Lost Control? That’s Good News!

Personal Development
Remote control

One of the biggest fears we face as humans is losing control over anything. While in some situations, where this literally means risking the physical life, it is understandable, that keeping control is essential (like flying an airplane), our subconscious neediness to always be in control can be one of the biggest hindrances to our personal growth.

Another of the biggest fears in our western culture for many people would be public speaking. Why? Because we fear the possibility of making a fool of ourselves, of being laughed at. Being laughed at is maybe the biggest horror we can imagine. Again why? Because when we are laughed at we feel totally vulnerable, and totally out of control. But there are of course a lot of people who go out and do public speaking. Yet some even go out to become professional or semi-professional actors, who make their living from it.

A Lesson to Learn from the Theatre

But while an actor has the script of an author, he can at least cling to, there is another form of theatre, that even got rid of this last straw of security – Improvisational Theatre.

With Improvisational Theatre (or “Improv” as Insiders call it) , there is no script, no fixed settings and no rule how the story will happen. There might be some keywords that came from the audience a minute before the scene started (like location or relationship of the actors or maybe a piece that should play an important role in the scene). But besides this, the actors have no control over what happens. It could happen, that an actor goes onto the stage, wanting to play a man of power, while the other actor just a split second before calls him “Servant” or “Idiot”.

Now that is the moment where it gets interesting, and since I am also a trainer for Improv, that is the moment where I am just looking how novices deal with such a situation.

The Golden Rule

There is one golden rule that is above all other rules in Improv and that is “ACCEPT REALITY”. Whatever was said on the stage is a reality that was just created, and you MUST ACCEPT it. Novice player often go into denial and that always destroys the scene. They are in their head playing their scene, while not being in the moment and listening to the reality that just happens on the stage. So the next great rule is to “ACT IN THE MOMENT”.

If someone defines them as a “Servant”, it doesn’t matter if they had in their mind that this time they wanted to be the “Prince”. No, they just have to accept the situation and (following another rule) act as if this definition was so brilliant that they even want to make it bigger. They become the best servant possible. They accept it and make it big. Of course they could play the rebellious servant, but still they have to accept the reality of being the servant in this scene.

Why You Have Far Less Control Than You Think

Now – why do I tell you all of this? If you aren’t interested in Improv, you should at least notice, that it has some valuable lessons to teach for life in general (and if you’re curious check this video on business application of Improv out).

We can’t control so many things in our life, that we most of the time reject this fact, or we would go nuts. If you are driving down a highway, do you have any control over how the other drivers react? Anytime another driver could pull over and slam you. You don’t know, whether your brakes are working or might not stop the next second. And this goes on for so many areas in our lives. And you can’t control people. Yes you can use different vias of influence (money, fear, manipulation), but the control you think you have is only an illusion, since it is only the control they allow you to have. Any dictator, who thought he had control and then was overthrown by his people, states this fact. And you can’t control how and what people think about you. Even less than you can control traffic.

So if we have so less control, why do we struggle so much, to get it?

Because we lack trust in the universe, and we lack trust in our ability to deal with whatever may come

What Is Trust?

Trust is a believe that things will turn out good. If I say “I trust you”, then I say “I put my faith in you doing me well and no harm”. And if I say “I trust in myself”, then this would mean “I put my faith in my abilities to deal in a good way with any situation coming at me”. If you are able to honestly say so to yourself, then you need no control over situations or over people. You know inside that you have the ability and the flexibility to make the best out of every situation.

Like in the theatre example. You just accept, what is and make the best use of it. Note, that this doesn’t mean you just become passive. No, accepting means seeing the Status Quo as it is, not going into denial or wishful thinking and then doing whatever is necessary to make the best from the established situation.

What Is the Best Control?

The best control is to accept you don’t have it, and then adjust to whatever happens.

Even an airline captain knows, that he can’t control the winds, so his control is by reacting and adapting to an ever changing environment. If he is of course he can’t go into denial. He just had to accept, that he had no control over that and now has to do whatever is necessary to go back on track.

Wanting to have total control would be like building a plane with non-flexible wings. It would be fatal, since these would break pretty soon and the plane would crash. So even the wings have to be flexible, since they also have no control over what wind is coming at them.

If you want to fly, then you should be just like a plane – give up your neediness of total control and just do what is necessary in the moment.

16 comments… add one
  • Patrick, you bring up a really good point. In acknowledging that you don’t have total control (and in some situations, you don’t have even partial control), you’ll be more open to any adventure that comes your way and have a far better likelihood of thriving when you rely on your ability to think on your feet and respond intuitively and resourcefully.

    BTW, I love improv! Those actors are masters of letting go of control and the results are always at least entertaining; defintiely original.

    • Patrick

      @Belinda: Yes the ability to think on your feet is valuable for a lot of uses. BTW – although it seems that Improv has no rules, there are rules, that allows the spontaneity to come out. So it is not chaos, but an underlying structure that allows one to think on their feet. If you like it, join a class, I’m sure there is one around.

  • Provocative article, Patrick. As you say, we can’t control other people or situations. Pretty much the only thing we can control is where we place our attention, and this is what determines our reaction. If we pay attention to and believe distorted thoughts about a situation, we will probably have a strong emotional reaction. If we fully pay attention to what is true in the moment, we experience peace. When we release the need to control and allow ourselves to be in the moment, we eventually see that life as it is is completely trustworthy.

    .-= Gail @ A Flourishing Life´s last blog ..Life Lessons from Our Elders #3: Don’t Wait =-.

    • Patrick

      @Gail: Wonderful addition. Yes our attention is what defines our actions, so if we focus on solutions to what ever comes at us, we can quickly come up with it, because we have a built-in ability to be spontaneous. But it is something that we must train also. We can use it or lose it.

      • It was dark when I woke. This is a ray of susinnhe.

  • Love the Golden Rule thing. I’ve been working on learning to lose control for some time now and it’s definitely journey worth taking. It allowed my to stop wasting time trying to manage what I couldn’t manage, to be more authentic and to feel a lovely sense of freedom. The golden rule is a nice concept i can use to take this to the next level.

    .-= Ideas With A Kick´s last blog ..Self-improvement is masturbation =-.

    • Patrick

      @Ideas with a kick: Glad to see that you already walked on the journey to free yourself from such a limiting concept. And I hope the Golden Rule will help you to go even further.

  • Accepting reality and trusting it is ironically extremely empowering as it lets us focus on the things that we can control. There is one point in this article that I do not fully agree with though. We can control our image, not entirely, and not for everyone, but for the majority of the population, we can learn to give a more honest representation of ourselves. There are several techniques to this, and it is a good deal of what public speaking and marketing are all about. Politicians study these things, in fact the current US President is brilliant at controlling his image. The key thing to remember is that if others are not seeing us in the way that we want them to see us, than it is because we are doing something that makes them see us this way.

    .-= Justin- AlittleBetter.net´s last blog ..Lets Play a Game =-.

    • Patrick

      @Justin: You are right, if you want to go for any political career, you need to control your image. Whether that would make you happy is another topic. And in this article I am absolutely not against learning and using techniques to learn marketing or public speaking and presenting yourself in a favorable light. Come on, I am an actor – I know this stuff 🙂

      But what is crucial, especially if you are referring to politics, is that the more your image deviate from your authentic true being and life, the more stress you get by controlling the facade.
      Take Bill Clinton & Monica Lewinsky. Why was it such a problem. Logic would say, that sexual desires and being a statesman are different topics. But it was through his trickery, that he presented a facade (of course needed for him to become president) that brought him into deep trouble, once the facade crashed.

      And that is the core point. The more you need control (because you fear losing it; because you fear someone else is finding out smt. you don’t like about yourself), the easier you might loose it.

  • Patrick and Justin – you make some great points about being in control and being authentic.

    I have learnt that the stress of pretending to be something you are NOT is just not worth it!

    Just be totally authentic and the world will respect and accept you just as you are. At the same time, your need to control anything and others will diminish or become non-existent.

    Reminds me of that old prayer – give me the strength to change the things I can, the serenity to accept the things I cannot and the wisdom to know the difference.

    .-= Arvind Devalia´s last blog ..The Day I Saved a Drowning Bug and Why! =-.

    • Patrick

      @Arvind: That old prayer is so true. I repeat that to myself quite often. Being authentic (or better becoming) is our main assignment here on earth. It is something that we should work on continuously. Even the old Greek know it, when they placed the inscription “Gnothi seauton” (Know Yourself) on top of the entrance to their famous oracle of Delphi. So that is all there is to do.

  • sudhirkhanger

    Why am i not able to get your articles in my Google reader? I get all these article through twitter but for some reason not in Google reader.

    • Patrick

      @Sudhirkhanger: I have no clue. The majority of my subscribers is using Google Reader (I use it myself) and they never reported that problem. I just canceled my subscription and resubscribed again, and I get it in my Google Reader instantly. Please unsubscribe and resubscribe and see if that works. If not, then go to your Google Reader and subscribe manually using the Feed-URL http://feeds.feedburner.com/UnwrapYourMind.

      I hope this helps.

  • Thank heavens I am not a politician :-). The pleasure and happiness of projecting a consistent image inside and outside is priceless.

    I like the way you make the point about accepting the situation as it is and then working from a position of strength to change/make it better. Also, as Justin put it, starting from acceptance allows us to focus on what can be changed, thats very powerful.

    Also, putting yourself in situations where you lose control strengthens your ability to adapt and can take you far. While interviewing on “In the actors studio”, Robin Williams recounted his early days as a stand up comedian. He remembered how you had to be absolutely fearless to be a stand up comic. Really prepares you for any challenge life may throw at you in the days ahead!

    Cheers,
    Krishna

    .-= Krishna´s last blog ..Believe your way to Success =-.

    • Patrick

      @ Krishna: I am an actor myself, and as much as I like traditional theatre with its illusion of security (=formulated play) diving into stand-up comedy or improv is a radical experience that can be so freeing to you.

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