Two exceedingly wise and simple maxims underpin the teachings of today’s business and spiritual leaders. Follow these rules, they say, and you’ll start winning. But these “totally Zen” pronouncements rarely come with an instruction manual on when to use the light touch versus the iron fist.
Before starting weeks of hustle that leaves you with a luxurious graveyard tan…
Before writing out your worries on little strips of paper to burn in a ceremonial beach fire at dawn…
Ask yourself a question: Is this within my control?
Related: Why Self-Control Is So Important
Ask these seven questions to determine whether to fight it or forget it.
Start simple and ask:
- Is there a chance I can achieve this?
- Do I have, or can I find, the required resources?
- Does success rely on someone else, and if so, can I influence him?
Former superstar CEO of General Electric Jack Welch took that stagnant juggernaut and increased its value 4,000 percent. He credits that success to seeing truth in all situations. “Face reality as it is, not as it was or as you wish it were,” Welch says.
Once we’ve asked the obvious questions, dive deeper.
“Incredible change happens in your life when you decide to take control of what you do have power over instead of craving control over what you don’t.” —Steve Maraboli
If the answer is no, don’t waste your time. Tony Robbins teaches that 80 percent of achievement is psychological (our why), and only 20 percent is mechanics (the how). If you can inspire yourself to act, how will take care of itself.
When aspiring entrepreneurs call into his show, Gary Vaynerchuk loves to challenge them about their hunger. “How bad do you want it?” is usually his first question because it’s a litmus test for probable success.
Sure, he has the bedside manner of a cactus, but you have to give him credit: He holds himself to his own standards. Several years ago, Gary failed to convince Ben Silbermann to let him invest in Pinterest, which still stings financially. The reason he failed? “I just didn’t want it bad enough.”
If you’re hungry, go hunting. If not, let it go.
Think about the decision at hand. What emotions come up? Do I feel miserable or empowered? There are no negative emotions. Both the good and the bad are messengers, and they are telling you to fight for it or forget it.
Mark Manson, best-selling author of The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck, says, “If you’re miserable in your current situation, chances are it’s because you feel like some part of it is outside your control.”
Aha! Misery might just be a message that something is outside your control. You now have two options: Remove yourself from the situation or let go of trying to control it.
One woman fills her thoughts with making her first million, the other on making 50 sales calls each day and being present in enjoying the conversations.
The first puts her attention on an outcome she can’t directly control, the other where she can: on her actions. Who succeeds? (Yep, that’s rhetorical.)
Why is Nick Saban considered one of the greatest football coaches of all time? Yes, because he led his teams to a string of championship wins, but how did he do it? Instead of asking his team to focus on the outcome (winning), he asked them to focus on the process: drills, attitude and fundamentals.
“You can’t worry about end results,” Saban says. “It’s about what you control, every minute of every day.”
What do you focus on?
And if I adjust it, will it affect the outcome? Attitude is a rare example of something that’s always 100 percent within your control.
If you think that attitude is some liberal bunk with no place in the “real world,” consider Marcus Aurelius. One of the most powerful men in history, emperor of Rome for 20 years, and someone who knew something about worldly matters, wrote,
“You have power over your mind—not outside events. Realize this, and you will have strength.”
Negativity, despair, hate, excuses… every ounce of energy wasted in that mode is an ounce robbed from doing the work.
“Your attitude, not your aptitude, will determine your altitude.” —Zig Ziglar
By extension, what do I think and talk about most of the time? Are you focused on the economy, politics or your competitors’ behavior? Or have you given up clever Facebook diatribes in favor of what’s within your power, such as reading a brilliant business biography or polishing your résumé?
Kodak’s spectacular demise was a result of spending its time working on things outside of its control: propping up a dying film and paper photo industry. Kodak invented the digital camera in 1975, and conducted a study in the ’80s that said digital would one day destroy film. It did invest in digital, but as a means to get more people to print photos.
The company spent its time working with an obsolete technology, and predictably made itself obsolete.
“We become what we think about most of the time.” —Earl Nightingale
This last question invites us to do two things:
- Unleash massive action on the world.
- Stop expecting hard work to always lead to victory (it doesn’t).
We can fully control our work ethic, so decide what you want to accomplish, and then hustle to make it a reality.
If we still fail, we’ll know the cause was likely outside our control. You can then save the energy that might have gone into self-flagellation for the next hustle.
Seth Godin’s mantra is, “This might not work.” The subtext here is that the wise approach their work understanding that it’s impossible to control outcomes, and waste no time bellyaching about failure.
Get good at identifying which problems go into the can and cannot control categories. You’ll get more done, and carry a whole lot of Zen with you.
Related: How I Learned to Let Go