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Is Control an Illusion?

What an amazing experience to give my first TEDx talk last month on rethinking control. The video is now available to watch at

Here's a little self-test to see how much you like to be in control. Do you think you could relinquish control and allow your car to drive itself? The automobile industry has made tremendous advances over the past decade with perhaps the biggest change being self-driving vehicles. However, researchers at the University of Washington found that Americans' prefer to drive themselves over having an autonomous vehicle drive them. Not surprisingly, most of us prefer to be in control when driving and the idea of trusting a machine to maneuver around traffic is still difficult to fathom. Not only is the computer system more complicated and complex than we can understand, but fear related to glitches in technology can seep into our psyche. And though we are told the drivers of these cars are still meant to be vigilant, the media is having a field day with people who are sleeping while their self-driving vehicle is racing down the highway. Personally, I can't imagine mustering enough confidence and trust in a self-driving car to sleep while its computer navigates the roadway, especially since this technological advancement hasn't been fully perfected and accidents have been reported. But perhaps the bigger issue relates to society's increased trust of machines over humans.

Some people have already moved in that direction and interact better with devices than with human beings. Sadly, we are spending more and more time in front of screens and less in front of real people. Interacting with a device may be easier for those who have had uncomfortable or even painful experiences interacting with people, and interacting with a screen lets them avoid being vulnerable. Trusting other humans may be difficult because of past hurt or trauma. Or maybe we have a skills deficit and lack confidence in our ability to develop and nurture long-term relationships. Emotionally connecting with others can be complicated and messy and some of us decide to avoid the effort. Relationships, like self-driving vehicles, require a certain level of trust and risk. We have to give up some control in both situations.

Surprisingly, control can come in many different forms including passive-aggressiveness, withholding, manipulation and aggressiveness. We can exert control over others through our words, actions, and/or choices. Even worrying and care taking of others are forms of control. We often obsess about things we can't control, yet we anticipate the future and try to control the outcome through our thoughts. This robs us of the joy of the present and keeps us stuck. If we worry about past events, which we obviously can't change, we also miss out on the present. To reduce this dwelling on the past or the future, create two worry lists and place your items of concern in either the "I have control box" or the "I have no control" box. Problem solve the issues you can control and let go of the items you can't control by releasing them, or giving them to God. To avoid attempting to control others through care taking, practice letting go and watch what happens. Often when we relinquish control, we gain more of it, which is sometimes called the paradox of control. I believe that control is an epidemic in our society, but also an illusion and highly overrated. Recognize the tremendous power and freedom in letting go of control.

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