What If You’re NOT In Control?

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I have always tended to be a bit of a control freak. I’m not sure whether medical training turns doctors into control freaks, or whether control freaks are drawn to medicine. But it never felt like there was much room for being out of control in my life as a medical student or practicing physician. It’s part of why I left medicine. The further I walked on my spiritual path, the less comfortable I was controlling everything and the more I wanted to simply trust.

But how? How can you surrender when someone’s life is in your hands? How can you trust when there are review boards and malpractice lawyers breathing down your neck if anything goes wrong?

It almost felt like I had to leave medicine in order to embrace my spiritual path. But then… maybe this was a limiting belief.

The Coaching Session With Martha Beck

When I went to her ranch in December to plan the curriculum for the Heal The Healers workshop that kicks off the Whole Health Medicine Institute Physician Training, Martha Beck spent a whole hour coaching me through this issue.

My limiting belief was that I had to be completely in control in the hospital, that if I wasn’t, bad, bad things would happen and it would be all my fault.

The conversation went something like this (though, most likely, my recollection of this doesn’t do Martha’s brilliance justice!)

Martha: So Lissa… what would happen if you lost control in the hospital? 

Lissa: Someone might die.

Martha: And then what would happen?

Lissa: Then they’d talk about how I lost control at the Morbidity & Mortality conference, where doctors get together to talk about patients who died when they shouldn’t have.

Martha: And then what? 

Lissa: Then, if they determined that I did something wrong, they’d report me to the California board.

Martha: And then what?

Lissa: Then, the California board would launch an investigation.

Martha: And then what?

Lissa: If they determined I was negligent, they’d take away my license.

Martha: And then what?

Lissa: Then I wouldn’t get to practice medicine. 

Martha: So your biggest fear is that if you lost control in the hospital, you wouldn’t be able to practice medicine. And yet, Lissa, you made the decision in September to let your board certification lapse because you never want to practice medicine again. So the worst thing that could have happened if you lost control in the hospital happened – by your choice. 

Lissa: Gulp.

Martha: What if, instead of you having to be in control in the hospital, God is in control in the hospital?

Lissa: Double gulp. 

Losing Control

As doctors, we’re taught to carry the burden of cure on our shoulders. We tend to view cure as success and disability, chronic illness, or death as personal failure. Hospital review boards, licensing organizations, and medical malpractice attorneys don’t help. They too expect that doctors will perform perfectly, never lose control, and – God forbid – never ever make a mistake. Patients expect this too, and as doctors, we feel the weight of this expectation.

Because we take this responsibility so seriously, it leads us to cave under the weight of the stress. We give until we’re depleted. We sacrifice our own self care and stuff our emotions. We wear masks so patients can’t tell how scared, vulnerable, and out of control we sometimes feel.

It’s exhausting – and it tends to separate us from our own humanity, which is the most healing force we can bring to the doctor-patient relationship.

But it’s not just doctors who get caught in this trap of trying to control the uncontrollable. It happens to all of us. When the outcome we hoped for doesn’t come to pass, we blame ourselves, we shame ourselves, and we feel like failures.

But what if it’s not up to us? What if God is in control, not you?

Do The Best You Can, Then Let Go

I’m not suggesting we shouldn’t try to do our best. When we tap into our Inner Pilot Lights, we discover a reservoir of greatness so profound, we’re capable of performing miracles. So don’t be afraid to tap into that awesome power.

Show up fully. Express your gifts.  Try your hardest. Ask for help when you need it. Admit your weaknesses.  Be humble but confident. Take the necessary risks, but don’t be a cowboy. Set goals but release attachment to outcomes. Do the best you can, then let go.

Remember – always remember – the Universe doesn’t need you to be in charge.

What If You’re NOT in Control?

Of course you want to do a good job, to succeed, to achieve the outcome you desire, whether we’re talking about life and death in the hospital or success in your business or getting what you desire in a relationship.

But here’s the kicker. You can totally sabotage success by pushing too hard.

I was lucky enough to have this reinforced when I delivered my latest TEDx talk in Santa Barbara, where my friend Dr. Judith Orloff also gave a TEDx talk. In this brilliant talk, Dr. Orloff teaches us that surrender is the antidote to stress in a world that relentlessly conspires to interrupt creative thought. Surrender boosts your brain’s endorphins – euphoric, opiate-like pain killers – and serotonin, a natural antidepressant that allows you to relax, have more fun, and succeed more wildly than ever before. Life becomes easier and more blissful when you can just let go and trust that it’s all handled, and all you have to do is show up.

Do You Fear Losing Control?

What would happen if you lost it – at work, with your kids, in the bedroom, with your friends? What if you could allow yourself to just trust that it’s all going just as it’s supposed to? What if you don’t have to be in control – because the Universe has got it all handled?

Maybe you – like I did when Martha coached me through this – could finally sigh with relief and just let go…

Share your thoughts.

Relinquishing control,

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