No matter what happens in life, many things are beyond your control. You cannot control the cop deciding to pull you over for two miles per hour over the speed limit, you cannot control what the person said to you at work, you cannot control when your car breaks down, and you cannot control that the judge thinks your butt came up on the bench.

You can’t control any of it. Much of the stress in our life comes in worrying about these things. Sometimes entire training cycles are destroyed because of stressing out about this. Well, what if this suit doesn’t fit right and I can’t get it broken in or altered in time? What if this exercise doesn’t have the response I think it should and I can’t hit a PR at the meet? What if this, what if that? What if, what if, what if, what if, what if. All of these things lead to anxiety.

The book “Why Zebra’s Don’t Get Ulcers” can be briefly summarized simple statement: when the predator isn’t there, they aren’t stressed anymore. They don’t think about the what-ifs. They only think about the right-nows. Watch Animal Planet or National Geographic or whatever animal channels there are now; five minutes after the chase is completed, the zebra goes back to eating grass and hanging out.

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Being homo sapiens, we do have a higher level of thinking than the zebras (at least most of us do. I’ve met some people where I’m not so sure). We have the ability to process things so that we don’t do them again in the future. We tend to end up going down this as an entire rabbit hole and are unable to stop thinking about it. We often think about this as we lie in bed and this is what keeps us awake. Research has actually found that sleep latency (delayed falling asleep) is linked to stress, and this is why meditations at bedtime have been very helpful in allowing people to fall asleep to begin with. This could be another article entirely.

If we simply focus on what we can control, stress is greatly reduced. What is that, though? What can we control?  If we can’t control what others say or do to us, what occurs from various situational happenstance, or just dumb luck, what can we control? We control how we respond. This is the only thing we control.

control mann

How many times have you heard someone say, “my boss is making my life miserable?" Did the boss make the person's life miserable or did the person respond in misery to what the boss did? Did the keys being locked in the car ruin your day, or did you let that misfortune spill over into other areas of your life?

Viktor Frankl lived through absolute hell. In his book Man’s Search for Meaning he talks about his life in a Nazi concentration camp during WWII (1). They controlled everything about his life. They controlled when he woke, when he slept, when he was beaten, when he was to remain safe, even whether he would live or die. He was able to live through this situation because of one tiny little concept:

“They controlled everything but my mind, and in my mind, I was free.”

Think about that for one second. He was able to survive and thrive as much as anyone could in that situation, because of his mindset.  They couldn’t control his thinking. They couldn’t control how he responded to what they said. He couldn’t control what they did; he could only control how he responded — and that is where his focus lied.

Imagine the different outcomes that can occur from this thought process.  If you lock your keys in your car, does that mean everything is going downhill that day? What can you do?  In the Herman Hessee book Siddhartha (2) about the life and journey of the Buddha, Siddhartha says, “I can always do something. There are three things I can always do, I can think, I can wait, and I can fast.”

If you lock your keys in your car, you can respond to it. You can wait, you can think, and you can control how you respond to the keys being locked in your car. You can think about how you can alter your day or how you can talk to other people to reschedule different aspects of the day or possibly even cover for you.

What about in lifting? Can you control what the judge calls? No. You don’t have to like it, but you can control how you respond and try to do it the way the judge says the next time. What will happen if you blow up at the judge to show him who is boss? You’ll most likely get kicked out of the meet for one, and for something else, everyone will see what kind of an asshole you are.

You can come up with a plan to adjust your gear or your technique to be able to achieve the lift in the way the judge requires. He decides if you get the lift or not. You can’t do anything to change it. You can try to do the lift to his specifications, but that’s all you can do. What happens if you are unable to get the lift? Will the world end? No. Will thousands of people on social media feel like you let them down?  No. (There’s the occasional douche bag, but who cares about them).

What about in the meet preparation? What happens if the suit alteration doesn’t work?  Guys, you can only control how you respond, right? Will the world end? No. You could try and use a different piece of gear. You could try and do the meet raw or without gear in that one lift. Does it matter if you might get second place in that meet because of it? Do you know how many trophies or medals I keep in my office from my powerlifting career? One — it’s because it is a mug and I use it because it’s the perfect size to hold my pencils. No one remembers the placings; they remember the training and the camaraderie amongst lifters. Just because the gear doesn't work for you doesn’t mean you’re done.

What happens if you bomb out of a meet? What can you control? Some start to dwell on the bomb and feel that they’re a failure and can’t show their face at another meet. Can you control that? Yes. Why? Because it’s your thought. You can fix that (remember the thought stoppage article). What else can you do? Fix why you bombed out. Was your ego too big and you opened up with too heavy of a weight? Do you have training partners who lie to you and tell you that four inches high is two inches below parallel? Did you not know the rules of the organization ahead of time and struggled to make the adjustment to your technique on the day of? These are all things you can easily do and control.

Focusing on what you can control essentially does two things: First off, it decreases your stress. If you can’t control it, you don’t worry about it. Most things are things beyond your control. Secondly, it allows you to actually do something about it rather than anticipate and wait.

This is quite a tough thing to do, but if you can change your focus to what you can control, you’ll be far better off and you’ll become Strong(er) of Mind.


  1. Frankl V. Man's Search for Meaning. Beacon Press, 2006.
  2. Hesse H. Siddhartha. New York, NY: MJF Books, 1922.