Your Circle of Control

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Tom Brady is one of the best and most decorated quarterbacks to ever play football.

His greatness was not always the case. And his greatness was far from inevitable.

His collegiate career was not spectacular, especially when you compare it to his professional career.

Brady didn’t start or play much his first two years at University of Michigan. In fact, he rarely got practice time.

Being the competitor he is, he was frustrated with his lack of playing time AND his practice time. He complained to the coaching staff that they couldn’t expect him to get better or show them what he could do if he never got in games or even took snaps in practice.

He received advice that would alter his career and, in my humble opinion, put him on the trajectory to where he’ll be a unanimous hall of fame selection.

A coach told him to treat practice like a game and to focus on making every opportunity in practice his best.

Brady said that he committed to making each throw in practice perfect. Even if he would only have one attempt each practice. He worked out hard in the weight room, watched film, practiced his throwing mechanics, did everything possible to make his one throw in practice perfect.

That’s exactly what he did. Those “perfect” single throws in practice led to two passes, which Brady made as perfect as possible. That led to more & more snaps in practice, which eventually led to him to get playing time in games beginning his junior year. He performed well enough in his two years playing in games to get a shot in the NFL.

The advice that Brady took to heart is to focus only on what you can directly control. He ultimately didn’t have control of his playing time, coaches did. He did have control over his prep and his focus on being his absolute best, which in time, caused the coaches to play him.

Brady learned the circle of control.

Imagine three rings with each ring inside the next larger one.

The center circle is what you control. The next ring out is what you influence. The outer ring is what you cannot influence or control.

What you control

We can only have ultimate control over three things:

  • what we think
  • what we feel
  • what we do… our actions

Nothing else is in our span of control. We do not control other people. We do not even control our outcomes or our futures.

Brady realized that he only had control over his preparation, his focus, his hustle, his enthusiasm. He went all-in on that with the faith that if he performed all those qualities to the best of his ability, he would find his way onto the field. It worked for Brady; it can work for you.

What you influence

While it’s true that we don’t control what happens as the result of what we think, feel and do, we do have influence on outcomes and situations in our immediate span.

I’m a fan of Jesse Itzler’s determination. He founded a coconut water company that he eventually sold to Coca-Cola and a private jet company he sold to Berkshire Hathaway. He purchased a minority share of the Atlanta Hawks NBA franchise and married Spanx founder Sarah Blakey.

That’s an impressive resume to say the least. What I didn’t mention were his failed companies, failed music career, odd jobs to keep himself afloat.

Itzler is an example of what you can influence. He works, hustles and takes risks. He didn’t control the outcomes of that grit, hence his history of misses. However, because of his actions and his mental state, he influenced his opportunity for some massive wins. Coke could have turned down his company, so could Warren Buffett. He didn’t control those outcomes, yet no doubt he makes those things happen through controlling his controllables and positively influencing those eventual outcomes.

What you cannot influence or control

In short, it’s everything else.

This includes markets, the weather, people outside of your direct influence, geopolitics, societal norms, the next song on the radio… and the list goes on.

Another thing that we don’t influence or control – at least, not any longer – is the past.

Just like that sinking feeling when you say something to someone and immediately after it leaves your mouth, you want to take it back. As you know, you cannot. Everything that happened 5 seconds ago or 5 years ago is equally as gone and we cannot control or even influence things that have already happened.

The implications

All-to-often, we put our energy and focus on things out of our control. Like Tom Brady did as a young quarterback at Michigan, that misplaced focus on the lack of opportunities, created frustration, resentment and negatively affected his performance – by his own admission now.

We get so wrapped up in outcomes that we don’t put enough focus or effort into our prep. Or, we’ll put so much pressure on ourselves to try to control the uncontrollable that our mental state is negatively affected as is our actual performance towards the thing we want.

Here’s what to do

Focus only on what you can control: your thoughts, feelings and actions. Use the desired outcomes as a North Star to shape your actions and as information to tweak & optimize your controllables.

Your power is found only in what you can control. Set yourself up to have a superior mental state, a peak emotional state and take the biggest, boldest actions to influence the outcome that you want. Let go of everything else. Your wins will naturally begin to stack up when you follow the circle of control.