The greatest source of stress in life is worrying about things you can’t control. The greatest source of tragedy is ignoring what you can.
Wisdom lies in realizing the difference between them..
You’ll spend a lot of time unhappy, disappointed, and angry if you confuse the two. You’ll never realize your full potential if you relegate control of your own life to the fickle forces of the universe.
Worrying about things you CAN’T control results in frustration because it positions you as powerless. Ignoring what you CAN control results in a mediocre life.
The only way to take back control of your life is to act on things that you can affect. To do anything else is to expect lady luck to smile on you, but you will grow angry when she turns a cold shoulder.
How to tell if you have control
Here’s a simple rule for determining how much control you have over something:
Can you, right now, do something to change its course? Will this action have an immediate effect? Are you able to engage with it on your own terms and no one else’s?
If the answer to any of these questions is “no”, then you don’t have control over it. It may still have the power to change your life, but there is nothing you can directly do about it.
Either you position yourself to take advantage of its benefits or protect yourself from its dangers.
For example, consider firearms, highways, and other people. You can either:
- Own a gun and live in a safe neighborhood or not own a gun and life in a rough one
- Drive sober, with both hands on the wheel, during the day or drive drunk, texting, at night
- Be pleasant around pleasant people or mean around even meaner ones
You can’t control a stray bullet, crazy drivers, or violent people. They can, however, have a serious impact on your life. For the sake of your mental health, you have you let go of the idea that you control these things.
Remember, just because you can’t control something doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have the ability to affect you. In all of the situations that I mentioned, there is only one thing that can be controlled and has an immediate effect on the situation.
You decide if you’ll live some place where gun violence can affect you.
You decide if you’ll drive safely.
Yes, shit happens. But you can’t control a lot of that shit. You can only control the degree to which it can affect you.
Can you do anything about this?
Ask this question about anything that you think you have control over. Prepare to be disappointed when you realize how much energy you expend on things you can do nothing about.
Most people waste their entire life in a perpetual state of emotional exhaustion, worrying about things they can’t control. The irony of worrying about things you can’t control is that because they affect your emotions, they control you instead.
If you’re able to affect the outcome, is that effect immediate?
If you can affect it but those effects aren’t instant and total, then you only have influence. What most people think of as control is only influence.
The first small step to taking control of your life is to recognize what you actually can control and to focus on controlling that. For everything else that you don’t control, protect your well-being from the downsides of it or put yourself in a position to benefit from its upside.
Does it have influence or control of your life?
Influence is useful, but all it does it put the odds in your favor.
This is why it’s referred to as “political influence” rather than “political control”. Regardless of how well a politician campaigns, the voters may remain unconvinced. They can choose to vote for the other candidates or even not to vote at all.
Behavior outcomes follow a similar trajectory.
We know that children who grow up in low-income, high-crime neighborhoods are less likely to succeed and more likely to fail. However, these are just statistical predictions; not predetermined facts.
I think about where grew up and what was supposed to become of a person like me, and I know statistics are merely suggestions. They attempt to measure the power of one influence versus another. There was no control that guaranteed I’d become one thing or the other. Yes, the influences around me were destructive, but it was still up to me to take control of my life and make sound decisions to tip the odds in my favor.
An environment like this exerts a powerful influence on the lives of the people who grow up there, but it does not control them. It makes a certain outcome more likely, but it does not guarantee any specific outcome, for better or worse.
Because of my life, I have a natural understanding of this idea, but many people have trouble with this idea. Failure to understand it leads to frustration when the desired things don’t happen that we imagined were guaranteed.
What can you influence?
You can influence a person to like you. You can’t control their feelings.
You can influence a person’s thinking. You can’t control their thoughts or the decisions they make because of those thoughts.
You can influence your physical health by how you take care of your body, but you don’t really even control your body.
It can become infected or injured, regardless of much you control you take of your health. You can be restrained against your will or killed, no matter how much control
Your mind is a little more resilient, but you can be miseducated, misinformed, and flat out ignorant. While it’s up to you to determine what thoughts you’ll allow to take root in your mind, you’re unable to control a wide range of psychological and physiological reactions you may initially have to something.
You become scared when facing your fears.
You become happy when something favorable happens
You become sad when something terrible happens.
You only have influence. You can take precautions to avoid exposing yourself to the stressors of life, but you can’t do this forever. Furthermore, how you engage with these emotional disturbances will always be beyond on your control. You merely have influence over the mind.
Intent is the only thing you control in your life
Everyone thinks they have control of their body, mind, and emotions. I’ve already shown why that’s not true. This erroneous belief is the source of a lot of frustration, confusion, and tragedy in our daily lives.
You aren’t free to do as you please. The body has limits, the mind has a breaking point, and our emotions inherently unstable. Even if people realize this, they still waste a huge amount of energy trying to control things that are beyond controlling.
Take, for example, public opinion. But you can only influence what other people think, but you can’t control it.
I learned this lesson when it came to my sobriety.
My life improved when I stopped drinking, but it wasn’t because I was healthier, sharper, and more in control of my emotions. Those things are true for everyone who ends an addictive relationship with a harmful substance.
The real reason my life improved is because I wanted it to, and I focused me energy on that goal. Getting sober was just an effect. The cause was my intention being focused on improving my health, increasing my income, and strengthening the bonds in my relationships.
I can’t actually control those things. I can only control the effort I expend to make them happen.
Even when my willpower is low, I still have control over how hard I try. The intent of my actions is where I have control of my life.
What is intent?
Intent is a commitment to carrying out actions or plans in the future, regardless of the obstacles, challenges, or bad luck you may encounter.
Intent is the difference between:
- Giving up when it starts to hurt a little or training until you pass out
- Giving in to temptation or staying committed to your diet
- Getting easily distracted or staying focused until the task is complete
This list could go on forever, but I hope you get the idea. Intent doesn’t worry about the outcome. Intent focuses energy on the process.
When you focus on the process, a good outcome is much more likely. The inverse of this isn’t usually true. This is why intent is so powerful and is key to taking control of your life.
Intent is the only thing you can control, so by taking control of it, you take control of your life.
This control takes effort. Effort requires strength. This strength must be built and refined. It must also be impervious to set back, failure, and disappointment.
Weak intent gives up when things don’t go easily and as planned. Strong intent thrives in the face of difficulty.
Intent is a way of thinking and this way of thinking will give you the power to take control of your life.
As Mike Cernovich says in Gorilla Mindset, “It’s easier to act yourself into a new way of thinking than it is to think yourself into a new way of acting.”
Physical training helps you take control
Physical training is a powerful tool for strengthening your intent and taking charge of your life because it provides immediate, tangible feedback.
Physical training forces you to be disciplined and the only way to be disciplined is to strengthen your intent.
Physical training causes change and growth that is very easy for you to see. Seeing the benefits of a healthy lifestyle motivates you and further intensifies your desire for self-control
It shows your mind what is possible when you focus your intent on self-improvement.
It’s impossible to influence exactly how your body will develop, but forcing yourself to workout will produce a change.
You can control the intent you put into your workout. You can’t control your body and how it responses to the workout.
This is the difference between between control and influence. I take control of the workout and my intent to improve my body. Everything else is a byproduct of the process.
Taking control of your life makes you realize how out of control things really are
Ease your emotions and humble your ego with the following realization: there is very little in this world that you can control.
There are more things that you have influence over, but even that list is surprisingly small.
Where you can leverage your influence, do so with outcome independence. Where you lack control, practice cognitive minimalism and remove this burden from your heart.
All you have control over is your intent to do a thing and the effort you put forth to do it. Once you accept this, you’ll get more out of your limited years on this planet if you do this.