Don’t try to control things you can’t control

Concentric circles of control, concern, and influence

Study the above graph and consider the three concentric circles.

The small circle represents things we can control, the large circle represents things that we cannot control, and inside the dotted circle are things we cannot control but are concerned about and desire to influence.

We often spend too much time and energy thinking about and trying to manipulate things that we cannot control. Doing so is ineffective, frustrating, and potentially damaging. Instead we need to focus on things we can control. 

Identify things you can control, take responsibility for them, and be proactive in controlling them. 

You may be surprised to discover how many things you can control. You can control your:

      • attitude (are you a pessimist or an optimist?)
      • character (do you have a good work ethic; are you honest, punctual, flexible?) 
      • career (are you satisfied with your choice of career and are you aggressively pursuing it?) 
      • friends (are you a good friend to others and have you chosen friends that positively influence your life?) 
      • finances (are your finances under control; do you have a financial plan?) 
      • thoughts (are your thoughts constructive and beneficial?) 
      • speech (have you learned to filter your words before you speak?) 
      • discretionary time (do you waste or wisely spend your unrestrictive time?) 
      • hobbies (do you have hobbies that bring you joy and help you be a better person?) 
      • exercise and diet (are you overweight; do you have a healthy diet?)
      • time (do you waste time or properly manage it?)

Identify things you cannot control but you often try to, and stop trying.

      • If you’re married, you can’t control your spouse.
      • If you have children don’t try to control them. You may have some measure of control over your children when they are infants, but as they get older your control is minimal.
      • You can’t control the weather, global events, or the economy.

[Basically, after you’ve identified things you can control, everything else goes in the “I can’t control” category.]

Identify things you cannot control but are concerned about and want to influence.

There’s an infinite number of things I cannot control but I’m not concerned about most of them. I can’t control the GDP of Iceland, the weather, the stock market, or the rings around Saturn. But there are some things that, though I cannot control them, I am concerned about them. I am concerned for my spouse, children, friends, global warming, democracy in the United States. The only tool available to impact these areas is to attempt to influence them. There are some concerns I can directly and strongly influence (spouse, children) but many that I can only minimally impact but I should do what I can (I can help minimize global warming by recycling my waste; I can vote to elect good governmental leaders). 

Learn how to influence things you cannot control.

Learn the fine art of how to influence. It’s difficult to do, but effective. 

Control and influence are vastly different. 

      • Control is direct; influence is subtle and nuanced. 
      • Control can be quick; influence is slow and ongoing. 
      • Control is decisive; influence is suggestive.

We can influence through example, mentoring, coaching, and love.

Be proactive towards things you can control and areas you want to influence.

I enjoy the concept of being proactive. It is a gift. It implies that I can create or influence  a situation by causing something to happen rather than responding to it after it has happened. I admire people who are proactive and take initiative. Focus on things you can actually do something about, make plans to do so, and work your plan. Don’t worry about and waste time on things you have no control over.


10 Replies to “Don’t try to control things you can’t control”

  1. This is a wonderful and thought worthy message. Certainly as we age (into octogenarianville especially) the things we can/cannot control become paramount factors in our lives.

    1. Thanks, Pat, for taking the time to write. You’re right; as we age we see more clearly important aspects of life. Take care, Don.

  2. Thanks for a really good list of what we can control. Control is active not passive and I encounter what I call victim thinking. The person doesn’t accept that they have a part to play in their own happiness and well-being and just feel that the world/their family/their employer is against them.
    In some ways, we are more able to influence via social media than we ever could before but unfortunately it has replaced local newspapers (in the UK) and it is difficult to garner enough support in a particular locality. Our local newspaper was delivered free of charge every Friday evening and it gave us a sense of community.
    I don’t know what access you have to your state and Government representatives but we are able to email our MPs and, through some third party campaigns, peers in the House of Lords. This can bring about change. My MP regularly responds to my emails regarding Freedom of Religion and Belief and also to my personal bandwagon about subsidised childcare so women can return to work while they still have a legal right to have their job back. These campaigns often take a long time to bear fruit. We are able to see our MPs voting record and then we can decide whether we want them back at the next election.
    There are many voluntary organisations and charities who do influence decision making. CSW (Christian Solidarity Worldwide) now has expert status at the United Nations and holds events in Parliament for our legislators.
    Unfortunately there are a large number of people who believe they have no voice and don’t even vote in elections. Perhaps recognising the freedom we have in a democracy is important to demonstrate and teach to our young people. My MP once held Barclays Bank to account on my behalf when I would just have been an insignificant customer to the bank.
    Thanks again for your thought provoking articles. Keep them coming.

    1. Thanks, Angela. Your comments give us Americans an insight into your political system and the way you life. Thanks for always thinking well. Don

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