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 Focus on What You Can Control 

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Michael Santos

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The things you can control versus what you can’t control. A tough lesson to learn. What has given strength to many is the belief in controlling outcomes. Truly, what can we control? The weather, wins or losses in a game, how many sales you make this month, who likes or dislikes you? Control of what happens is something no one has. The things that can be controlled are our attitude and effort. By focusing on the two things we can control, we live in the present and increase the probability of a desired outcome.

By focusing on the present, you don’t live in the past or dream of the future. You live for today, you decrease your worries and increase your focus on achieving your goals. As soon as you stop moving forward, you gradually fade backwards to the past, to all your failures and dreams of what could have been. Should’ve, would’ve, could’ve. The three doubting brothers, a hindrance to success. Your effort and attitude become obstacles, you become stagnant and accept mediocrity.

As a Division 1 college softball coach, I always preached focusing on what we can control versus what we could not. Every year I would ask the definition of the strike zone. I would get the rule book definition almost word for word. Every year I would reply that is incorrect. After a little discussion, someone would state the correct answer. Whatever the umpire says it is. There will always be variations to the zone based on individual interpretation and preferences. So then, why complain about something that is not controllable. The effort and attitude should be focused on a quality at bat, not what the umpire calls a ball or strike.

Another softball experience that demonstrates effort and attitude increasing the probability of a successful outcome is one time while traveling to spring training, the team missed the connecting flight to Florida and had to stay overnight in Atlanta, Georgia. This inconvenience would cause the opening game schedule for the next day to be changed from nine am to eleven am after arriving on the first flight to Florida with an anticipated eight am arrival. By the time the team landed, secured rental vehicles and arrived at the ballpark, it was twenty-five minutes before game time. This was contrary to the normal arrival to a game which was usually one and a half hours before the first pitch.  Instead of complaining, the team went into hurry up mode, something that was practiced every year. The effort to prepare for every possible obstacle in a season and develop an attitude of we can only control our attitude and effort propelled the team to an 8-0 win in five innings and a follow-up 10-3 win right after that game. The weather, the travel delays, arriving late to pregame preparations, lack of sleep, lack of a good breakfast did not deter any player from having a positive attitude and outstanding effort to create the opportunity for success. It wasn’t a matter of having better athletes. It was truly a matter of effort and attitude.

It may be cliche to use examples from athletics. However, this belief plays out daily in everyday life. How many times has someone interviewed for a new job, went into the interview and knocked it out of the ballpark, knowing that an offer should follow only to be denied the opportunity. I can remember competing for a position with a colleague of mine. I did exceptionally well in the interview, prepared my whole career for the position, only to be denied. Then come to realize my colleague who I was going to directly report to really did not want me to stay. I had no control over the situation except to maintain a positive attitude, continue with my effort to work hard and prepare myself for the next opportunity, which came my way shortly after the transition.  

Effort and attitude provides a path to success. Even in failures or setbacks, effort and attitude will determine how you move forward. Becoming incarcerated is something I would never have guessed as part of my future. Being in a system you have no control over can be daunting. Instead of accepting the outcome, I have chosen this time to prepare for the future. My effort and attitude daily is to move forward, not backward. To fight for my future, enjoy life, my family and my friends. The choice is simple, live trying to control things I can’t or focus on what I can control.
Nietzsche states “what does not kill me, makes me stronger.” Challenges occur daily. To think every aspect of life can be controlled is a path toward failure. Controlling attitude and effort creates a path toward success and eliminates stress and worrying. It creates a life that is in harmony with an individual’s desired outcomes.

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