Taking Control of the Controllable

Leadership / July 12, 2012

It is completely natural for all of us to spend our time worrying about the things that we can’t control and no matter how hard we try to convince ourselves that our worrying is futile, we just can’t seem to get it out of our heads. Or can we? Justin Cobb, entrepreneur, motivational speaker and leadership coach teaches you how channel your energy into those things that we can control and put aside the pointless worries.


Firstly let’s start with a couple of examples of the futility of worrying about things we can’t control. Tomorrow you have a huge outdoor event and you’ve spent the whole of the last month scouring the weather reports trying to get an idea of what it is going to be like. The week before you start waking up in the night with nightmares about torrential rain storms and wet delegates.

Or how about the day of the week? For some people the day of the week dictates how happy they are for the whole of that day. They’re happy on Friday but miserable when Monday comes back round. It’s amazing how many people are so quick to write off Mondays which make up 14.3% of their week, even though they have no control over the fact that Monday comes around every 7 days for the rest of your life.

The productive thing to do in both of these examples is to focus on what you can control. You can’t control the weather but you can control setting up a marquee, or an inside option if the weather is terrible. If it’s a beautiful day then great, you get to enjoy your event outdoors. If not you’ve got contingency plans in place to make sure that you can carry on unaffected.

And rather than simply hating Monday the productive thing to do would be to focus on making this Monday the most amazing Monday ever.

Life is divided into two categories, those things we can control, and those that we can’t

Here are some things that we simply cannot control:

–       The mood of a customer or client prior to our interaction with them

–       Control over the world-wide economy, the unemployment rate or the average wage

–       Traffic

–       Train delays

Here are some things that we definitely can control

–       The way we view challenges and obstacles

–       Our attitude towards the world and during our interactions

–       What we choose to focus our energy on

–       Our own work ethic

–       The way we treat others

–       Putting ourselves into situations whereby how hard we work determines our success
So if you view these as two separate sets you have to make the choice about which one you want to focus on. The choice you make today is going to affect your life from today. It determines not only the level of success that you will have but also how happy you are with your life. I always tell people that expending energy trying to change things outside of their control is to rob yourself of the chance to accomplish what you want. To focus all of you energy on what you can control is the high percentage play towards accomplishing what you want and to feeling great on a daily basis.

The difference between pressure and stress is one of the most commonly misunderstood concepts in life. Pressure is good. Any successful person, athlete, husband or wife puts pressure on themselves to do the best that they can. When I was about to meet my in-laws for the first time I wanted to make a good impression, so I put pressure on myself to be outgoing, to make conversation, to make a good impression. Pressure is great. The performance pressure that an athlete feels during a game and the pressure that a parent feels to show their children a good example are both positive things. Those who relish in pressure situations tend to be the most successful in all areas of their lives.

Stress on the other hand, kills. When we think about stressed-out people we think of business people, or people with huge responsibilities perhaps to their families or more generally. In reality, stress is solely created by the way that we perceive things. Stress is created only when we allow something out of our control to affect us in a negative way.

Take the financial meltdown as an example. There were without doubt some Wall Street executives who were very stressed out. At the time there were so many unknowns and so many moving parts that it would be easy to see how stress could accumulate. Sadly it was reported that some executives even took their own lives because they couldn’t handle the stress. Other executives chose to focus on what they could control about their own individual day to day situation and put pressure on themselves to do all that find solutions to the things they could control. Stress kills, both literally and figuratively. It causes heart problems, family problems and gets in the way of us seeking productive solutions to the problem at hand.

One of my early mentors in business summed it up like this:

‘Even if we got news right now that the world was ending in 20 minutes it still wouldn’t be productive or make sense to spend those 20 minutes upset or stressing out over an inevitable outcome that we can’t control. The only productive thing to do would be to enjoy the last 20 minutes.’

Put pressure on yourself to give everything that you have to impact those things that are in your control and recognise that those things you can’t control. They will only cause you stress.

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