Mar 2, 2016

Every once in awhile I like to imagine I'm in control of things. It's a nice fantasy to indulge and it strokes my sometimes-fragile ego. But while there is something nice about that thought, I can tell you with certainty that there was extreme freedom on the day that I realized I really don't control much at all. In the words of U2's Stand Up Comedy, I needed to “stop helping God across the road like a little old lady.” I don't know, maybe I thought I was pretty big stuff.
So what do I control? The short answer is---Me. I mentioned in the last post that there are really four areas of control that I can focus on and I like the simplicity of only having to think about four things. So here they are: I control what I do, what I say, what I think and what I feel. That is it. Simple, right? If only.
The first two of those things are fairly obvious, unless you like to blame others a lot. I am always fully in control of my actions and my words. I have the physical ability to act or not act on any impulse I have, which is the function of our frontal lobes. The term for this is executive function and it allows us to do or not do whatever we choose (there are instances of damage to this portion of the brain, but those are only exceptions to the rule). It also plays a role in determining what words come out of my mouth. I often run into people who claim they “don't have a filter.” It's a fun conversation to have at a party, but in reality, it is just an excuse to do damage to others by being the tell-it-like-it-is guy/girl. It is laziness and carelessness, not an actual mental disorder. It is also lack of self-control.
The last two issues of control, what I think and say, are a bit more tricky. We have all had intrusive thoughts that we do not want and need to rid ourselves of. We also occasionally have emotions that seem to take over the controls of our brain, similar to how those fun folks at Pixar envisioned in the movie Inside Out. So to say I have FULL control over those, might be overstating it a bit. However, I get to choose how long to linger on a thought that pops up in my head (or what to allow into it in the form or media or conversation). I also get to choose what to do with emotions that overwhelm me. Those thoughts and emotions can seem to force me to do things, but ultimately I have control over what I do with them. That becomes a learned task, similar to any other skill we acquire.
So that is the groundwork for what I get to control in this life. It really is as simple as those four issues. Where we get into trouble is when we begin to either feel out of control of ourselves or, more insidiously, when we begin to take over control of those things for someone else. In an upcoming post, we will discuss what happens when we fail on either end. I'm open to engagement on this. Control is such a central theme in life that I'm sure I may have ruffled some feathers. Feel free to email any responses you might have. Just remember that you are in control of what you say and how you feel when you do it.

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