[kuhn-trohl] verb, con·trol·ling,
1.to exercise restraint or direction over; dominate; command.
2. the act or power of controlling; regulation; domination or command
3. the situation of being under the regulation, domination, or command of another
[kuhn-trohl] noun, in con·trol
1.in charge of someone or something
In The Happiness Advantage, written by Shawn Anchor, he writes about a three-hour study he participated in when he was in college. He was asked to a do a number of grueling activities for the fee of $20, this experiment was supposed to be with the intention of helping the elderly. After this experiment was over, he had fallen over 120 times, and the research assistants sheepishly admitted they had forgotten to put the video in the recorder. They would need to re-tape all the falls again. Did he want to proceed? Many people would say no, Shawn said yes. At the end of the experiment, Shawn was blood ridden and bruised and he had to be checked into a hospital. It turned out these researchers were actually studying motivations and resilience. How much pain and resilience could you put people through before they gave up? In his case: a lot.
The next day the professor came to the hospital to visit Shawn and said no one had ever lasted the full three hours. The professor gave him the Grand Prize of $200. The lesson he learned was about picking ourselves up when we fall. When you’re exhausted from falling over and over again, you will find the energy to pick yourself (himself) up again. This to me is about being in control of ourselves; if we think we can, we can. This sense of power however, is not the same when we try and use it upon others and take control of them. We are at our best when we are in control of our thoughts, when we are in charge of ourselves.
Martin Seligman, the founding father of positive psychology did an experiment with dogs many years ago, where he paired noises, like bells, with small shocks to see how the dogs would eventually react to the bell alone. After the conditioning was complete, the researchers would put each dog in a large box with two compartments, separated by a low wall. In one compartment the dogs would get shocked, but on the other side they would be safe from shocks, and it was easy to jump over the wall. The researchers doing the experiments predicted that once the dogs heard the bell, they would immediately jump into the safe half of the box so they could avoid the shock they knew would follow…that’s not what happened. The dog’s just laid there; they didn’t jump over to the other side. They had accidentally taught the dogs to be helpless. These dogs had come to believe that there was no safe place to jump to so they could avoid the shock. Why bother? They felt helpless; they were being controlled. This feeling happens in relationships, it happens in work…it happens in life. This feeling is about being controlled.
These dogs could have jumped to the other side of the box; so many of us in our lives can jump to the other side of the box. Why don’t we? Shawn Anchor who fell 120 times for what he thought was going to be only $20-he seems to be born that way, some of us have worked at it. Being aware of what we want to make happen is a big part of the process. Having the energy, the conviction and the power to make what we want to make happen is also a big part of the equation. It does seem to take two to tango. There are those that have the power, the conviction, and the fortitude to be “in control” of their lives and would not except being controlled by others. Perhaps those that are In control are not just strong, but believe in themselves, in their strength, in their thoughts and ideas? One can be weakened-you see it in movies all the time when people are physically strained through all sorts of intense ways in order to be controlled. We’ve seen electric shock, sleep deprivation, attempted drowning-all sorts of things, but these are the movies. There are different forms of this in our personal lives, perhaps lack of respect, attention, thoughtfulness, even physical cruelty are some of things that are used to control others.
In the end, there are those that are more geared towards being able to control themselves, those that see the finish line or goal and don’t stop until they get where they want to go. There are others through fear or routine that will be controlled, and those that can’t be controlled. As I mentioned early on, understanding within a job situation that someone is your superior and that you’re answering to them and they’re in control is different than being controlled in your friendships, your marriage, or for that matter something I know particularly well…being controlled as a patient.
Several years ago, after seeing a world renowned neurosurgeon, who performed an extraordinary brain surgery on me, whom without I probably wouldn’t be able to talk and write today, I needed to consider what my next steps would be. The surgery determined that my brain tumor was cancerous. My surgeon felt that my next step should be to have another surgery, even two, perhaps a third, with no assuredness that my problems wouldn’t continue or that my life would not. My feeling was that I was lucky to have survived the first surgery and I wasn’t sure how I would proceed. Should I decide to have several more brain surgeries? Would I be able to hear, to see, to swallow, to talk, to breath without tubes after these surgeries? Would I even live? A surgeon is a surgeon and that is what they do. I did an enormous amount of research and discovered a certain type of radiation that had very positive results for my kind of tumor; my surgeon was not in favor of this radiation, in fact he tried to control me into choosing surgery. The fact that he was such a great surgeon, that people came from all over the world to be operated on by him, and the fact that he was so against this radiation, made it very difficult for someone like myself at that time who was facing a deadly illness to think of other possibilities. I took a breath, thought hard, (I’m not an enormous fan of radiation), but I went with what I felt was right for myself, for my future, and for my medical situation. I was in control. I chose the radiation-that was five years ago this June. I am sure that it’s because of that choice that I am here today in the shape that I am in. It is important to be “in control” of ourselves and not to be controlled. My surgeon was and is an excellent surgeon, and he was being controlling.