Understanding Our Need For Control

Written by on March 21, 2017 in Breaking Barriers, Self-Awareness

Understanding Our Need for Control


Every day we face circumstances that test our nerves and ability to keep our life on course, from traffic jams and the weather to unexpected change, and the inexplicable behavior of others. For some, there will be larger life events, a health crisis, physical injury, or the loss of a loved one.

The nature of these examples vary widely, and yet there is a single thread that runs through them that affects us in a very deep way, they trigger our need for a sense of control.

External versus Internal Control

Control is a profound need that most of us try hard to deny, even to ourselves, because there is a certain negative perception. After all, nobody wants to be called controlling.

What we need to understand is that there is a BIG difference between the external need for the type of control that involves exerting power, particularly over others, and the internal need to feel a sense of control over the quality and course of our own life.

The only person you are destined to become is the person you decide to be. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

Research has shown that people who have a strong sense of internal control are happier and more successful in life because they believe that their actions have a direct effect on their outcomes and that it is within their ability to create positive change in their life.

  • They believe they are masters of their own fate.
  • They avoid falling into the pits of anxiety and depression.
  • They recover from illness faster.
  • They are more open to new ideas, which promotes personal growth.
  • They take more risks and experience a deeper sense of self-satisfaction.

In contrast, those who have little belief in their ability to control their own lives tend to be easily influenced by the opinion of others, blame outside circumstances for their mistakes and credit their successes to luck or fate rather than to their own efforts.

Cultivating a Sense of Control

No matter where you are in your life now, or what your background may be, it is within your power to develop a sense of control if you are willing to commit to taking responsibility for your own life.

Listed below are a few strategies to guide you and at the end of the post you’ll find links to more related reading.

OWN Your Choices

Accepting responsibility for the role you’ve played in creating the life you are living right now is fundamental to establishing a sense of control. While it is true there will always be things we have no control over, we always (always!) have control over our responses.

Learning to make the right choices for the life you want to create for yourself takes self-awareness and practice, but it is a skill that anyone can master in time.

OWN Your Mistakes

We all make mistakes, but not everyone is willing to admit it. Blaming others, fate or bad luck is giving away your power while admitting and owning your mistakes is taking responsibility for your life. You don’t have to beat yourself up over every little misstep but you can’t learn from something you don’t acknowledge.

The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any. ~Alice Walker

OWN Your Accomplishments

Again, you can’t learn from something you don’t acknowledge. Recognizing even your smallest accomplishments makes you feel competent and able to face whatever challenges come your way.

Most of us have a tendency to focus only on big impressive successes and discount (or completely ignore) the small daily wins. But it is these small events that collectively help us to gain valuable experience and confidence that leads to growth and more success.

You don’t have to wave a flag to draw attention to your achievements, but you might try writing about them in a journal at the end of each day.

This process is more than simple record keeping, it provides you with a place to explore your thoughts and feelings about your journey and serves as a valuable resource as you continue to grow.

OWN Your True Self

The ability to look at yourself objectively and appreciate all of your quirky bits and pieces without judgment is a necessary component not only for a sense of control but for genuine happiness.

Developing self-awareness enables you to identify and focus on activities that highlight your strengths and develop your weak points, even as you learn to embrace the value of appreciating all that makes you, uniquely YOU.

OWN Your Dreams

It’s never too late to take charge of your life or to dream a new dream … but you must accept that there is a price to be paid. Many of us harbor wonderful, wild, glorious dreams for the life we want to live. Unfortunately, more often than not these dreams are destined to remain on the (mental) shelf gathering dust because we like the idea of the dream, but only if we don’t have to do the work.

We convince ourselves that we’re waiting for the right time or opportunities, we wait for approval or validation from others and eventually we tell ourselves that we have too many commitments, that we’re too set in our ways or too old to start anything new. Of course, these are all just excuses, but they make it easier for us to avoid doing the work to make those dreams a reality.

If you have a dream, why not choose now to take the first step to OWN it. Remember, you are the architect of your life!

You can’t just hope for happy endings. You have to believe in them. Then do the work, take the risks. ~Nora Roberts

The need to feel a sense of control in our lives is essential to our mental, emotional and physical well-being, and all human beings Women Breaking Barriersneed it.

In fact, the very nature of this concept was the driving force behind our little eBook Women Breaking Barriers. This inspiring collection contains the stories of fourteen women who took control of their own lives, often overcoming significant challenges in the process.

You can download a copy for free here: Women Breaking Barriers

I hope you’ve found value in this article and that it’s helped you to gain a greater appreciation for the value of cultivating a sense of internal control. Please consider sharing your thoughts and experiences on this topic by leaving a comment below.

Related reading:
Let today be the day you give up who you’ve been for who you can become.
About Marquita Herald

Marquita Herald

Marquita is an author, resilience coach and the chief evangelist at Emotionally Resilient Living. She’s also an unapologetic workaholic who loves red wine, rock n’ roll, road trips (and car dancing!), peanut butter cookies and (especially) a dog named Lucy.

She’s saddened and frustrated by excuses and cruelty and believes authentic compassion is the most powerful force in the world.

To learn more about Marquita and the mission of Emotionally Resilient Living click here.

Thank you for sharing!

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  1. Tuhin

    I felt so happy to read this piece, Marquita. Happy because I take full responsibility for every action in my life and never blame anyone for my sorrows.
    I could relate to this post.
    Thank you for making my day.

  2. Sue Kearney says:

    I so needed to see this today, thanks! The search for new housing and how hard it hit me this time has been so difficult. And I have felt “at effect” so much more than I’ve felt “at cause.” Yuck.

    I am moving next Monday, to a town 40 miles from the East Bay. I’m going to be a small-town woman. I’m leaving my community of the last twelve years.

    And now I’m going to start standing tall in my choice, and OWNING it!
    Sue Kearney recently posted…The journey Home.My Profile

    • I’ve thought of you often through this latest move Sue! It seems that since I’ve known you your life has been in constant transition, and while I know that can’t be easy I’m confident that you will use this experience to help others. Hope the move goes smoothly for you! 🙂

  3. Julie Gorges

    Your article had so many good points. Taking personal responsibility for our actions, acknowledging our dreams and accomplishments, and the importance of taking control of our lives. Couldn’t agree more with everything you wrote! Thanks for sharing the wise advice!
    Julie Gorges recently posted…Happiness in Life’s Simple PleasuresMy Profile

  4. Sushmita

    Lovely, and a needed post as however strong we are, at some point or the other, feel tired when working on your dream. Although we’re not alone, sometimes it feels that way.Posts like you share help in providing the push needed. Thank you for being there for us 🙂
    Sushmita recently posted…Feeding your Mind with the Right ContentMy Profile

  5. Kathleen O'Keefe-Kanavos

    External vs Internal control is such a big issue AND I love how you bring our dreams into the equation. Dreams are the Sacred Doorways to answers from our Inner-guidance that can reassure us that letting go is good. If I had not let go of my desire to control my life, and let God guide me through dreams, I would be dead and this comment would not be written. Your blog is important.

  6. Terry

    I love this !! I sometimes see my control as the enemy but identifying which type of control it is was very helpful !!

  7. Vatsala Shukla

    I love both quotes, Marquita, especially Emerson’s. I make it a point to take ownership of my decisions and actions and while it is easier to blame others when things go wrong, I know that by taking ownership of my mistakes, I am in a position to change things and keep my self-respect. Thanks for a lovely post. it’s given me much food for thought.
    Vatsala Shukla recently posted…How to discover your Life Purpose and Fulfil Your DestinyMy Profile

  8. cheryl

    I have always been a bit of a control freak, probably not in a good way. It does make me happier when I have more control over things though.

    • As long as you are able to find a balance between the things you can and cannot control in a way that minimizes stress and keeps you happy then you have found your sweet spot! Thanks for stopping by Cheryl.

  9. You are SO right, Marquita. The freedom to make our own choices is both empowering and as scary as all get out (Dad phrase). But I like taking leaps of faith.
    RoseMary Griffith recently posted…Carnegie Museum Natural History, PittsburghMy Profile

  10. Suzie Cheel

    The only person you are destined to become is the person you decide to be. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson
    I love this Marty Des and i had the beach discussion this morning on me stepping back into being Just ME and i come here and read this , love how often we are on the same wave length.
    yes do the work and take risks- thank you xxx
    Suzie Cheel recently posted…Rebooting My Book ProjectMy Profile

    • I’m so glad you enjoyed the article Suzie, and I am thrilled that you are back on track with your book! I believe you have an important story to tell that will benefit many people. 🙂

  11. Jen Monks

    I have a strong sense of internal control and I do believe I am happier because of it. The more I control, the less anxiety I have. I just have to make sure I don’t turn into a control freak!
    Jen Monks recently posted…17 Powerful Quotes from Pioneering BusinesswomenMy Profile

  12. Hi Marquita, you did a great job .
    The greatest thing we can achieve in our personal development is to develop the ability to take charge of our lives.
    Thanks for sharing this.
    Taiwo Emayosanlomo recently posted…Why Your Life is Not the Way You Want It To BeMy Profile

  13. Rosary says:

    What a great post! Sometimes I have trouble accepting my failures and mistakes as my own, the tendency to blame external forces is always there. But I totally agree with what you’ve written. Thank you for sharing!
    Rosary recently posted…CNY getaway (part II: Singapore photo trail)My Profile

    • I hear you Rosary. The problem is it becomes very easy to fall into the trap of placing ‘blame’ when there are external circumstances involved. But blaming is the ego’s playground where all things become “about me” while taking responsibility breeds accountability, which es clear, clean and balanced communication with both ourselves and others. Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts, always appreciated!

  14. Mark

    Thank you for sharing and defining the major differences between external and internal control M!

    And I really love the quotes from both Ralph Waldo Emerson and Alice Walker.

    And your excellent advice under both the “Own your accomplishments and “Own your true self” sections are extremely enlightening and encouraging!

    And as soon as I starting reading the section under “Own your dreams” a big smile immediately came across my face!LOL!

    Because I’m sure I personally hold records for constantly using any number of those flimsy excuses, countless numbers of times!LOL!

    Thanks for blowing my cover M!Now I’ll definitely have to find some new, far more creative ways and places to hide!
    Mark recently posted…So How Many Small Business Owners Constantly Miss Out Because They Don’t Do This?Part TwoMy Profile

    • I’m glad you found value in the post Mark. I have a hard time thinking of you in terms of making excuses or hiding, but if my advice has encouraged you to think about some of these things then I’m glad. Always appreciate your thoughtful comments my friend. 🙂

  15. What a fabulous article, Marty! It is filled with so many excellent quotes that I will pin for future reference. I will check out the e-book!
    Doreen Pendgracs recently posted…striking it rich at Aeschbach Chocolatier in RootMy Profile

    • I’m so glad you enjoyed the post Doreen, and I hope you do grab a copy of the book. It was a wonderful project and I know we’re all proud of the results. Thanks for stopping by!

  16. PhoeniciaO

    Control – we have far less of it than we would like to think. I like your point about the distinct difference between needing to have control over and others and having control over our own lives.

    I doubt there is anyone in this world who does not have a gift or a skill they can put into practice. You mentioned the old cliche of excuses, I can think of a few;
    “I do not have enough time”
    “I do not have enough money”
    “It is not the right time”

    These are often just excuses to justify not moving forward with a project. I know – I have uttered the very same words. Deep down you know you should do it but you allow your fears to pull you back.

    Thank you for promoting your E-book which I happen to feature in. Hearing the experiences (some rather painful) of others serves as encouragement.
    PhoeniciaO recently posted…Do you need to develop your listening skills?My Profile

    • I’m glad you found value in the article Phoenicia. Actually, I believe that most people have far more control than they are willing to accept. Take relationships for example. I often get questions about how to deal with an unpleasant relative or uncooperative spouse. The culprit in nearly every case is a lack of healthy boundaries, and I’d be rich if I had a dollar for every time I’ve pointed this out and heard “Yes, I know but it’s just so hard to say no” or “but it makes me feel guilty to put myself first.”

      These people may not be able to control the behavior of others (we seldom can), but they have full control over their own behavior. They’ve made a choice and they have no one but themselves to praise or blame for the results.

      Thanks for taking the time to contribute to the conversation, always appreciated! 🙂

  17. Control. Oh boy what a topic. When I finally realized that I both have zero control and unlimited control over my life, I started (work in progress) to get my act together.
    The trick is always to know which is which within your life. Decisions mine, stuff life throws at you, well, that’s life. I’ve been most fortunate to have multiple people in my world who are shining examples of what to do when life does its best to yank your control away.
    Kick its butt.
    Love the Barrier’s ebook & keep recommending it!
    RoseMary Griffith recently posted…Carnegie Museum Natural History, PittsburghMy Profile

    • Well said RoseMary! I remember when I was interviewing with the general manager to work at Ka’anapali Beach Hotel and as we stood on the top floor of the hotel overlooking the grounds he said to me, “The exciting thing is now that we are an independent hotel we have the authority to make all the decisions about our future … the scary thing is, we have the responsibility for making all the decisions about our future.” Smart man!

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