David Strittmatter

Focus on things you can control, ignore the rest

Don’t stress over what you can’t control


  • In life, there’re various things you cannot control
  • I take the full responsibility for all the things I can control and don’t care about things I cannot
  • People with an internal locus of control tend to be better off

Practical advice:

  • You have to accept everything as it is
  • Determine what you can control and recognize what you can’t control
  • Focus on the things you can control

Dear friend,

When I was in high school, I had this notorious teacher who never gave very good grades on principle. No matter how hard you tried, no matter how well you prepared, this teacher always found a way to reduce your score in an exam or a reason to lower your participation grade.

I still wanted to achieve an A in the subjects taught by this teacher, but I failed. And I hated it. My emotions ranged from frustration and anger to despair and grief.

Retrospectively, this issue taught me a vital lesson I’m very grateful for: I cannot control certain things in life; nevertheless, I’m fully responsible how I deal with them.

In today’s blog article, I want to illustrate why I focus on things I can control and ignore the rest and how I concretely apply this concept to my life.

How does it look like to stop caring

In life, there’re various things you cannot control. Whether it’s your boss, your parents, your teacher, your friends, your partner, your DNA, your ethnicity, your scars, … Even though we’re aware of this truth, many of us don’t realize the implications of it.

Having a teacher applying unjustified standards can be frustrating and demotivating. But why do we let this person or any other issue we cannot control do that our lives? And why do we blame them for our frustration, anger, and despair?

I asked myself these questions and couldn’t find any rational or justified reason.

We cannot simply change a person. An a**hole boss won’t likely become a great leader overnight. And by blaming these factors, we won’t change anything.

I decided for myself that I take the full responsibility for all the things I can control and stop caring about things I cannot.

In school, I still gave my best and learned as much as I could, but I stopped focusing on the results that were out of my control. When my teacher thought up another reason why I cannot receive an A in oral participation, I asked for feedback and suggestions to further improve. Instead of being frustrated, I challenged myself to make the best out of this situation. I stopped caring about the grade and focused on my personal effort. I didn’t blame the teacher anymore, but I asked myself how I could do better. I set myself the goal to write the best grade in the final exam (Abitur), which was also marked by other teachers, to set a goal that’s more under my control and sustain my motivation. I limited the influence of the factors I cannot control to a minimum. Eventually, I knew that high school had an end-date. Hence, I wanted to make the limited time worthwhile and take as much as I could from it.

Unfortunately, it’s not always easy like that. Sometimes, life is very bad to us. People diagnosed with cancer or victims of a serious car accident need to deal with issues of a totally different severity. Yet, it’s still the same problem: There’re factors we cannot control, such as a paraplegia, and ones we can control, such as still pursuing the career of your dreams (Stephen Hawking).

Why should you stop caring

First, it’s illogical to let things that you cannot control negatively affect you. Yes, there’re things you want to care for even though you cannot control them, such as the love of your life or your children. Yet, too many people let too many things take control of too many aspects of their life.

Second, people with an internal locus of control tend to be happier, less anxious, make better decisions, and accomplish more of their goals.

According to psychological research, people with an internal locus of control are those who tend to believe that they are responsible for most of what happens in their lives and focus on what they could do better or what they can influence in pursuing their goals. In contrast, people with an external locus of control tend to blame others for their problems and find excuses to not pursue their goals.

Therefore, it’s empirically evident that people who focus on things they can control (and neglect those that they cannot) are in general better off.

Third, it might be a long journey, but adopting an internal locus of control (focus on things you can control & ignoring the rest) is not very difficult. It’s not like a hard diet to lose a massive amount of body weight, but rather it’s the decision to take full accountability and the commitment to live life to the fullest.

How to stop caring about things you can’t control

Firstly, you have to accept everything. Accept that your boss is an a**hole, your teacher is incompetent, you won’t have the height of a model, or your sister will never be as kind to you as you wish.

I know this is a difficult decision to make, but it’s the only way to stop caring about things you cannot control. If you accept the things as they are, you free yourself from the burden to care.

However, acceptance doesn’t mean that you have to give up! You still can work towards something that isn’t likely to change: Your boss, teacher, or whoever might change. The key, though, is to make yourself clear that it might never happen and it’s not in the realm of your responsibility once you accepted it.

Secondly, determine what you can control and recognize what you can’t control.

Next time when you find yourself worrying, take a minute to examine the issue. When your boss once again didn’t appreciate your hard work and extra hours, ask yourself: Why do you feel down, what are the driving forces, what were your expectations and why?

You can’t prevent a storm from coming, but you can prepare for it. You can’t control how someone else behaves, but you can control how you react.

You might not control whether your boss appreciates your work, but you can still make your impact on the organization visible. You might not change your current position in the next few months, but you can work towards another position, role, or even career in the next few years.

Thirdly, focus on the things you can control.

What are things you can do in the short-term, mid-term, and long-term?

In the short-term, you might not have numerous possibilities, in the long-term, though, you can greatly change the things around you.

By focusing on the aspects you can control, you gain enormous power. The things you can control most are your own behavior and reactions to external influences.

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