Wanting to have control over your life is a perfectly normal human desire, but it’s not always helpful or healthy. Sure, it’s okay to set up your life in a way that allows you to conquer the chaos: create a schedule, set deadlines, hold yourself accountable, and learn to control your thoughts so that they don’t control you. But even while you do all that, it’s important to also be ready and willing to do the opposite. It’s important to surrender to the universe.
What does it mean to surrender to the universe?
Surrendering to the universe doesn’t mean taking a hands-off, blindfolded approach to life. It doesn’t mean never planning in advance, never thinking ahead, or never trying to change the outcome. On the contrary, surrendering to the universe is a process, one that involves (1) doing what you can, (2) accepting the consequences, and (3) responding in a healthy way.
The process of surrender
- Doing what you can. Dreaming, planning, and putting those plans into action is a beneficial process. It leads to learning and growth. You should have a direction for your life. You should set goals. Start with the end in mind, and draw backwards to connect the dots from where you want to be to where you are now. Create a plan that will get you there. Do what you can to create the life you want.
- Accepting what happens. You can control what you do, but you can’t control what happens after that. Sometimes, our actions have consequences we don’t anticipate. Sometimes, world events (hello 2020!), personal tragedies, or the choices of others cause our plans to veer off course. These things are out of our control, and trying to control them will only cause frustration. Whatever happens is what was meant to happen. All you have to do is accept it.
- Responding in a healthy way. Once you’ve accepted what the universe has thrown at you, it’s time to respond in a healthy way. Take the new information you have and create a new plan. Reevaluate your goals and the steps you’ll take to get there. Realize that you can respond (act) rather than react (be acted upon). Use what the universe has given you to your advantage, whether it teaches you a lesson, gives you a new tool, or puts an unexpected person in your path.
Ultimately, this process of surrendering to the universe leads not only to personal growth, but to inner peace. Instead of constantly fighting against what is, you’re embracing it. You’re using it. You’re controlling what you can, accepting what you can’t, all with the understanding that the universe is guiding you to where you were always meant to be.
Why surrendering is important
What’s so wrong with trying to stay in complete control of your life and of the world around you?
Why is it so important to learn to surrender to the universe?
Because an unhealthy need for control is tied to mental health issues
The need to control stems from a feeling that things are out of control. And that “out-of-control” feeling can lead to feelings of desperation, sadness, and anxiety. Again, nothing is wrong with doing what you can to bring sense and order to your life, but taking it too far is just going to leave you feeling hopeless.
Sometimes, we refer to this unhealthy need for control as “perfectionism,” and there are plenty of reasons why perfectionism is detrimental to your happiness.
Because you don’t want to live in fear
When people try to claim control over something, it’s often because they fear losing control of it. And fear, as we know, isn’t going to do you any favors. Living in fear isn’t going to help you progress. In fact, it will do quite the opposite. Instead of fearing that you’ll lose control, accept that you never really had it. This will take fear’s power away.
Because it will help your relationships
The term “control freak” is pretty harsh, but that idea of a person who tries to take control in every situation has certainly been the nail in the coffin for many a relationship. At best, a controlling person in a relationship may be slightly annoying or overbearing. At worst, they can become abusive or neglectful. Learning to relinquish control will bring a sense of teamwork to your relationships.
Because you don’t have a choice
Desperately trying to control everything is a losing game. I can’t tell you a lot of things with 100% certainty, but I can say this: things are going to happen to you that are completely out of your control. You will get flat tires and bad grades. You will be lied to and manipulated. The world will go through ups and downs that you’ll have to ride out with everyone else.
Is it depressing to think that the universe is out of your control? I hope not. Because the truth is, the universe isn’t out to get you. If anything, it will set you up for success. It will give you everything you need, if you’re just able to allow it to come to you and then harness and leverage it appropriately. The universe is on your team. So let it do its thing!
Do you need to surrender?
There are some tell-tale signs that a person is having trouble surrendering to the universe and giving up some of their control. They include:
- Mental health issues
- Excessive fear/anxiety
- Overprotective parenting
- Eating disorders
- Compulsive behaviors
If you find yourself experiencing any of these, it’s time to rethink your need for control. Ask yourself:
- How has my need for control served me in my life?
- Why is control important to me?
- How will my need for control hurt my life in the future?
How to surrender
So once you’ve realized you could do a little better at surrendering to the universe (and, let’s be honest, we could all be better at it), how exactly do you do it? What can you try as you’re learning to relinquish a sense of control?
Know your triggers
As is the case with other problems, there are probably certain things that trigger your need to feel in control. What is it for you? It could be external things like traffic, your kids misbehaving, or a new policy at work. Or it could be more internal, like feeling criticized or being afraid that you’ll let someone down.
You probably won’t be able to avoid your triggers all the time, but if you can identify them, you can at least be aware of them when they come up, and learn to respond to them. Try to see your trigger for what it really is—just something the universe wants to happen. Take a deep breath, accept it, and move on.
Use affirmations or a mantra
When you start to feel control slipping away, use affirmations or a mantra to remind yourself to surrender to the universe. Some ideas are:
- “I accept what is.”
- “I allow the universe to guide me.”
- “No matter what happens, the universe is on my team.”
- “I will respond, not react.”
Having a simple phrase you can repeat to yourself when needed will help ground you in the present and help you have more acceptance and less resistance.
(By the way, membership in the Design.org Plus Creative Community gives you access to affirmation packs, with affirmations that can be scheduled to be sent to you throughout the day. Choose which affirmations you want (or write your own), and decide when and how to receive them. It’s the simplest way to make affirmations part of your day-to-day life! Learn more about Design.org Plus here.)
Explore the worst-case scenario
Sometimes, we think that letting go of control is going to be worse than it actually is. If you find yourself feeling afraid to surrender, ask yourself: “What am I afraid will happen if I surrender control?” Go to the worst-case scenario. Will your life be in danger? Will someone you love leave you? Allow yourself to really “go there.” Write it all out.
Then, take a step back and ask, “What would I do if that happened?” Be creative. Don’t allow yourself to give up (it is a hypothetical situation, after all). Explore the options that would be available to you. Consider how you would respond, rather than react.
Now, you have an actionable response to the worst-case scenario, but remember: the worst-case scenario probably isn’t going to happen. It’s far more likely that something less drastic will happen. And if you can respond to the worst-case scenario, you can respond to the more minor scenarios as well.
This is part of a process called decatastrophizing, and it’s part of cognitive behavioral therapy.
Get professional help
Speaking of therapy, sessions with a professional therapist can make a huge difference in letting go of your need to control and learning to surrender to the universe. Your need for control is rooted somewhere—whether it’s something that happened in your childhood, naturally-occurring insecurity, or a traumatic event, it’s probably something that a licensed therapist could help you work through.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Surrendering to the universe can bring peace to your life, and can help you “create happy.” And you, friend, deserve a happy life.
Surrendering to the universe might sound scary or intimidating. Maybe you’ve worked hard to feel like you’re in control of your life. Maybe you’ve tried surrendering before and it came back to bite you. Whatever the case, I can tell you this: surrender is inevitable, but that doesn’t make it bad. In fact, the better you get at surrendering control, the more in control you’ll feel, and the happier you’ll be.
Try it. You’ll see.
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