By Ken Reed

Chicago Cubs manager, Joe Maddon, is constantly talking about focusing on the process and staying in the present moment. He spends his energy on the controllables and in doing so he remains relatively calm under pressure.

Maddon’s Cubs scored four runs in the ninth inning on Tuesday to eliminate the San Francisco Giants in the divisional series. They now move on to the National League Championship Series in their quest to win the franchise’s first World Series title since 1908.

A few hours before the Cubs-Giants game, I was working on themes and messages for the upcoming youth basketball season. I am a long-time youth sports coach and this year I’m coaching an 8th grade basketball team. Before every season, I like to talk to the team about some big ideas that I will refer back to during the season.

So, as a result of reflecting on Maddon’s philosophy, the Cubs’ dramatic win, and my upcoming chat with my basketball team, I wrote the following short essay about focusing on controlling the controllables — in sports and in life.

Controlling the Controllables: The Two Circles

In order to be the best we can be, we must use our energy on that which is within our control. Realize that ultimately we only have control of ourselves. External factors are beyond our control.

However, we can control how we respond to the things beyond our control, as this quote points out:

“We cannot choose our external circumstances, but we can always choose how we respond to them.”


When you focus on what you can control and surrender what you can’t, you have greater control over your emotions (anxiety, fears, anger, etc.), and you feel more calm and confident.

There are three steps to excellence (being the best you can be):

Draw a circle. Ask yourself, “What can I control?” Place those things inside the circle. This is the Circle of Control. (E.g., attitude, effort, preparation, diet, response to things beyond your control, the process, perspective on things).

a. For example, you can’t control rush-hour traffic but you can control how you respond. You can control whether you allow it to ruin the rest of your day or not. You can also control leaving earlier or later, when there’s less traffic. In addition, you can control how you spend time in traffic. For example, listening to books on tape.

Now, ask yourself, “What is beyond my control?” Place those things outside the circle. (E.g., weather, other people: competitors, teammates, friends/family, judges/bosses, etc.)

Finally, draw one more circle. Ask yourself, “What things beyond my control can I influence?” Place those things in the second circle.. This is the Circle of Influence.

a. For example, how you communicate with someone might influence how he or she responds to you.

Personal Excellence is about using our energy to “control the controllables” by staying inside the Circles of Control and Influence. “Controlling the controllables” is the process and the process is more important than the goal or outcome because you can control the process. You can’t control the outcome or whether or not you reach your goal. The process is what you can do in the present, on a day-to-day basis (e.g., training), to increase your chances of success, however you define that.

The ultimate illusion of the human experience is trying to control the uncontrollables. It’s trying to control outcomes. When you surrender the outcome, you are freed up to be at your best, to be in the moment, and to trust your process. It is the person who has surrendered the outcome who ironically has the greatest chance of success. It is the person who has surrendered to the fact that he/she could fail, lose, and make mistakes, who has the greatest likelihood of not failing, losing, and making mistakes.

Until you surrender the outcome, you will always be your greatest enemy.

Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans


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