One of the tenets of Stoic philosophy is what is called the ‘Dichotomy of control’. That means clearly understanding what is within our ability to control and what falls outside our direct control. The resulting generally accepted wisdom is to focus only on what is within our power to control.
For example, a student can prepare as well as they can for upcoming exams, but the final result is ultimately outside of their control as it depends on several factors such as.
- Whether the right material has been studied
- Whether the question has been answered in a contextual sense, rather than it being simply a regurgitation of related facts.
- What mood the exam marker is in at the time
One of the challenges I have found over the years dealing with people, is they often categorise things as being total outside of their control and use that as an excuse to dissolve themselves of responsibility.
They completely ignore the fact that their ability to ‘significantly influence’ the outcome is totally within their control.
For example, just recently a business owner said to me ‘no matter what you do Steve, people come and go in my business, that’s the reality and it’s simply outside of my control’. I challenged that line of thinking. The question then became ‘what can your potential influence’ which presented a world of possibilities.
After some reflection, we came about with around 15 things that they could possibly influence to improve staff retention in their company. The following are four examples drawn from that list.
- Ensure staff are being paid in accordance with market rates and/or their value to the business.
- The culture is one that fosters warm working relationships.
- Individual and team performance is being recognized and appreciated.
- The business owner is consistent with decision making and does not play favourites.
The wisdom in the above example is to conduct a reality check each time you too easily use the phrase ‘outside of my control’. This can easily become default level thinking which can range from being lazy to at worst, being downright dangerous.
Ask yourself the question ‘the ultimate result may be outside of my control but what can I do to significantly influence the outcome in a more positive light?’ You will be pleasantly surprised with the creative thinking possibilities that emerge when a better question is posed.