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Control Your Controllables

In his studies on flow, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi presented insight into this highly focused mental state and tranquility.

We have all experienced times when instead of being buffeted by anonymous forces, we [feel] in control of our actions, masters of our own fate. On the rare occasions that it happens, we feel a sense of exhilaration, a deep sense of enjoyment.

Stephen Covey expands on this by positing that people filter experiences before they reach our consciousness. In between stimulus and response, we have the freedom to choose how we’ll respond to each situation we’re presented in life.

Covey expands on this by indicating that people are generally proactive or reactive. Much of this focus relies on their locus of control.

  • Proactive people recognize that they’re responsible for how they respond to outside stimuli. They have an internal locus of control. They do not blame circumstances, conditions, or conditioning for their state. They believe that their situation and existence is a product of personal choice and decisions derived from their values and virtues.
  • Reactive people believe their condition is a product of their physical and social environments. They have an external locus of control. Their moods and actions are determined by the moods and actions of others or the things that happen to them. They allow the actions of others to determine and control their situation and existence.

We have a choice about how we choose to focus our time and energy. We have a circle of concern, or things that garner attention in our daily lives. These include our health, friends, family, the environment. We also have a circle of control, or things that we have actual, direct control over. These include what we eat, the friends that we choose, where we live.

Stephen Covey indicates that the circle of control exists within the circle of control, but describes this as a circle of influence. Proactive people focus their time and energy on elements in this space as they can actually change these things. The more you act on decisions made in the circle of control, the more this circle of influence expands.

Put simply, by shifting attention from the cirlce of control to the circle of concern, you’re losing the freedom to choose how you’ll respond to situations in life. You’re allowing events outside of your control your moods and happiness.

Focus on the things you can control in life. Remove constraints, complications, and negativity from your life. Strengthen and expand your circle of influence.

Control your controllables.


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Figure from James Clear

Originally published at W. Ian O’Byrne.

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