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Focus On What You Can Control

I’m preparing to have hip surgery. Half a year ago, the hip specialist told me that the M.R.I. showed I had an impingement, which means the ball of my femur that goes into the socket of my hip is too big. Now, only a few days after Christmas, I must have surgeons shave part of my bone off and hopefully rid this problem for good. As with any major surgery or life-changing event, there are fears and concerns. From past experience, if there is no way to alter the outcome, there is no reason to dwell on these events. It is better to focus instead on the things that you can control.

Dwelling Gets You Nowhere

There are always going to be things that don’t go your way. Your clients don’t pay you, your landlord kicks you out, your girlfriend cheats on you. They all suck. The future can be even worse. If you are going to get kicked out, your boss is going to fire you, or mortgage payments start to pile up.

Too often, myself and others focus most on the things that we cannot control. It’s logical to focus on something as traumatic as losing your home or seeing your stock account hit $0, but will it really get you anywhere?

I’d suggest it is worse for you to worry about the things that you can’t control for a multitude of reasons. Focusing on these things will promote stress when you inevitably ponder the worst-case scenarios. This added stress has a number of physical and tangible effects on your body (such as cortisol production and blood pressure), which will make your mood even worse and put your general well-being further at risk. If you are focusing on the things you can’t control, then you have less time with the things you can control.

I have a theory, which is quite intuitive and obvious, but I call it the “spillover effect.” When you do things right in one part of your life, there is a good chance the positives will start to spillover into the things that you can’t control. For instance, if I maintain the same strict and very healthy diet that I now have, there is a better possibility that I will recover quickly from hip surgery. As I have maintained a fitness and strength routine prior to the surgery, it will be less work to heal than it might otherwise be.

Brain Power is a Luxury Not a Commodity

Perhaps the most important reason to focus on only the things that you can control, is the brain power. The brain can only focus on so many things. We all know brain function consumes a lot of energy too (20-25% of total consumption, actually), so why waste that energy and focus on things that you cannot control?

Instead, make sure that every second of your time is focused on the things that you CAN control. As my “spillover effect” theory indicates, it doesn’t even have to be related. If you are worrying about losing your house in a couple of months, make the decision to go to the gym and lift weights. Make the decision to read a philosophical book and learn something. It does not matter what you do so long as you are focused on what you can control – improving yourself.

At the end of the day, you have no idea how this might change your life. Visiting the gym can introduce you to your future business partner that will make your million-dollar idea come true. The exercise might make you feel better, get a promotion, and avoid having your home taken from you.

Just because you don’t see a correlation between the aspects of life that you improve and problems on the horizon, doesn’t mean they don’t exist. Don’t numb your mind to the problem by watching a comedy or your favorite television show. Instead, focus on developing yourself in an area you are weak. If you can’t change the outcome then at least you have done all that you can. As for me, the complications or pain that might result from surgery is irrelevant. I’ll focus on what I can control.

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by Mans Denton

Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed my article. I'm Austin, TX based and I love the Paleo diet, meditation, proper fitness, and entrepreneurship. If you want to know more, check out the About THM Page

13 comments… add one

  1. This kind of reminded me of what I heard in church yesterday. I’m not religious at all, and my parents make me go to church with them but that’s beside the point. “be satisfied with your wages” the reading said. It made me think. The reason I feel so crappy all the time is because I dwell on all the things I don’t have, all the negatives, and focusing on the shit I can’t control. I’m trying to be a little more positive by remembering all the things I have that others don’t, and not necessarily taking advantage of them, but utilizing them I guess. Idk, to be optimistic is a lot easier said than done, but I find one good thought usually leads to another. It’s sort of like a snowball effect. Unfortunately, thinking negatively can do this is as well.

    Reply
    1. Yeah, I definitely agree. It is similar to have the “be thankful for what you have” mentality in a lot of situations.

      Reply
  2. The tough part for me is not focusing on things I can’t control. It’s even basic: I can’t believe I can’t control some of the simplest stuff in life. Once I convince myself I’m useless piece of shit that can’t even control whether he eats breakfast in the morning, I’ll be ready to use this advice.

    Reply
    1. I’m sorry to hear that. Why do you not have control over what you eat for breakfast in the morning? I think you can use this advice now even if you really don’t have control. Think about it from a long-term perspective.

      Reply
  3. I dunno…there’s a lot I can’t control that’s making me miserable at the moment. How does not focusing on these, change their reality?

    Reply
    1. Well, as I understand it focusing on them will not change their reality either. So why not improve some other area of your life, which might have an indirect impact on the things you can’t control?

      Reply
  4. I am totally embracing this sentiment today. I realized that one of the biggest things that is making me unhappy, anxious, and depressed right now is working the night shift at my job (I used to only work the day shift). I work at a restaurant – so the night shift is cooking on the line and the day shift is just prepping food. I found that the night shift was giving me panic attacks and I was coming home and just laying in bed all day after a night shift. I talked to my boss, and she totally understood and is taking me off the night shift. Back to only working during the day.

    I am sacrificing some money, but I am definitely happier. I already feel a huge weight has been lifted because I took control of how I spend my days and make my money. Now I need to start making sure I do the other things I can control – like getting out of bed and working out, or reading, or focusing on self improvement.

    Reply
    1. Glad you are embracing the sentiment! At least you have found what is causing you anxiety, depression, and unhappiness.

      You look to be on the right track despite your name ;)

      Reply
  5. Seems the only thing I can control is not killing myself every hour,every day,everything else in my life is gone or fake….

    Had to sell my gun last week,was spending too much time with it against my head and realized I don’t want to die but yet I can’t or won’t change anything in my “life”,I just hope to die.

    Reply
    1. At the lowest level, focusing on not killing yourself every hour is incredibly helpful. You can control it so you should conquer it! Hope you remain with us!

      Reply
  6. Not all that helpful, actually. It’s the shit I can’t control that I have to worry about — precisely because I can control everything else, so there is no need to worry.

    Reply
    1. Not worry. Focus. Focus on making the things you can control more efficient, better, etc. because it does no good to focus on the things you can’t control. That just leads to fear, paralysis, and anxiety, which equals depression in many cases.

      Reply
      1. You know what’s funny about the things I can control? I can control them. I don’t have to worry about suddenly not being able to speak, or suddenly becoming bad at my job. But my girlfriend’s body issues, insecurity, and anxiety? My boss suddenly running out of clients? Things I have no control over that can and will totally fuck me over? Yeah, I do need to focus AND WORRY about those, because they can and will royally fucke over and I need to come up with plans to either mitigate the fuck-overage or hit them faster and harder than they can hit me (not talking about my girlfriend or company specifically here, just problems in general).

        Reply

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