Control freaks never prosper. Or something.

Sunday, December 30, 2012 Permalink

I lay in bed last night, obsessing about the wankiness of yesterday’s post and unable to sleep, so concocted another to wipe the aforementioned smug and wanky post from my blog’s front page. (As you do!)

I’m still talking about The Happiness Code however, and Domonique Bertolucci’s keys to happiness. Again there’s some resonance because her second key is about the principle of acceptance and ‘letting go’.

Being in complete control of your life is an amazing feeling. Apparently.If I searched this blog for the number of times I’ve confessed to being a ‘control freak’, I suspect one-third of my posts would appear.

(In fact I did just that and I’m now worried I’m a tad repetitive!)

Bertolucci (like many before her) reminds us that much of what happens in life is beyond our control (or influence: a term she prefers to use). It’s a bit like the serenity prayer:

“Work out what things you can influence,” she says, “and come to a peaceful acceptance of the rest.”

Easier said than done, right?

But she suggests that we pick our battles wisely because each time we fight and lose, it chips away at our self-esteem and our happiness.

She also recommends we remove attachment to outcomes.

“Enjoy your experiences for what they are, what you have gained and what you have learned.”

As the new year is fast-approaching it’s an ideal time for me to again consider the notion of outcomes and goals. I’ve talked before (many times – hello, repetitive much?!) about my attachment to goal-setting and need to measure my performance (the project manager in me!).

“Focus on the things you can influence and don’t fret over the rest,” Bertolucci says.

She continues to talk about rejecting the need to strive for perfection; rather just being our best. She suggests we forget about winning and losing, reminding us that we are not (in fact) competing with anyone but ourselves.

She also reminds us that many of the things that stress us (the weather, timeliness of public transport, or other people) are NOT within our control, or our influence. Again, all we can do is ‘accept’ the outcome.

It’s a different take on the ‘journey versus destination’ argument – maintaining a focus on the end goal but not stressing if factors beyond your control prevent you from getting there. Sort of.

“Being a control freak is a sign of a vulnerable self esteem. The better you feel about yourself, the less you feel the need to control everything around you.”

Ummmm yes. She also talks about high achievers versus over achievers. A distinction I’ve never really considered before. And it’s the former, not the latter, who do great things.

As a control freak I’ve historically worried about everything. And I’ve felt disempowered and victimised when I haven’t been able to control things I’m involved in. It’s highly probable possible that I haven’t accepted that I am not all-knowing, all-seeing and all-powerful and unable to move people, things and time about as if pawns on the chessboard of life.

On top of that, I need goals. I need direction. But, the win/lose succeed/fail concept of goal-setting can be frustrating and contribute to a struggling self-esteem (conversely leading to the need to control stuff around me). Rinse. Repeat.

I must confess I’m not quite sure how to detach myself from the outcomes of my goals. Setting targets but not worrying about their achievement will prove difficult. Perhaps it comes from revisiting them regularly and acknowledging contributing factors to the lack of achievement.

Bertolucci suggests we work out the level of influence we have over any situation or decision. If it’s minimal, she says, then we should apply the principle of acceptance and disengage. I love this notion and I know it’s different to ‘giving up’, but I’m gonna need to think about that a bit more.

I know I’ve asked before about goal-setting, but I’m interested to know if you think you can detach yourself from the outcomes?


  • Char
    December 30, 2012

    Goal-setting and I have not been friends this year. I love to set goals but I couldn’t achieve any of mine because of circumstances beyond my control. I just had to weather the storm that was 2012 and hope I’d come out the other side intact.

    The stuff about control freaks is so interesting and relevant to me. I hated to fly because I hated that loss of control. I like to appear perfect because then people won’t see just how flawed I am. But the last few years have taught me that people don’t care if you’re flawed because it makes you more real. They actually will still like you despite your flaws and maybe even like you more. I wish I’d found this out earlier in my life – it would have made for a much more relaxed and less anxious journey.

    • Debbish
      December 30, 2012

      Yes, even though I have a long way to go, I wish I knew 20 years ago, when I knew now!

  • Jo Tracey
    December 30, 2012

    It’s an interesting one. The astrologer in me would say that Capricorns need a goal to chase- the absence of one can send most goats into a downward spin. Caps can get really low when they don’t live up to their own (or others) expectations. Keeping it real is the key, I think, for Cap goal setting. Control is something very different though- & letting go hard.

    • Debbish
      December 30, 2012

      Yes, the goal-setting is fraught for me. I do believe I need them, but struggle with the pass/fail aspect. In the earlier post I wrote about the fact that Karen (Anderson) and I had talked about some different options: a retrospective (thing’s I’ve achieved) list and ‘to-do’ list; as well as the notion of goals built around feelings.

      I WAS going to do some sort of resolutions / goals for 2013 post, but want to ponder on that a bit more now. Tired of lists I don’t achieve and the crappy feelings that result! (Or the fact that you start setting goals you KNOW you will never achieve. I’m sure like many others I ‘laugh’ when I – yet again – fail to progress New Year’s resolutions, so may never really be committed to them at all!)

  • Sandra
    December 31, 2012

    In most cases for me, the goal is usually the outcome that I seek. To detach from that emotionally is the point I suppose. However, if you have the goal of finding a safe, nurturing educational environment for your child (as I have done) then the outcome is the goal and, I cannot detach from that at all #DogWithaBone. I think I will have to read the book for myself to really grasp it. #RecoveringControlFreak lol

    • Debbish
      December 31, 2012

      Yes, I suspect some outcomes are easier to detach yourself from. The chapter is also mostly about ‘when to fight’. Bertolucci gives an example from her own life where she decided she needed to speak out about something, but ultimately was okay with the unsuccessful outcome, cos the ‘speaking out’ bit was the most important aspect for her.

  • Gwen
    December 31, 2012

    Can’t say that I have an answer, but I can totally relate. I’ve sometimes pondered (when I’ve dared to reach inside enough to look)…how ironic it is that as such a (fellow) control freak, we can allow ourselves to be SO OUT of control of our weight and our health. I suspect it’s a coping mechanism to keep happiness or certain people out. To insulate ourselves from perceived possible pain if we reach out/succeed in the personal level.

    See there, I trumped your ‘wonky’ post with an even wonkier comment. 🙂 (and hello! Love you blog!)

    • Debbish
      December 31, 2012

      I’ve been thinking about it since Gwen and suspect that Bertolucci’s point is very much about choosing our battles; or choosing which outcomes we care most about. Following on from the previous chapter I’m thinking she’s going back to the issue of our choices having consequences… sometimes we pursue something even though our influence / control is minimal and outcome we want unlikely, but we CHOOSE to pursue it anyway. In that case we need to ‘accept and acknowledge’ the negative consequences of our choice and inability to achieve the outcome. (If that makes sense!!!)

      And thank you for your lovely comment!

      • Gwen
        January 1, 2013

        It totally makes sense! And if nothing else, I’m ALL about ‘owning my evil’. So I get it. Totally. 😉

        Happy New Year!

  • Miz
    December 31, 2012

    I CAINT COMMENT as I need to reread and reread and reread this post.

    • Debbish
      January 1, 2013

      I feel like that about each chapter of this book Carla… It isn’t like I haven’t heard it before, but perhaps it’s the right thing to be reading at the right time etc.

  • Satu
    January 1, 2013

    Hi Deb!

    I feel for you! I think that control freaks / perfectionists like you and me have problems with goals partly because we’re afraid of the “backlash” – the self-hate we heap on ourselves when we fail to reach our goals.

    On a couple of occasions I’ve tried to solve this problem by giving up all goal setting, but then I also have to give up the structure/direction they bring to my life plus and the feeling of accomplishment if I manage to reach that goal.

    • Debbish
      January 2, 2013

      That’s exactly it Satu… it’s a difficult position cos I need the structure and direction, but find it difficult to ‘detach’ myself from the outcome!

  • Julia
    January 3, 2013

    When you figure it out, let me know! : )

    • Debbish
      January 4, 2013

      I’m closer to understanding the principle than I initially was Julia. I’m now just trying to work out how to set some goals that perhaps have some ‘process’ outcomes as well eventual outcomes. If that makes sense!!!


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