In his book Yoga Beyond Belief, Ganga White — an early yoga pioneer in the US — writes:
Control is a seductive concept because it mesmerizes us with the illusion that if we could only completely control ourselves, control our actions, do our practices properly, and follow the rules, we would live in harmony and attain the goal of life and highest wisdom. On the contrary, the more controlling we are, the more hardened, rigid, and out of tune with the flow of life we can become.
The belief that if we work hard and practice hard we can achieve anything we want is at the root of the pervasive feelings of “not enough” that cause many of us to work increasingly harder and do more — at the expense of our health and wellness.
It is an illusion that leads to perfectionism and ultimately to self-aversion when things don’t work out.
This leads to a phenomenon that Rachel Simmons describes as “contingent confidence,” where our confidence is contingent on our success.
Writing about high-achieving students, she explains that,
Their faith in their own sweat equity confers a kind of contingent confidence: when they win, they feel powerful and smart. Success confirms their mindset.
The problem comes when these students fail. When they fall short of what they imagine they should accomplish, they are crushed by self-blame. If my accomplishments are mine to control, they reason, my failures must be entirely my fault, too. Failing must mean I am incapable, and maybe will be forever.
When I read that, it struck a nerve, even though I’m well past the demographic that Simmons studies, and even though my mind knows better. This is a mindset that lives deep within.
The truth is that your accomplishments are not yours to control, and that means neither are your failures. Much of our results — whether desired or not — depends on things outside of our control.
The idea that if you work hard enough you can achieve whatever you want is a myth. We need to appreciate that sometimes we can put in the work and not get the results we expected, not because we aren’t good enough, but because outcomes involve so many other factors that are not in our control.
So much of our suffering comes from the illusion that we can control our outcomes by controlling our actions.
Once we understand that control is an illusion, maybe it will become easier to give it up.