Structure and Discipline or Control and Addiction?

You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems. Your goal is your desired outcome. Your system is the collection of daily habits that will get you there. – James Clear

View from Indian Head, Upper and Lower Ausable Lakes, Adirondack Mountains, NY

This quote from James Clear, author of Atomic Habits, is a perfect quote for a life coach. We encourage our clients to create structures, rituals, and systems to achieve their goals. We suggest using the SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant/Realistic, and Time-Bound) method to guarantee a successful outcome. We talk about the importance of discipline, ritual/habits, and schedules. We look at what gets in the way and build some flexibility into the plan.

Where is the line, the tipping point, that if gone unchecked leads from well-intentioned daily actions to an addictive pursuit of control of our behavior, our environment, and the desired outcome? How do we know when our goal becomes the totality of our existence? Our culture values overwork or “exhaustion as a status symbol and productivity as self-worth”, as Brené Brown shares in her book, The Gifts of Imperfection.

I know what the tipping point feels like for me on a micro and macro level. Micro: When I attempt to micromanage my patient husband and believe this is a sign of caring. Macro: When I push myself to the brink of exhaustion with exercise, over-committing, “dieting”, over-working. At these times I’m experiencing (and fiercely attempting to numb) my sadness (fear of unworthiness). I get to masquerade as the omnipotent do all, be all, and don’t let them see you sweat, powerful woman. UGH!

This exploration is inspired by a recent podcast: “We Can Do Hard Things”, with guest Dr. Brené Brown talking about her latest book and HBO series, Atlas of the Heart. I literally stopped in my tracks on my morning “ritual” of a short hike on nearby trails. Back up. I need to hear that again. Full stop. Mouth drop. I don’t get it. I don’t want to get it. Listened again this morning. Then I read the transcript. I’m trying to get it.

As I twirl with the concept that the extreme effort to control (ourselves, others, environment) fosters disconnection (to ourselves, others, environment), I invite you, reader of my occasional blog, to reflect on the times when you’ve experienced that tipping point. Maybe it was not in pursuit of your conscious goals, but in pursuit of being a loving parent, friend, or partner? When does control masquerade as caring? How do you know you’ve gone overboard and are experiencing disconnection with yourself or others? What do you do about it? If you could do it over, what would love and connection look like in those moments?

This feels like an important conversation, especially in these desperately uncertain times when it’s so tempting to become a complete control freak. As I continue to explore this in my own life, my intention is to be curious and practice self-compassion. If this post inspires self-reflection, I invite you to do the same. This is hard stuff and we can do hard things.

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4 Responses to Structure and Discipline or Control and Addiction?

  1. Awesome post Cate! Awesome. ❤️

    Thank you.


    Thomas (he/him/his) Visibility leads to acceptance.


  2. Ellen says:

    Awesome, difficult to put into practice idea. When I first heard that helping is the sunny side of control I really didn’t understand the concept. How could my good intentions to make everything all better really mean that I was trying to control? I needed to learn that my reality was not the same as everyone else’s reality. I needed to learn that feelings are not facts. I needed to not do things for others that they could do for themselves. This was robbing them of their dignity.
    We CAN do hard things!!

    • Thanks for your reply, Ellen. As a chronic caregiver it has been a painful lesson for me that doing for others can be disempowering to them. Oh but how I want to be everything to everyone. May I live long enough to enjoy the peace that comes from walking with rather than push, pull, do more, do better.

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