A matter of choice

Feeling in control is a vital part of motivation and performing well. When you feel in control you’ll have higher motivation and be more likely to perform better.

You can proactively fuel your sense of control – increasing it is a skill that improves with practice. Great performers focus their time, energy and emotion on things that are in their control.

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What goes on

We typically see that some people seem to like to talk about things they can’t control and that makes them feel or others feel worse. They seem to prefer to moan and talk about the decisions others have made (referring to these decision makers as “they”) as if the only reason for the decision was to make them feel unhappy. These people become practiced at spotting and talking about all the things that seem to be imposed on them.

The truth is if you work in a business many things will be outside of your control – even if you’re the CEO! – and your sense of control is challenged every day.

The best performers work on focusing on the things they can control and accepting the things that they can’t. They do this so it becomes a habit for them. Even in environments where much of what they do is prescribed (like an athlete’s training programme) they retain a strong sense of control over things like the attitude and effort they bring to training.

Five performance truths

The brutal reality of high performance life – this is what you need to know

  1. There will also be things outside of your control but you have a choice about what to focus on
  2. You can’t control everything – so focusing in on what you can control feels good, your motivation will be higher and both help you perform! This is about “controlling the controllable”
  3. Being aware of what you think and talk about is a great starting point. You might be spending a lot of time thinking about things you can’t control which is simply making you feel down, frustrated or worse
  4. Your sense of control and how you express that will affect the motivation of those around you. Take care to help others to control what you and they can control
  5. For some people, their sense of control is really important to them, while others can function a bit better feeling slightly less in control

Three things to do

  1. Increase your awareness of what you’re thinking and talking about. These are the choices you’re making about where you’re focusing your time, energy and emotion.
  2. Choose to focus on the right things that will help you get the results you want. These are the controllable things and priorities that will maximise the chance of you winning.
  3. Be disciplined about working on your sense of control. Follow your plan and give it the time and energy it deserves. The Staying in control of what matters tool is a great place to start



Matthew’s story

Matthew was a senior manager in a global business. He had complex and diverse responsibilities, including the leadership, management and motivation of a team. He also had delivery of his own highly challenging tactical and strategic objectives. Typical demands for someone in his position.

He was becoming acutely conscious that his strategy of achieving his goals was “work longer and work harder”. The sustainability of this approach was questionable! He had lower than ideal energy levels, a sense of running out of hours and the knowledge that the potential of his team was not being fully exploited. Not good.

His journey towards high performance started by thinking differently about his work. This meant having a much more comprehensive understanding of the ingredients of high level performance. He needed to not only achieve his current goals and objectives in a way that was sustainable, he wanted to find additional capacity within himself to take his performance to an even higher level. In short he needed to feel in maximum control of his performance rather than to feel that he was simply constantly reacting to events.

He started to understand the different component parts of performance and to change his behaviour – the true meaning of learning. He focused on areas he could control like his mindset, his physical energy and managing his environment better. Supported by his existing range of impressive technical and tactical skills, Matthew put together with his coach a detailed performance plan for 12 weeks.

Years later and Matthew is still using everything he learned about what he can control. He tells us “the resilience of the systems put in place is demonstrated by the fact that years on I am still using the techniques to keep my performance sharp and relevant to ever changing demands and priorities. Use of some of the techniques has become “second nature” (i.e. I now ‘image on the hoof’ almost without thinking consciously about it whereas once I had to set aside defined time to ensure I did it)”. Lovely.