Guest Post: What Can We Really Control Anyway?


This is a guest post from acclaimed author and speaker Hyrum Smith, cofounder of FranklinCovey. His 10 Natural Laws of Successful Time and Life Management was the first book I remember reading that might fit into the personal productivity or self-help genre. It was an amazing book. His new book, The 3 Gaps: Are You Making a Difference? offers timeless principles to help us live more effective lives.


You might find driving down the freeway with me entertaining.  I carry on a one-sided conversation with the other drivers that share the road with me.  You might hear me say things like:  “Really?  You’re going to try and fit into that space between the semi and the SUV?”  Or it might go something like:  “You do know that the fast lane is for people who actually want to reach the speed limit?”

Nobody can hear me.  Certainly not the people to whom the comments are directed.  Why, then do I persist in carrying on these useless monologues?  I believe it boils down to the fact that none of us like being in situations where we have no control.  One of the things we definitely have no control over is traffic.  Nothing we say from the safe confines of our vehicle is going to change the situation in any way.  Why, then, do we do it?

The human psyche seems to have a need to be in control of its environment.  Since we often misunderstand the things over which we have any degree of control, we end up being a little like Don Quixote, tilting at windmills that will never fall.  This would be simply amusing, except for the fact that it sometimes leads to real frustration, inner anger that seeks external expression, or despondency at our inability to do the impossible: control outside events.

A realistic appraisal of our place in society will quickly determine that there is only one thing over which we have any control.  That would be ourselves.  One of my colleagues was fond of saying that there is no such thing as a weather problem, only a wardrobe problem.  Her view was that it was silly to complain about the weather, something we cannot control.  Rather, she put her energy into dressing appropriately for the conditions, making the best of the situation.

We run into things every day over which we have no control.  Do we approach them as my colleague does?  Do we figure out how to adapt to the situation, or do we behave more like I do in the car, whining about other people and their behavior, or natural events over which we will never have any influence?  The answer to that question may also be the answer to the question of how happy we feel in our life.

When we constantly complain or feel frustrated over things we can’t control, we tend to feel unhappy and dissatisfied.  On the other hand, when we recognize that we have no control over those things and choose to adapt instead, we become happier people.  And, as it turns out, happier people find fewer frustrating things in their lives.  It becomes something of a self-confirming bias.

I think everyone would rather be happy than not.  Starting by adapting to things we can’t control, rather than complaining about them, is worth the effort.  And the surprising thing is that a change like that has an effect on others around us.  Like the pebble in the pond, a decision to be happier has a positive impact on all those we deal with.  And that is a gift worth giving.


Hyrum Smith is a distinguished author, speaker, and businessman. He is the co-founder and former CEO of FranklinCovey®. For three decades, he has empowered people to effectively govern their personal and professional lives. Hyrum’s books and presentations have been acclaimed by American and international audiences. He combines wit and enthusiasm with a gift for communicating compelling principles that incite lasting personal change. You can visit him on the web at


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