The Illusion of Control: Let it go!

Hi Mum! Is this tidy enough for you?

Hi Mum! Is this tidy enough for you?

We were invited to a house party in Clontarf.  Bring along the Tiramisu, have a few beers, play a bit of music. All good clean fun. Somewhere during the evening the talk turned to obsession. People we know who are compulsive, who go to extremes (I know tons about this topic, recognizing many of the traits in myself).

Doll’s House: The story that I liked most was about a woman showing her friend around her newly re-decorated house of which she was justifiably proud. The tour was moving nicely until she came to her daughter’s room. Empty Chinese food cartons under the bed? The shower littered with cigarette butts? Mice droppings? No, none of the above. She went absolutely nuts because her daughters Doll’s House was untidy. Read that sentence again in case you think that it’s typed incorrectly. She went nuts because her daughters Doll’s House was untidy. Now, there’s a client for future therapy (perhaps they can get a group rate for both mother and daughter). So, what’s happening here? What is the payoff for the mother? (because there is always a psychological payoff for behaviour).

Psychology of Control: For some people, not being in control makes them fearful. Many years ago, when I lived in Singapore, a TV programme anticipated the type of apartments which would be built in 2050 – i.e. about 60 years ahead. In Ireland, when it comes to political outlook, we tend to do ‘dipped’ rather than full headlights. But, the real dilemma is that even with the best forward planning, having total control is an illusion. You don’t smoke. You don’t eat Yorkie bars for breakfast. You floss every morning. But you can still have sky-high cholesterol or get cancer. A footballing friend of mine, mega fit, died on the pitch (Sudden Adult Death Syndrome). And, people try desperately to control their teenagers, denying them the opportunity to grow up and ‘separate’ from the Mother Ship. The reality is that we cannot be in control all of the time. Yet, not being in control makes us afraid. Core point = we have to understand and learn to deal with our fear of being out of control.

Out of Control: In July 2009, the aid worker Sharon Commins who worked for GOAL was kidnapped and held captive in Darfur. She subsequently wrote a piece for the book The Rose and the Thorn (reflections by Irish People on their recent highs and lows) where she said that: “You cannot delete sadness and I had times when I felt destroyed”.  She went on to describe the birth of her niece Kate and how magical that event was for all the family. I’m not sure I entirely agree with the idea that you cannot delete sadness, but I agree wholeheartedly that you cannot be safe and in control all of the time. While most of us will not have to endure the extreme of being kidnapped, we encounter this sense of being ‘out of control’ in a myriad of ways.

So, here’s the deal. Total control is a fiction. Rather than fighting to attain this, you need to develop the skills of mentally responding when things go wrong. Being resilient is more important than being in control. As Jeffrey Fry reminded us: “When your back is against the wall, you will find it’s a good place to push off.”  Resilience is a worthwhile topic to brush up on (assuming that you buy the core argument, of course).

And, if your kids room is a bit untidy, how about just closing over the door. Would that work for you? Until next week.


Ps Lighter Note: Primates Insight. Here’s a thought coming up to the local elections…

Behavioural Studies Lesson 101. Start with a cage containing five monkeys. Inside the cage, hang a banana on a string from the top and then place a set of stairs under the banana. Before long a monkey will go to the stairs and climb towards the banana. As soon as he touches the stairs, you spray all the other monkeys with cold water. After a while another monkey makes an attempt with same result. Again all the other monkeys are sprayed with cold water. Pretty soon when any monkey tries to climb the stairs, the other monkeys will move to prevent it. Monkeys are not stupid.

Now, put the cold water away. Remove one monkey from the cage and replace it with a new one. The new monkey sees the banana and attempts to climb the stairs. To his shock, all of the other monkeys beat the crap out of him.

 After another attempt and attack, he knows that if he tries to climb the stairs he will be assaulted.
 Next, remove another of the original five monkeys, replacing it with a new one.

The newcomer goes to the stairs and is attacked. The previous newcomer takes part in the punishment…with great enthusiasm, because he is now part of ‘the team’.

 Then, replace a third original monkey with a new one, followed by the fourth, then the fifth. Every time the newest monkey takes to the stairs he is attacked.

Eventually, the monkeys doing the beating have no idea why they were not permitted to climb the stairs in the first place. 
Neither do they know why they are participating in the beating. 

Finally, having replaced all of the original monkeys, none of the remaining monkeys will have ever been sprayed with cold water.
 Nevertheless, not one of the monkeys will try to climb the stairway for the banana.

Why, you ask?  Because in their minds:  It’s the ‘culture’. That is the
 way it has always been!

 This, my friends, is how Government operates………and this is why, from time to time:

 ALL of the monkeys need to be REPLACED AT THE SAME TIME. The outcome of the recent local elections seems to indicate that this lesson is being learned!

Check our website or call 087 2439019 for an informal discussion about executive or organization development.



About Tandem Consulting

Paul Mooney holds a Ph.D. and a Post-Graduate Diploma in Industrial Sociology from Trinity College, along with a National Diploma in Industrial Relations (NCI). He has a post-Graduate Diploma and a Masters in Coaching from UCD. Paul, a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, is widely recognised as an expert on organisation and individual change. He began his working life as a butcher in Dublin before moving into production management. He subsequently held a number of human resource positions in Ireland and Asia - with General Electric and Sterling Drug. Between 2007 and 2010, Paul held the position of President, National College of Ireland. Paul is currently Managing Partner of Tandem Consulting, a team of senior OD and change specialists. He has run consulting assignments in 20+ countries and is the author of 12 books. Areas of expertise include: • Organisational Development/Change & conflict resolution • Leadership Development/Executive Coaching • Human Resource Management/employee engagement
This entry was posted in Positive Psychology. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s