Why You Shouldn’t Worry About the Things You Can’t Control

UPDATED: November 16, 2017
PUBLISHED: November 16, 2017

I once worked with the head copywriter of an advertising firm who found it difficult not to worry about the financial health of her company—how many clients account services was landing, what kind of designs the art department was producing, whether her boss would start laying people off. Once she realized that each of these things was well outside of her control, and that worrying about them only led to heightened levels of stress, she was able to shift her focus toward fixing what was troubling her in her job, her workplace, and in many ways her life.

Related: How I Learned to Let Go

As with other clients, I had her make two lists: what she could control and what she couldn’t. As it often happens, she was surprised to see how much of her daily life fell into the former column. She managed a team of eight people, all talented copywriters who looked to her for instruction and guidance. She was in charge of leading the creative meetings that brainstormed ideas for each client. She might not have been a top executive, but every word the firm placed on a client’s advertisement was in her hands.


By recognizing that she had no control over the art department’s designs, she indirectly influenced their designs after all.


We set the following goal: to improve only the copy that she herself wrote. Recommitting herself to this manageable goal not only helped her focus her energies on something she could handle, but the best part was that, once her own performance improved, her circle of influence really did expand. The better her writing got, the harder her team worked to follow her example, and the team’s improved performance soon raised the bar higher for other departments, which responded with renewed enthusiasm and creativity. Ironically, by recognizing that she had no control over the art department’s designs, she indirectly influenced their designs after all. This gave her the confidence she needed to set her sights even higher, and pretty soon, her leadership was a great contributor to the company’s overall performance.

Commit yourself to improving your own performance, and see the ripple effect it creates.

Related: 4 Bold Ways to Be a Confident Leader


This article originally appeared in the December 2017 issue of SUCCESS magazine.

Shawn Achor is a Harvard-trained researcher and best-selling author of The Happiness Advantage and Before Happiness. Get a daily dose of happy at Shawn's Facebook page.