“Just hold on loosely, but don’t let go. If you cling too tightly, you’re gonna lose control.” –Donnie Van Zant, .38 Special
A few years ago, I hired a personal and executive coach who quickly became a significant mentor.
One day when asking him for feedback, he said something that I have reflected on for a long time… “You seem a bit over gripped.”
As I struggled to sound humble and receptive, I noticed the voice of my inner ego racing to my defense.
What did over gripped even mean?
I had always prided myself on careful planning, efficiency, and intentionality—but I sensed there was an important life lesson for me here.
Was there a hidden cost to all my effort and planning?
The hidden cost
I believe in planning ahead, setting priorities, and being intentional with my time.
Certainly, some planning is useful—but it can quickly be taken too far.
Too much focus on planning the future can fuel unhealthy needs for control and cause us to live most of our lives in a projected mental future—that may or may not ever occur.
It robs us of the joy found only in the present moment, and the serendipity of watching life unfold with events we never could have predicted or planned.
When we have a preconceived mental picture of how things need to go in order for us to feel okay, it quickly sets the stage for frustration, agitation, and unhappiness— a lack of internal peace.
And in order to get things to go how we want them to, we devote more strategies and more time to forcing events into our mental model of how we think they should go.
We can end up fighting with life with ever increasing frequency.
Maybe you recognize some of these tendencies in yourself.
And all this planning, controlling, and pushing can generate huge amounts of tension, impatience, and restlessness.
This tension, in turn, can generate very real physical symptoms such as back pain, IBS, migraines—or more serious problems.
Most people are familiar with the term Type A Personality first described by cardiologists Freidman and Rosenman in the 1950s, which revealed that Type A behavior can double the risk for coronary heart disease.
Astonishingly, the doctors began studying this trait after noticing that some of their chairs in the waiting room had been work down at the edge of the seat.
Below is a summary of some of their findings. If I am honest, I notice many of these traits in myself:
“The hypothesis describes Type A individuals as outgoing, ambitious, rigidly organized, highly status-conscious, impatient, anxious, proactive, and concerned with time management. People with Type A personalities are often high-achieving “workaholics“. They push themselves with deadlines, and hate both delays and ambivalence. People with Type A personalities experience more job-related stress and less job satisfaction. They tend to set high expectations for themselves, and may believe others have these same high expectations of them as well. Interestingly, those with Type A personalities do not always outperform those with Type B personalities. Depending on the task and the individual’s sense of time urgency and control, it can lead to poor results when there are complex decisions to be made.”
Aside from the risks to one’s mental and physical health, Type A tendencies in relationships can manifest in several damaging ways.
When we attempt to overcontrol our teams, we are in danger of becoming micromanagers who disempower and demotivate people.
When we attempt to control our children, we can foster seeds of resentment and rebellion that surface later in life.
And if you are in a relationship or marriage, we could all heed the wise words of .38 Special—“your baby needs someone to believe in, and a whole lot of space to breathe in.”
A rather big reality check
As I reflect on my own needs for planning and control, I find it helpful to turn to the world of astrophysics.
Within the last 10 years, the Hubble telescope has discovered more than 100 billion galaxies. Scientists expect this estimate will soon grow to 200 billion.
For perspective on the sheer magnitude of the universe, the next closest galaxy to our own Milky Way is Andromeda, and it would take us 2.5 million years to get there IF we could travel at the speed of light (which we cannot yet do).
Furthermore, the center of our own galaxy is a supermassive black hole 4 million times the mass of our sun (Sagitarius A) which is a mere 25,000 light years away. This black hole devours stars and scientists don’t yet understand what happens to objects sucked into a black hole.
And even our own sun is in the process of burning out, in the grand cycle of life and death that stars have been going through for billions of years. Don’t worry, you still have about 7 billion years you could get your tan before the sun sets for the last time.
And finally, the estimated age of the universe is 13.8 billion years old.
If you really want a mind bender—right now at this very moment, wherever you are sitting, you are moving through space at about 492,126 miles per hour!
So for all of you control freaks and planners out there, how much control do you feel now?
Take action now
I want to close with an example I’ve found helpful.
Imagine you are alone in the woods being chased by a grizzly bear with one bullet left in your rifle. You stand behind a tree frantically scanning the forest for any movement.
Now imagine lying on a beach in perfect weather watching the clouds roll slowly by letting your mind wander.
In both examples, you are watching your environment. But you are going about it very differently in each case.
Many of us are so over gripped about life that we walk around stuck in fight or flight—and we carry that energy into every situation and interaction.
What happens when you carry a posture of fear, threat, and self-preservation into everything you do? Usually nothing good!
Nationally recognized pain expert Alan Gordon says it this way—“It’s not just what you do, it’s the energy with which you are doing it.”
Take some time this week to carefully observe any areas of your life where you may be over gripping, and notice the energy it may cause you to bring to the situation.
Have a great weekend!
*If you have enjoyed Parker’s blog, check out The Next Peak Podcast that Parker co-hosts. We interview successful leaders and discuss research-based principles that help people win in the workplace without compromising the things that matter most—relationships, a life of purpose, and health.
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