Precepts: Control

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Welcome back to my Precepts series—inspired by meaningful thoughts, insights, and discoveries I have during each week, and intentionally designed to help make your life just a little bit better. Enjoy!

You can find the Precepts series in its entirety here.

Precept 88: Good Control, Bad Control

I can often tend to be a control freak. I talk plenty about that side of my personality, my “OCD-like” tendencies, and several tips that have proven effective for me and others for releasing control here.

But lately, I've been thinking even more about this concept of “control,” and I'd like to share with you some of my recent thoughts on the matter.

See, many humans, especially they type of driven, type-A, hard-charging, high-achieving, successful humans who frequent my podcast and blog, seem to thrive on control. Control over time. Control over schedules. Control over events. Control over travel. Control over people, control over body, control over sleep, and control over money. Control, control, and more control dominates in a frenzied attempt to maintain predictability and order at all costs.

Now, control is not necessarily a bad thing. In reality, some control is good and some control is bad.

For example, controlling activities such as scheduling, organization, planning, preparedness, and wise, discerning management of one's affairs tends to lend good order to life, and to society in general. But it is when that control becomes void of trust, void of flow, and void of any semblance of flexibility that the control becomes corrupted. This type of control is fear-based and often involves nervous and often frantic attempts to not only try to predict every present and future scenario, but to maneuver through and manipulate those scenarios (and the people within them) to the extent that much of the joy and spontaneity of life is lost. This can be a very narcissistic, often masochistic, and ultimately sad and unfulfilling way to live.

Take routines for example: such as the type of morning, afternoon, and evening routines I often share here on my website and in my podcasts. Sure, routines are good, but not if they involve a need to engage in stress-inducing control over the entire day and a refusal to allow any element of the routine to ever be missed. See, not every day needs to be 100% predictable. Not every day needs to involve the same routine. Life is not some kind of a controllable factory. Instead, with wisdom and discernment, you just be willing to marry the day's order with chaos; to cancel a morning workout to go on a sunrise walk with a loved one; to skip a morning superfood smoothie to have waffles with your children; to shove your strict bedtime later to go gaze at the stars or play flashlight hide-and-seek outdoors or to go on a nighttime bike ride through downtown.

So step back and look at your life.

What elements of control, when you view them from an objective, outsider standpoint seem just basically ridiculous when you really start to think about them? Which are illogical and just elements of your daily routine or predictable existence or habitual patterns or hypnotic, rigid trance that you've simply hung on to because they give you that dopamine-releasing, checklist-completing feeling that somehow makes you feel happy and stable, such as having a set number of steps that you must take every day no matter what, or the same predictable lunch every day no matter what, or a strict bedtime that threatens to make your head explode if you skip?

In contrast, what kind of control in your life is wise and discerning control, control that is strategic and purposeful, and control that is not for control's sake, but for some greater purpose, such as not exercising to merely exercise and burn calories but to make yourself stronger and better able to protect yourself and others around you; or eating because you need nutrition and not because it's X time of day and that's always when you eat; or allowing for a free-flowing vacation with unpredictability and random adventure, rather than a vacation in which you are scheduling every last minute and driving others around you absolutely nuts?

This whole concept of releasing control reminds me just a bit of this Instagram video about the tribe of Benjamin (AKA Binyamin), which is ironically my first name, associated with Sagittarius, my sign, and even one of the inspirations for the bow and arrow symbology in the Ben Greenfield Life logo. In case you don't have the time to watch it, the main points are:

-Each of the Hebrew months have certain kabbalsitic points to it that allude to the essence of the month. One of those points is the tribe that represents the month. The tribe that represents the month of kislev (November-December) is Binyamin.

-Every single tribe had a different role to play, a different purpose in the whole of Israel. The tribe of Binyamin were known as the archers. Especially when going out to war, the people of Binyamin were the ones who specialized in throwing the bows and arrows.

-That’s where we get Sagitarrius (the zodiac of the month of kislev) from. The sign of Sagittarius is a bow and arrow. But what’s the essence of the bow and arrow and what does it represent? Think about this: what happens when you throw a bow and arrow? Well, at first there’s a lot of resistance – lots of pressure, tension, and constriction. But when you let go of the resistance (the control), it is then that the arrow is free. It is only then that you’re not resisting reality, you’re not worried and you’re not in this state of tension. Rather, you’re free. You’re a free being.

-Not only that, but if the archer never lets go of the arrow, the arrow will never get anywhere. If we chose to constantly stay in a state of contraction and tension in life (e.g. control) we will never get anywhere. Only when we chose to let go can the bow release the arrow and the arrow get anywhere. Only when we let go of control and give it all to God can we get anywhere in life.

-So stop resisting and let go. Be free. Trust that God will take the arrow (your life) wherever it needs to be.

Ultimately, the takeaway message from this Hebrew lore is this: archers unleashing their arrows are only as accurate as they can truly be when they learn how to gracefully trust and release control.

How about you?

Are you controlling your own bow with such white-knuckled ferocity that your arrows are shaky, unstable, and missing the mark?

Furthermore, here's something interesting to consider: when it comes to releasing control, you may want to think about how you want to be remembered.

For example, do you want to remembered as the person who never went out and looked at the stars because it’s just so late – past your ideal bedtime predicted by your smart wearable?

Do you want to be remembered as the person who never slept in and snuggled with your lover because you must optimize your sleep cycle for, you know, circadian rhythms and everything, by never missing a sunrise gaze?

Do you want to be remembered as the strict and rigid person who never messed up the control of any day, but was kind of a drag to be around because of that (you know, the guy or girl who always leaves the party early to be ready for your AM Crossfit session, or makes everybody else at the table feel guilty by preaching a sermon on the poison in the bread basket)?

Do you see what I mean?

How grand an adventure on this planet one can embark upon if they release control, and how much more love could they be remembered for. Joy, play, adventure, freedom, flow, laughter, and relationships all tend to blossom under some semblance of a lack of control. Get a little messy. Sleep in. Skip a workout to play the guitar. Skip a breathwork session to dance. I'm not saying you shouldn't have a predictable routine. I'm just saying you shouldn't be so attached to it that if you miss it one day, your head explodes or you slip into a worried depression.

I suspect that if you're reading this, you may understand the conundrum I've personally faced the past few years as I've grown more disillusioned with the whole anti-aging, longevity, and biohacking movement's unbalanced focus upon spending nearly the entirety of one's day engaged in activities that allow one to live longer or be healthier, without much of a thought of engaging in more fun, danger, risk-taking, adventure, relationships, and exploration of God's great planet in a manner that may indeed suck a few weeks off one's life, but is so, so worth it.

When it comes to this type of “health” control, do you want to be remembered for never spending a day on the lake, mowing down a burger and ice cream, or staying out late dancing because, well, it could mess up all your zero vegetable oil, hyperbaric oxygen, red lights, and blood flow restriction training efforts?

Or do you want people to smile in fond remembrance of your joy, your laughter, and your free-flowing, adventurous spirit?

As you can imagine, the type of extreme health control I've been describing can get in the way of simply living a remarkable life. Who wants to live a long time if those long years are spent cold, hungry, drive-less and locked away in some kind of fancy, life-extending sensory deprivation chamber? Sometimes it seems all the folks at the pointy edge of health are actually just prisoners of their own body, prisoners of their own brains, and prisoners of their own habits.

I've certainly felt that way at times, although this occurs increasingly less as I've grown to realize the magic of embracing flow, creativity, and even mild amounts of beautiful, mildly imperfect chaos in one's life. As a matter of fact, here's how I'm starting to look at things: people often champion the value of an ideal combination of health span and life span, but perhaps we should also be considering adventure span, creative span, relationship span, and purpose span!

Speaking of purpose, try this on for size, as it's something that has been rolling around in the back of my head as what could be the “theme” of Ben Greenfield Life and is based upon this concept of releasing control in order to experience adventure…

…”Release control and live life.”

Release control and live life.

Heck, one could even use a pneumonic like “Recall” to remember this important mantra (get it? RElease Control And Live Life).

It seems fitting, because at the end of the day, that's really what I've been doing with my own life of late: trying to teach all the other hard-charging, high-achieving biohackers, and health enthusiasts out there who follow me how to increasingly release control and live life – a life beyond mere fitness and diet, and a more meaningful life beyond the perfectly healthy life yet humdrum and selfish, controlled life I lived for so long.

This is especially true when it comes to so-called biohackers. After all, biohacking is nearly all about control, isn't it?

You control the sun with infrared panels and light hacking. You control the earth with grounding and PEMF. You control the air with ozone and HBOT. You control the electricity with EMF blockers and faraday cages. You control the light with blue light blockers and souped-up computer screen software. Look, none of this environmental control is bad or a waste of time per se, but like I wrote earlier in this essay, if biohacking is simply control for control's sake or control so you can live yet another day that you spend the majority of simple controlling so you can live yet another day, it can become a bit selfish, a bit meaningless, and a bit void of adventure and joy.

As a matter of fact, why not just use these health technologies to spice up your life, give you just the perfect amount of energy that you need, and equip you for thrilling adventures or – as we say at Kion as the purpose of the health supplements we design – to prepare you for the next step of your journey, whatever that may be for you.

But the journey itself shouldn't be about health. The journey should instead be healthy living for the goal of equipping oneself to go out and love God, love others, and explore an amazing planet with a well-prepared body and brain.

So the eight hours of solid sleep at night isn't a goal. No, the goal is “Hey, I want to climb a mountain tomorrow.” So you sleep just enough so that you could do that. It might be seven, it might be eight, it might be nine, but you shouldn't be so attached to a number that you become a prisoner to sleep. Instead, you should simply be trying to use a bit of smart and healthy living paired with wise and reasonable amounts of control to get a touch of an extra edge. But you're not trying to excessively control or predict your life and death.

You see the difference?

One approach is using biohacking and technology and tools and toys to enhance our ability to live life in a spirit of adventure in a free-flowing creative manner. The other is grasping at needless straws while trying to hold on as long as possible to as many years as possible no matter what.

In summary, we should be thinking about squeezing as much life as we can out of the years that we have been blessed with, and certainly biohacking tools, technologies, and toys can help us to do that. Otherwise, we're at the risk of spending an entire life experience in one long attempt to look good and to elongate life, and how silly it seems to prepare, prepare, and prepare to live a long time, then spend all that time we've created figuring out how to do other things to help us live a long time.

After all, we are going to die someday. We are going to die an old, ugly, fleshy, and wrinkled death. So we need to think about how we’ll be remembered, because I can nearly guarantee that it won't be for our chiseled abs, number of Crossfit sessions on the whiteboard or fancy smart drug protocol. No: we'll be remembered for how we loved and how we were loved.

For our adventures.

For our experiences.

For our relationships.

For how we made people feel.

Eventually, at some point, your life will be over and you may realize, “Oh my gosh! I haven’t gone on any adventures. I haven’t breathed fresh air at the top of a mountain, I haven't eaten vegetable oil on a random beach in Thailand, I haven't stayed out past my bedtime to go hunting or stargazing, and I've basically lived in a safe and protected, controlled bubble my whole life.”

Trust me: you don't want to be on your deathbed and realize that you just spent a lifetime pushing this deathbed moment a little farther forward in time, and missing life in the process. Intead, you want to be on your deathbed relishing the adventures, the experiences, the love, the people, the relationships, and the God and sacred spiritual souls you connected with and will hopefully rejoin at the pearly gates of heaven to live with forevermore.

How much healthy food you ate, how much you exercised, how many workouts you crushed, how impressive your supplements stack was, how many life-improvement books you consumed, how short your telomeres were, how many red light sessions, how cold of a cold bath – how much of this and how much of that can you do before it kind of becomes your whole life, in a controlled box.

A controlled box sitting in a dark corner of a great, big magical planet.

Let's not be that.

That's it for this week! If you have questions, comments, or feedback below, please leave your thoughts. I read them all!

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2 thoughts on “Precepts: Control

  1. Jeff R. says:

    Ben, I want to start by saying I quite literally never take the time to leave comments on any sort of article, social media post, etc., but this is a truly powerful message that more people than I think you realize need to hear. I have been following along on your latest transformation and journey to strive for a more balanced, fruitful life, and the transparency youu have shown is very honorable. The refocus on prioritizing legacy and fulfilling life the way god truly intends resonates with me and has provided a new perspective on life I didn’t know I needed. Thank you, and keep up the positive momentum!

  2. Kaitlin says:

    Ben, this was… this was everything I needed to hear and more. I didn’t realize how narrow my life had been getting. You just made me zoom out x100 and see the ridiculousness of some of my actions and obsessions. Like you, I have an addictive, OCD-esque personality.

    Thank you for the reminder that control for controls sake is not the goal. That the purpose of one’s longevity-enhanced life is to enjoy said life, not to spend it obsessing about how to live it ‘perfectly’ in terms of health.

    Thank you so so much for writing this. It truly means so much to me. Even more so coming from someone who truly gets it.

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