Ahhh. Feeling in control. Being in control. Nirvana!
Even a Type A with only a smidgen of self-awareness realizes that control is a central issue: controlling your schedule, trying to control your kids, controlling a project or that difficult subordinate at work, attempting to control your spouse whose needs, wants, and schedule affect your life. It’s about controlling anything and everything!
It is also about not being “out of control,” the panicky feeling you sometimes get when you’re on a plane or an amusement park ride where you’re not “in charge.” Or maybe your spouse talks you into going to the mall with her and then takes forever going into each and every store, which makes you feel oddly anxious, and, of course, irritated.
Why is control so important to us Type As? How did this come about?
I won’t go into great depth here, because I don’t think it really matters much how or why we became such control freaks; the methods for counterbalancing it are the same, regardless. Also, I do not profess to expertise in genetics or childhood development. I will say, however, that based on my observations and experience, it certainly seems that the tendency to be controlling can be traced to both inherited traits and learned behavior.
Some young children exhibit unusually high levels of need for orderliness, carefulness, structure, and stability in their environments, while other children of a similar age fling themselves around with abandon because they could not care less about these things. Such variability may indicate that controlling behavior is an inherited trait.
It also appears to be the case that controlling attitudes and behaviors can be learned. Look no further than the example of the child of a severe alcoholic. The chaotic and disordered environment created by an alcoholic can develop a need for a child to seek excessive control in other areas of his or her life, apparently in an effort to compensate.
So, what about the value of being in control? How useful is it?
I view controlling our environment in much the same way as I view achievement and accomplishment. It can be very useful in the right situation and counterproductive in the “wrong” one. At work, maintaining some control over your schedule, duties, and projects is important. You can’t just “fly by the seat of your pants” all the time, skipping from task to task with no sense of priorities, and expect to be successful. At play, such as with family or friends, attempting to exert and command too much control can rob you and others of much of the joy of an experience.
Many undesirable consequences can arise from trying too hard to control your environment. Examples are:
- Wasting time and effort and creating unnecessary stress by trying to control trivial things that don’t need to be managed so tightly
- Dominating other people, and in the process holding them back from using their full abilities, which marginalizes them and frustrates both of you
- Being unable to fully experience and enjoy an activity
And what about once you are retired? Since, presumably, you will have much less on your schedule, overly controlling behavior can cause you to focus far too much time and effort on minor issues, making mountains out of molehills, so to speak.
What about controlling you instead of your external environment? What about controlling your thoughts, emotions, attitudes, and behaviors?
Controlling your environment versus self-control
This distinction between controlling the environment (including other people) and controlling you is at the heart of the Bible quote at the beginning of this chapter. “Controlling an army” represents controlling all of the people and things around you. Some people do virtually control an army if they hold positions of great power and influence, such as high-level executives and politicians.
“Self-control” means managing and controlling you. This form of control is by far the most important in life. You cannot hope to have any measure of control or positive influence over other people and events until you are stable, steady, manageable, and oriented to the positive. It starts from within. Once you achieve inner control, that’s when you can hope to spread its positive effects beyond yourself.
For more on the three levels of control you can purchase Tim’s book on Amazon, itunes or Barnes & Noble