Saturday Upsides: The Illusion of Control

saturdayupsidesbuttonDamn, this is hard, I thought. I laid on the bench, struggling to remember all of her instructions as I pushed the bar up as straight as possible. Of course this is hard. Bench pressing isn’t meant to be easy. Shut up and focus! I have to shout to myself internally otherwise I’d lay here all day debating the best way to get this bar up. I felt the bar wobble left and right until I finally got the balance needed to cleanly get it straight up and down. By the end of the set, I knew it wasn’t perfect, but I was able to get a few in that were controlled and stable. A few is better than none and next time it’ll be better. Perfect control is the goal. At least in my head.

Out of the gym, this idea of control takes on different meaning. I constantly feel like I’m on a tightrope where I wobble from side to side on how far I should stick my neck out to change my circumstances. It’s like someone else has control of the wheel and I’m left a bystander to my own life passing by before my eyes. I’m totally helpless in this scenario. But I’m also blameless, and this is where I fight myself. I’m totally to blame here for not taking control of my life. No one else has the power to change my thoughts and force my hand except for me. But… do I really have control? What does control really mean anyway? And more importantly, do any of us have true control in our lives or are we just deluding ourselves?

I’ve recently started an intensive exploration into my fears and attitude via a forty-day program that incorporates meditation, affirmations, and writing. I’ve never really tried anything like this and I figured now was as good a time as any to proactively change my thoughts so that I can finally feel in control. Again, perfect control is the goal, right?

Well, the thing is, in less than a week I’ve started to question the very idea of who or what has the power to influence my actions and create change. The obvious answer is, I do. But how much power do I really have? Or rather, where do I draw the line between what I have the power to control versus the influence a situation or experience has on my mind or emotions? I mean, I’m not a robot. Sometimes things happen and I’m going to react in that moment the way that feels natural, be it anger or shock or amused. How can I control that or why would I want to? Aren’t those experiences what forces me to learn and eventually grow? Everything shouldn’t culminate in some foregone conclusion where I can already determine my feelings simply because I have control. That seems….unnatural.

Yet, here’s where that tightrope plays a role and why I wobble. I admit that I do have control over my actions and some of those actions include the thought process that goes with. But maybe control isn’t the right word.

Let me take a step back here. Here’s how Merriam Webster defines control in the form I’m using it:

con·trol verb \kən-ˈtrōl\

a : to exercise restraining or directing influence over :regulate

b : to have power over : rule

c : to reduce the incidence or severity of especially to innocuous levels <control an insect population> <control a disease>

Each of these definitions points to direct and immediate influence over something by exerting power. Control, in essence, is a tool of power.  If I try to translate this to my predicament, I assume this would mean that in order to be in control, I would need to display unflinching power towards my mind and all of its ruminations so that I could force a  desired outcome, which in my case, the desired outcome is true happiness. It’s a bit like making your mind a totalitarian state where your conscious mind plays dictator with your subconscious mind so that you can pull your ego into check and do whatever it is you need to do to achieve your goal. Sure, it’s an extreme metaphor, but this is extremely important and it puts things in perspective. So what happens when you aren’t successful? What happens when the subconscious fights back or the power isn’t total enough to influence your conscious mind the way you want? If you follow my metaphor, you can only imagine the consequences.

In some ways, I already know the answer. Trying to control my mind has been, and in some ways, always will be a losing war. I beat myself up each time I fail and it becomes a sick cycle with repeated acts and repeated punishments. I admit, this is insane. Like I said, I’m not a robot and it’s unnatural to try to force your mind with the intent of total control over its processes. Besides, don’t I always point out that the mission of this blog and really, the point of everything, is to acknowledge that I’m on a journey, and a big part of that journey is the gradual process of figuring things out based on my experiences? As desperate as I am for change in order to fully embrace happiness in my life, I can’t dismiss the journey. And unfortunately (or fortunately depending on how you look at it) that’s going to take time and forgiveness. Lots of it.

Here’s another word to consider:

choose verb \ˈchüz\

transitive verb
a : to select freely and after consideration <choose a career>

   b : to decide on especially by vote : elect <chose her as captain>
a : to have a preference for <choose one car over another>

   b : decide <chose to go by train>
intransitive verb
1: to make a selection <finding it hard to choose>
2: to take an alternative —used after cannot and usually followed by but <when earth is so kind, men cannot choose but be happy — J. A. Froude>

Emphasizing the point that making a choice means that you’re doing so freely after doing due diligence and weighing the options, I can conclude that this is not only a better word but a more worthy one in relation to my goal. It doesn’t require inhuman power over the mind nor does it ignore all the parts that make up your journey. It nudges you to look around and decide for yourself what the alternative would look like if you took a different course. I would argue that the act of choosing gives you more power than the act of control because it requires more effort and I think, it demands more of your heart.

I can choose to get out of bed to write that cover letter or send an email instead of procrastinating by watching another episode of Battlestar Galactica on Netflix (FRACK!). I can choose to accept that invitation to meet up with a friend instead of staying at home to wallow in self-pity. I can choose to sit and write down what I’m feeling instead of reaching for food to drown out my emotions. I can choose to take a risk on something new instead of standing still, unhappily repeating the same things each day. It’s the power of choice that I should embrace and consider more keenly as I seek to rebuild and strengthen my relationship with myself.

When I look back and view my life with all of its ups and downs, I’m hoping to see how the decisions I’ve made were done out of hope and happiness and not out of fear. I’m hoping that will outweigh the bad and allow me to see that I’ve been happy all along simply because of the very act of choice. I’m not there yet, and it still feels far away. But today I’m choosing to see that control is just an illusion and that with time I can relinquish the idea of control in favor of the positive influence of love.

ADDENDUM: Upon discussing this post with one of my close friends, I came to a couple of realizations. When I sit down to write these posts, they’re mostly ‘figured out’ as I’m committing the words to the screen. I don’t plan them out and it usually makes it way out of my head as a stream of consciousness that I try to translate in a way that makes sense. It was awesome to continue this process after I published with a trusted friend. So I decided to come back and share the most recent stream, unedited, with you. Perhaps it takes things one step further. I choose to think it does. 🙂

Pearl: I love the forgiveness piece that you’ve been talking about
 me: yeah thanks…forgiveness fridays!
  its the hardest part
 Pearl: 🙂
  so true
me: between that and overcoming the fear
  ridiculously hard
 Pearl: I honestly don’t even know what it really feels like
  to forgive
 me: yeah?
  yeah me either
  were so hard on ourselves
  u know
  one thought i had, a dark thought
  this week
  was that i dont remember the last time i felt happy
  like truly happy
and i dont know really what to think of that
  i guess part of what im exploring are the semantics and what words mean
how to define them and what weight to give them in my life
 Pearl: I like that…
  especially with words like happy and success we’re so influenced by what the world tells us that looks like
Pearl: by happy do you mean a certain “lightness in being”
  i think i associate happiness with calm and lightness in the way i walk in the world
and that has a large part with my thoughts about myself
  and how i react to the world
  now you got me thinking about this 🙂
me: lol
  yeah i havent gotten around to defining “happy” yet
  but i know i don’t feel in the “light”
  and i haven’t in a long time
  i experience moments of good
but a perpetual state of good or happiness is…elusive
  and thats because of fear
  the fear has become….everything
  like a cancer
 i think what i struggle with when it comes to control is this idea that i need to change my thoughts and pick myself up to get shit done
  and i constantly refuse to
  out of laziness or indifference or procrastination or whatever
  and then i punish myself for that
  but again, semantics
  contol inherently ties in with negative meaning and associations
choice doesn’t shirk responsibility and the flexibility of choice brings with it more consequences
  hmm..something i shouldve put in the blog post
the point is that in some ways i need to take pressure off my back while also applying more of the responsibility on my shoulders
  its a give and take
  almost a 1:1
  but going from dark to light
  i like the way im descrbing this
a lot of these thoughts are so organic, its funny
Pearl: why is it funny?
  you’re a wise owl
me: lol
  like the potato chips

Share you upsides and read others on Bonnie’s page, Recipes Happen, each Saturday.

Stay warm, stay positive, forgive yourselves, and keep paying it forward. 🙂

9 Replies to “Saturday Upsides: The Illusion of Control”

  1. Oh, what a lovely and honest post. I think we allow limiting beliefs from our past control us and most of the time, we don’t even know it unless we make a conscious choice to examine our thoughts – like what you are doing right now – with your 40 day program. Every time I think I have a grasp on my limiting beliefs – I realize I am just at the tip of the iceburg – I still let old voices and people from my past control what I do via the message loops that play in my head. My goal this year is to own it, you know what I mean? Own me. Thank you for your insights – they are so good, as always.


    1. Thanks SO much Ilene! It’s extremely difficult to shut out all the noise: be it the choices from our past, comparison to our peers, fear of the future, insecurities, and blah blah blah. It’s all there, all the time and to attempt to shut that down for even five minutes so that I could actually think only for myself without any pressures of that noise is…nearly impossible, lol! It was nice to be able to chip away at some of those barriers yesterday and get my thoughts down in a moment of clarity. I can only hope that I’ll have more in the future. Thanks for reading and for your continual enthusiasm and support! 🙂


  2. Great (and entertaining) stream of consciousness!
    The more control I think I have, the more I realize I don’t have it. So I’ve just embraced the Buddhist mantra of “Just be”. Whenever I just allow myself to exist, I realize I am the happiest. When I do make choices, as long as I make choices that are motivated by love then that is the right choice. You, for example, choosing to better yourself shows self love and that’s a great choice!

    If you want to read a great book about fear and what it does I would like to suggest “Dying To Be Me” by Anita Moorjani. I purchased 7 copies of this book and handed it out to everyone who (in my opinion) would “get it”.

    If it’s forgiveness your after I would like to suggest “Left To Tell” by Immaculee Iligagazi. She was a Rwandan survivor who learned to reace peace by forgiving those who murdered her parents and two brothers. An amazing story.

    I look forward to your next post!


    1. Thanks for those book suggestions. I’m definitely going to look into them. I’ve read a couple of Rwanda survivor stories (I did my thesis on women and genocide with a focus on Rwanda and Bosnia) and you know, it hadn’t crossed my mind to reach back and look at those texts I’ve collected. It’s interesting what perspective brings to each story and how it can change your mind about so many different things. I’d definitely say that fear and forgiveness are 2 poles that I keep bouncing back and forth between. I’m finding some of the Buddhist mantras I’ve read (like “just be”) to really resonate more and more with me. It’s going to take time and I imagine a whole lot of streams of consciousness to realize the little “miracles” towards my goals. Thanks for reading and giving me your advice- it’s really appreciated!


  3. A wonderful and genuine post! I always go back and forth, is it fear or intuition. How much have I missed out on because my intuition was wrong due to fear! Excellent post that makes you think!!
    Love the Forgiveness Friday!


    1. Thanks! It’s still something I’m working through each day and who know’s when or if I’ll have the answers. What I do know is that fear isn’t the way. As always, I appreciate your support and all your kind words. It means so much to have people read this stuff and hear that it actually makes sense, lol. 🙂


  4. What a wonderful post Maribel! I can relate to wanting to control everything in my life…I am learning slowly but surely that it is all an illusion “control”. When I let go of things I am so much more content and happier. I am still working on the “fear” part that keeps me frozen in certain areas of my life. Recognizing these issues is the step in the right direction. I think that you are well on your way my friend 🙂 Hugs, Éva


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