Believe in nothing, no matter who says it, even if I say it, if it does not agree with your own experience and your own common sense ~ Buddha

Ask a control freak why they are the way they are. I’ll bet they’ll tell you that everything “just works better” when you stay on top of matters.

In other words, it makes them feel secure. And security is, in a large measure, directly related to how happy you are. So plumbing the motivations behind control gets pretty complex, pretty fast. What’s more complex than individual happiness?

Everyone needs a certain amount of control in their life; the amounts differ, and are occasionally quite polarizing  (Type A vs Type B for instance)But what, really, are we trying to control for? Our ideal outcome. By managing the variables in such a way that we can accurately assess and recalibrate the situation at appropriate intervals, we hope to ensure our ideal outcome.

The Fallacy of Control

They two fallacies I come across most often are:


  • thinking I can control enough variables to actually affect the outcome
  • thinking that my deal outcome is the ideal outcome; better for me and those around me than any other conceivable outcome

Hello, god complex.

Seriously, though, I doubt any of us actually think that we know best. We simply soothe ourselves by thinking that in the vast scheme of reality, our plucking at strings on the web of possibility that surrounds us, might make some discernible difference in the overall melody. It’s what prevents us from being total fatalists; the idea that our efforts might make a difference.

Because it all depends on how you measure difference, right?

Statistically, of course, .2% change is negligible. But if that change means that your child stops getting picked on in the first grade, suddenly, it matters. It matters a lot.

Where the system breaks down is when we tell ourselves that by controlling for enough variables, we can control the outcome. It’s too simplistic a formula.

What we’re doing is obsessive-compulsive. It’s irrational, but it makes us feel better.

Step on a crack and you’ll break your mother’s back

A series of small changes (that is, controlled variables) is more likely to be predictive. But not if you’re measuring the wrong things. In reality, right-thinking, proper focus on a tiny handful of things you can really affect would be more useful. But, conversely, not make you feel as good.

Your choice: Make real changes? Or feel better?


So, you think I’m out to lunch? Why? Where did my reasoning break down?What’s your conclusion? Talk back to me in the comments.

Comments on: "Make Real Changes. Or Feel Better. Not Both" (8)

  1. … proper focus on a tiny handful of things you can really affect would be more useful. But, conversely, not make you feel as good.

    You’re assuming that making small, realistic changes that actually add up to a measurable effect on reality – be that subjective (personal) or objective reality – won’t make a person feel in control, satisfied, happy, productive.

    Why wouldn’t it? Why assume that a person must be extremely expansive and thus less effective with their attempted changes/controls in order to be happy?

    • *cackles* Haha! Bait!

      Yes, I actually do think it’s possible. But I positioned it that way to see if I could make the case that stepping away from controlling the outcome (e.g. ‘helping’) might ultimately be more effective, albeit less satisfying.

      For instance, I’m upset by sex trafficking, but I’ve got to stop and look at whether donating to any of the very worthy organizations might be a knee-jerk ‘control’ reaction which may well end in me complacently feeling “I’ve done my part”. Instead, can I look at what else I might do, like raising awareness about sexuality and sexualization that numbs people to unhealthy dynamics. Maybe I could support and organization in India into their research into sex trafficking. It may well be that I come back to making a donation, but with the awareness that with the resources and tools I posess, that is the best use of them.

      whew! How clear was that?

      • Crystal clear, as usual. 😉

        We talked more about this in email, but I think the easiest way to sum up is to acknowledge that each individual has a unique capacity for helping and they have to act within that capacity. Perhaps all a person can do is pray; they don’t have the means or connections to do more. Or perhaps a person can go physically volunteer for a cause in another country. Whatever one’s own capacity is will determine how much one can do, and within that range is how much one is willing to do. That ratio of willing:able influences the likelihood of the action being a conscience-balm, I think.

        Hope that made sense…

      • “That ratio of willing:able influences the likelihood of the action being a conscience-balm”

        YES. I am so lucky to have smart readers. I’manna steal this, kay?

  2. Bait or not, it’s actually making sense!

    ~ Ties together with “How much time and energy am I willing to invest in XYZ, in order to feel good about myself and my existence?”

    I hadn’t thought about that in terms of “control”, though – good points. (Because I’ve never thought of myself as a Control Freak?)

    • Never? Type B, I’m guessing? I come from a family and a community of control freaks, so it’s pretty much my sea level. Not much of the laissez-faire attitude.

      I’m glad it make you look at things a little differently. That’s what I aim for!

      • Type B? Not sure – I ‘heard a lot about’ those distinctions, but was never really clear on the definitions – got a good reference / resource?
        I *did* grow up pretty much working for other people’s ideal outcome, not so much my own. (Gee, yathink maybe that’s why it’s been so hard to figger out what they are??) (Personal AHah! Moment, there 😉 )

        Bright Blessings ~ Karen

      • Maybe conflict-avoidance, and external approval *was* your ideal outcome. Or, more probably, the only way you thought of to gain your ideal outcome.

        Just google type b personality traits and you’ll find out all you never wanted to know. 🙂

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