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Focus on what you can control


Why does no one admit his failings? Because he’s still deep in them. It’s the person who’s awakened who recounts his dream, and acknowledging one’s failings is a sign of health.Seneca – Letters from a Stoic

The conditions of any interaction between oneself and another can be broken down into two categories: Their actions and yours. You can only control the latter.

Something that I have been working on is upon every negative thing that comes up in my life; when a relationship goes poorly, when a workout doesn’t go well, when an article gets kicked back from an editor with the words “total re-write,” I stop myself mentally from tumbling into anger, excuses or resentment. (I mean really, how does someone survive long enough into adulthood to come into my gym and strike themselves with a sledgehammer?)

One has the capability to control the impact of outside elements, including other people, by developing a sense for ascertaining each person or things unique temperament. From that basis one may predict future behavior and either steer interactions in a favorable direction or choose not to allow into ones life those whom would affect it negatively. Those things still fall into the category of your own actions.

This applies to situations in any avenue of life, not just interpersonal. Business ventures, driving in heavy traffic, your training in the gym, etc. Life.

When something happens that leads me to feel that angered, blaming sentiment rise up, I mentally halt myself and say something to the effect of “Shut up. Stop what you’re doing.” I pause for a few heartbeats to accept this and then mentally say to myself, “It’s my fault.”

I then break down every indication over the course of the event which I should have taken as a sign of eventual failure. It doesn’t really matter what the other person did. If my workout sucked or a client doesn’t do what I want them to in a workout, I should have been able to read the signs or predict and counter the negative factors in the workout or their behavior.

If I’m sitting on the floor after a workout feeling physically awful, I disregard the urge to blame the lack of sleep, the missed meals, dehydration, the time off or the lack of equipment. These are all things I could have controlled and better accounted for. It’s my responsibility to make it better.

I remember driving once with a girl who, up until that moment, had been the most serious romantic relationship of my life. It was over, and I was still in that tachypsychic slow motion is-this-really-happening state that also accompanies things like car wrecks, unexpected gunfire or flipping over the handlebars of a downhill mountain bike into a boulder.

I stopped myself mentally, took a few moments to examine the feelings (something that I developed in SOF selection; rather than mentally avoiding pain, analyzing it to a minute level in order to deconstruct it) and asked her to hurt me. I wanted her to criticize everything about me since the start of the relationship.

She laughed. “Seriously? You want to hear this?”

“Yes. Pretend that either I don’t have feelings or that I do and you really want to hurt them.”

“You know that I do, right?”

“I’m aware.”

“Ok then…”

After mentally annotating that little list, I spent the rest of the drive going over every indication that I should have seen months earlier to know that it was going to fail and trying to figure out what possessed me to keep going with it anyway.

This seems like a good way to torture oneself, and really it is, but it’s also a valuable learning experience. There have been and will be other relationships and the only way to get better at them is to forget about blaming the other person, whom you cannot control, and understanding how to improve the factor that you can control: yourself.

Since starting Barefoot, I have kept a shorthand log of daily workouts. In it, I make notes on what went well that day and what went poorly. I look for at least one mistake per day; something that can be improved upon and integrated into a procedure that will eventually lead to a smoothly functioning system. This is only possible if I am capable of accepting responsibility for everything that goes wrong.

Turn this towards your own life. Consider everything around you that is not going well and take a moment to examine it from the perspective that it’s your fault.

Are you out of shape? Do your workouts suck? It’s your fault. Knowledge is free. So is effort. Do your workouts suck because you’re not eating well, because you’re just not putting yourself into them, because you’re dehydrated or because your program sucks? That’s your fault. Or is it because your gym sucks or your trainer sucks? That’s your fault too, because you choose those things.

Understand that and you can make it better. Or, you can keep on blaming the things that you can’t control and continue to wake up every day to a slightly older but otherwise unchanged self.

On the occasion of every accident that befalls you, remember to turn to yourself and inquire what power you have for turning it to use. Epictetus, born a slave in 55 A.D.

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