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In our fast-paced, modern lives, the desire for control is deeply ingrained in our culture. We seek control over our careers, our relationships, our finances, and even our daily routines. While a certain degree of control is necessary for stability and success, holding onto it too tightly can lead to stress, anxiety, and missed opportunities for personal growth. In this article, we’ll explore the concept of control and why learning to let go is a powerful skill that can lead to greater freedom, fulfillment, and well-being. Learning to let go of things that are outside of our control can be difficult if we are used to micro-managing every detail of our lives. However, with some practice we can start to relinquish some of the things we tend to worry about.

“Letting go gives us freedom, and freedom is the only condition for happiness. If in our heart we still cling to anything – anger, anxiety, or possessions – we can not be free.” Thich Nhat Hanh

The Illusion of Control

Many of us operate under the illusion that we have full control over our lives. We meticulously plan our futures, believing that with enough effort and determination, we can dictate the outcomes. Its as if the frontal lobe, involved in executive functions that mediate control, planning, and decision making is on hyper-drive. While planning and goal-setting are valuable tools, it’s essential to recognize that there are factors beyond our control, such as unexpected life events, the actions of others, and the natural ebb and flow of life and how projects and goals unfold. It is when we try to over-control all factors in our life and all possibilities that we run in to heightened stress, anxiety, and detachment. When we become super-fixated and over-invested in the outcome we fail to trust that things will likely work out.

We often develop a strategy for control such as perfection, fighting with ourselves or others, struggling, and over-thinking. Control is a type of survival mechanism, it is built in to our limbic system. In Buddhism, they highlight that our suffering often arises from attachment. That is attaching strongly or grasping to a positive outcome or avoiding a less desired negative outcome. Grasping is where we try to hold on to a particular way of life. We hold on to a particular concept in our mind of the way the world should work, how others should behave, and how we should be. Underlying this control, is often a deep sense of fear for what might come up. This makes sense biologically to be geared towards a positive and to avoid a negative. However, we can often expend a huge amount of energy to manufacture the outcome that we are attached to. In contrast, when we are able to step back and allow things to happen and unfold things often go a lot smoother.

The Consequences of Clinging to Control

  1. Stress and Anxiety: The relentless pursuit of control can lead to chronic stress and anxiety. Constantly worrying about every detail and potential outcome can take a toll on our mental and physical well-being.
  2. Missed Opportunities: Holding onto control too tightly can result in missed opportunities. When we’re fixated on our predetermined path, we may overlook new and unexpected possibilities that could lead to personal growth and happiness.
  3. Strained Relationships: A strong desire for control can also strain relationships. When we try to control others or demand that they fit into our plans, it can lead to conflicts and disconnection.

Control and Our Thinking

In the pursuit of happiness and well-being, we often find ourselves entangled in the complexities of our own thoughts and emotions. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is a powerful therapeutic approach that helps individuals break free from the grip of their minds, embrace acceptance, and commit to meaningful actions. When we are really gripped by control we might be unable to budge from our position, feel tension through-out the body, or feel perpetually frustrated when things deviate from our desired course.

Learning to Let Go

Learning to let go of the circumstances, outcomes, and our thinking can greatly can be a great way to freedom.

1. Accepting Your Emotions: Letting go sometimes begins with accepting your emotions, whether they are positive or negative. Instead of resisting or suppressing them, acknowledge them without judgment. Remember, emotions are a natural part of being human. If we have used strategies of control all our life it can sometime take a concerted effort to allow in emotion and feeling.

2. Embracing Your Thoughts: It’s common to have negative or intrusive thoughts. The brain at times is a layered system of thinking, judgement, memory and futurizing. Instead of trying to control or eliminate them, learn to observe them without getting entangled. Understand that thoughts are not always facts, and they don’t necessarily define you. These thoughts come and go throughout the day. Sometimes the more we try to control negative thoughts, the more they tend to evoke anxiety.

3. Surrendering Control: Letting go also means surrendering the illusion of control. Life is filled with uncertainty, and sometimes, the more we try to control it, the more it eludes us. By accepting that some things are beyond your control, you can reduce anxiety and find peace in the present moment. Set an intention, value, or aim and let the back of the mind do the leg work. Surrendering involves trusting that it will all likely work out.

4. Observing Your Thoughts: Another though strategy involves observing your thoughts from a distance. Instead of becoming fused with them, view them as passing mental events. This detachment allows you to respond more skillfully to your thoughts. Over time we can become less reactive to events and situations as we pause and choose our response.

5. Giving Thoughts Less Power: Many thoughts, especially negative ones, can have a strong influence on our behavior. Defusing from the  helps you give these thoughts less power, allowing you to act in line with your values rather than reacting to your thoughts.

6. Using Metaphors and Exercises: ACT often employs metaphors and exercises to illustrate the concept of cognitive defusion. For example, you might imagine your thoughts as leaves floating down a river, or you might repeat a troubling thought until it loses its impact.

7. Practice Mindfulness: Mindfulness involves being fully present in the moment and accepting the present without judgment. By practicing mindfulness, you can learn to let go of the need to control the future and focus on the here and now.

8. Release Perfectionism: Perfectionism often goes hand in hand with the need for control. Challenge your perfectionist tendencies by accepting that mistakes and imperfections are a natural part of life.

9. Delegate and Collaborate: In situations where you have control, consider delegating tasks or collaborating with others. Trusting in their abilities and allowing them to take the lead can relieve the burden of control.

10. Set Realistic Expectations: Recognize your limits and set realistic expectations for yourself and others. Understand that not everything will go according to plan, and that’s okay.

11. Embrace Uncertainty: Instead of fearing uncertainty, learn to embrace it. Understand that life is inherently unpredictable, and that’s what makes it exciting and full of opportunities.

12. Cultivate a Gentle Loving Approach – we can still work towards goals and dreams but by holding our intentions gently rather than forcing our agenda. Practicing loving-kindness and gratitude meditation can be a great way to soften our defences and control over things.

Benefits of Learning to Let Go

Learning to let go of control is an ongoing exercise. Some days we might be consumed by control, the mind and body can become bound up in our current anxiety and worry. However, gradually practicing the exercises above can bring many benefits.

1. Enhanced Psychological Flexibility: Learning to let go fosters psychological flexibility, which means you can adapt to life’s challenges with resilience. You become better equipped to handle difficult emotions and navigate complex situations. The strength of a tree lies in its ability to bend – Zen Proverb.

2. Greater Self-Awareness: Through acceptance, embracing the now, and letting go, you gain a deeper understanding of your inner world. This self-awareness allows you to make more intentional choices aligned with your values.

3. Improved Relationships: Letting go of control can help to improve your relationships by helping you respond thoughtfully rather than reacting impulsively. You become more empathetic and better equipped to handle conflicts.

4. Pursuit of Meaningful Goals: By letting go of barriers like self-doubt and fear, and defusing from unhelpful thoughts, you can commit to pursuing your most meaningful goals.


Learning to let go of the need for control is a transformative journey. It involves acknowledging the limits of our control, embracing uncertainty, and finding freedom in surrendering control. By practicing mindfulness, releasing perfectionism, and fostering collaboration, you can reduce stress, open yourself up to new possibilities, and cultivate more meaningful and fulfilling experiences. Letting go doesn’t mean giving up; it means allowing life to unfold naturally while you navigate it with grace and resilience.

Dr Damon Mitchell

Dr Damon Mitchell is a clinical psychologist and owner of Core Life Psychology. As a psychologist he is passionate about assisting people to transform their inner world. Damon connects and works actively with people to find pathways to hope, healing, and inner well-being. He recognises that life can be challenging and complex and takes a non-pathologizing approach to understand each persons experience.

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