Your effectiveness and the quality of your life depends on how you interpret and respond to the world around you. The more appropriately you respond, the better your results. The opposite is also true: inappropriate responses, even to positive situations, ensure poor results. Here’s how to use your control and influence (or lack thereof) appropriately.
When You Have No Control
In a world saturated with stories designed to capture and hold your attention, and often simply to agitate you, it can feel as if you are part of the story. But very few external events actually deserve that level of commitment. You do need to know what’s going on in your world, but you should pay attention without the sense of attachment that leads to a debilitating negative mindset.
When things aren’t going your way and your results aren’t what you want them to be, it is easy to find a long list of external causes—as if blaming them will absolve you of your responsibility. Your competitors win deals you wanted. Your government will pass laws, some of which may make your job more difficult. Your economy will, given enough time, experience a recession.
But when you observe people who are not producing the results they want, you can’t help notice how much they focus on external things, especially things over which they have no control. When something is outside of your control, your best approach is to accept that you can do nothing about it and focus instead on what you can control.
When You Have Control
Other factors are wholly within your control, particularly your own choices. You control what you do with your time, what you give your attention to, and, to a certain extent, what you believe things mean. Sure, sometimes you might argue with yourself—usually because you prefer comfort over doing hard but necessary work—but even that argument is still your choice.
People who are not as successful as they could be (or should be) tend to avoid controlling themselves and their decisions, since they lack the self-discipline necessary to create better results. This flows from their external focus, as it keeps them from acknowledging the main barrier to improving their outcomes: themselves. Some part of their mindset prevents them from recognizing that other people are already producing the results they want.
One of the few keys to success is the ability to exercise control over the things you can control, starting with what you do with your time, the effort you put into the results you want, and the consistency of your efforts over time. Successful people often face the same external factors as everybody else, but they treat them as opportunities rather than excuses.
When You Have Influence
When you’re analyzing external factors, don’t mistake a lack of control for a lack of influence. Influence is a powerful force, one that has the power to change things for the better, but only when it is used carefully and conscientiously. As every B2B salesperson knows, the decision-shapers can be just as important as the decision-makers!
Those who struggle to produce results pretend that they are powerless, that they have no ability to make changes by influencing others. After all, it’s easier to avoid the small amount of conflict that can arise from exercising that influence. So they blame their manager for following some policy that creates an obstacle, instead of negotiating their help to make positive changes. Or they blame their customer for presenting the same challenges over and over, instead of using their influence and insight to help prevent those problems from occurring at all.
You can find a plethora of ways to disempower yourself and sabotage your own progress. But for every one of those ways, there’s also an opportunity for empowerment. Even when you have no control, you still have the power to influence.
Victim or Protagonist
We can break these ideas about control and influence into two mindsets. The first mindset is that of the victim, the person who believes that they lack the agency to act on the things they want, that external forces drive their life, and that there is nothing they can do about it. The second, and infinitely more powerful, mindset is that of the protagonist. The protagonist acts on and in their world, the same world as the victim, but produces the results they want.
The victim, always resentful, waits for someone or something else to save them. The protagonist, mostly grateful, doesn’t need to be saved because they are too busy creating the results they want.
Each day, you can choose to play the victim or the protagonist. You can empower yourself to live a creative and meaningful life through your focus and your actions. Or you can choose to be a victim, passively waiting for external factors to improve and good luck to come your way.
Pay attention to potential obstacles and recognize the reality of your circumstances, knowing that your success is still in your hands. Exercise control over the things you can control, especially your time and attention. Influence what is within your power to move in some positive direction. Making these decisions will improve the quality of your decisions, your results, and your success.
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