I just spoke to Sharon, a mom who is now teaching her three kids at home during the COVID-19 pandemic. The first few days were novel and even fun. The adrenaline that flows from doing something new had kicked in. Now, it’s a different story. Sharon told me recently her biggest struggle is wanting to control everything. I can see her point. Wouldn’t it be nice to:
- Control their attitudes?
- Control their effort in school?
- Control their ambition for studies?
- Control their maturity levels?
Many people admit to being a control freak when I ask audiences to respond to the question. In fact, the number of people who raise their hands to acknowledge their desire for control is growing. More and more people wish they had more control over the situations and people in their life. A growing body of research suggests it isn’t limited to a certain temperament anymore. Most of us want it. It’s actually a form of perfectionism. “A new study published in Psychological Bulletin demonstrates that perfectionism is increasing over time: Today’s youth are more demanding of others, and they are more demanding of themselves. They also feel like other people (e.g., parents) are more demanding of them,” says U.C. Berkeley.
A simple definition for the term “control freak” is: “A person who feels an obsessive need to exercise control over themselves and others and to take command of any situation.” What are some common symptoms of this disposition? Look for these obvious indicators:
- Always correcting people (even children) when they’re wrong.
- Inability to delegate tasks.
- Always want to have the last word.
- Difficulty in admitting you’re are wrong.
- Always judging and criticizing others.
- Poor at collaboration and teamwork.
- Consistent desire to change others.
Why is this a growing reality today?
Consider human history. As time marches on, we’ve increased our ability to control more outcomes in our lives. Centuries ago, people were much more at risk for bad weather, poor health, and dying prematurely. We had less control over our everyday lives. As the human race has advanced, we gained more control over our:
- Infant mortality.
- Efficiency in our work.
Further, the more we’re able to seize control, the more we expect to do so. We live in heated and air-conditioned homes. We have running water. We drive automobiles. You get the idea. Centuries ago, more realties were out of our control. We didn’t expect to control life. It only makes sense that our 21st-century experience has fostered a controlling mindset.
One of the reasons we struggle so much with COVID-19 is that it’s beyond our control. In fact, it’s scary because it’s out of our control. What do we do when there’s nothing we can do? We are confronted with our sinister selves. We can become a poor version of ourselves.
Use Your Three Buckets Well
Let me challenge you with a simple but profound thought. If you are a bit of a control freak, it’s helpful to remember that every experience in your life fits into one of three buckets:
- It is in your control.
- It is out of your control.
- It is within your influence.
Obviously, each bucket requires a different response from us to lead in a healthy manner. In fact, our trouble comes when we place situations in the wrong bucket. Our children are not in our control, but they are within our influence. The coronavirus is out of our control, but we have some influence on how we handle our own response to it. Today’s weather? Completely out of our control. Too many people experience anguish because they place people and situations in the wrong bucket. Too many people waste sideways energy on items that are out of their control—but they’re trying to control them. We can be tempted to avoid responsibility for items that are in our control which only leads to trouble. We can try to manipulate people and situations that are out of our control, which also leads to trouble. Sound familiar? So, this week, may I recommend you place three buckets in a conspicuous place in your home. You may even want to mark them with the three titles I offered above. Then, remember these truths:
- Bucket One—It is in my control. I must initiate and assume responsibility.
- Bucket Two—It is out of my control. I must trust the process and not manipulate it.
- Bucket Three—It is within my influence. I must respond wisely, doing what I can.
During our quarantine season, let’s put control on the shelf and enjoy the journey. It’s been said a million times, “I’ve learned that when you try to control everything you enjoy nothing.”
This metaphor, “Three Buckets” is part of a course called: Habitudes For Life-Giving Leaders. If you’d like to check it out, CLICK HERE.