The Illusion of Control: How Washing Dishes Reminds Me to Let Go

Washing the oatmeal pot the other day, I found myself gripping the little button on my kitchen faucet that switches the water flowing in a stream to water spraying, as if it would strengthen the force of the water that was slowly disengaging oat bits clinging to the sides. Relaxing my hand didn’t affect the spray  – the faucet just kept shooting water wherever I pointed it.  My grip had exactly zero impact on the efficiency of the water spray. In fact, when I let go of the faucet head completely and just angled the spray toward my task, I could move the process along faster by loosening the pesky oats with my fingers, getting them out of the way before properly washing my pot.

This got me thinking… where else is the force of holding on tightly just an illusion? Where else could I let go and have the same (or an even better) outcome? Where can I conserve my energy, time, and focus for something that really matters?

The first thing I experimented with was my bike commute. I ride my bike because driving downtown makes me feel stressed, and it usually takes about the same time to drive, park, and walk into my building as it does to bike driveway to driveway. That said, I often feel rushed at the end of the day, and I find myself passing people aggressively on the bike path, zooming through yellow lights, and generally ignoring my surroundings. What if I let go and adjusted my commute to the environment? Is biking with such intensity an illusion of control?

To test my theory, I timed my evening commute to see if an intense, aggressive ride really saved me time. I cross several major intersections on my way home, so the traffic pattern ended up making a more significant impact on my commute time than how hard I pedaled. Even comparing two similar traffic days, riding aggressively saved about three minutes over riding at a pace that felt more relaxing and rejuvenating. I found this fascinating - - giving myself permission to tune in to my surroundings was a far more impactful practice than gaining three minutes in exchange for the extra stress of riding aggressively.

I then started looking around our office – where have we succeeded in letting go of the illusion of control?

In a contract negotiation, we often see language in other parties’ contracts that we wouldn’t have chosen. Maybe it’s too much legalese for our liking, or maybe it’s a little more or less specific than we prefer. Our guiding principle is, ‘would it be worth a phone call to explain this change?’. If not, we let go. It can be a frustrating at times, but it means a lot to our clients when we only hold on to the impactful revisions. By focusing on what we can control and what matters, our negotiations move more quickly, and more importantly,  our clients build their expertise in understanding their own contracts.

Sometimes a client choosing to work with us is a result of their choice to let go if the illusion of control. Many of our clients are startups, where the drive to DIY is a necessary part of getting a company off the ground. Technology contracts can include all kinds of confusing topics, from insurance requirements and indemnification, to pricing and payments, to termination conditions. Even when a company leader has the expertise to understand all the jargon, they value they bring isn’t in reviewing contracts, but rather in the connection with the prospective clients, the innovative technology, and the true-believing team making it happen. By letting go and trusting us with their contracting, we’ve seen our clients find a sense of freedom to point their focus on the mission-critical tasks of their unique company.

Ready to consider letting go? We’d love to talk.

Tripp Stroud