The Accuracy of Influence

A couple of days ago I read an article about a pitcher who was changing his mental focus to only what he could control: His mechanics (throwing the ball).

I thought this was interesting. If he is so certain that he can control his mechanics, why would he ever have a problem with them in the first place? Doesn’t he control them?

Was he not able to control them before and now he can? If he controls his pitches now, should we expect that he will never throw an errant pitch from this point forward?

Then today I read an article that suggested I shift my mindset to one of personal control in order to avoid blaming the outside world for the circumstances of my life. I thought this was a step in the right direction, but it didn’t go far enough.

Here is why personal control is a broken concept. If I take the concept of control strictly, I must do two things when I make a mistake: 1) Blame myself, and 2) engage in denial, repression, avoidance, and other types of magical thinking in an effort to ignore the obvious: I don’t have control.

I understand self-blame is often viewed as a position of strength and personal responsibility, but it really isn’t. Certainly it’s stronger than blaming others, but it isn’t nearly as strong as an accurate understanding of our limited influence. And this is where control is weak. It stems from a fear of accurately understanding our limits.

The truth is that control is a relatively weak, insecure position relative to influence. Think about it in terms of relationships. Does anyone like being in a relationship with a controlling person? Only people who are feeling weak and insecure in relationships feel the need to try to control. To counter the weak, insecure feeling, they react in an opposite direction by trying to exert control.

The alternative to forcing control is trusting influence. Do you like being in trusting relationships? When we trust, we feel no need to control. We sense that influence is adequate. We simply trust things will work out even if they do not unfold perfectly according to our wishes. With trust comes incredible confidence.

Back to pitching and other actions. Personal influence over one’s body is a type of relationship. Often, it works exactly as intended. For example, the other day I had a physical examination. My blood pressure was the best it’s been in 25 years, and my blood numbers were all better than least year. Thus, my body’s health is working the way I intended in many ways.

Despite my influence over my body, I am acutely and accurately aware of the limits of my control over it. If my body was under my control I’d be much stronger and faster than I am. I’d be a 43 year-old NFL football player, and I wouldn’t have chronic numbness or weakness in my left leg. For that matter, if my body was under my control, I would not have hit numerous slices and hooks the other day at the driving range.

But I don’t control my body. I influence it. When I forget my influence, which is normal, I blame the world for my thoughts, feelings, and imperfect actions. When I overstep my influence and find myself yearning a desire to control, I get confused and frustrated when things don’t work as I intended. When I see my influence accurately, I trust that things have worked out very nicely for me so far and will continue to do so, until they don’t, at which point I will do my best to deal with it.

Unless we live with pathological denial, each person experiences a moment in life when he or she confronts the illusion of control. This moment can be met with horror and panic, or it can be met with trust, confidence, and the knowledge that errant thoughts, feelings, and actions don’t really exist. There are no mistakes. Every effect is perfectly aligned with its causes, and every cause is an effect of something that preceded it. We are constantly moving thoughts, feelings, and actions in a world – and a body – we don’t control but do influence.

When we clutch control too tightly, we may experience a momentary increase in confidence and focus, but we are setting ourselves up for eventual failure. When we understand the limits of control and the accuracy of influence, we set ourselves up for trust, confidence, understanding, and personal power.

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