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.


Frequency illusion – we notice things that are top-of-mind

Also – if you have children or grandchildren, you must read this article

Years ago I was in the market to buy a new car. After researching different makes and models I narrowed my choice to a Subaru, a car I had previously never considered. Suddenly, I noticed Subarus everywhere.

For the first 69 years of my life, I never ate at Whataburger. But one day I overheard someone say that it was their favorite hamburger so I tried it out. It is a great meal. I’m sold. Suddenly, I saw Whataburger restaurants everywhere. I’ve been driving down to the family Lakehouse for the last five years and never noticed that there are four Whataburgers along the way. Of course, they were there all along; I’m just now seeing them. 

There are several terms that describe this phenomenon; one is colloquial, coined by a journalist, and the other is a more academic phrase coined by a psychology professor.

The term Baader-Meinhof phenomenon was first used in 1994 by a commenter on the St. Paul Pioneer Press’ online discussion board, who came up with it after hearing, for the first time, the name of the ultra-left-wing German terrorist group twice in 24 hours. Once he was exposed to the name, he saw it often in various venues. 

In 2006 Stanford professor Arnold Zwicky coined the phrase “frequency illusion” to describe this phenomenon. It’s caused, he wrote, by two psychological processes. The first, selective attention, kicks in when you’re struck by a new word, thing, or idea; after that, you subconsciously keep an eye out for it, and as a result find it surprisingly often. The second process, confirmation bias, reassures you that each sighting is further proof of your impression that the thing has gained sudden omnipresence.

We can use this phenomenon to our advantage. Since we tend to notice those things that are “top of mind” and overlook those that are not, let’s choose what we want to notice and pay attention to. For instance:

      • We are surrounded by innumerable reasons to be grateful—life, freedom, friends—but we’ll remain unaware, and perhaps ungrateful, unless we look for them.
      • We are encompassed by beauty—nature, children, music, books—but often don’t recognize it.
      • God is at work in our lives but we may not recognize His activity because we’re looking elsewhere.

This concept has huge implications for goal setting. I’ve often wondered why, when we set a goal and go public with it, our chances of accomplishing the goal dramatically increase. The Baader-Meinhof phenomenon would suggest that once goals are placed in the forefront of our minds we’re more aware of them and we’ll devote more time and effort to achieving them.

For instance, several years ago I set a goal of making 50 new friends in a year. Having set and announced the goal, making friends become an important part of my conscious thinking. I constantly looked for potential friends and found them everywhere.

We can train our minds using this principle and prosper from it.

Plus – an article worth reading

If you have children or grandchildren, you need to read this article titled The No. 1 soft skill that predicts kids’ success more than IQ—and how to teach it .

Adopt the Kaizen Strategy; pursue continuous improvement


Fifty years ago, when I first started traveling internationally, all luggage was heavy and carried by hand. Thirty years ago, a Delta pilot had the good idea of putting two wheels on luggage so it could we pulled. Travel Pro was the first company to produce the wheeled luggage. Twenty years ago, manufacturer’s started putting four wheels on luggage, making it easier to manipulate. Ten years ago manufacturer’s started using light weight materials. When empty, I can pick up my large suitcase with one finger.

What will be the next improvement in luggage? We don’t know, but it will happen because the luggage industry will continue to improve its prosaic, simple product. This continuous improvement is a good example of the Kaizen strategy.

Here’s the backstory.

 In 1950, 21 of Japan’s most important business leaders attended a dinner party in Tokyo. American statistician W. Edwards Deming was the keynote speaker. Deming said that the key to restoring Japan’s post-war economy was to pursue a simple strategy of continuous improvement of all products and services. Collectively, and without regulatory or legislative involvement, these leaders adopted Deming’s recommendations, which eventually led to a manufacturing and economic renaissance.

In two decades, Japanese products, which had been referred to as “Jap scrap,” became synonymous with “quality” and “super-engineering.” These quality improvement methods took Japan, within one generation, from a country that had been completely destroyed in 1945 to the number two economic power in the world. The Japanese called the process “kaizen,” which means “continuous betterment” or “continuous improvement.”

How can we benefit from this simple concept?  

Never be content with the way things are; continually strive to make things better. Adopt the mindset that everything is a work in progress and that incremental improvements can always be made. Continually ask, “How can this be improved?” 

Apply the Kaizen strategy to your personal life. Make it part of your modus operandi.

      • Embrace the thought that everything – all products and systems – can be improved. How you make your coffee in the morning, your vacations, your library – everything can be improved. Even things that are mundane and simple – brushing your teeth – can be improved. 
      • Look for small, incremental changes, not just large major changes. 
      • Kaizen is continuous; don’t ever stop searching for ways to make something better.
      • Leaders, this is an important part of your job. Apply the Kaizen method to all processes, systems, services, events, and products. If your organization is large enough, create a position dedicated to Kaizen, someone who will constantly consider ways for every part of the organization to improve. 

False causality – it’s hard to know what caused what

Plus – an article on how asking one question can completely change how you feel

A town hires a new sheriff and in the next three years the theft rate drops twenty-five percent. In appreciation of the reduced theft rate, the city council votes to give him a hefty raise. But are they confusing correlation with causation?

Perhaps the theft rate is down because thieves have been so good at stealing that there’s not much left to steal so they have moved to another town. Or perhaps an aggressive salesman has sold theft deterrent systems to most homeowners. Or perhaps the judge has increased the punishment for theft so it no longer pays to be a thief.

False causality is a mental shortcut—it’s lazy thinking—that can lead to bad decisions. Instead of taking the time and effort to look beyond a simple relationship (new sheriff—lower crime rate) we often just assume they are linked by cause and effect. 

Instructional designer Archana Madhavan brings clarity to the difference between correlation and causation. She writes:

“While causation and correlation can exist at the same time, correlation does not imply causation. Causation explicitly applies to cases where action A causes outcome B. On the other hand, correlation is simply a relationship. Action A relates to Action B—but one event doesn’t necessarily cause the other event to happen.

“Correlation and causation are often confused because the human mind likes to find patterns even when they do not exist. We often fabricate these patterns when two variables appear to be so closely associated that one is dependent on the other. That would imply a cause and effect relationship where the dependent event is the result of an independent event.

“However, we cannot simply assume causation even if we see two events happening, seemingly together. One, our observations are purely anecdotal. Two, there are so many other possibilities for an association, including:

      • The opposite is true: B actually causes A.
      • The two are correlated, but there’s more to it: A and B are correlated, but they’re actually caused by C.
      • There’s another variable involved: A does cause B—as long as D happens.
      • There is a chain reaction: A causes E, which leads E to cause B (but you only saw that A causes B from your own eyes).”

So don’t jump to conclusions. Don’t make a connection where none exist. Take the time to think through all effects and consider what prompted them.

Must read article

Here’s an interesting and helpful article titled Asking One Simple Question Can Entirely Change How You Feel