What do perfectionism, chronic busyness, and a refusal to delegate have in common? They’re all counter-productive habits driven by an underlying need for control.
Having high expectations and knowing what you want can be a great thing. However, if taken too far, it can leave you feeling constantly disappointed. Trying to control everything all the time is not only impossible, but it can also alienate you from other people.
The truth is that thriving in today’s world requires flexibility to change. In order to succeed, you must be able to embrace the unknown, find joy in the messiness of creativity, and be adaptable in the face of setbacks — all qualities which necessitate giving up a strong grip on control.
As any recovering control freak knows, relinquishing the reins is easier said than done. At the root of it, an inability to be more flexible comes down to fear. Many people, myself included, use control as a defense mechanism to deal with discomfort and worry.
Learning to curb your inner control freak doesn’t happen overnight. Letting go is a process. These three steps can help you get started.
3 Tips to Tame Your Need to Control
1. Change Your Mindset
People with a high need for control tend to get caught up in patterns of negative thinking. They tend to worry about worse case scenarios, and as a result, double down on planning, sometimes to an extreme. Overcoming a need for control involves tweaking your beliefs. You must learn how to embrace an optimistic explanatory style, meaning you learn to view setbacks as temporary and solvable — not insurmountable.
When you do find negative thinking creeping in, challenge it. Ask yourself questions like:
- Is my reaction useful?
- What other explanations exist [as to why they canceled last minute / my customer is upset]?
- How would a person who is more easy-going respond?
- What’s the worst that could happen?
2. Take Small Steps
Whether you’re managing a project at work or organizing a family trip, you don’t have to relinquish all control at once. Instead, start small. Hand off a single aspect of a project to a colleague. Trust them to do a good job, but know that if they don’t, you can always give feedback and correct the situation. As you see the benefits of collaboration in action, your comfort zone expands. Delegating becomes easier, bit by bit.
3. Start Saying No More Often
Control freaks also tend to be people pleasers. They say yes to too much because they believe that the more the are involved, the more they can control the situation and dictate the outcome.
This approach backfired on me spectacularly earlier on in my career. In an effort to manage my own feeling of unworthiness, I said “yes” to every request that came my way.
This works… until you eventually find yourself overwhelmed by too many demands and requests. You find yourself crushed under the inability to meet your own high expectations and those of other people.
Start saying no to people or responsibilities. When you let go of what’s not working, you make room for a life filled with ease and less difficulty.