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Focus on What You Can Control - Reclaim Your Power

quote by Bayu Prihandito from Life Architekture related to keep focus on what you can control

Key Takeaways

  • Focusing on what we can control, such as our actions, attitudes, and responses, can lead to greater success and reduced stress.
  • Practices like mindfulness and understanding the neuroscience behind control can enhance our ability to focus on what we can control.
  • Many successful individuals, like Serena Williams and Elon Musk, have demonstrated the power of focusing on what they can control in their respective fields.
  • In the vast landscape of life, numerous factors are beyond our reach. We can't control the weather, the passage of time, or other people's actions and thoughts. But there is a realm of influence that we can govern—our actions, attitudes, responses, and efforts. This article dives into the art of focusing on what you can control, an approach rooted in the wisdom of stoic philosophy and proven effective by psychological studies. The idea is simple but transformative: when you shift your energy to the areas of your life you can control, you become the architect of your life.

    Stick with us as we explore this concept, providing practical advice, inspiring stories, and resources to help you master this critical life skill.

    Why Should We Focus on What We Can Control?

    word focus spelled out on different colour background

    Humans have a natural inclination to seek control. It provides a sense of certainty, comfort, and predictability. We crave control because it makes us feel secure in an uncertain world. But sometimes, our desire for control can extend to things outside our influence, leading to frustration and stress. The key is to channel our need for control towards areas within our power—our behavior, actions, and attitudes.

    But why is this shift in focus so essential?

    The Psychological Perspective

    Psychologically, focusing on what we can control can significantly impact our well-being and success. According to research by psychologists, it relates to the concept of "locus of control," a term coined by Julian Rotter in 1954. A person with an internal locus of control believes they can influence their life events, whereas someone with an external locus of control attributes outcomes to external factors like luck or fate.

    Studies show that individuals with a strong internal locus of control tend to have better mental health, higher self-motivation, and greater achievement motivation. They tend to handle stress better, as they believe they can control their responses and take action to improve their situation. In contrast, those with a strong external locus of control may feel helpless or overwhelmed when faced with challenging circumstances.

    Focusing on what you can control helps cultivate a robust internal locus of control. It promotes resilience, fosters a sense of empowerment, and enhances our ability to navigate life's challenges.

    Real-Life Applications

    The principle of focusing on what we can control applies to various life domains. In personal relationships, for instance, we can't control others' actions or feelings, but we can control our reactions and behavior towards them. By doing so, we can manage conflict better, maintain healthier relationships, and protect our mental well-being.

    In our professional lives, we can't control market trends, company policies, or colleagues' behavior. Still, we can control our performance, work ethic, continuous learning, and how we interact with others. This focus can lead to career growth, job satisfaction, and improved workplace relationships.

    In health and wellness, we can't control our genetic predispositions, but we can control our lifestyle choices—diet, exercise, sleep, and stress management—which play a substantial role in our overall health.

    By concentrating our energy on what we can influence, we make meaningful progress towards our goals and experience greater satisfaction and success.

    How to Harness Control: Practical Steps

    Embracing control in the areas that are genuinely within our power can be transformational, leading to personal growth, resilience, and satisfaction. But how exactly can we channel our innate need for control in the right direction? Here are three practical steps.

    Identifying What You Can Control

    The first step is to distinguish between what you can and can't control. This distinction might seem straightforward, but it often blurs in our everyday lives. Begin by writing down areas of concern in your life. Then divide them into two categories—those within your control and those beyond it.

    For instance, consider a job search:

    • You can't control the job market
    • You can't control the hiring process,
    • You can't control the number of applicants for a position.
    • But you can control your skill development, the number of job applications you send, the quality of your resume, and how well you prepare for interviews.

    This exercise will bring clarity, helping you discern between controllable and uncontrollable factors. By acknowledging the elements beyond your control, you can save energy and reduce stress. The focus can then shift to actionable aspects, enabling productive and solution-focused thinking.

    How Can You Shift Your Focus

    Once you've identified what you can control, the next step is to consciously shift your focus towards these areas. This step requires a change in mindset and attitude.

    When a challenging situation arises, instead of dwelling on uncontrollable factors, ask yourself, "What can I do about this?" Concentrate on actionable solutions. This mindset shift doesn't mean ignoring uncontrollable factors. Rather, it means acknowledging them and then focusing on your response and actions.

    In the job search example, instead of worrying about the competitive job market, focus on improving your resume, honing your skills, or preparing for interviews. By shifting your focus to the controllable aspects, you can convert concern into action, potentially increasing the chance of securing a job.

    The Stoic Philosophy and Control

    rock statue of a famous philosopher

    The Stoic philosophy, originating from ancient Greece and Rome, is particularly instructive when discussing the concept of control. Stoicism teaches us to distinguish between things we can control and those we can't and to focus our energy on the former.

    The Stoics, including philosophers like Seneca, Epictetus, and Marcus Aurelius, advocated for a life of virtue and wisdom. They believed that we have complete control over our minds, actions, and responses to external events. On the other hand, they recognized that most external circumstances are beyond our control, such as other people's actions, our reputation, and the course of nature.

    "Some things are within our power, while others are not. Within our power are opinion, motivation, desire, aversion, and, in a word, whatever is of our own doing; not within our power are our body, our property, reputation, office, and, in a word, whatever is not of our own doing." - Epictetus, a famous Stoic philosophers

    By embracing this philosophy, we can find serenity in accepting the things we can't control, reducing the stress and worry often associated with them. This, in turn, allows us to fully devote our energy and focus on the things we can control - our actions, thoughts, values, and responses.

    Moreover, Stoicism teaches us that our perceptions also lie within our control. Instead of seeing obstacles as negative, we can choose to view them as opportunities for growth and learning. This perspective shifts the narrative from being a victim of circumstances to being an active participant, using the situation to our advantage.

    "The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way." - Marcus Aurelius

    In our contemporary life, the Stoic philosophy can help us navigate through the myriad of challenges we face. By understanding and internalizing the Stoic distinction between what's within our control and what's not, we can lead more fulfilling, resilient, and peaceful lives. It's not about being passive or indifferent, but rather about directing our energies where they'll have the most impact - the realm of our control. In this way, Stoicism empowers us to live authentically, with wisdom, integrity, and inner peace.

    The Neuroscience Behind Control

    lab environment with green plants

    While it's crucial to consider philosophical and psychological perspectives on control, it's equally vital to understand the neuroscience behind it. Our brains play a significant role in how we perceive control and our ability to focus on what we can control.

    How Our Brains Perceive Control

    Research in neuroscience reveals that our perception of control is largely dictated by various brain structures, particularly those involved in executive functions and emotion regulation, such as the prefrontal cortex. When we encounter situations, our brains quickly evaluate whether we have control over the outcomes. If we perceive we have control, we're more likely to respond proactively, taking actions that align with our goals and values. Conversely, if we perceive we lack control, we may react with fear, stress, or frustration, which can lead to suboptimal decisions and outcomes.

    Understanding this neurological process can empower us to reshape our perception of control. By recognizing that our brains' initial evaluations may not always accurately represent our actual level of control, we can learn to reassess situations, focusing more on the aspects we can influence.

    Enhancing Control through Neuroplasticity

    Neuroplasticity, or the brain's ability to change and adapt, offers a promising avenue for enhancing our sense of control. Just as we can train our bodies to become stronger and more agile, we can also train our brains to better distinguish between what we can and can't control.

    Mindfulness practices, cognitive behavioral therapy, and consistent exposure to situations where we practice focusing on what we can control can all help strengthen neural pathways associated with proactive behavior and resilience. Over time, these practices can lead to a more accurate perception of control and a stronger focus on actionable aspects of our lives.

    Incorporating an understanding of neuroscience into our approach to control provides a more comprehensive perspective. It underscores that our focus on what is control is not just a philosophical or psychological concept, but also a neurological process that we can influence through intentional practices.

    The Intersection of Mindfulness and Control

    man sitting on top of rock overlooking mountains forest

    Understanding the relationship between mindfulness and control can further enhance our ability to focus on what we can control. Mindfulness, often associated with meditation and the practice of being present, complements our ability to control our reactions, attitudes, and decisions.

    The Role of Mindfulness in Control

    Mindfulness teaches us to become aware of our thoughts, emotions, and sensations in the present moment. By doing so, it offers a powerful tool for recognizing the elements within our control. When we practice mindfulness, we can observe our reactions and feelings objectively, without judgment or immediate reaction. This gives us the space to choose how we respond rather than reacting impulsively.

    For instance, if we're faced with a stressful situation, mindfulness can help us recognize our immediate emotional reactions, such as anger or anxiety. Rather than getting swept up in these emotions—which are often responses to things outside our control—we can acknowledge them and then choose a response that aligns with our goals and values, such as taking a deep breath, stepping away for a moment, or expressing our feelings calmly and assertively.

    This links closely with the Stoic philosophy's emphasis on differentiating between things within and outside our control. By practicing mindfulness, we can improve our ability to make this distinction and choose responses that are within our control.

    Applying Mindfulness to Increase Control

    Applying mindfulness to increase control involves a few key steps.

    1. Regular Mindfulness Practice: This could involve formal mindfulness meditation, but it can also include other practices like mindful eating, walking, or journaling. The goal is to train your brain to become more aware of your thoughts, emotions, and reactions.
    2. Observe Without Judgment: When you notice feelings or reactions arising, try to observe them without labeling them as "good" or "bad". Just recognize them for what they are.
    3. Choose Your Response: Remember that your response is within your control. Once you've recognized and accepted your initial reactions, choose a response that aligns with your values and goals.

    Through these steps, mindfulness can enhance our ability to control our responses, leading to increased emotional intelligence, improved relationships, and better outcomes in the face of challenges. It's a potent tool that complements the emphasis on control in areas like Stoic philosophy and psychological resilience.

    Success Stories: Those Who Focused on What They Could Control

    success story written on a paper by a typing machine

    Focusing on what you can control has been a key success factor for many highly accomplished individuals. Let's delve into a few inspiring real-life success stories.

    • Serena Williams: Arguably one of the greatest tennis players of all time, Serena Williams faced numerous challenges throughout her career, including sexism, racism, and multiple health issues. However, she remained focused on what she could control - her training, mindset, and responses to these obstacles. This steadfast focus enabled her to win an astounding 23 Grand Slam singles titles and become an icon of perseverance and strength.
    • Elon Musk: As the founder of companies like SpaceX, Tesla, and Neuralink, Elon Musk has made a significant impact across various industries. Despite facing skepticism and substantial obstacles, Musk remained focused on his goals and what he could control - his vision, his work ethic, and his determination. This focus has led to groundbreaking innovations in space travel, electric vehicles, and neurotechnology.
    • Oprah Winfrey: Oprah rose from a life filled with adversity to become one of the most influential women in the world. She focused on her talents and passions (what she could control), channeling them into a successful career in media. This focus, coupled with her resilience and empathetic nature, allowed her to connect with millions of viewers and build a media empire.
    • Stephen King: King is renowned for his best-selling horror novels, but his success did not come easily. His early writing career was marked by countless rejections. However, King remained focused on what he could control - his writing and his perseverance. His commitment to his craft ultimately led to his breakthrough, making him one of the most successful authors of all time.
    • J.K. Rowling: The author of the 'Harry Potter' series, Rowling faced numerous rejections and personal challenges before her work was finally published. Focusing on what she could control - her storytelling abilities and persistence - she continued to believe in her work. Her focus paid off tremendously, with her series becoming one of the most successful in literary history.

      Each of these individuals faced distinct challenges and obstacles. However, their focus on what they could control - their actions, attitudes, and responses - played a pivotal role in their extraordinary achievements. These stories serve as powerful reminders of what we can accomplish when we focus our energy on the aspects of our lives that we can truly influence.

      Final Thoughts

      In a world filled with uncontrollable events and unpredictable outcomes, it becomes essential to focus on the things we can control. As we've seen in the stories of people like Serena Williams, Elon Musk, Oprah Winfrey, Stephen King, and J.K. Rowling, focusing on what we can control is a key factor to overcoming challenges and achieving success.

      It's a practice we can all adopt, regardless of our field or profession. Remember, we cannot control the wind, but we can adjust our sails. Harnessing this understanding allows us to navigate life's storms more effectively and paves the way towards our personal and professional goals.

      Frequently Asked Questions

      What does it mean to focus on what you can control?

      Focusing on what you can control means directing your time, energy, and resources towards things you have direct influence over, rather than things outside of your control. This includes your actions, attitudes, and responses.

      Why should we focus on what we can control?

      Focusing on what we can control allows us to navigate life's challenges more effectively and reduces unnecessary stress and anxiety. It's a key factor in achieving success, as demonstrated by individuals such as Serena Williams, Elon Musk, and J.K. Rowling.

      How can we identify what we can control?

      Identifying what we can control involves self-reflection and awareness. It often means distinguishing between our direct actions and attitudes versus external circumstances or other people's actions.

      What is the Stoic philosophy on control?

      Stoic philosophy advises focusing on what's within our control - our own actions and attitudes - and accepting what's outside of our control. This philosophy provides a practical guide to peace of mind and success.

      How can one develop mindful habits for control?

      Developing mindful habits involves regular practice. This could include mindfulness meditation, journaling, or simply taking time each day to reflect on what's within your control and focusing your energies there.