Losing Control in August

Time waits for no man!

I can’t believe it’s August already! And you know what that means – time for a new challenge!

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July’s Not-So-Smartphone challenge was a fantastic learning experience, and now that August has arrived I’m looking towards this next challenge with excitement and a healthy dose of fear. The past challenges have all been about giving something up – coffee, makeup, my smartphone, etc. However, this month’s challenge is going to mix things up a bit. This month, I’ll be altering my routine by adding different activities. All of these activities are meant to get me out of my comfort zone. If you have ever spent any time with me, you know that I am most comfortable when I am in control. So for August, I’ll be forcing myself into a range of situations where I feel solidly out of control or, at the very least, not in control.

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August’s challenge comes to me from my mom who, over the years, has seen me crave, demand, and depend on being in control over the situations that unfold around me. My need for control isn’t a new development, either. When I was young (5-6 years old), I was so risk averse that I didn’t want to play video games. Not because I was too cool for video games, but because I couldn’t control whether I would win or whether I was any good at playing the game. Those two unknowns were enough to make me not want to play at all. To this day, I tend to avoid situations where I don’t feel that I have some control over the process or the outcome. Instead, I stick with situations that I know I’m good at and where I know I have at least some kind of control. Some would go so far as to call me a “control freak,” but to me it’s just normal to exert myself and my will in my own life. But…I can see how that could get out of hand.

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I had a chat with my mom to get all the details for the challenge. In talking about the motivation behind the challenge, she expressed the peace that can come by letting things go beyond my control: “You tend not to be a risk taker. I mean, it’s not that you don’t take risks. But you really try to mitigate risks and control the outcomes. And I’m very much the same way. But recently, in the last 10 years or so, I have been putting myself in situations where I try to let go of control, and I think there’s a lot to be learned by doing that. It takes courage. And it can lead you to a more calm and relaxed place when you’re not worried about being in control or controlling the outcome of things. If you can learn to go with the flow, and take it as it comes, and not worry about the end result. I mean, of course there are times when you need to exert control because the outcome is important. But allowing yourself to not have that control when the outcome is not that important, or won’t result in your death or something, then it’s actually relaxing. Some wonderful and unexpected things can happen that you might not have ever planned for yourself or allowed to happen otherwise.”

I think she’s got a point. Don’t get me wrong – this challenge is definitely going to have its ups and downs – but I’m looking forward to seeing if there’s a nice zen light at the end of the control tunnel .

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So, what do I have to do challenge my state of control? Here’s what my mom had to say: “You’re going to have a series of activities to do. When you’re doing the activities, I want you to have a conscious mindset of letting go of control. Hopefully the activities will help you, but even then you need to be mindful of your desire to exert control over those activities. Plus in general, keep a mindset of letting go of control as much as you can even when you’re not doing the activities. If you’re in a situation where the outcome won’t be detrimental to you or your budget or whatever, then I would like you to step away from the decision making and just go with it.”

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So, what are these “activities” you speak of?

Over the next 25 days, I’ll have to complete all of the following eight activities:

  • Let a stranger decide my coffee order (I can set price parameters)
  • Let a stranger decide my food order (I can set price and basic nutrition parameters)
  • Let a friend of a friend (someone I don’t know well) buy my groceries for a week (I can give them a cash budget and basic nutritional guidelines)
  • Join 1-2 Meetup groups and go to at least one Meetup alone, with no backup
  • Climb a rock wall (I have to try until exhausted to get to top of the wall, so I need to earnestly attempt it at least  a few times)
  • Go rollerskating
  • Spend a half-day doing something that someone else plans, where I have no control over any part of the activity (I can ask how to dress)
  • Do Mom’s “Surprise Activity” with no questions asked (the point of this is simply not knowing what the activity will be or when it will be happening; i.e. “embracing the unknown”)

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I know to some this may not seem like much, but each of these activities will take me out of my control comfort zone in their own unique way. As much as I’m dreading them, I’m also excited to try them out. Having this blog is a big part of that courage!

By the end of the challenge, my mom and I both hope that I’ll find peace with leaving things outside of my direct control and influence. I hope I’ll have some practice being more flexible, and learn not to sweat the small stuff. I know my mom hopes that I’ll realize things don’t always need to be planned, measured, or charted out – that it’s okay to go with the flow. Learning to do that will not only make me stress less, but could also improve my life overall. As my mom said: “I hope you learn to embrace the possibilities that can come when you stop trying to control the situation – you may discover all kinds of new things.”

So fasten your seatbelts, things are about to get out of control!

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