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Control the Controllable

July 12, 2018 in

One day in high school, I was at practice for my club soccer team. Weather and field conditions were poor and with it our team’s morale. Naturally we were dreading the two-hour long practice and only wanted to go home or do anything other than practice that day. Thankfully, our wise coach stepped in and told us, “the outcome you seek and the outcome you want depends on you.” At the time, I had no idea what he was talking about. We laughed it off and attributed it to the musings of an old coach. However, in retrospect, his message was very clear—if you let everything outside of your control dictate your performance, you will lose every time. A better practice is to focus on the areas you do have the most control over.

There are many things that are outside of our control such as the weather, traffic, bad teammates, etc. According to a recent survey, many individuals did not consider the impact of “uncontrollables” in their review of their performance.(1) Often individuals did not know what uncontrollables they faced and how it could impact their performance.(1) Let’s define and examine uncontrollables. An uncontrollable is anything we do not have influence over.(2) In the business realm, there are indeed many things that fall into this category (e.g. other people, IT issues, life problems, client’s attitudes).(2) As such, we have to accept what is outside of our control and learn to focus our attention on what we can control.(2)

The question remains: how do you deal with uncontrollables? Consider an example. Throughout HigherEchelon’s work with soldiers, it is clear they face many uncontrollable challenges on a daily basis, especially when they are completing their graduation requirements (i.e. rifle marksmanship, fitness test). For example, during their rifle marksmanship, their weapon could malfunction, weather could be poor, and their targets could be inoperative. However, they are trained on what to do in the case of all those malfunctions. What is less clear is how to not let those malfunctions mess with their focus and mentality. Once a soldier starts focusing on how the weather is messing up their shot rather than the steps they can take to mitigate that, performance starts to dwindle. Better performance is fostered by focusing on actionable items at the right time—a skill we call WIN (What’s Important Now).(3) This strategy is successful because our brains are hardwired to focus on one thing at a time and it responds well to specific targets.(3) To harness this skill, pause, breathe and ask yourself, what action can you take at that exact moment?3 While numerous techniques work for this, all that matters is that you minimize the mental activity by focusing on one thing.(3) Important to note it that WIN is completely individualistic; meaning, what works for one individual may not work for another and you should focus on the strategy that is best for you.(3)

In the business realm, there are many influences within our control (i.e. our attitude, effort, mindset, our thoughts) in response to those uncontrollables. What could your WIN actions be in those cases? For instance, say you have several meetings lined up with potential clients, and one of those meetings goes poorly. For your other client’s sake, it’s imperative to not let the bad meeting affect the rest of your day. This would be an optimal time to pause and think about WIN to find your best course of action. Think about what might help you redirect your attention on the areas in your control. There will always be a plethora of uncontrollable events that happen. However, if we learn to control the controllables, we can take power away from them and put it back in our hands. Ultimately, uncontrollable events happen every day, and the only thing you can do about that is choose how you want to respond to them.

For more information on how to control the controllables, reach out to the HigherEchelon team.


  1. Jones, G. (2002). Performance Excellence: A Personal Perspective on the Link Between Sport and Business. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 14(4), 268-281. doi:10.1080/10413200290103554
  2. Fletcher, D. (2011). Applying Sport Psychology in Business: A Narrative Commentary and Bibliography. Journal of Sport Psychology in Action, 1(3), 139-149. doi:10.1080/21520704.2010.546496
  3. Nideffer, Robert M. “Test of Attentional and Interpersonal Style.” PsycTESTS Dataset, 1976, doi:10.1037/t27563-000.