Our Lack of Control

Our Lack of Control

Individually we have so little control of what occurs in our lives. The weather, the news, the actions of others, it's all out of our control. That lack of control is hard to accept for a species that has flourished because of its ability to control. We learnt to control fire. We learnt to control plants and animals to meet our own needs. We tamed the environment and shaped it to our will. So when faced with things completely out of control it's not in our nature to accept it.

Our responses to a lack of control can vary. But it usually falls somewhere between "attempting to control everything" and "worrying about our lack of control". In the middle are those who let whatever happens, happen and deal with the consequences. Each person has a unique approach to this. But are any of these approaches right?

Control All

Attempting to control everything is destined for failure. We can influence others but no one's influence is infallible. The most uncontrollable factors in our lives are other people. They're guided by their own principles, their own experiences, and their actions are hard to predict. We can attempt to control them through rules, manipulation, or threats but those are rarely long term solutions. Eventually, attempts to control others will leave them wary of your actions.

Worry 24/7

If you do accept your complete lack of control, it can lead you to a constant state of worry. If everything is out of your control then life is completely unpredictable. The worst outcomes have as high a probability as any other in all situations. This can lead to unbearable, constant anxiety and a fear of everything. Rather than wearing others out, you eventually wear yourself out.

Each approach is a response to the knowledge that few things are in our control. Either you fight against it or you accept it and the internal turmoil that comes with that.

Whatever happens, happens

Accepting your lack of control can also come with inner peace. Rather than worrying about what could happen you can choose to focus on what does happen. It seems like the ideal response. You'll be less stressed about the future and also not trying to exert control on others. It's relaxing to imagine but hard to accomplish.

But that acceptance can lead to an acceptance of the status quo. A reluctance to fight against things out of your control because you believe it's inevitable. It brings a huge personal relief but at what cost?

A healthy range

Instead, I believe the answer lies around the middle of the spectrum. Rather than a fixed point, there's a healthy range towards either end that's best.

In most cases, not worrying about potential outcomes is best. Especially when you find yourself worrying about inconsequential details.

But in some cases, you need to attempt to exert some control or influence. Sometimes the desired outcome is only possible with some intentional pushing towards it. Influence isn't always manipulation and finding the right amount that you can exert can be useful.

In other cases, a healthy bit of worrying can help you be better prepared. It can help you be more thorough and consider the possibilities you hadn't before. It's only when it gets to the point that you're worrying about things you can't act on that it becomes useless.


I'm not sure how you stick to this healthy range. I struggle with this lack of control myself and fluctuate between either end of the spectrum. I guess as with anything else in life it takes practice. It takes awareness and introspection to know when you're leaving that range.

Maybe over time, you develop internal alarms that are triggered whenever you step out of bounds. Whatever it takes, our response to our lack of control is in our control. How we react, is up to us.