Author’s Note: I first learned about the concept of using self-control in the place of self-trust from Jill Coleman at JillFit. While Jill is ostensibly a fitness blogger, she focuses on how your mindset, expectations, and feelings about yourself can affect the choices you make around your body. She writes often about self-trust, and I EAT IT UP. Check her out. 🙂
There is a false promise lurking in the cells of every spreadsheet, smirking in the corner of every empty checkbox on a list. A promise of control, of things going as planned, of happiness and success and all things good and right in this world.
Want to be perfect? Want to be thin and beautiful and achieve greatness? Want to track every calorie you eat, every purchasing decision you make, every dollar you spend? Want to take the best route, have the best vacation, be the best blogger?
There’s an app for that. There’s a plan for that. There’s control for that.
For years, I fell victim to this false promise. On the surface, maintaining control can be a good thing. At work, I’ve used spreadsheets to earn the reputation of being able to bring order to chaos. At home, I’ve used spreadsheets to lose 30 pounds, become debt-free, plan a capsule wardrobe, outline a novel, and start a small business. I, along with my carefully-formatted spreadsheets, have helped friends decide to leave their jobs, family members figure out how to pay off their student loans.
Feeling like you’re in control is nice, y’all.
Hi, I’m Lindsay I am a Controller
When I was 21, I took a class at work–one of those fluffy HR classes managers like to think are so important–called How to Deal with Difficult People. All I remember from the class was this: when you’re dealing with a difficult person, never lose your temper. If you lose your temper, you lose control of the situation.
I don’t recall what, exactly, we were supposed to do with that control or how it was ultimately supposed to help us deal with those difficult people, but something in me latched onto this idea. “You mean,” I thought, “if I can control myself, I can control the entire situation?” Well, that seemed ideal.
And so I spent the next ten years figuring out how to control myself, my feelings, and the world around me as best I could. I discovered conditional formatting in Excel, which can give you color-coded alerts when things are going off track. I embraced the pursuit of perfect and kicked myself when I fell short–which happened a lot, because perfect is impossible.
There’s a dark side to control. When you put together “the plan,” there’s an unspoken anxiety and certainty that without that plan, things won’t turn out okay. You’ll make a mistake and you won’t be okay. So you obsess over the plan and hold yourself and others to unreasonable expectations.
And when you’re managing “the plan,” when you’re tracking progress and calculating variance, a rigidity makes its way into your life, because you have “a plan,” you’re “in control,” you want things to be “perfect.” But accidents happen and other opportunities pop up, and you’re likely to either blame yourself for falling short of the plan or ignore those opportunities altogether in favor of the list you so carefully crafted ahead of time.
When you have a plan, you can’t fully experience the present moment. You can’t truly enjoy where you are when you’re so focused on where you’re going. And so, while that facade of control may bring you a sense of comfort, ultimately you are limiting your ability to enjoy the path you’re on.
I now know that control and perfectionism are myths to comfort the anxious and untrusting. If you buy in to those myths, you’re buying into a lifetime of frustration–because to err is human, but to forgive oneself for erring when one had the “perfect plan” is nigh impossible.
Moving from Control to Trust
I am leaving for Costa Rica in six hours’ time and I’m ready.
I have not spent the last month researching every aspect of travel to Costa Rica. I have not packed. I have not gone to the bank, or to REI, or to my garage to find my water shoes. I have not made any lists… but I would still say I’m ready. Mentally, emotionally, spiritually–all the ways that I can now recognize really matter, I’m ready.
I have given up the thought of controlling every aspect of my trip and instead trust that I will figure things out in due time. It helps that a friend I am traveling with has taken care of the important things (hotel, flight, driver), but it only helps because I trust her to have done a good job. I am certain that we will have a great trip and it will happen without my obsessing over the details.
I mentioned to another friend of mine, another spreadsheet enthusiast, that I haven’t done my usual song-and-dance of research and preparation for this, my first international trip to a country other than Mexico. “But how do you know you’ll do the best things while you’re there?” she asked incredulously.
I considered this. I don’t know that I will do the “best things” while I’m there, but that is mostly because I’ve given up the idea of “best.” There is no best, there is no perfect, there is only good enough, and I trust that my trip to a beautiful country with three amazing women will be good enough even for me, the recovering perfectionist.
This foundation of trust has eliminated the nerves I’ve always gotten before travel, and the lack of a detailed agenda and schedule leaves the door open to the opportunity for wonderful experiences to present themselves. I am excited to discover those unknown opportunities.
I don’t need to control this because I trust it will be okay.
Much love, y’all. – Lindsay