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Getting Things Under Control

Engineer Your Life


With the U.K. and most of Europe heading into second lockdowns I wanted to focus in on a part of what I talked about last week in “The Power of Perception” (which I recommend in addition to this piece for the coming period by the way), which is what exactly is within our circles of control and what’s outside of it. I believe this to be a complex issue because perception is a large part of it; how we perceive what is inside our sphere of control, and what isn’t, is such a huge factor. Yet, the more practised we can become in being objective (a truth outside of ourselves) in classifying ‘things’ will in turn improve our mindset, and as our perception is improved we’ll be better able to do this classification and the iterative cycle produces improvement upon improvement. And that, friends, is really what we’re searching for here right? The practices we can follow that if repeated will keep producing positive results.


Let us consider then, this diagram of our circles of control.

Circles of Control by Engineer Your Life
Circles of Control by Engineer Your Life
Our Circles of Control

This one is fairly simple, we have the things squarely within our control and the things outside of them. There is some cross over in the middle with things that we can affect through using the aspects we control over but are not directly outside of our control either. While the classification can be useful, we still want the focus to be on the things we can control — more on that later. For the purposes of what I want to discuss today, as well as being a beautiful Venn diagram, I want us to consider ‘things’ further left as more within our control and ‘things’ further right as being increasingly outside of our control.


This week, I’m not wanting to talk so much about perception. Our perception of what is within our control and what’s outside of it can move classifications in and out of certain circles. An example of this is weight management. Some people may put weight loss completely out of their own control, however, deep down we know that we’re not being truthful to ourselves and not creating a useful environment through which we can change and grow. This is where the concept of objective truth comes in. Whether you like it or not, the objective truth is weight management is entirely within your control. Don’t get me wrong there are a lot of socio-economic factors and explanations — but these don’t move that ‘thing’ from one circle to another objectively speaking. So, with that said, let’s talk about each of these three classifications.

Exmaples of areas within our Circles of Control by Cameron Readman for Engineer Your Life
Exmaples of areas within our Circles of Control by Cameron Readman for Engineer Your Life
Examples of ‘things’ within our circles of control

Let’s start with things outside of our control. If we look at dot 1, this is something wildly outside of our circle of control. This dot represents many things, it could be the weather, the global economy, the bus schedule or who the president of Zambia is. This scenario is the simplest to discuss, because once we recognise something is totally outside of our control, it really isn’t particularly useful to put a lot of our energy into it. The best we can do is focus on what we can control. So, for example, we can’t control the bus schedule, however, we can control how early we get up and go stand at the bus stop. Energy and time spent on something we can’t control is a waste of a limited resource which is our time on this earth.

Again, fairly simple, this is where we should focus the vast majority of our energy. The importance here is that objectiveness we talked about earlier, making sure we classify things correctly. Some ‘things’ are also harder for us to control than other ‘things’, so let’s look at the cluster of dots 2–4. A good way to explain this is using the example of getting up on time, which we can classify as dot 2. It is within our control, however, it’s much harder if we don’t go to bed on time, which is dot 3. Dot 3 is easier if we do 4, which is set bedtime reminders, consume some sleepy time tea and avoiding blue light. Simply put, the best morning routine is a strong nightly one.

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Best morning routine is a strong nightly one! Source: Pixabay

Practically then, we can enhance how we take care of the items within our control by connecting the dots and finding the things that are easier to do that lead us to the desired outcome. The easier we make things for ourselves, the easier it is for us to generate those positive outcomes, even if it isn’t always the desired one.

This is where it gets tricky. Ideally, I’d like to avoid classifying anything in this middle ground, but the reality is I believe it exists and has some utility in existing. Another way to think of anything in this area is things in our indirect control. Dot 5 is something we can’t directly control but we have heavy influence over. A great example of this is shooting for a promotion at work. We cannot control what our boss thinks of us (or anyone else for that matter), but we can do our job well, make the extra effort, get the training and tell people we want the promotion — something a lot of people don’t consider doing by the way, but it’s useful for your superiors to know you want it, especially if you’re young.

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Manage where you spend your energy. Source: Pixabay

Dot 6 is the other extreme, we have very little influence over it but there are still actions we can take. Subjectively this becomes murky, could we put an election result here or should we classify the result as outside of our control? We can vote and create a narrative of openness for political discussion around ourselves to encourage discourse in our immediate network, but ultimately unless we control a major news outlet or have a large platform, our influence is relatively negligible. That doesn’t mean don’t try by the way, but it means we should be hyper aware of how much energy we put into something. Campaign, rally and make your dissenting voice heard for example. Freedom of speech and the right to protest has built the democracy we stand on today and it is important to exercise it, but define boundaries, get out and separate that from everything else, don’t let it totally consume your life and take over that which you have control.

How you classify is up to you and it also depends on what is important to you. We should, however, ignore influence to a degree because, even in the case of a promotion, it is not massively useful to simply say “I have influence over whether I get promoted” — we must then convert that statement into the actions we do have control over. Therefore, it is useful in so far as the classification signals to us we should consider what actions we do have control over, so that we can then enhance the probability of the outcome wanted.

Practical Application

In a bid to avoid repeating myself, because this article is a continuation of last week’s, much of the strategy here is very much the same, so head over and read the ‘practical application’ section of last week’s article where I talk about journaling, and give some books worth a read. With journaling especially, we can take some time to implement what we’ve learned here and connect those dots to find the easy wins.

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What are the simplest actions that lead to your goal? Source: Pixabay

The big addition here is goal setting. It is especially useful to consider where the actions required to achieve that goal come on this Venn diagram. If your goal is something you have influence over but not direct control, how can you break down that goal into something you can control? For example; “I will gain 50 followers on insta this week,” is not a useful goal because we can’t ultimately control that outcome. “I will produce one piece of quality content that meets my engagement guidelines every day this week,” is something we can directly measure, achieve, and tick off at the end of the week.

Lastly, with the prospect of second lockdowns looming, I think it’s useful for all of us to consider what is outside of our control and what is inside. For example, we might sign a petition to keep gyms open but the gyms closing is out of our control. So then, what actions are you going to take to keep fit? For the purposes of mental health, physical health, career, relationships, what is outside of control that we should let go of, and what can we focus on?

“The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.” — Marcus Aurelius

Take a moment, reread, and consider the famous Stoic quote and exactly what it means. This isn’t just about coping, there is often more opportunity for growth, prosperity and success to be found in the ‘obstacle’ than there is in avoiding it. Granted, this particular obstacle is a bigg’un and we may need a bigger boat. Yet, I can guarantee you that in doing this exercise and in thinking in this way, you will be a long way towards finding stuff to be positive about and actions to take that will not just keep you afloat but improve your life. In fact, I consider it vital that you do as things that used to anchor us become more difficult to access and take part in.

This article was written by Cameron Readman. If you’d like to know more or receive notifications for future articles, please head over to the Website and subscribe at the bottom of the page!

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