Challenge the thought. At meQ, we call them “thinking traps”—those thoughts that keep you stuck in a miserable shame spiral. Miss a deadline? You’ll lose your job. Someone else gets a promotion? You must be horrible and barely worth the air you breathe. This is called “maximizing,” meaning that everything that goes differently than you planned will cause a catastrophe. Which of course it won’t. (More on why thinking traps have you stuck.)
The next time a thought like that pops up in your head, don’t let it slip by so quickly. Grab it by the collar and demand: How do you know this is true? Is there any proof? Nope, not likely. And he’ll slump away. Don’t let runaway thoughts pull one over on you. Scrutinize it, and see it as the comic interpretation of your fear that it is, not a reflection of reality.
Expose the belief. Iceberg Beliefs are ideas about the world, yourself, and other people which were formed in your childhood and persist to this day. You may not see it, because only the tip of the iceberg shows. For control freaks, the governing belief is that “I am in charge of everything.” When you say it out loud it seems ridiculous. But until you address where these beliefs are rooted, it’s hard to unroot them. (More on how Iceberg Beliefs cause hair-trigger emotions.)
Where in your life did you come to believe that you alone could make the world stay on course? What happened in your youth that made you fear not being in control, and what did it involve? Understanding what’s fueling you will help you make that cognitive shift.
Put someone else in charge. Yup. Do the thing you can’t imagine: Hand over responsibility—for a project, a trip, a party—and instead of masterminding everything, go along for the ride. When you feel that inner itch to reach over and snatch it back, resist. (This is also known as trusting, and yes, it has a value aside from making you crazy with doubt and fear.) The world started without you and it will run along without you. Recognizing that there are other capable forces keeping it in rotation will remind you that you’re not actually running everything, nor do you have to.
Embrace the chaos. Practice giving up control as a game in a playful context so it’s not so threatening. Try a new sport or activity. Wander through town on a weekend without having a set destination or any expectation of what the day will bring. If you’re single, going on a date with a stranger presents an ongoing opportunity to face the unpredictable. The only rule is to do this without judgment—of yourself or anyone else. Because being judgy will up the stress factor big time.
I enrolled in improvisational acting classes last year and am still doing it, even if it terrifies me. While I’m a confident public speaker, and have done tons of media, I’m always prepared. So the very idea that I was supposed to walk out onto a stage without knowing what will happen, trusting my creativity, instinct, and fellow players (not to mention sense of humor) to get me from one end of a scene to another is terrifying. But I did it. And I’m still doing it. You don’t have to be a performer to give improv a chance. It’s an amazing way to face and befriend your inner control freak. Because sometimes not knowing can also be part of the fun.