The Illusion of Control

By Katie, 5:21 am

Last week a very insightful post on Medicinal Marzipan started with this instruction:

Raise your hand if you’re a control freak.

I think my palm almost touched the ceiling. ;-)

“Freak” doesn’t even begin to describe some of my controlling tendencies. I used to be obsessed with controlling everything in my life, from the grand (like my relationships and my destiny) to the everyday (like my schedule and my to-do list). I literally planned out every waking minute of my day, every morsel of food that passed my lips, and every major event in my life.

Ok, maybe that’s an exaggeration…but only a slight one. :-?

Why, oh why, was I so controlling (and some days still am!)? I think it was all a feeble attempt to avoid the unknown, to prevent my steady self from being shaken or hurt in any way. I believed that if I could just keep everything in order – within the confines of my life’s comfortable little boxes – all would be well.  

All I can say is that it hasn’t worked so far. :roll:

Despite my constant controlling efforts, I still manage to be shaken. I still get hurt…sometimes a lot. And I still have to face one unexpected dodge ball after another…you know, just like everyone else.

What’s more, when I look back it’s painfully obvious that my inner control freak not only failed to prevent any pain and suffering, it actually facilitated it. For example, the more I tried to control my every bite, the more likely it was that I would end up in a tailspin, spiraling down and down and down until not a single meal felt like it was under my command. I believe this irony – that trying to control everything actually leads to less control – applies to most aspects of life.

The good news is that I’m getting better. I’m learning to let go, to loosen my grip on the reins. How? By recognizing and accepting this very simple fact: Being in control is always an illusion.

I believe that every detail of my life – from what I have for breakfast to what I’ll be doing ten years from now – is in God’s control, not mine. That’s not to say that I don’t have the power to make my own decisions and chart my own course; it’s just that that course is in some ways already there, waiting for me to follow it.


This is also not to say that I believe in being stupid. Refusing to study for a test because “my grade is in God’s hands anyway”? I think not. It’s like that phrase, “Trust in God. Wear Your Seatbelt.” Relinquishing control is not the same as exposing yourself to unnecessary risks.

Right now, I’m still working on getting my control issues under, err, control. I’m constantly reminding myself that no amount of preparation or influence or micro-management will keep me from having to face life’s curve balls, from feeling hurt or disappointed, from toppling off that tall totem pole called balance every now and then. But there is still freedom and peace to be found, just not within the confines of control. Rather, freedom and peace reside in the recognition that control was just a figment of my imagination in the first place.

Do you have any “control freak” tendencies? If so, how do you deal with life’s uncontrollables? And if not, how can I be more like you??? ;-)

26 Responses to “The Illusion of Control”

  1. Candice says:

    (Raising Hand) I am absolutely a control freak. In some ways, it is good. It keeps me organized and productive. But in other ways, it makes me inflexible and unable to be spontaneous. I’d love to relinquish at least some control, but it’s very hard. I feel like it’s a huge part of who I am.

  2. Lauren says:

    I definitely struggle with control issues. Meaning, if I don’t feel in control 110% of the time, I slightly freak out. I need to learn to let go and let God more often! :)

  3. oh totally! i try so hard to control things that are so very clearly outside of my control. the best thing i’ve found for me then is to stop, go to the bathroom, shut the door, and pray. and it doesn’t mean i will be able to “control” better, but that i’m giving up control the the one who can!

  4. Tina says:

    Interesting how seeking control actually facilitates a lack of control and more unhappiness. That’s so true!!! When I try to control things I just get down. Because, I can’t control everything!

  5. I love this post, probably because I too am a control freak. I was actually thinking about this just yesterday as I reread journal entries from college and my early 20s and noted how much of my life and “plans” were/are dictated by fear. I was afraid I was going to gain weight, so I worked out. I was afraid I’d fail a test, so I studied. I was afraid of going on an awkward date, so I said no when a classmate asked me out. Really I was just amazed by how much of my controlling tendencies are about fear. And it’s [perhaps obviously] not a good way to live. Who wants to exercise simply because you’re afraid of “getting fat”? And why the heck turn down a perfectly good date because you’re afraid of not being in control of the situation? I’m embarrassed to admit it now, but hey, the first step is realizing you’ve got a problem, right?

  6. Jessica says:

    i can so totally relate to this, especially the illusion part. i am working on letting go of the controls (that i have never even really had) and just enjoying what comes in life. all of my efforts to have control have never brought me safety, security or happiness…ironic.
    great post!

  7. I’m a sort of recovering control freak :-) I’m finding that by letting certain things just happen I’m much more relaxed and happy. Also, for me realizing that I can’t possibly control certain things has been somewhat freeing.

  8. I want to control everything: from the food that is available to me, to what my husband does at home or work, I want to control how my meals turn out (and I get so frustrated when a meal turns out badly…), I want to control all these little things, but basically I want to control everything.

    I really just stop and breathe when I am feeling overwhelmed and not able to control something (like when I work on a project with a coworker) — or I walk away from the situation for a few minutes and then come back to it.

    I also pray or leave things in God’s hands — sorry if this does not apply to you, but it helps me. I know He is in control and He will take care of it, so I need not worry!

    • Katie says:

      Absolutely! The key for me was realizing that control is an illusion because it’s all working out according to God’s plan, not mine!

  9. Being a control freak seems to be quite the trend in the world of healthy living blogs! It can be a good thing, in the right balance – we’re motivated and certainly get things done. For me, it’s about giving myself PERMISSION to just let go sometimes. I have this silly fear that if I let myself do that I won’t ever get the motivation back – but deep down I know that’s not true. It’s part of who I am and that’s OK – but it’s even better to relax sometimes. Then you’re rejuvinated and ready to take on the world again!

    Plus – yoga. That’s really helped me slow down and be in tune with myself and the world around me. It automatically seems to transfer into a more relaxed attitude.

  10. Meg says:

    I can be controlling in some aspects of my life. I thought it was perfect timing when you wrote being in control is always an illusion. What a prefect way to sum it up. I had to laugh a little only because I got in a car accident a few days ago and boy did that remind me how much is out of my control!

  11. Wow how much time do you have? I have a million things that I like to control. Hello my name is Stacy, I have borderline OCD tendencies. I agree with you, the more things I try to control, the more I get stressed, the more I get stressed, the more out of control I feel, so I try controlling more. Very bad cycle. My poor husband has to deal with it daily. But my wonderful husband has helped me decrease my controlling ways and anxiety.
    The things that I want to control the most are: cleaning, school, and schedule. I do not like surprises, I hate the pop-in visitor. I need to have plans for the weekend by the Monday before, and if people try to jump plans on me at the last minute, I usually won’t go because I am so stressed out by not having a plan. Each day is an adventure not a battle. A battle you can lose, an adventure never ends.

  12. Sarah says:

    Ah, I am such a control freak especially when it comes to food and exercise. I need to eat when I need to eat what I want to eat and if I don’t I can get v. upset. And I hate not being able to do exercise that I want to do when I want to do it. I’ve gotten mad the weather if it’s preventing me from going on a planned run! I love Stacy’s quote “Each day is an adventure not a battle. A battle you can lose, an adventure never ends.” How beautiful :)

    I try to take a deep breath when things don’t go my way and ask if this is going to matter in five or ten years. It helps keep everything in perspective.

  13. Oh, boy. That was beautiful and SO what I needed to read today.

    SO glad I found your blog.

  14. Wow. I’m working on a post right now that addresses this very issue. I hope you can catch it! It will probably be up within a week or so.

    Don’t forget, though…your tendencies are what make you YOU, and you are remarkable, so they aren’t all bad. I’m so glad you see them, and I have no doubt that you will find a way to make them positives instead of negatives.

  15. Once again, I feel like I wrote this! When I struggled with my eating issues, it was all because I got some twisted pleasure in the control I had over myself. I was also constantly planning my schedule and organizing my plans in my head, which seriously stressed me out. I feel so much happier now that I live a little more spontaneously!

  16. oh man, control was what led to my eating disorder since i lost control in other areas of my life. after so many years and a change in my life towards my career i finally changed my perspective and things have improved so much. i now let things just happen…and it has caused so much less stress.

  17. You must’ve written this post with me in mind, right?? Seriously – this is majorly fitting for where I’m at right now at this very moment! I’ve been sitting here for almost the entire evening pretty much feeling sorry for myself – specifically over the current job search I’ve been failing at :/ I’m used to wanting something and DOING it, but as I’m sure you know, it’s not that easy when it comes to landing a “dream job!” While I’m certainly not going to give up, I need to stop letting my need-for-control keep discouraging me…

  18. One of the biggest ways in which I’ve grown personally is in not just learning to accept that I cannot control everything, but that I really don’t want to. And to take it a step farther, that things are pretty incredible when I don’t control them. I’ve realized recently that all my preparation and planning for my life has led me further away from the life I want to live, rather than towards it. Great, great post, Katie!

  19. preach it, sister! i loved this, and it’s so, so true. it was only when i finally turned it back over to god that things started to make sense anyways… why did i even think i had it all together, when my life was falling apart on my own?

  20. marzipan says:

    I almost fell off my couch when this just popped up in my reader! Thank you for the linklove, as well as replying in such an insightful and amazing way. I just adore your blog. xoxox.

    • Katie says:

      THANK YOU! You have no idea how inspired I’ve been by your blog, even during your difficult month of September. You’re doing some really amazing stuff.

  21. [...] Instead of “freaking out” and having to deal with the pain and anxiety of a real problem, I can run and hide in a tub of ice cream and pretend that everything is just fine, thank you very much. Sometimes I want to maintain control so desperately that I will fully entertain this charade, denying the fact that control is, at its core, an illusion. [...]

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