This post was written by Leo Babauta, originally for Zen Habits. Republished here with permission.
One of the (many) things I struggle with in life is wanting to feel in control of how things will turn out — control of a trip that I’m on, of a project I’m working on, etc. Often, it’s not such a helpful way to be. Here’s how to let go of the need for control.
Let Go of the Need for Control
For starters, I don’t think we ever really control how things will turn out. We might think we do, but how often do things turn out the way you planned? I know my life has been a series of unexpected outcomes, despite my best intentions to get to certain goals. Even the goals that I reach turn out to be much different once I achieve them than I had planned.
What’s more, I’ve found that when I want to control the outcome of things, I become more anxious, more tense. I’m less happy with how other people do things, less happy with myself, less relaxed in the moment. My relationships suffer, and I’m less happy. Not good.
But what’s the answer? Well, what I’m finding is that I can’t stop myself from wanting to control things. I can’t stop the urge to control outcomes from coming up in me. I can’t control this.
So I have to just notice the desire to control things, and let the urge happen. Just sit there and see the urge, feel it, be with it.
I don’t have to act. I can just sit.
This is easier said than done, I’ve found. But I try to practice it:
I can see the urge as just another urge, not anything I have to follow. It’s a suggestion from the child within me, not a command.
Next, I turn to the moment and see the beauty of what’s in front of me. Of the ever-changing situation I find myself in. There’s joy in this situation, even if it’s uncontrolled.
I don’t need to control things to enjoy them. I can just let things happen.
That said, I still take action. I still do work (like I am now), I still work with people, I still walk around when I’m on a trip, I still look up information about where I am because I’m curious.
But the action is not necessarily to control the outcome. I can set an intention of doing something good, compassionate, helpful, without knowing whether things will turn out the way I hope. I set an intention, I act, but I don’t know how things will turn out.
And that’s OK. It’s completely fine not to know.
I act, and trust that things will turn out fine, even if I don’t know what that outcome might be.
This is the choice: I can choose to try to control the outcome, or I can trust in the moment.
I choose trust.