How to Deal with Uncontrollable and Controllable Events

I recently read the book Chop Wood, Carry Water by Josh Medcalf.  Then, over the previous couple of months, my Biz to Biz group has been going through and having a bit of a discussion on it.  I had the opportunity to talk about one of the chapters last week.  If you haven’t had a chance to read it, then you need to pick up a copy, it has a ton of valuable information.


I was assigned to Chapter 23.  During preparation, I was able to glean a bunch of insights; and the words of Ben Sweetland rang true, “We cannot hold a torch too light another’s path without brightening our own.”  Here is what I discovered in my journey.

The Illusion of Partially Controllable Goals

No time to read?  Watch the 4.5 minute video instead.

In this chapter we learn about Akira and his quest to find the most beautiful waterfall in Croatia.  However, there are a bunch of factors at play (weather, boat rides, setbacks) that prevent him from reaching his goal.  The idea is that there are things you can control, and things that you cannot, and don’t fight against those that you cannot control in order to meet your own goals.  But it’s actually deeper than what the book lets on.

That Which You Can Control

There are many things in your life that you can control.  You have the direct influence to create the outcome that you want.

  • When you wake up
  • How often you work out
  • What your income is
  • How much time you spend with your family
  • How much time you spend learning and studying
  • When you want to retire
  • Whether you should buy a new house or not
  • If you should write a book
  • Donate time to charity
  • Your attitude

Some of them have external factors that weigh in, but for the most part, these are the events in your life that you are able to control.  The reason that we want control is that things are then predictable.

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That Which You Cannot Control

There are a variety of things that are outside of our control.  No matter what we do, we won’t have a significant influence.

  • The weather
  • Accidents
  • Most health issues
  • Being invited to a party
  • Death
  • Change
  • Other People

Now obviously this isn’t cut and dry, things aren’t on one side or the other, but there’s more of a spectrum.  Those uncontrollable goals and events are not desirable because they are unpredictable.

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Partially Controllable Goals

If the things we can control are predictable, and the things we cannot control are unpredictable, those that fall in the middle, the partially controllable events, are the I hope and I wish items.  They are the “If Only’s” that lead us to believe that we can actually have an influence on the uncontrollable goals.

  • If only I work out more, then I can avoid cancer
  • If only I try harder, then I will be invited to the party
  • If only I time the stock market, then I can retire early
  • If only I work more hours, then I can avoid change

We try to manipulate the controllable events in order to change the uncontrollable, and drag them over into the controllable side.  Using what we can control, we seek to change the unpredictable to the predictable.

Our goal is to control and predict every aspect of our life.  But these uncontrollable “things” end up getting stuck in the middle, in the partially controllable space.  We cannot fully  move them over, and they lead to one thing:


The Illusion of Partially Controllable

content marketing BillingsThe best part about this chapter in the book is the title.  I’m not sure if the author meant that the illusion is that we can only do so much and we trick ourselves into believing that just a little more, and trying just a little harder will get us there, or if he meant that the illusion is because they don’t exist.

I believe that partially controllable goals don’t exist.  The illusion is that we deceive ourselves into thinking that they do, and end up creating stress for ourselves.

On the one side we have that which we can control and predict.  When things work out, we get to say, “That’s because of me.”

On the other side the uncontrollable and unpredictable.  When things don’t work out, we get to say, “Well someone else or something else is to blame.”

But stuck in the middle we are left with If’s.  If only this, then I can take credit.  If only that, then I get the glory.  If I do this, then I win.  But those if’s don’t work in our favor.

A Better Reaction to the Uncontrollable Events

To avoid stress, and accomplish more, we have to learn to focus on the controllable and ignore the uncontrollable as much as possible.  We learn from the uncontrollable, and adapt to work around them.  Because the only aspect that you have complete control over is:

Your Attitude

We can’t change the weather.  But we can adjust how we react.  We can’t change freak accidents.  But we can adjust our response.  We can’t change other people.  But we can change our attitude toward them.

If you’re looking for a life that is filled with joy, love, and is stress free, then determine to adjust your attitude instead of trying to adjust the uncontrollable events in your life.

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