Being In Control vs. Being In Charge


A great Coach isn’t smarter, more knowledgeable, or necessarily even more experienced than her greatest client.


A great Coach is deliberately on the road to mastering her craft and is in charge of the coaching process, not in control of the outcome.  This is the truth that I had to come to terms with, on the path to becoming a Professional Coach who is devoted to serving my clients.  In the process, I learned a distinction that is life-changing, if understood and practiced regularly - the difference between being in control and being in charge.


So many of us live with constant stress and anxiety because we are trying to control every element of our days.  Whether it’s our health, business, or relationships, we operate from the false belief that we are in control of the outcome - if we only have more knowledge, hire the right people, yell loud enough, manipulate more, and a myriad of other actions - we believe will get the result we desire.  When we achieve our goal, we take note of every little action we did and apply it to the next seemingly similar challenge that comes along.  Often, the same actions don’t get us the same successful result, and then we are disappointed, angry, and confused.


“I made it happen before!  Why can’t I make it happen again?” we demand of ourselves.


Our obsession with being in control starts early in life when we realize that to get what we want from the grown-ups, we need to get good at the game of “pleasing”.  By the time we hit adolescence, even if our outward actions seem rebellious, we have internalized this belief and begin to earnestly practice it in different areas of life.  Most of us are well on the road to mastering this habit by the time we are in our 20’s.


I work with a group of young adults who never cease to amaze me with their insights, energy, and creativity.  After a few conversations into our work together, I noticed they were (not at all consciously) trying to please me.  Because being aware of my desire to please (as opposed to serving) clients is such an important and constant part of my work, I can catch it quite easily in others.  So I made a point of exploring the subject with them at the start of our next meeting.  The emotional and physical relief of knowing they don’t need to engage in this behavior with me was immense.  Our conversations immediately shifted to a higher and far more effective level.


There are many reasons we shift into “people-pleasing mode”, but one of the main reasons is our desire to be in control of the outcome of our actions.  Consciously or not, we begin with the endgame in mind, and then try to control every word and action, whether our own or others, in service of making our goal happen.


I’m pretty sure if you’re reading this blog, you are of a certain age, and have a pretty strong intuition, if not a solid belief, that no one, ever, has full control of any outcome.


Before you throw this blog, me, or yourself out the window in despair, give me a few more minutes and consider what we do have control over.  Consider what will exponentially increase our chances of successfully reaching our goals.  


Shifting our minds from wanting to be in control of the outcome, to becoming in charge of the process, is the difference maker.  If we want to lose 10 pounds, the typical way we go about it is to decide the plan (food & exercise), measure our progress (scale & tape measure), and pick a date when we should reach our goal (well meaning but arbitrary).  The plan most often will take into consideration our unique metabolic profile, life circumstances, and the unexpected guest appearance of some birthday cake.  We decide our eating plan, buy the scale, mark the calendar and start our journey with the resolute determination of a soldier going to war.  We have a plan and are devoted to controlling every potential turn of event.  So why do so many of us committed and well meaning adults fail in this endeavor?


I don’t have the answer to all things, but what I’ve learned in my years of working with the greatest, most devoted, and intelligent clients ever, is that we need a new system.  Nothing is wrong with us.  Something is terribly wrong with the system we are using to feel successful.


The only reason we set goals is so we can experience a certain feeling when we achieve them.  Let’s call that feeling, “successful”.  If success is measured by outcome, we will fail a good portion of the time, not because of our efforts, but because life is a casino, and there are odds to be understood.  I don’t know what the odds of success are in real life (vs. the casino, where the odds are clear), but I know for sure that we don’t win 100% of the time.


If we change the marker of feeling successful from being in control of the outcome to being in charge of the process, we now have the ability to feel successful regardless of external circumstances or even the final outcome.  Let’s go back to the weight loss analogy.  A person who shifts to being in charge of the process might go about the journey differently.  She will slow down and spend time in the beginning (either alone or with a professional) to understand who she is at this time and what her current life circumstances and challenges look like.  She will get real about actions that are realistically doable - not overwhelming - given the cadence of her life.  She will take the time to understand what has gotten in the way of her success in the past and create a plan to deal with those things first.  She will not set her future self up for failure in bypassing steps, which may be emotionally difficult,  but are an absolute requirement of future success.  Of course, a nutrition plan, a scale, and a gym membership helps, but they are not sufficient.  Slowing down to create the foundation for success is what’s often missing from our grand plan.


The magical thing about becoming focused on being in charge of the process, is that the journey itself becomes so powerful, meaningful, and life changing that we begin to experience emotions we believe only the desired outcome will bring - emotions of joy, ease, connectedness, peace, and aliveness, to mention a few - in the process, and in real time, as opposed to a gift we expect bestowed on us, only if we are worthy and deserving enough to reach it.


P.S. I’m committed to sharing my Life Coaching skills and tools out into the world, in the hope that it can help others. If this blog resonates with you, please consider forwarding it to anyone who may benefit from it. If this was forwarded to you, subscribe here.

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