The little story of letting go that I recently shared was just the tip of the iceberg. Turns out, I had a lot more letting go to do.
Several weeks ago, I had the sudden realization that I was an “Upholder” based on my tendency to meet all internal and external expectations. Okay, that’s true and fine. Then, I decided – “Why not embrace my Upholder Tendency and focus on establishing more concrete habits? I can monitor them and stop spending so much mental energy deciding what to do. I’ll decide once and then not think about it!”
Two new apps were downloaded – one for logging my blood sugars, meals, etc. and another to track my habits. For the past few weeks, I’ve been monitoring my activities, eating fewer and fewer carbohydrates, and generally zeroing in on the habits I wanted to cultivate. At first, I felt really awesome! Look at my self-discipline!
But, all along there’s been this slightly nagging feeling that these behaviors were starting to trigger a desire for control. But, I brushed it away. Through prayer and surrendering, I’ve come to see that this episode is very much like the time I threw my planner away. Less dramatically, I just deleted the habits app from my phone this morning.
There is a part of me that LOVES structure, discipline, and self-control. However, that’s the part of me that, when nurtured, pulls away from the present moment, resides in my head, seeks to control myself and those around me, and generally feels that my little world is subject to my command. I find myself feeling frustrated and short tempered when my children don’t behave the way they “should”. I don’t feel my emotions deeply because I’m busy thinking about what “should” happen next, what I “should” be doing.
Tracking and monitoring daily habits reinforces the idea that each day can be mastered by my choices and actions. This directly contradicts the sense of curiosity that being present and accepting the moment fosters. Rather than freedom, focusing on these habits started to make me feel agitated and distant from what really matters.
For me, the opposite of being in “control” is a state of surrendering, accepting, and trusting God. He’s in control and will put in front of me what I “should” be doing at any given moment. When I consider the fact that I don’t know what the day ahead holds, instead of feeling fear, I feel hopeful and excited. My prayer becomes: “Lord, show me how I can love your people today.” And then I stop focusing on my thoughts and instead look around me at my family, friends, coworkers, and strangers that cross my path. That’s what I’m here to do, to love and serve others. Not to track how much water I’ve consumed or whether I snacked too close to bedtime.
I have a reminder on my phone that pops up every few days. It says: “The thinking self struggles with control, but the observing self doesn’t.” This was one of the great insights from The Happiness Trap. At any given time, we can either be thinking or observing our direct experience with the world, but not both. While thoughts and feelings come and go, we can actively choose where to place our attention. Did that passing thought need my full attention, or should I look around me and notice the present moment? We get to make that decision hundreds of times each day.
The struggle with control comes from the fact that our thoughts are largely out of our control. When we get hooked by our thoughts, it’s typically because there’s something about them we want to change. We make judgments, criticisms, or assumptions that cause us discomfort, so we engage our thoughts with other information, in hopes of changing our thoughts to be more positive or comforting. I’ve learned (time and again!) that recognizing my thoughts are just words running through my head, which often don’t require my full attention, I’m much more peaceful.
When I trust that God will guide my actions through the prompting of the Holy Spirit, instead of relying on my very fallible thoughts, I feel immensely more fulfilled and at peace.