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Control the Controllables: the Power of Letting Go

Control the Controllables: the Power of Letting Go

“Control the controllables” is a popular mantra in sport, espoused by top performers from cricketer Sachin Tendulkar to Olympic cyclist Sir Chris Hoy.

 The idea is to focus only on the aspects of your performance that are within your control. Your practice, your preparation, your diet, your mindset.

With this comes ignoring everything else. If you can’t control it, what is the benefit in worrying about it?

In sport, you can’t control how the umpire or referee will make their decisions, how the stewards deal with security, the mood of the crowd, the weather, or which way the luck will fall during a match.

Worrying about any of these aspects will detract mental energy from what you can control, namely your own performance.

The principle of controlling the controllables is designed to cultivate the art of being able to let things go, of dropping resistance.

It's amazing how many aspects of one's daily life involve pointless resistance to something outside of our control.

Consider the following scenarios:

  1. Your usual train to work is delayed by ten minutes, which will leave you late for work. There is no alternative route to work so you stay on the platform. With every minute of the delay, your stress levels rise. By the time you reach the office you are in a properly bad mood.

  2. You are performing well and at work and your boss appreciates your efforts. You are hopeful of a promotion and it looks on the cards. In a separate department, someone you like but don’t particularly rate gets a promotion. It has no impact on your promotion prospects but it still pisses you off and leaves you in a bad mood.

  3. You’ve worked in your office for a few years and got to know everyone. You get on well with almost everyone but there is one person who really annoys you. When you walk into the office, what’s on your mind are not the 99 people you like but the one person you don’t like. Your stress levels rise every time you come into work.

In each case, there is a driver of your annoyance. In each case the outcome is also completely out of your control. So what is the point in getting in a bad mood?

A lot of stress and negative feelings we carry around with us are the result of pointlessly resisting things we have no control over in the first place.

When we’re faced with a situation we don’t like, resistance to it will build in our minds. One of the characteristics of resistance is that it takes up a lot of headspace. That’s why you can dislike only one person in your office but that person is who you think about every morning when you come into work. Resisting things is tiring, it takes effort and it doesn’t leave room for thinking about much else.

When we find ourselves resisting something, we have two choices that make sense. We can choose to change or remove ourselves from the situation, if possible. If you hate your boss and they make your life a misery, the logical step is to change jobs.

The only alternative option that makes sense is to accept the situation. If you cannot change it, or you choose not to change it, then accepting it is the only rational choice.

So many of us spend so much of our time trapped by the third – and completely irrational – choice – of choosing not to change the situation but STILL resisting it.

If we cannot change it, continued mental resistance is futile! It is a sure-fire way to keep stress levels high.

Why make life harder than it needs to be?

Control your controllables and let everything else go!

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Thursday, 18 January 2018
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