Control vs. Flow is a state that has many benefits

A Coaching Power Tool By Elizabeth Weesner, Executive Coach, Facilitator Coach, UNITED STATES

Control vs. Flow Elizabeth Weesner_Coaching_Tool

We are all faced with challenges and situations that cause tension for us as individuals in our personal and professional lives. When problems arise that cause fear, anxiety stress, it’s valuable to have a tool to identify what is happening to us emotionally and consider how to we want to proceed.  When emotions are strong, the best solution doesn’t always come naturally to us. We have had experiences that have created patterns for us that perhaps aren’t working for us, and we wish to change them.  This is where a power tool can be supportive.  It can help us identify our triggers and pause to ask ourselves what is happening at the moment.  It provides us a way to identify the discomfort, put it into words, and give us techniques about alternative ways to proceed that align with our values.

My personal struggle with control

I chose to develop a power tool with techniques that have supported me in an area that has been a lifelong struggle of mine, my need to feel like I’m in control. I have been working on this for years and have come a long way, yet my habitual pattern still will have me grasping for control when I find myself in an uncomfortable situation.  I have received feedback that I am a “control freak” or “bossy.”  I can remember feeling that to be a leader; I had to be in control.  The concept of “going with the flow” was something that made no sense to me.  This need for control has damaged relationships for me.  I told myself a story that being in control was necessary to move forward and make progress.  I believed that I was the only one that could do it, and I felt truly alone. Likewise, I didn’t trust myself, the universe, or those around me.  I was completely attached to the thought that I could actually die if I weren’t in control.  After many years of working on this, I can now recognize it.  When I see this type of fear in other people, I want to support them with identifying what is happening and working together to look for alternative ways of feeling productive and safe.

Control vs. Flow is a state that has many benefitsThe concept behind control vs. flow

Why Control?

Human beings have a deep-seated need for certainty and control. ~ Raj Raghunathan

Control can boost our sense of well-being by making us feel we can achieve the outcomes we desire.  It can also keep us from feeling helpless under someone else’s control. People who need control set more lofty goals and achieve them, but this can go too far, and the drive for control can make us miserable.

Seeking control can be positive, but only to a point (Raghunathan, 2016). There are many reasons why someone may want to control other people.  They may have their own insecurities, low self-esteem, or feel out of control themselves.  They are attached to control, even if it’s a false sense of control to protect themselves from being betrayed.  There is even research that points to the narcissistic tendencies of controllers (Newman, 2015).

What is Flow?

Flow is defined as an experience during which individuals are fully involved in the present moment(Nakamura & Csikszentmihalyi, 2014).  People in a flow state tend to feel cheerful, strong, active, creative, concentrated, and satisfied. They are also shown to have higher self-esteem (“The Benefits of Flow,” 2015).

The coaching application of a power tool is to support clients with shifting their perspective to behavior that supports their goal. As a coach, I work with my client to determine what their beliefs are when these situations occur.  In this situation, my client wants to let go of control and work towards a more supportive way of being.  It’s supportive for us to begin by diving deeper into what’s coming up for them and their feelings in these moments by exploring some questions.

Powerful Questions

There are helpful questions to ask the client to consider when they feel out of control and want to control a situation, person, or outcome.

  • What is the worst thing that can happen?
  • What will be different if I take control now?
  • What are other alternatives?
  • What is possible if I trust myself right now?

The coaching application of a power tool

Deep Listening

To support my client in shifting their perspective, it’s critical that this is their experience with their need for control and not assume what they feel based on my own experience. At the same time, I can empathize; I must respect that their journey is unique.  This requires listening and playing back to them what they have said to hear themselves and identify what is coming up for them. This can help further the client’s awareness of the behavior that they want to shift.


Once a client is aware of what is happening when these situations occur, we can explore what to do with this awareness.  Clients often have awareness and yet don’t know how to move forward with putting new perspectives.  Once the client recognizes that controlling behavior isn’t benefiting them or others, they are usually open to alternative approaches.  This is when a power tool supports introducing another behavior, diving into where control comes from and how they want to behave.  Introducing changing perspectives at this point is a way to proceed to recognize alternative behaviors.


As a coach, I can support my client by offering other perspectives, introducing the concept of flow.  In this case, the opposite of control may be different for them, and the goal isn’t to convince them that flow is the answer but to help them find the perspective that is what they want to shift.  The word may be different for them, but the concept of a power tool and changing perspective follows the same process regardless of the word that is used to describe the alternative way of being.  Once the client aligns with changing perspectives, we can begin to develop an action plan for when the need to take control arises for them.

Action Plan

It’s usually not enough to just say; I’m going to stop being controlling.  This takes practice and commitment to getting uncomfortable.  The action plan that a client commits to must be of their own making.  They must decide they want to identify the triggers and consciously choose how to move forward.


It’s supportive to share with others what they are working on to stay on track and support making this change.  When clients form their accountability plan and commit to following it and getting uncomfortable, they are well-positioned for success.

Using a power tool with a client is supportive in that it can introduce alternative behavior for triggers that get in the way of the client’s goals.  Flow is a state that has many benefits associated with it, and to achieve this state; requires trust.  The client must trust themselves as well as those around them to relinquish control.  This is why coaching is very supportive when there is something a client wants to change.  As a coach, I will hold them accountable for what they say they want.  Simply introducing the concept of flow state isn’t enough.  It will require commitment and a strong desire to change.  The benefit of having a clear focus of changing from controlling to flow (control vs. flow) gives us a common language around why is getting in the way of flow and what is underneath the need to control.  We have a clear goal and can work together towards achieving this goal and removing obstacles as they arise.


Newman, S. (2015) Why Anyone Would Want to Control You.Psych Central.

Raghunathan, R. (2016) Why Losing Control Can Make You Happier.  Greater Good.

The benefits of flow. (2015). The Positive Psychlopedia.

The benefits of flow

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