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7 Ways to Know When Your Mind is Trying to Control Your Life

Hand on Head

“I know but one freedom and that is the freedom of the mind.” ~Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Our mind is a funny thing. On the one hand, it’s awesome. But on the other, it can pulverize us more quickly and ruthlessly than anything else.

Our mind is inherently scared. That’s its job: to be cautious—to keep us alive, to have us cross roads safely, and not get eaten by a lion. But left unchecked, it can become paralyzed with fear and meaner than a cornered crocodile.

And it’s incredibly bossy.

The tendency of the mind to want to control is so strong and so habitual that we often don’t realize the myriad of times it tries to push our inner wisdom and natural sense of ease and love aside.

The bad news is there is no book or course that will change the nature of our mind. The good news? We don’t have to. The problem isn’t our mind, but how we use it.

We feel anxious, fearful, sad, or resentful when we give our mind too much power, when we follow its dopey ideas against our better judgment.

Here’s how to spot when your mind is trying to take over.

1. When you ignore your natural inclination.

Your mind is smart. Not wise smart, but computer smart.

Your mind isn’t into all that woolly intuition jazz. It wants facts. It likes making calculations. Running the odds.

Say you have a thought to call a friend you haven’t thought of in years. But then your mind says, “Don’t be silly. He’s probably not home. He won’t remember me.”

So you don’t call.

But have you ever followed one of those inclinations and then looked back and seen, wow, look at everything that happened after?

And what about decisions like what to do with your life? The logical way is listen to experts or copy what works for other people. Your mind loves this.

This is why we ignore the little voice that says, “You should be a writer,” and choose instead to study statistics, because there are plenty of jobs for statisticians. Or we train to be a dancer because we’re “good at that.”

Except you aren’t “other people.” And experts aren’t as expert about you as you are. And just because you’re “good at something” doesn’t mean it’s what you want to do.

2. When you want to say no but you end up saying yes.

Do you have trouble saying no?

I used to. I didn’t even see it as a serious option until I was age twenty-three and so strung out from months of overdoing that I went for five nights without sleep in the middle of finals.

It was messy.

I thought there were rules more important than my deep desire not to do something. Rules like be a good friend, be a good student, go to lots of parties.

It took me months to recover.

This is, of course, a total mind thing. Your mind wants to be liked and it thinks everything is important.

Your mind doesn’t realize that saying “no” isn’t a big deal, or even a medium deal. Or that your intuition is where wisdom lies.

Not only is it your right to do as you genuinely desire, but it benefits everyone when you do.

I was watching An Angel at My Table recently, based on the autobiography of Janet Frame, one of New Zealand’s favorite authors. Janet spent eight years in a psychiatric hospital, had two hundred electroshock treatments, and narrowly escaped a lobotomy only to learn years later that she wasn’t unwell; she just didn’t like being very social, and if she did what she felt like she was fine.

3. When you constantly text or check your phone, email, or Facebook status.

I love the Internet and email and reading comments on my blog. Just love it. What an awesome world we live in.

But often I feel off balance because of it. Or rather, because of how I use it.

And it’s not like I don’t know why I get so hooked on it. I do. I’m looking for approval.

The need for approval goes deep. Not only is it a natural trait of the mind, it’s entrenched by our schooling system.

But it’s dangerous. It keeps you distracted from the present moment and trains you to care when people disapprove. Which they will.

The modern hyper-connected world is addictive. To the mind it’s like candy.

So what’s the answer? Give it all up?

Personally, heck no. But setting limits and removing temptation keeps things in check.

4. When you think, “It’s all very well for them.”

Have you ever heard an inspirational story and thought, “It’s all very well for him, he came from a rowing family. It’s easy for him to row the Northwest Passage.”

You see it all the time and it’s a classic case of your mind resisting change, worried you’ll want to make some leap of your own.

Take Elizabeth Gilbert and her book, Eat, Pray, Love.

It wasn’t a story about traveling around the world. Not really. It was about survival and courage and how one woman used the resources she had to save herself.

Thinking, as a few did, that it’s all very well for her she could afford to travel around the world is missing the point.

We all have the ability to get up off our metaphorical bathroom floor. And we all have our own unique set of resources to help us. When your mind is quickly dismissive and judgmental, it’s trying to stop you from seeing this.

5. When you think repetitive, worrying thoughts.

Getting OCD about washing your hands, turning off the stove, or locking the door before you leave is your safety-officer mind working overtime.

While the worry feels real and overwhelming, there’s no reality to it.

Don’t be pushed around by your mind. Thank your mind but tell it you’ll take it from here. Allow one double-check or hand wash. Now leave.

The trick is ignoring the unpleasant thoughts while knowing a bunch of more pleasant ones will be along shortly.

6. When you try and control someone else.

Have you ever thought you knew better than someone else and tried to get them to do things your way?

Just like dozens of times a day, right?

Your mind is certain you have to intervene. You don’t. Your mind thinks it knows best. It doesn’t.

Trying to control other people, in small and big matters, is not only annoying and disrespectful; it stops the flow of life. You miss out.

I don’t know how many times I’ve experienced a profound and unexpected pleasure after I’ve ignored the urge to butt in.

7. When you feel inadequate for being “too negative.”

We’re inundated with messages telling us we should be grateful and positive and the like. They’re well meaning, but ultimately unhelpful.

Because here’s the catch.

Your mind regards these ideas as rules and is critical when you fail, as you invariably will. Because seriously, who’s positive or grateful all the time?

A few years ago a friend told me I was a negative person.

My response: “Okay, so how do I change that.”

“You don’t,” he said, “You probably won’t always be this way. It’s just how you are right now.”

Whenever you feel inadequate, this is your mind pushing you to “follow the rules.” It’s well intentioned, but misguided.

Accepting how you are, no matter how you are, is the most loving and genuinely positive thing you can do.

And yes, this applies to when you’re being controlling.

It’s your mind’s nature to seek control. It’s neither a good or bad thing, it just is. Sometimes you’ll succumb, other times you won’t. And it’s all perfectly okay.

Photo by threephin

About Lisa Esile

Lisa grew up in New Zealand and now lives in Los Angeles. Lisa and her husband Franco are the authors of WHOSE MIND IS IT ANYWAY: GET OUT OF YOUR HEAD AND INTO YOUR LIFE (Penguin Random House, 2016). You can grab a FREE copy of her book, "The Lazy Person's Guide to Feeling Awesome and Ultimate ALL the time," here!

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  • Louise Watson

    Love it! Thanks for this Lisa. Just the kick up the bum I needed this morning for making a decision about self-publishing and also for getting over my OCD – I’m a constant checker, it’s the one thing I’m struggling with at the moment and have been thinking I really need to get a grip on it. Thanks!

  • represso

    great post, thanks for sharing that

  • sridevi

    you know you write really well:):) Great post! I could connect with what you are saying.
    lots of love from India. .

  • Lisaesile

    Thanks Sridevi:)

  • Lisaesile

    My pleasure!

  • BFLY

    Great article, I love the comment about control. Sometimes you think you know best, but you’re not living their life feeling their feelings, etc. Butt out

  • Omar K Aviles

    Thanks Lisa! I totally relate to number 3! I’m working on it though.

  • JB

    I feel that #5 really minimizes OCD, and not only because of the flippant misuse of the term. Please try to be more sensitive and educated.

  • Great list! I really love #1. The more I follow my natural inclination (even if I am going against “the rules”) the better things tend to turn out.

  • Susan

    great post, I love your writing style.

  • ARCuncensored

    #7!!!!!

  • mirracles

    I’m convinced that tinybuddha has a high frequency and emits it acutely to seekers. <3

  • lazarus

    How do you differentiate between if your natural inclination is no or if you really want to say no?

  • This is interesting. It’s so true how our minds work like computers– always trying to understand the situation at hand and the “hows” and the “whats” of things. And even acknowledging this, I need to constantly remind myself that letting it be and not forcing my mind to find logic in every single thing as an excuse for what I truly feel and think is ok. Thanks for the read!

  • Sarah

    Thank you, Lisa! A very fun and well written post. Coming at a time when I really needed it … and isn’t that the way life works! I am 66 years old and can relate on many levels to your year at home. I am just coming to the end of one of those times in my life … Life has shifted and I am now getting excited to get back into the world again! I have requested your e-book and look forward to reading it. Thank you to Lori Deschene, Tiny Buddha here, for recognizing the beauty in your writing! With love to you both! ~ Sarah

  • Lisaesile

    I know what you mean!

  • Lisaesile

    I see them as the same thing. Or by natural inclination, do you mean something other than your intuitive sense.

  • Lisaesile

    Ha ha. Yes for me too!

  • Lisaesile

    Thanks!

  • Lisaesile

    Thanks so much for your kind thoughts, lots of love and best wishes to you! That does sound exciting.

  • Amber Nicole

    How spot on saying our mind wants to “run calculations” and “run the odds”! This applies so much to all of my failed relationships in the past – friends, boyfriends and family members! My mind is constantly trying to protect me from shady people and because of this, there is no one that I fully trust. Really insightful to hear it from someone else and written so well, at that. Thank you!

  • porterman

    great article again. bookmarked. funny as i thought how great this one was, and then I see it’s Lisa, whose articles I always seem to connect with. thank you.

  • Zain

    “Accepting how you are, no matter how you are, is the most loving and genuinely positive thing you can do.”
    Perfect!!

  • Jake M. Gad

    How do you define “Mind”?

    You seem to use it partially as “Brain”, “Intuition”, and “Instinct”, but also “not brain”, “not intution”, and “not instinct”. While this is a very Buddhist definition, it’s not an especially useable one. It would be very helpful for you to clarify what you mean.

    Your writing is otherwise very enjoyable.

  • Lisaesile

    Hey Jake, I never use the term to mean instinct or intuition – that I would call “heart.” “Mind,” to me, is logical thought, the voice in our head. Keeping it simple:)

  • Lisaesile

    My pleasure! Did you grab a copy of my book? (It’s free.) I talk about trust there.

  • Lucy Roleff

    This was a fantastic piece. Bookmarked! Thank you x

  • BikinBuddha

    Very good article, well written… In this world of information overload, some info needs to be re-booted… Thank you…

  • Johanna_Galt

    Yes, Yes, Yes! to number 7!! This has taken me SO long to learn — and I still haven’t completely learned it. I find myself even using mindfulness and compassion to beat myself up — if I’m not “mindful enough” or if I find myself giving myself a hard time, I GIVE MYSELF A HARD TIME!! :p It’s pretty crazy. But then I guess the mind is..

    Thanks for the much needed affirmation and reminder that “Accepting how you are, no matter how you are, is the most loving and genuinely positive thing you can do.”

    Some of the most important words ever written 🙂

  • Mary

    Sometimes I feel like my thoughts are on board a runaway train. Glad to know I am not the only one! Awesome post.

  • Josh

    great post as ever 🙂 ;Whenever you feel inadequate, this is your mind pushing you to “follow the rules.” It’s well intentioned, but misguided.’ i like that, thanks

  • Sparhafoc

    That ‘little voice’, ‘intuition’ etc. is also a function of the mind. The whole article confused me on this point as it seemed to be suggesting that the better option than using logic and reason was to listen to a voice that emanated from somewhere external; outside the mind. That sounds, to me, more like a form of psychosis than a source of comfort.

  • LT

    wonderful as always Lisa 🙂
    But what do you do when you feel like you are being pulled in so many directions? Like you want to keep teching these danceclasses where you are, and your heart is also whispering that it wants to just get away and travel- NOW..!! 🙂
    All the best to you and thank you for this lovely post! 🙂

  • Madame Defarge

    Not sure Eat, Pray, Love is such a great example, since Gilbert’s trip was funded by her publisher, allowing her the luxury to use the resources at hand. She was able to get up off the bathroom floor because someone gave her a really nice helping hand. The rest of us have to push ourselves up or grab on to the towel rack and hope it doesn’t pull out of the wall.

  • Lisaesile

    Your comment illustrates my point exactly. See how easy it is to think this.

  • GABY

    i LOVE YOU. wish i could tattoo this entire article to the insides of my eyelids/skull.

  • guest

    all of the things you mention, are not coming from OUR minds, they’re all of the unhealthy pressures of a disjointed and highly competitive society… our minds are actually the only thing still keeping us together

  • Talya Price

    It sounds like you are the one being sensitive.

  • Talya Price

    The mind controls everything. I think meditation solves most of these problems that you have listed. Great read.

  • The Great One

    At the risk of being flippant and insensitive, please try to be less OCD’d about how the term is being used by the author.

  • VZ

    Thank you, this article has helped me in more ways than you can imagine.

  • heartcrack

    “experts aren’t as expert about you as you are”

    love that. thank you!

    http://www.heartcrack.com

  • Jeevan/Mirthu/Gupt

    This was really helpful & really needed it at the moment…Thank You for sharing! 🙂

  • Jaymes Baker

    This made my weekend

  • Joan Silva

    The story of the women in a mental ward who realizes she prefers to be anti-social (my words, not yours) was a great example of how we judge ourselves based on others and the outside world. These 7 guidelines are very helpful to notice and be aware.

  • Ysobelle

    Thank you once again Lisa you wonderful human being!

  • Lisaesile

    Well, thank you! It’s my pleasure:)

  • Tara

    Hi Lisa. Another great post. Thank you. I love how you simplify the process of depression and negative thinking in how the mind works. Us silly humans tend to make things a lot more complicated than need be. It’s funny. But this is sometimes, how we learn about ourselves, life and other people.

    “1. When you ignore your natural inclination.

    Your mind is smart. Not wise smart, but computer smart.”

    I appreciated this point. Our natural inclination is usually so simple and uncomplicated and when ignored, causes drama and distress to draw attention to ourselves or a problem we have with or in our life.

  • Happymom

    More stuff like this! More! :+). I really enjoy
    Your books and articles. My mind tried to make me delete this email without reading the article. And something (intuition?) made me read it anyway and forward it to friends. You know what? I am so glad I did! Your spot on observations about our controlling mind is just what I needed, today, thank you so much!

  • Lisaesile

    My pleasure! Pleased you didn’t delete it. Thanks for saying hi:)

  • Lisaesile

    Thanks Tara. I think you’re right about our mind being naturally funny. It doesn’t think it is, but it really can be! Mine is just so ridiculous sometimes.

  • Lisaesile

    It’s a great movie, have you seen it? Is on Netflix. The book that it’s based on is beautiful gentle quietly funny. One of my fav’s.

  • Leke

    Hi Lisa, good to see you were published on Tiny Buddha.

  • Great post Lisa – I have reposted this to our Everyday Mindfulness Facebook page as I think it is so helpful. The piece about control really speaks to me personally – the urge to interfere in other people’s lives is strong in this one! And I also recognise the surprising feeling of pleasure when you don’t.

  • Ronesha

    I think you know when after you have made the decision if the outcome is beneficial. I have urges which I think is my intuition but it’s not and sometimes I give myself a few days to make a final decision. I think the more you practice it becomes easier. 🙂

  • Anony Anon

    I agree. A few months ago, I was with someone I have trouble getting along with. In a couple situations my instinct told me something, but my mind thought differently. I went with my mind both times, and both times I wish I listened to my gut instinct.

  • yesica

    He spent 60-years learning, studying and testing hypnosis
    techniques. Many of them he pioneered. His skills became so proficient he could
    hypnotize subjects while talking with them. They had no idea what was
    happening. Yet they followed Dr. Erickson’s commands on cue.

    The main focus of his work was on applying hypnosis in
    medical or therapeutic environments. He also used his knowledge in daily
    situations to gain a considerable advantage over others.

    For example, up until 1953 doctors were banned from using
    hypnosis while treating patients.

    The American Medical Association (AMA) prohibited members
    from the practice. Dr. Erickson believed hypnosis was a viable and effective
    therapeutic tool. To keep his medical license, he became an expert at
    hypnotizing patients during “normal” conversation. He broke the rules
    and taught himself…….

    read on here: http://tinyurl.com/np8k7w9

  • mike davis

    control is definetly in your hands its all how you want your life to be. is is the law of attraction-for more info check this free book at http://www.truthcontest.com

  • Francrec

    Thank you for no.7, most of the times I feel inadequate for feeling bad because I should be grateful and positive ‘all the time’.

  • Ellie

    Yes, we just need to get out of our own way and allow the goodness and blessings come to us. Just step aside… effortlessly. Allowing the source and do the work for us. 🙂 with love

  • McDionne

    Hello, great article. I want to clarify one point. Where you said ‘accepting yourself…Most genuine and positive’ does this include insecurity? I’ve accepted I’m insecure but don’t want to be any longer should I not try to change?

  • rinku

    Hello mam actually I will badly exited to make a love but I ,I can no.t So plz tell me some tips that how I could control my mind

  • AAAkeS

    EFT, TROM and Dianetics can erase these obsessions.

  • pugal

    hey lisa a very big thank u for posting this….im a college student …something happend in ma life which i cant overcome.. its killing me actually….it would be great if u givme sme tips to overcome …i’ll be waiting for ur reply..

  • Sarah

    thanks Lisa, 🙂 I found this really helpful made me cry a little bit. 🙂

  • Surya

    Only one thing over which we human being have command, is nothing else but its our MIND, and at the same time getting command over our own MIND, is most tedious task. Many of our ancient sages and thinkers had tried and are trying to figure out the truth, regarding how to get control over it.
    In Bhagwat Gita . Lord krishna said to Arjuna, that it is difficult to control mind , but not impossible, then he enunciated the way to control it.
    One can control mind by practicing two things, first one is to be persistent enough, in order to control mind, every time when it plays with us, we need to check it, and by keep on doing it in regular, we will get command over it. Second is to keep distance from the thing which pulls us to this material world, which makes a trap, in which human being feel uncontrollable resistance to control over his/her temptation. Both of the method should be practiced at the same time.
    Some Human life face misery, its not because they are destined for it, but its only because, they were not able to change their mindset. As Darwin said in his one lecture.” Its not the strongest and not the weakest mind person makes a triumph, but its only the most adjustable mind does it”.
    Life is mind game, and our focus makes the locus of our life.

    I really enjoyed your article.

  • jamina

    Thank you for the knowledge.

  • Sandra Kassatly

    🙂 number 6 and 7

  • melody eisenberg

    2 Shay!!

  • Renee Eiland

    Very interesting, I’m not really sure what kind of answer i’m looking for but maybe I will find it. Let me tell you a little about my reason for wanting to learn about mind control. My thoughts are so negative yes they can be positve at times and half the time I feel like someone is repeating my every though my every move its so annoying!!!! I have BEEN TRYING REALLY REALLY HARD BECAUSE ALOT OF MY INSECURITIES ARE ABOUT MY BOYFRIEND THAT I LOVE TO DEATH! We have been off and own for 2yrs but it seems all my thoughts relate to him. Not always in a good way for example he can leave the room and its like I hear him talking to someone saying he hates my gutts but then I ask my self if that where real why is he here? I constantly critise my self in my own mind. If you meet me in person you would think I was the most outgoing person ever, always smiling and appear to be happy. Thats just a little. Maybe someone can help me get in connection with someone to help me. The last thing I want to do is loose him again but most of all I want to be me again. Any thoughts please

  • melody eisenberg

    Hi Renee,
    I lost the love of my life due to my insecurities and overwhelming fear.
    I was lying down and feeling lost,so I did what I normally do, look for answers. That may just be the problem.
    When I look back to when I was with my John I see how much he was in my life for who he is.i was always looking at what he wasn’t doing instead of what he was.
    We get in our heads and others too. Like our girlfriends, or our parents. I mean …instead of moving in the feelingm of love that we have within ourselves and allow that tó rule, we look outside and see if it matches what everyone else’s looks like or says it should be. Baby girl I’m a woman that wishes she new better back then. My older self is talking to the young you. Enjoy what you have now. Just trust what u feel for him n allow yourself the freedom to have love. You can’t draw love out of someone, you can only feel it n give it. You still have it now.

  • swathi vullangi

    Very very nice and informative thank u so much for sharing thanks allot lisa

  • Mushroom overlord

    Thanks for your article; really appreciated it! 🙂