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June 6, 2019

What's in Your Control? (And What Isn't)

The Stoic philosopher Epictetus nailed when he wrote the following around 100 AD:

“Happiness and freedom begin with a clear understanding of one principle: Some things are within your control. And some things are not. It is only after you have faced up to this fundamental rule and learned to distinguish between what you can and can't control that inner tranquility and outer effectiveness become possible.”

We see this principle in action every day with our clients. We walk them through facing and distinguishing between what they can and cannot control. Then we show them how to turn their awareness into action, which is key to the inner tranquility and outer effectiveness that Epictutus is pointing towards.

We’re excited to share this process we use with our clients to cultivate awareness and inspire action with you. Take the short quiz to assess how much you already know about what you can and can’t control as a leader. You may be surprised to discover which is which. Use the PDF handout to guide yourself—and your team—through cultivating in the moment awareness and then taking action.

When we go through this process with clients, it’s game changing in terms of results, stress levels, and joy. We wish the same for you!

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How did you do? Spot on? Surprised?
Keep reading to find out what is actually under your control and what isn't. And what to do in the moment when you realize that you're focusing (aka wasting) attention on something you can't control.

The Process

Use this process when you’re feeling stressed, unhappy, pressured, or upset.

1. Identify the Issue

Face that something isn't working for you and name it.

2. Sort the files

What about this issue can you control and what can you not control? List both. Use this table below as a guide to sort your own list.

What's In Your Control? 

What IS in Your Control
Believing or investigating my thoughts
Feeling or suppressing my feelings
How I respond to my sensations
How I respond to other people’s emotions
How I respond to other people’s thoughts
How much action I take toward my goals
How I take care of myself
What I say and do to influence others
The time I leave to get somewhere
What I choose to wear
Seeking medical support
Caring for other people
Making amends
My happiness
Taking action to care for the environment
Creating something in the world
My interest in other people
Worrying about things and people
Keeping my time agreements
My reactivity
Choosing not to listen to gossip
Choosing where I work
My own judgments toward myself
Boundaries with my children
Creating a marketing plan to sell products
What is NOT in Your Control
My thoughts
My feelings
My sensations
Other people’s emotions
Other people’s thoughts
Others actions towards their goals
How others take care of themselves
Other people’s choices
Rush hour traffic
The weather
Aging, illness, and death
Who likes me
My past behavior
Others people’s happiness
Climate change
How people will react to my creations
Other people’s interest in me
Others worrying about things and people
Others keeping their time agreements
Others reactivity
Other people gossiping
The behaviors and value of a company
Other people’s judgements of me
My children’s behavior
Customers buying your products

3. Take Action

If you’re fixated on something that isn’t under your control, shift your attention from whatever you’re focusing on to something that is under your control.

If you find yourself awake at 3am worrying about your 10am pitch and how it will go (something that is in the future and not under your control), bring your attention back to the present and what is under your control. For example, you could choose to spend a few minutes meditating (under your control) and if your mind quiets (not under your control) you could choose to picture yourself (under your control) easefully giving the pitch. You can’t control what’s going to happen in the future—and worrying isn’t going to help—but you can take responsibility for your state of mind right now, and then direct your attention from presence towards the outcome you’d like to create.

If you’re stressed out because you heard that your child might not get into the school you desperately wanted them to attend notice that your attention is on something out of your control. Bring your attention back to something under your control and see what happens. In this case bring your attention to three things you genuinely and deeply appreciate about your child in this present moment. Choosing to appreciate something is always under our control. (So much of our parental anxiety has nothing to do with who are kids are being right now and is more about who we want them to become in the future or who we’re afraid they will or won’t become). After the shift of attention check out your stress level. From this place of presence and control you’re much more available to your child and yourself.

If you find yourself worrying about something that IS under your control, stop worrying and act.


Download the process as a PDF Handout to use with your team to differentiate between what you can and cannot control the next time a stressful situation comes up.

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