You know the pattern.
“If I just send one more email, I’m sure to get their attention.”
“My spouse needs reminding … again. On second thought, I’ll just take care of this myself.”
“If I can maneuver things so my coworkers’ mistakes are brought to light, the boss will see I’m the one who deserves the raise.”
Are you trying too hard to make something happen? This is certainly a tricky area. While persistence is generally a good quality, too much prodding can backfire.
When Push Comes to Shove
When you push too hard, it creates resistance. When you sit back altogether, though, your request could get lost in the shuffle.
Which brings me to one of my favorite philosophies – The Prunes Theory of Life: Three enough? Six too many?
Doing your best – and then letting go – is the optimum path. When you try too hard to force things in your life, you make yourself miserable. And you could come off as desperate. Over time, you can even develop a mindset of lack, and this chips away at your sense of self worth.
Calling All Control Freaks
Flash bulletin: you really can’t control anyone else. What you can control, however, is the way you respond to their actions. And the level of proactivity you bring to bear in any situation. Calling all prunes …
Let’s look at a couple of examples. If you’re in a relationship that’s more one-sided in terms of love and attention, you may try to cajole or manipulate your significant other into loving you more. Guilt and blackmail could even find their way into the equation – consciously or subconsciously.
If you want a promotion at your work place, do you find yourself going to extremes to prove your value – even intimidating coworkers? You may temporarily score a success or two, although it’s likely these ill-gotten gains will sustain you in the long term.
When you try to guilt and shame people into doing things, you’re counting on fear and anxiety to make them act. And that’s not a very solid foundation.
Don’t Fence Yourself In
The lure of control is beautifully illustrated by authors Marc and Angel Chernoff in their book, Getting Back to Happy. The authors compare and contrast human needs with those of animals in one section. “If you want to control the animals, give them a bigger pasture. If you have a pasture full of animals and they’re all acting rowdy, can you really expect yourself to control them?”
“No,” the authors say. “What you can do, though, is give them a larger pasture. Let them roam. Let them graze and wander. By giving them extra space, you’ll see that relinquishing control can be freeing – and can even give you a new perspective on what’s really important.”
Stepping back and allowing certain things to happen means these things will take care of themselves – one way or another. “Trust and allow” is a phrase I learned in a seminar many years ago. While you may not get the result you’re trying to force, another opportunity may well present itself.
I know this can be hard to swallow. Platitudes like “it just wasn’t mean to be” can be hard to stomach when you’ve given your blood, sweat, tears, heart and soul” toward something.
Letting go in this manner doesn’t mean giving up, however. It’s just means you’re freeing yourself from any obsessive attachments that life has to go a certain way for you to be happy. In this season of Oscar nominations, think of it as life “redirecting” you.
Try this outlook, as described by the Chernoffs. Show up in your life every day with the intention to be your best self – without being obsessed with life to go a certain way. Have goals and dreams, take purposeful action, and build great relationships. Just detach from those specific outcomes you think you must have.
Sometimes I say, “I wouldn’t have scripted things this way.” Yet, whatever action that occurred in the scenario is exactly what was needed to propel me forward. We don’t always have all the answers. And, believe it or not, there can be other ways – and better ways – to reach our destinations.
Here’s a concept to try on, put forth by blogger Akirah Robinson. Perhaps life isn’t about getting what we want – when we want it. Perhaps life is meant to be lived, not forced.
When you hold onto any one plan too tightly, you’re cutting off the circulation of other things that could flow into your life. In fact, by insisting on what you want – exactly as you see it – you could be severely limiting yourself.
Never force anything. Trust and allow that things are working out for your highest good – even when it’s not evident at the moment.
Give those in the situation a bigger pasture. It doesn’t mean you’re putting yourself out to pasture. Quite the contrary. You’re just not fencing yourself in.
To paraphrase Hans Solo’s quote to Luke Skywalker in the Star Wars movies, “May the Force not always be with you.”