Last weekend my 4 year old cut her hair. Not some bangs, but full on Edward Scissorhands cut her hair. I was mortified. She was proud. She must have seen something flash across my face and asked "Mommy, are you mad?"
"No dear. It'll grow back."
But before that reaction my mind was spinning. What did it say about me as a parent, that she had access to scissors and enough alone time to do this? Will people think I'm irresponsible, neglecting her or that I don't have control of what's happening in my household? How would I get her hair into a bun for her upcoming dance recital? Each of these reactions were about me, not her. In this case the deed was done and no amount of me holding on would change that. I let it go.
Holding on to what you cannot change, especially the thoughts, feelings or behaviors of others does not serve you. In striving to change another person, you become a character in their story rather than the lead of your own story. Taken to the extreme, you lose out. You lose time, the time you spent trying to change the other person. You lose energy that you could have plowed into something more fruitful. Others lose out when they only get part of your attention, the other half ruminating on controlling some third party. The opportunity cost of trying to change someone else is very high.
It is not uncommon in coaching conversations for people to describe a relationship with another person, often at work, where if the other person would change everything would be so much better. Time and energy is spent thinking of what to say, how to say it, what to do to get the person to change. More often than not, this is pointless. If you see yourself in this story, take five and try the actions below:
Critical question #1: What of this can I control?
Likely, very little outside of yourself. If that is the case, and you cannot control the other person, acknowledge that. Allow the person to own their own behaviors. Separate yourself and separate your identity from their behavior. With this acceptance face the new set of questions that presents.
Critical question #2: What about this is really bothering me? What is motivating my desire to control?
Answering this will unlock important insights into your thought process that might be hidden from the surface. An example might be "I don't like how their actions affect other's views of me", or "When people see this they will think I don't have any influence." You can use those to form your strategies for letting go.
Critical question #3: If I weren't putting energy into this, what could I accomplish instead?
Shift to a positive state of mind, allowing creativity to blossom.
Wow, if we took all this time and energy and directed it at something generative imagine the possibilities. Could you be more present in your meetings, on calls, during time at home with loved ones? Could you get more done in less time and use your "new time" for something you love? Could you reserve more of your patience for those who you think really need and deserve it. Would your health benefit? Trying to control others robs you of this.
Critical question #4: When this comes up, how do I want to respond? Who do I choose to be?
Get creative. You have more options than you think you do. Create physical space. Go for a walk. Confront the behavior head on. State your point of view. Laugh. Contract with yourself - I get 5 minutes to be angry/mad/sad and then I'm moving on. Set time for yourself each week to decompress. Decide for yourself that the other person does not get to have all of your mindshare.
With every affirmative choice you make this will get easier and easier.
I can't change her haircut. I can't change her forceful approach to life. But I can change how I choose to respond to it. In doing so I reserve my energy for what really matters in the relationship and my life. I hope these four critical questions can be helpful to you as a tool to refocus your efforts at control.
All the best - Audrey
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