How to be less controlling
Learning how to stop being controlling is essential to maintaining not only your own sense of peace with life, but also your professional and personal relationships. If you’ve already recognized that you exhibit signs of controlling behavior, you’re ready to begin the process of letting go of control. While learning how to be less controlling requires both diligence and courage, the fulfillment you’ll find in letting go is well worth the effort.
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1. Identify what causes your need for control
To learn how to be less controlling, you must figure out the deeper reasons that are driving it. The need for control is related to our Six Human Needs: the deepest needs that drive every thought we have and decision we make. Two needs – certainty and significance – typically drive controlling behavior. Certainty makes us feel safe and secure, as we know what to expect. Significance makes us feel loved and needed.
When we do not get these needs met in healthy ways, we learn to meet them through unhealthy means like wanting to control everything around us. Such strategies might seem to work for a while because they create a temporary illusion of safety. But ultimately, they can destroy our relationships and make us feel less certain and more lonely than ever.
2. Build your self-awareness
Once you get to the root cause of your need for control, you’ll start to become aware of how it affects both yourself and others. You may feel that your controlling behaviors help others, when in reality, you’re leaving them wondering how to deal with controlling people: you. It’s important to take a step back and ask yourself, “Are my efforts at control making a lasting difference?”
For example, suppose you have been calling your unemployed sister every week to see if she’s found a job. Rather than continue the weekly phone calls, ask yourself if your interference is helping your sister find employment. If the answer is yes (and your sister enjoys the weekly calls), keep calling. If the answer is no – stop calling. By bringing self-awareness to your behavior you invite greater sensitivity into your interactions with others and with yourself.
3. Reprogram your mind
One of Tony’s core principles is that you can reprogram your mind, which in turn reprograms your behaviors. Instead of letting your unexamined mindset run the show, letting go of control requires examining the limiting beliefs that are driving your behavior. Be intentional about your thoughts and question whether or not they are serving you.
For example, the next time you feel anxious or catch yourself wondering how to be less controlling, take a few minutes to assess the situation. Ask yourself: What am I afraid of? What about this situation is making me feel nervous? Think of your inquiries as a brainstorming session in which you are not judging anything that comes to mind. Be kind to yourself and be honest. As you learn to be mindful about your thoughts and reactions, you’ll become more self-aware, which will help you in letting go of control.
4. Ban control-oriented language from your vocabulary
When you change your words, you change your life. Learning how to be less controlling requires recognizing the role of language. Learn to recognize the language you use to exercise control – for example, couching unsolicited advice in seemingly benign language (like “have you ever considered…”) or criticizing a friend’s perspective on any given subject.
You’ll also need to change your own internal self-talk. What is your internal monologue saying when you feel the need for control? When you recognize your negative self-talk, you can replace them with empowering ones, shift your mindset and control your anxiety – and your need for control. Instead of dramatic thoughts about horrible things happening, ask yourself how realistic your fears are. What’s the worst that could happen? Learn how to be less controlling by stopping yourself before it even begins.
5. Develop your communication skills
The question of how to stop being a control freak isn’t always straightforward. You may deal with both individuals who need some level of control (like your children, your students or your employees) and those who want you to back off (like your partner and colleagues). This scenario can put you in an uncomfortable corner, but the key is communication.
The need for control can cut off our ability to connect with others, when what we need to do is cultivate empathy and emotional intelligence. Listen to your partner’s needs. Ask your colleagues how you can improve. Relinquish a bit of control with your children. The need for control doesn’t have to ruin relationships.
6. Adopt healthier habits
Healthy habits like meditation, priming and visualization can help you ease anxiety, focus your energy and allow you some breathing room to work on how to not be controlling. Self-care is another essential practice if you have a need for control. Make taking a time out part of your daily routine, and you’ll see instant benefits in your state of mind.
You can also use your need for growth to help you learn how to stop being controlling. Feed your mind with books about how to not be controlling or talk with a therapist. As you become more informed, you’ll be better able to identify your self-sabotaging behaviors and replace them with healthier ones.
7. Get an outside perspective
Instead of approaching letting go of control through your isolated efforts, enlist the support of a trusted friend or therapist. Pick someone with whom you have a strong relationship, and ask for their input on ways in which you are being controlling. By getting an outside perspective, you’re able to identify and change unconscious behaviors stemming from your perfectionism.
Ask supportive friends to bring these behaviors to your attention as they arise. Recognize that, while it can be tempting to give others advice, the best way to love someone is unconditionally, which means refraining from attempting to change them.
As time goes on, you will begin to notice that if you don’t learn how to stop being controlling, your attempts at control will begin to control you. You need to learn to let go of the past so it stops causing anxiety in the present. You can’t control everything, but you can control your attitude and approach to life.
Ready to stop controlling behavior once and for all?
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