Importance of Focusing on What’s in Your Control

Where you place your focus is crucial. See just how important it is to focus on what's in your control

Focus and control go hand in hand. These two ideas can make or break your athletic career and your life. If you spend the majority of your time focusing on aspects of life that are out of your control, a lot of negative consequences will occur.

However, if you learn how to focus on the aspects of life in your control, many positive effects will be experienced in your life and performances.

What is in Our Control?

So much of our attention is often given to those things outside of our control. The reason for this lies in our inborn desire to control the world around us. We want to control other people and our environments in an attempt to generate security and predictability in our lives.

I understand this because I know all too well about wanting to control the uncontrollable. But that’s just it, control itself is not the problem. Where we run into trouble is failing to realize what we can and can’t control.

Even if we do understand what’s in our control, the tendency is still to attempt and control what is not. I think this is because we are constantly seeing all the things out of our control. Everywhere we turn there is another uncontrollable piece of life.

It’s only when we look in the mirror that we see the only true controllable we have, ourselves. We all have the power to control who we are, especially how we think, feel, and behave. But so much time has been spent blaming our environment that we’ve lost track of this truth.

From an athletic standpoint, focusing on what’s in your control is crucial to your success. Once I learned and fully understood this concept, a surprising freedom came over me. This emerged from a regained power that I felt once I decided to only focus on what was in my control.

Before going into the positive and negative impacts of control, I want to highlight the main areas of our lives that are in our control. These are going to be geared towards athletes and performers. However, they can be applied to you no matter what your career may be.

Controllable #1: Your Attitude

This is the main controllable that gave me the freedom I alluded to a few paragraphs ago. Up until I grasped this concept, my attitude was very reactionary. This meant I altered my mood based on the situation around me.

For instance, whenever I would strike out or make an error in the field, my attitude turned sour. Then I was stuck, which is what happens when we fail to realize our attitude is completely in our control. I couldn’t change the way I felt because I thought something external had to happen in order for a change to occur.

The truth is, our attitudes are completely in our control. This is very important to understand as an athlete. Once you begin to focus on controlling your mindset, a lot of distractions and negative influences are removed from your life.

So even if you’ve been performing poorly recently, you can choose to have a positive attitude and feel confident going into your next performance. You are the only one in control of your attitude, so begin placing your attention on the way you approach games and life mentally.

Controllable #2: Preparation

Another aspect of your performance that’s in your control is preparation. Are you spending enough time training and preparing to perform your best? A lot of the time we will spend days leading up to a competition focusing on the opponent.

They are not in our control. It doesn’t matter whether you are playing the best or worst team in the league, your preparation should remain the same. This is an opportunity for you to be in complete control of the outcome.

Not the outcome of the ultimate performance, but the outcome of how many hours you spend preparing for the game. Instead of focusing on who you’ll play, where it will be played, or any other outside factor, begin to give all your attention to your own preparation.

Controllable #3: Your Responsibilities

I played baseball, which is a sport, like many others, that requires each player to take on a different role. There is the pitcher, the catcher, the infielders, outfielders, and hitters. Each one of these has a different responsibility on the team.

You can even break it down further by talking about the different roles of the infielders and the different jobs each hitter has. With all of the varying responsibilities within the game, you will find no success worrying about any of them except your own.

The only part in your control is the responsibilities administered to you. You have the luxury to worry only about the role you play and making sure you perform it to the best of your abilities.

This holds true no matter what sport you play or organization you find yourself in. You only have control of the role you play. Do not spend any time focusing on the responsibilities of your teammates.

Once you begin to shift your focus onto yourself, you will be giving much more energy to what it is you need to do. Now you have provided  yourself with an even higher chance of succeeding at your responsibilities.

Negative Impacts of Focusing on What’s Outside Your Control

Spending the majority of your energy focusing on things outside of your control is exhausting. It’s like trying to swim against the current. You are pushing and pushing, but you go nowhere.

Trying to control other people and our environment is a fruitless act. You have no control over these areas of life, and trying will only produce negative results. Those negative results are exactly what I want to talk about.

The impacts of focusing on those parts of life outside our control will be felt on an emotional and mental level. Since attention is being given to these areas, our minds will be affected in a damaging way.

Negative Impact #1: Anxiety

Anxiety and control take part in a vicious game of cat and mouse. The victim of the game is your own mind. You see, anxiety causes us to try and control other people and our environment. This comes from the fear you have regarding a certain outcome.

Maybe you are trying to control a teammate or coach because you are fearing having your starting spot taken. Or perhaps, you are seeking control over the outcome of your performance because you are afraid to fail.

However, since we know controlling these sorts of things is not within our power, more anxiety begins to develop. The more we realize we can’t control, the more anxious we become.

It’s an evil cycle that feeds on itself. You worry about an outcome, try to control it only to fail, and then you, once again, begin to worry.

By placing focus on those parts of our life we cannot control, we only further the anxiety that drove the control in the first place. The more we realize we are unable to control, the more fear and anxiety grow as a result.

Negative Impact #2: Anger

Another emotional state that easily consumes us when we place too much attention on uncontrollables is anger. There are two ways in which this anger takes form. First, you may become angry at the situation itself.

A great example is getting upset at an official during a game. We have absolutely no control over a call made by an official. Yet, how many times have you either gotten upset yourself or seen someone get upset as a result of a call that didn’t go your way?

You grow angry as a result of their decision. Instead of accepting what occurred and focusing on what’s in your control, your attention is fixated on the bad call and your anger grows.

The second form of anger happens when you realize how little control you have. If you spend a lot of time focusing on what’s out of your control, you may grow angry at how powerless you feel.

No one wants to feel powerless, and anger often accompanies the feeling. Since you feel weak and unable to influence your surroundings, getting angry becomes an easy option to feel as if you’ve regained some power.

Negative Impact #3: Mental Exhaustion

Trying to control the uncontrollable is a tiring game. After only a short while, you will feel mental exhaustion begin to set in. With just the first two negative impacts I introduced, it’s easy to see the emotional rollercoaster focusing on uncontrollables can take you on.

When you focus on controlling other people or your surroundings, massive amounts of energy are being drained. All that energy leads to mental exhaustion. If what you’re after is peak performance, leaking energy through poor attention is disastrous.

You need to be fully focused in order to perform your best. Such a level of focus is impossible when your mind is worn out from the psychological pinball game focusing on uncontrollable factors causes.

Benefits of Focusing on What’s in Your Control

After reading the previous section, it should be clear just how dangerous focusing on what’s out of your control can be. But what happens when you actually begin to focus on what is in your control?

Benefit #1: A Sense of Personal Power

I would say the main benefit you experience once you begin to focus on what’s in your control is power. Not power over others, but power over yourself.

When you waste your energy focusing on what’s not in your control, you begin to believe you are at the mercy of everything and everyone around you. However, once you shift that focus inward, you realize the tremendous power you have over yourself.

With this change in attention, you come to understand how much control you have over the way you think, how you feel, and the actions you decide to take. I know for myself, my belief used to be that my thoughts, feelings, and actions were a reaction to the external world.

Once I started to focus on what was in my control, I began to recognize the power I had to choose my own thoughts, feelings, and actions independent from what was happening around me.

This knowledge provides you with the power to actually make changes in your life. Instead of feeling like you are a victim, you begin to take control of what is within your power.

Benefit #2: Increased Motivation

Once you begin to pay attention to the aspects of your life within your control, motivation will become a positive side effect. When we center our focus on things outside our control, anger and frustration take over. As we saw in the example earlier, we grow frustrated at the situation itself and then at our own powerlessness.

This feeling of having no control, which spurs anxiety, makes motivation a difficult trait to come by. On the flip side, the power that comes from focusing on what’s in your control produces incredible amounts of motivation.

The motivation will be directed towards areas you wish to improve. Since you know you have the power to change such aspects of your life, the desire and ambition will grow to make the improvement happen.

Benefit #3: Improved Performances

The last benefit is an overall improvement to the level of your performance. As an athlete, focus can either be your secret weapon or your kryptonite. It all depends on where you choose to place your attention.

When you learn to focus only on what’s in your control, such as your mindset and your responsibilities, your play will drastically increase.

For one, you will be more focused on the aspect of your game that will produce the most results. Focusing on the other team, the officials, or the crowd will not help you play better in the moment.

Also, mindfulness is a key piece to achieving the flow state. In this state, there seems to be no separation between yourself and what you’re doing. Your actions are one and in unison. In essence, you are flowing.

To achieve mindfulness, you have to center your attention in the present moment. This means, focusing on what’s in your control. If you place your attention on outside factors, there is no way for you to become mindful.

So, by focusing on the parts of your game under your control, you will see an increase in the overall level of your performances.

The Best Strategy for Narrowing Your Focus

So you now know the benefits of focusing on what’s in your control. Through a shift in your attention, you can eliminate many distractions from your performances and help elevate your level of play.

The question now becomes, what is the best strategy to do this? When trying to change a pattern of thinking, which in this case is focusing on the uncontrollables of your performance, a clear-cut plan is needed.

If you just go into the game blindly hoping to focus only on yourself, likely your attention will return to where it historically has gone. So, you must come up with a plan. For me, there are three steps I use to help narrow my focus onto what is in my control.

Step #1: Outline Your Desired Mindset

One of the major aspects of life within our control is the way we think. This is true in terms of performances as well as day-to-day living. In order to focus on your own attitude, you must first identify how you would like it to be.

The shape your mind is in is completely of your own choosing. It’s up to you how you want to think, though there are some good questions to consider when deciding on your chosen mindset.

  • How do I want to mentally approach the game?
  • What type of attitude do I want to have?
  • How do I want to respond from an emotional standpoint to failures?
  • What should I be thinking to put myself in the best position to succeed?

By answering these questions, you will begin to realize what type of attitude and mindset you wish to adopt. Now that you’ve decided on your mindset, you have something within your power you can choose to focus on.

Step #2: Identify the Physical Factors in Your Control

I said that both preparation and our own responsibilities are aspects under our control that should be focused on. In this step, both of these need to be taken into consideration.

First, you need to think about what’s within your control physically in terms of preparation. This means during practice and your own training. What within your power can you do to put yourself in the best position to succeed?

Second, during competition, you need to focus on your own responsibilities. This means focusing on the physical factors you have control over. What job do you fill on the team? Once you understand your role, focus on what you need to do physically to perform it to the best of your abilities.

I don’t mean trying to be perfect, but simply focusing on performing your tasks as well as you can. Make sure your attention is on the physical factors you have control over and not the responsibilities of your teammates or anyone else.

Step #3: Let Go and Refocus

This last step is all about what happens when you follow the two previous steps, yet your attention still latches onto uncontrollable factors. What can we do once our focus has faltered?

Well, to put it plainly, you have to let go. Let go of the worry, concern, and anger that comes over you. Let go of the desire to focus on other people. And most importantly, let go of the need to control.

I know it’s easier said than done, but sometimes simplicity in words is what’s needed the most. You are the only one who can refocus yourself in these moments. By following the two previous steps, you will put yourself in the best position to narrow your focus.

However, it’s up to you to hold onto the idea that you must focus on what’s in your control. As long as you remember that, it will become easier and easier to refocus yourself. Be patient with this part, because it will take time for you to become immune to the distractions that are abundant during competition.

Just keep working and know that with each time you let go and refocus, you are training the ability within yourself to focus only on what’s in your control.

Final Thoughts

Focus and attention are incredibly powerful. Where we place our attention is where our energy and efforts will be directed. This is beneficial when focusing on things we can control but detrimental when seeking to control that which is not within our power.

Where we place our focus is of our own choosing. So, you must begin to train the ability within yourself to only focus on what’s in your control. By doing this, your performances will increase and you will experience a better overall sense of well-being.

Decide on your desired mindset, identify the physical factors in your control, let go of that which is not in your control, and refocus when you can. If you do, over time distractions will begin to have less and less of an impact on you.

Where do you place your focus? Do you focus on what’s in your control or outside of your control?

I hope you enjoyed this article and if you did, please feel free to share it so others may also learn a fantastic way to narrow their own focus.

Thank you for reading and I wish you the best of success in all that you do.

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Please contact us to learn more about mental coaching and to see how it can improve your mental game and increase your performance. Complete the form below, call (252)-371-1602 or schedule an introductory coaching call here.

Eli Straw

Eli is a sport psychology consultant and mental game coach who works 1-1 with athletes to help them improve their mental skills and overcome any mental barriers keeping them from performing their best. He has an M.S. in psychology and his mission is to help athletes and performers reach their goals through the use of sport psychology & mental training.

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