the paradoxical bell curve. On the one hand, assuming control in my life – including aspects surrounding my disability – has allowed me to accomplish much that others said was impossible, and that’s tremendously empowering. On the other hand, I’ve tried to control the outcome of events and circumstances that I couldn’t possibly control – from health issues to whether my wheelchair would be damaged on a cross-country flight – and it tied me up with stress, anxiety, and fear.
Personal responsibility and understanding go a long way toward managing the paradoxical bell curve of control. Again, to feel a sense of contentment, we must assume as much control over our lives as possible. We shouldn’t leave all to chance; rather, we should empower ourselves to take control of our lives and its directions where we can. If we don’t take the wheel of our lives, we’ll never get on course.
However, we must also know where to draw the line when it comes to irrationally trying to control that which we can’t. For example, most of us would fear a surgery. Yet, we have no control over what happens when we’re on the operating table, so rather than trying to predict and control the circumstance – which is impossible to do and causes stress, anxiety, and fear – we could go into it with a sense of peace, understanding that the best position we can take is, I’ll see where I am when I wake up, and go from there.
Having intrinsic trust in our lives, in fact, is how we master the paradoxical bell curve of control. We must recognize that we are able to take needed control in many aspects of our lives. Likewise, we must be at peace with that which we can’t control, but trust that no matter the outcome, we can handle it.
Although I’ve long traveled alone, I used to experience tremendous stress and anxiety leading up to trips, thinking of all that could go wrong. It was a way of trying to control that which I couldn’t control. I had no way of preventing a damaged wheelchair on a flight or ending up with a less-than-accessible hotel room – I could merely wait to see what transpired – but I worried about it profusely. I eventually realized two fundamental aspects that all but eliminated my stress and anxiety, making travel far more pleasant: Firstly, I accepted that I had no control over certain aspects, so there was no point in worrying about them. Secondly, I learned to trust that if something did go wrong, I could handle it. This perspective, which I’ve applied to many other aspects of life, has allowed me to approach possibly-disconcerting circumstances with far less stress and anxiety. I don’t know what’s going to happen, so I’ll cross those bridges if they arise. Until then, I’m not worried about it.
When we draw a line in our lives down the center of the paradoxical bell curve of control, it puts us in more control than ever. We know what to control and what we can’t control, empowering ourselves while reducing stress. And, that’s the formula to have ultimate control in our lives.