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When it comes to planning, performance, or anxiety, you may have heard the phrase “you need to control the controllables.” It’s a common adage in Sports Psychology.

You can control your effort, your attitude, and your actions. A lot of times, we think we can control our outcomes. Sometimes by trying to control our expectations, we are also death gripping on an outcome that may not be a reasonable goal.

Here are some examples of controlling the controllables.

In a sports event, you can control:

  • your best preparation
  • your perspective and attitude
  • your warm-up
  • your effort
  • double-checking you packed everything you need

You can’t control:

  • how strong the competition is
  • the weather
  • bad luck with equipment or course markings
  • trail conditions
  • other people’s expectations of you
  • sickness

The same goes for anything else- a work presentation, a proposal you’re negotiating, and even relationships. We spend a lot of energy focusing on things out of our control because we want to control the outcome. There’s some freedom in letting go of the outcome by focusing on what’s within your grasp. If you have anxiety around your next big challenge, maybe make a list of what you can and cannot control. Notice if anxiety is coming from the latter part of the list. What can you do to accept the things you cannot control or change?

A nuance here is how expectations impact trying to control outcome. If our expectations are out of line with our current ability or set of inputs, that can also cause angst or anxiety. When I line up for my next race, my expectations will differ from the last time I lined up for a race because my circumstances will have drastically changed. Sometimes we expect to be at a certain level or fitness even if our preparation or inputs have shifted (and we don’t even realize we are doing it). That causes unnecessary pressure that isn’t productive. 

An example many of us have had to face is the amount of time we’ve been able to spend on something we like (training, a hobby, etc) as situations changed during the pandemic or maybe our general phase of life changed.

Are you expecting yourself to perform or do the same amount of work now as you when you had a different set of inputs? Is that a fair ask of yourself? 

That’s where the question, “what can I let go of” come into play.

I’ll give you a personal example. During COVID, I wasn’t been able to train at the same effort or time commitment that I’d like due to circumstances outside my control. I wasn’t been able to work as many hours on projects I love. I had to be more firm around boundaries and my time management. We had no child care. I have a small child, and my energy is finite (even IF I had all the time in the world, I still do not have unlimited energy). 

My performance expectations, what I could accomplish in a day, or even how long a “normal” task would now take changed. How rested I felt when I showed up to a training session changed. I not only had to ask myself, “what is within my control,” but I had to ask “what can I let go of so my expectations are in line with my inputs?”

I’ve worked hard to leave perfectionism in the past, but there’s been a new level of self-compassion, acceptance, and hope I had to adopt since having children during a pandemic. I’ve found that by asking, “What can I control…but also, what can I let go of?”

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