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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Work Relationships

It's Time, Control Freaks: 4 Ways to Let Go of Being in Charge

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Raise your hand if you—whether bashfully or proudly—categorize yourself as a control freak. You can’t see me, but I have both of my arms straight up above my head right now.

That’s right, I said it. I love control—in fact, I crave it. I’m that steamroller who barges right in with little regard for anyone else’s thoughts or opinions and tells you how things need to happen in order to be successful.

And, while that may have gone over well during those pesky high school group projects (because there’s nothing lazy students love more than being matched up with the notorious go-getter), I’ve found that I don’t always receive a similar response now that I’m technically an adult. In fact, that approach can be downright obnoxious.

Needless to say, I’ve had to learn to take a deep breath and loosen the reins a little bit. And, while that trust and uncertainty can still be enough to make me nauseous at times, I’ve found that releasing my grip and trusting others can actually yield some pretty great results—even better than the ones I would’ve achieved all on my lonesome.

So, my fellow self-proclaimed control freaks, this goes out to you. If you’re searching for some tried and true methods to deal with your obsessive tendencies and loosen up just a bit, here are a few things that have worked for me.

1. Recognize Your Weak Spots

As I’ve already confessed, I’m that type of person who wants to swoop in and have her hands in everything—even if I’m not necessarily the best person for that particular job or task. I’d rather retain some sense of control than feel out of the loop completely.

It’s for this very reason that I’ve found it important to identify particular areas that aren’t considered my strengths. Then, I simply let go of those things and allow someone else to run with them. For example, I’ve never been great at math, so I definitely don’t do my own accounting anymore. And, I have no idea how to build a website, so I let someone else lead the charge for my online portfolio.

I still check in periodically on these things—after all, just because I’m trying to be better doesn’t mean I’ll ever be perfect. But, this tactic has still helped me greatly improve not only my anxiety and desire for complete regulation, but also my productivity!

Yes, I have the tendency to still hang onto those things that I am good at with a white-knuckle grip (and, that will probably never stop). But, those projects and tasks that aren’t necessarily my forte? I have a much easier time delegating and letting them go, because I can rest easy with the knowledge that they’re actually better off without me.

2. Start Small

I wouldn’t recommend that any control freak goes cold turkey. In fact, that’s probably a surefire way to give yourself a panic attack. So, no, I’m not saying you need to suddenly be hands-off with that ginormous project that your professional reputation is riding on. Cue a collective sigh of relief.

When it comes to giving up some control and attempting to be a little more lenient, I recommend you start smaller. Perhaps assign a specific portion of that huge project to another person or department who’s better suited to complete it. Or, work with a partner on a particular task in order to improve your collaboration skills. It can even be something as simple as asking for input and suggestions in your weekly team meeting—rather than dishing out strict demands and instructions.

Starting with these smaller changes allows you to dip your toes into that more easygoing water and adjust to the temperature, rather than spiraling into the frigid water off the high dive. Try that latter method, and I guarantee you’ll shriek the whole way down.

3. Imagine Worst-Case Scenarios

So, you’re feeling tempted to let go of some control, but still can’t manage to convince yourself to let go of the steering wheel completely. Ask yourself this question: “What’s the worst that could happen?”

At first, you might think that seems disheartening—like once you take a second to even think of the potential negative outcomes, you’ll never be able to relax and let go. But, in most cases, the worst case scenario isn’t even nearly as bad as you may have made yourself believe in your hyper-sensitized moments of sheer panic.

There are very few things that can never be undone. Even if a portion of that project comes in looking a little lackluster, you can definitely still take some steps to improve it. So, take a deep breath and remind yourself that everything’s going to be OK. Because—I promise—it will be.

4. Learn to Appreciate Uncertainty

Listen, I know that if you consider yourself a control freak, uncertainty is basically the bane of your very existence. You don’t want to deal with the unknown—you want to check all of your boxes and follow all of the right steps so that everything goes according to plan.

But, no matter how often you dole out detailed instructions or obsessively color-code your inbox, life still has a way of throwing you curveballs—both professionally and personally. And, guess what? Those curveballs aren’t always bad. In some cases, they can actually be pretty great.

Yes, you may have spent tons of time agonizing over the perfect five-year plan, but you’re still never guaranteed to know what’s coming next. So, try your best to be flexible and roll with the punches. When you’re not so busy trying to keep everything under your control, the whole process can actually be pretty thrilling.

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a complete control freak, and those tendencies can undoubtedly be difficult to stifle at times. However, I’ve discovered that it’s important to loosen up my grip every now and then in order to be a little more laidback and carefree.

It’s still not easy for me (and I don’t think it ever will be!), but I like to think I’ve at least gotten a little bit better. Although, my husband might disagree—just ask him about the labeled baskets in our refrigerator.

Do you consider yourself a control freak? What do you do to combat some of those behaviors? Let me know on Twitter!

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