Feeling safe when you’re not in control is a valuable skill
Being in control feels safe, you can feel safe when you’re not in control too. The world is unpredictable and your power is limited, so feeling safe without control is a valuable skill.
When the world disappoints your expectations, your brain releases cortisol and it feels like an emergency. You can re-wire your brain to feel safe when you’re not in control. That doesn’t mean being out of control or giving up. It means building a new neural pathway to replace that old cortisol circuit.
Your brain will build a new pathway if you repeat a new thought or behavior for forty-five days. So give up control of something for the next six weeks and you will like the results!
Notice your usual strategy for feeling “on top of things,” and do the opposite.
For example, if you are a person who tries to bake the perfect soufflé, spend forty-five days cooking without recipes. Conversely, if you are a person who likes to just throw things into a pot, spend forty-five days following recipes.
If you are a person who likes everything neat, let junk pile up for six weeks. But if you are a person who hates order and loves chaos, put things away as soon as you use them for six weeks.
Color outside the lines if that’s new for you, but if you already pride yourself on that, courageously stay inside the lines. It might feel awful on Day One, but forty-four days later it will feel curiously safe.
Don’t quit your day job to beg with a rice bowl. Just stop checking the weather report, buying lottery tickets, and expecting the world to work according to your rules. You will not like the cortisol at first, but you will train your brain to know that it doesn’t kill you. You will learn to feel safe in the world despite your inability to control it.
Getting rid of the clock is a great way to experiment with control, because you can’t control time.
We all have habits for managing the harsh reality of time. For some it’s chronic lateness and for others it’s constant clock-checking. You may think you can’t change your relationship with time, but here are three great ways to ignore the clock and make friends with the passage of time:
- Start an activity without having an exact time you need to stop. Finish the activity without ever checking the clock the whole time. It’s over when you feel like it’s over.
- Set aside a time each day to spend with no plan.
- Designate a day you can wake up without looking at the clock and continue through your day with no time-checking.
No matter how busy you are, you can find a way to relax your efforts to control time. You may be surprised at the bad feelings that come up, despite your abiding wish to escape time pressure. The bad feelings won’t kill you, however, and accepting them helps you accept the harsh realities of time.
Your mammal brain feels good about things it can control. Some people break traffic laws to enjoy a sense of control, while others feel their power by scolding those who break traffic laws. Whatever gives you a sense of power won’t work all the time, however. You will end up feeling weak and unimportant some of the time. That triggers cortisol, but you can learn to feel safe when you are not in control.
-Loretta G. Bruening, PhD