The Only Three Things You Can Control

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Quick Takes:

  • Success involves internal and external factors - focus on the internal
  • To be successful, we first need conviction in our life's vision
  • Second, we need effort to push through the pain to get to the pleasure
  • Third, we need to learn from both internal and external factors in order to become better

A lot goes into success. Hell, a lot goes into defining it, let alone achieving it. And although there’s a lot of personal influence we can add to the attainment of our own success, there are a lot of external factors too, all of which lie outside our control.

When it comes to a life of success, it’s pointless to focus on the external factors, since they are uncontrollable. Instead, we need to focus on the few things we can control: the internal factors.

External factors such as timelines, purchase decisions, investment opportunities, public opinion, and even the overall economy are outside of our control. While these things - among others - are uncontrollable, there are three things that we can control, and need to be focused on in turn: one is a precursor to external factors, one happens concurrently with external factors, and one is a direct result of those external factors.

Combined, these three controllable factors, which can be cultivated within us (similar to grit), allow us to take control of the uncontrollable. By  increasing your focus and internal mastery of these three factors, the unknown becomes known, the uncontrollable becomes controllable, and your success becomes inevitable.

What are these three factors, you ask? Well, they’re nothing more than convictioneffort and learning curve: 

1. Conviction

You may be wrong, you may be right, but no matter what you are, the one thing that you need is conviction. To be successful, you have to have conviction in your beliefs, conviction in your trajectory, and ultimately, conviction in the vision of your life

And while we can’t control any outside factors, we can control the level of belief in ourselves. It doesn’t matter what other people are saying, thinking or acting. To me, they’re just crabs in a crab bucket, trying to hold us down. The fact is that these people don’t - or can’t - see the vision for your success, and therefore don’t understand your life’s trajectory.

People will be nay-sayers, potential clients will shoot your idea down, and even your friends will openly wonder what the hell you’re doing. But, if you’ve created a plan for your future, it doesn’t matter. You can’t control what other people think of your life or what they say about it, but you can control how you think. And when you focus on having a high level of conviction no matter the circumstance, you’ll end up passing by these nay-sayers.

Which brings up an interesting point: when you maintain a high level of conviction, and you end up succeeding, people look at you mystified, and assume that you were somehow “lucky” or “at the right place at the right time.” Further, they’ll think your actions are random and unmeditated. But you’ll know your success started when you controlled your conviction, and kept a watchful eye on your future.

You can’t control how other people think, talk or act, so stop trying. What you can control, however, is the firm belief that you’re designing the life you want. When it comes to success, conviction in your trajectory is key.

2. Effort

After conviction comes effort. Without conviction you have no effort, but the good thing is that both are controllable. Effort is the genesis of happiness and fulfillment, and is gained through the compounding effects of daily incremental progress toward your goal.

No matter what your goal is or what success means to you, the going will be tough. If you want to be successful, it’s going to take maximum effort, and it’s going to take that level of effort from the get-go. Bred from conviction, this level of effort is required from the beginning in order to put you on - and maintain - your trajectory of success.

Things will happen fast for you as well as happen slowly, and although you can’t control the speed of other people, you can control your effort, and how you react when things don’t go according to plan.

Feeling down when something doesn’t go your way? Well, if you have the required level of effort, you’ll be able to push through the road block on your way to success.

Effort always reminds me of making sales calls. When it’s considered a positive to close ~1% of the deals you prospect, a healthy level of effort is a minimum requirement. If your success revolves around creating a business, for example (whether a lifestyle company or a Fortune 500 company), then you’re going to need to pick of the phone and build your sales pipeline. Sales funnels are leaky, and it’s going to take a lot of initial effort to create a funnel that yields you a return.

Without effort, success would be impossible. And when you understand that you control your effort, it doesn’t matter if you get 99 “no’s,” because all you need is that one yes. With your effort as your weapon, making that 100th call is nothing more than another day at the office. Think about it this way: when companies “fail,” often times it’s because the owners lost their passion and gave up, and not necessarily because the business itself failed. But if you focus on keeping a high level of effort, your success will be inevitable, whether with your first business or your fifth.

So, when things don’t go as planned, don't blame outside factors; we can’t control them, and therefore there’s no use blaming them. Instead, blame yourself. Understand that in order to be successful you’ll need to step up your effort - something only you can control.

3. Learning Curve

The common theme here seems to be that you can’t control external factors and that things won’t go according to plan. What a theme, am I right? But this theme is even more common in real life than here in this article.

Sure, conviction and effort will help you weather the storm when things don’t go as predicted, but how do you ensure you don’t repeat the process? How can we break free of this theme?

The final internal factor under your control isn’t a mindset or a level of effort, but is instead your ability to learn. There is value in every experience, both bad or good, but it’s up to you as to what lessons you take away.

You can have the strongest conviction in the world and the maximum amount of effort, but if you aren’t accelerating your learning curve through reference experiences, all will be for naut. It’s your ability to internalize external factors, learn from them, and then use that learning to propel yourself forward that will make you successful.

So, it will take conviction in your beliefs to get going, and then maximum effort to keep going, but it will be the learning, gained through experiences brought on by your conviction and effort, that will be the differentiating factor. You can’t control outside factors or even if your perfect plan on paper will translate to the real world, but you can control how much and how quickly you learn from implementing that plan.

That way, even if you have to go back to square one, and start with a new life plan and a new feeling of conviction, you’ll actually be one step ahead because you’ve already learned from your failures. You won’t make the same mistake twice. Knowing this, your conviction will be higher this time around and your effort will be further maximized because you’ll have a better understanding of how to spend your time.


The bottom line? Don’t worry about the things outside of your control, it’s like trying to stop the ocean’s tides. Instead, focus on controlling your level of conviction and effort, so that you can accelerate your learning curve. This way, rather than trying to stop the oceans from moving, you focus on adjusting the sails of your proverbial ship so you continuously head in the right direction, no matter how choppy the seas might be.

And that, my friends, in itself is success.

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