Finding Balance by Releasing Control

Finding Balance by Releasing Control

Balance seems to be more and more elusive in our lives.

Whether it's work, school, the kids, relationships, training, eating, and everything else, where do people find the time to simply be, much less keep it all together.

So often in our lives, it can seem like we're pushed, pressed in one direction or another. It leaves us tired — well, exhausted is more like it — drained of energy, and feeling powerless over our lives.

This is a hard place to be, for anyone. And chances are really good that, at some point, you've experienced this. We're inundated with solutions that sound good on the surface, and indeed work for many people. But sometimes those solutions can have the opposite effect.

They try to tell us things like, "take control of your life" and repeating ideas like mantras that "you are in control."

Being "in control" is important. The problem here is that people often misinterpret control.

What is control?

Control, in its theoretical form, is the power to influence or direct behavior and outcomes.

People seem to enjoy having a sense that they are exerting control over their lives. The problem with this is something that Bill Watterson explored in Calvin and Hobbes. In the link provided, Calvin, a six year old boy, is having a power trip. He holds a watering can over a flower with an evil smirk. He recounts how he holds the power of life and death over this mere plant. But, in the final panel, a torrential rain begins, to Calvin's chagrin. He didn't have the control he thought he had.

Watterson, in one of his commentaries of the comic, explains that this was there to represent the illusion of control. We try to fold everything up neatly, but nothing goes too neatly in the real world. We hold up our theories of "should," without bothering to ask what the reality is. Some things just can't be solved in the here and now.

So we have control over nothing?

No, not by a long shot. One thing (the only thing really) we can hold a measure of control over is ourselves. We can develop skills like mindfulness meditation that teach us deeper awareness of ourselves, and learn to control our feelings. This doesn't mean ignoring them at all. Rather, the opposite. Acknowledging our feelings can grant us temporary reprieve from their power over us.

How we exercise control over ourselves is really the only long-term way to affect outcomes that aren't ultimately damaging and manipulative. Every other person is an independent actor. They are all capable of anything that any other human is capable of. They will, ultimately, make their own decisions.

The harder we try to force our lives into order, the more damage we risk doing to ourselves and others.

Control and Personal Training

Whereas you do not have control over clients, you absolutely have partial influence. You can't force them to get out of bed and workout, eat right, get enough water. All you can do is motivate, encourage, and help them to find solutions to their problems. Whether they act on that or not is not really up to you.

Fitness professionals often get frustrated with the "excuses" made by clients for why they didn't do something. A personal rule that's helped me a lot in similar situations has been to try harder a couple of times, but eventually, see when the plan isn't going to work. The best plan without the willingness of a client to engage in the activity is not going to end well.

But this hits fitness professionals in other ways, too. Fitness professionals struggle with the same things their clients do, just in different ways. Still, we have to find time to eat right, workout, and care for loved ones.

So, what do we do about it?

Always the River

When someone is rafting, the water in the rapids is fast and dangerous. It pulls people all over, and can even trap people underwater.

But, strangely, there are also eddies where the water has formed into a pool that is balanced in the current.

Fighting the rapids to paddle the wrong direction ends up being wasted energy — you can only fight a current for so long. And, in an eddy, one must paddle to get out of it, and back into the current.

The actions one takes in one situation will have the opposite effect on another situation, still in the same river.

Life is like this, training is like this, engaging with clients is like this. When you have a client who is consistently late, eventually the problem is the time in the schedule. Or, perhaps they need to train with you digitally at home to see if they can at least begin a proper habit. Too often we just “try harder” when repeated failures are really telling us “try something different.”

Sometimes, a client wants to “become a morning person” by putting their workouts in the morning. This might go contrary to their circadian rhythm. They might have immense morning anxiety. There are a host of reasons that could get in the way here.

So, what’s the answer? Give it a shot! But, if this client has consistently failed to make it on time, or at all, then the answer is more likely to be to try something else.

Becoming a morning person can be a great goal, but sometimes you have to start with something else. Maybe, in this case, you start with evening workouts to build a habit, and then steadily transition one session per week to the morning. When one session per week is successful in the morning, then you try for two.

There are always methods and approaches to solving problems. Usually, the answers involve a more balanced approach. And the more you admit you can really only control yourself, and only have some influence over other things, the better your outcomes will be.

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