C is for Controlling The Controllables

Today it is more common to hear people talking about controlling the controllables. The phrase is often used by athletes, but many people are applying the philosophy in their daily lives.

People may cross an emotional threshold in their lives, for example, when they choose to focus on what they can control. They opt for this route, rather than worrying about what they can’t control.

Some find this approach to be liberating. One person said:

“Several years ago I had a health scare. Fortunately I got wonderful treatment, but it also taught me a lesson.

“Nowadays I put my energies into the things I can control. This means choosing to have a positive attitude, encouraging other people and doing satisfying work.

“In the past I often worried about events beyond my control. Sometimes I used to spread gloom and doom, which was self-indulgent.

“These days I count my blessings. Each day is a bonus and I try to do my best to help other people.”

Controlling the controllables is an approach that can be used by individuals, teams or organisations. People can then focus their energies on the things they can do to shape their future lives.

If you wish, try tackling the exercises on this theme. These invite you to do the following things.

Describe the specific things you can control in your personal and professional life.

You may say, for example, that you can aim to have a take care of your health, eat healthy food and exercise. You can choose to have a positive attitude, be professional and make good use of the talents you have been given.

You can aim to encourage other people and help them to build on their strengths. You can spread hope and do your best to build a better world.

Describe the specific things you can’t control in your personal and professional life – though you may do your best to influence them. 

You can’t control whether or not or you get an illness, though you can do everything possible to stay healthy. You can’t control what people think of you, though you can try do you best to build a good reputation.

You can’t control your employers or the job market. You can’t control everything that happens in the world, though you can control your attitude towards these things.

Imagine that you have clarified what you can and can’t control. The next step is one that many people find shapes their future lives. They choose to focus on controlling the controllables.

Looking at your own life, when have you taken this step? When did you build on what you could control and manage what you couldn’t? What happened as a result of taking this approach?

Some people take this step after going through a crisis. They may experience an illness, job loss or other kind of setback. Looking at the situation, they have a choice.

As Viktor Frankl said in his famous book Man’s Search For Meaning, people can always choose their attitude. One of the first Holocaust survivor books, it describes his harrowing journey through the Nazi concentration camps.


Viktor tried to make sense of the madness. Life or death seemed so random, so how could you survive?

One approach was to do everything possible to look fit for work. This did not always succeed, but it increased the chances of living.

Viktor discovered another factor about many of the people who survived. They often had a meaning to live for beyond the immediate horror. They had a book to write, a relationship to rebuild or a dream to pursue. He later wrote:

“Everything can be taken from a man or a woman but one thing: the last of human freedoms to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

Here is a video that includes some of Victor’s thoughts on life.

A person can choose to be positive or negative, to be a creator or a complainer, to take responsibility or avoid responsibility. They can choose to build on what they do have – their strengths and assets – or moan about what they don’t have.

They can choose wilful intelligence – rather than wilful ignorance – and find solutions to challenges. They can choose to work hard to succeed or they can choose to sulk. Each choice has consequences, both for themselves and other people.

People love to feel in control. Sometimes, however, this simply means focusing on controlling the controllables. People can then aim to do their best in a situation. Strangely enough, this can produce a feeling of liberation.

If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. Bearing in mind the things you can and can’t control, this invites you to do the following things.

Describe specific things you can do to build on what you can control and manage what you can’t.

Describe the specific things that may happen as a result of taking this approach in your personal and professional life.

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