First published in Thrive Global on 4 September 2019

Hidden Truths and paradox

I love paradoxes, statements that seem absurd or contradictory but yet ring true when you take a more in-depth look. Paradoxes have much to teach us and I like using my mind to unravel the hidden truths inside of them. Buddhist teaching often uses this concept, they call them Koans, to demonstrate the inadequacy of our reasoning and provoke enlightenment. The end goal is freedom. Freedom arrived at by cutting through the logical mind and creating space for new and deeper understandings to arise. What does any of this have to do with control?


Order versus chaos

I can already imagine all the control freaks out there starting to arc up. Before we go too much further, I have been accused of being a control freak myself from time to time. We all have a picture of what it means to be a control freak. It has something to do with an obsessive need for self-control or control over others and situations and an eagerness to take charge of the situation. The alternative is chaos, and if you love order, you aren’t going to be that fond of chaos or going with the flow for that matter. At a minimum, it goes against the grain; it’s just not natural or comfortable. Left unchecked, the need to control causes issues both for you and for those around you.


Control, Influence, Let go

Years ago I have the good fortune to attend a leadership talk by Phillip Di Bella a Brisbane based coffee entrepreneur. One thing, in particular, he said that night was profound, I immediately wrote it down and I am reminded of it from time to time and it has become a bit of a mantra of mine.

Control what you can. Influence that which you can’t control. Let go of the rest.

Philip Di Bella

Note the order of what he said. Control, influence, let go. It’s natural that we seek to take charge; it’s a logical part of creating ‘certainty’ for ourselves. Think stock market and how much it plummets when uncertainty looms. In large part, control is an illusion. We have less to say over what happens than we think or we might like, and we falsely attribute causality when there is none. We believe we have control or are in control; we’re not. At any moment, the world could go to hell in a handbasket. Having lived through an earthquake that killed over 300 people, I know that from personal experience. Yet, the illusion persists just the same and sometimes, I find myself falling into that trap.


How we respond is the only choice we really have

We don’t have much of a say over what happens in life. Circumstances are what they are. We have a huge say in how we respond: Our response and how we ‘show up’ is completely up to us, as is the meaning we add and where we place our focus and locus of attention. Similarly, we have little say in what others think of us. Placing too much emphasis on what others think robs you of power and erodes self-esteem, especially if you are seeking validation be that from a friend, family member, colleague or boss. All human beings have a need and desire to be loved and liked,¬† beware of the price tag attached.



This is about noticing where you stop and the rest of the world begins. Instead of attempting to ensure we have all the bases covered at all times and firmly nailed down, we can use our influence to shape the course of events and those around us. Influence is the capacity to affect in an indirect and intangible way. It’s far more subtle and if you ask me more powerful than control. We influence ourselves and others through our words and deeds. When we influence those around us, this gives agency to others empowering them to act. I know this to be true in all human relationships, whether we are talking your home or professional life, the same applies. When we constantly need to control the outcome, we shut down creativity and leave no room for surprises. Moreover, when we are constantly managing the outcome, there is always “somewhere to get”, the focus is on “making it”, and the present becomes lost. We become unconscious.


Let go

Noticing where you stop and the rest of the world begins and the limits of your influence are the precursor for letting go. You can’t control everything and even thinking you can is an illusion you have bought into. There are limits to what you can and can’t do. Often all that is left to do is ask yourself meaningful questions such as, “What’s the worst thing that can happen?” “Will it matter in 5 years time?” (If the answer is no, then why stress about it in the now?) ” Can I live with the result”. One of the most productive things you can ever do is manage your mind and your thought processes.

Lastly, sometimes bad stuff happens to good people. You’re not special, no one is; you aren’t being singled out! At least, not usually. The only thing that makes any sense to do is to let go. Letting go is a kind of caused acceptance of what is; an acceptance that allows you to stop resisting what is. When you do this consciously you free yourself to the present.

Cede control to regain it and enjoy a renewed sense of freedom. It’s counter-intuitive and it works.