Control The Controllables

Written as a guest post for the Urban Commuter Blog.

The environment, people, and unknown factors are a few of the things that usually are out of our control. When we find ourselves in new and unknown situations, or unfamiliar locations, our unconscious tendency is to try to make sense of it all by asserting some kind of control. Controlling something gives us the chance to feel more at ease, and in doing so, we think we can mitigate any risk that results from these unknown variables in front of us. However, the more we try to control those variables the less we are listening to them and to the environment in front of us, effectively not allowing solutions to present themselves.

Not having control often results in frustration, elevated (perceived) risk, and often poor solutions that will not succeed. Why do we insist on controlling all those things if we know we can’t?

Chaos rules and trying to control everything will result in controlling nothing. This is why developing the situation, or as Pete Blaber puts it in The Common Sense Way: pay attention to what’s going around you, keep a low profile, and apply common sense. Concentrate on controlling what you can control, and let go of the rest. Get to the point where you can have controlled risk.

Take climbing a mountain for example: the mountain dictates how dangerous it is going to be, or whether it'll let you reach the summit; the weather can turn and make your relatively easy climb a nightmare; temperatures, lack of oxygen, falling rock and other bad, uncontrollable factors add up. The high alpine terrain is not an easy environment. A lot of things are out of your control. It's risk after risk. But you can minimize all that, and enhance your chances of success by controlling the things you can control.

In the case of mountain climbing, you can control your training, factoring in problems and real-life situations. You can increase your chances of success by being physically fit and able to endure longer periods of movement. You can learn to read the weather both from reports and on the ground, taking some control over whether the window to climb is the right one. You can control your approach to climbing, remaining light, and being fast. There are many things you can control and help reduce the risk of being in an uncontrollable environment.

It’s how you approach a situation that dictates the outcome. Focusing on the how in order to exert a change to the situation should be the plan, but again understand that you can’t control everything. Being comfortable with that level of mental (and sometimes physical) discomfort is something we need to practice and be ready for.

Control the controllables. Identify how you can manipulate the situation in your favor. Use the idea of layered circles, where the innermost circle, the closest to you, is where you focus first. This is the area you do have control over, and where early preparations should be made. Then, the next layer is the immediate environment (people, location, etc). This dictates the risks you’ll be confronted with and the things you need to analyze. You have little control here, but you can use this circle to understand both risk and what’s expected of you, bringing some control to it by working them out on the inner circle and making the situation work for you.

The last circle, the external perimeter layer, is where chaos rules. There is no control there and, most often than not, we have no idea what may happen. If you need to operate there you need a lot of training that can cover a wide range of situations. You need to be comfortable with stress and the ability to react to things in a positive way as they present themselves. To be successful there, you need solid preparations, working hard inside the inner circle.

Control the controllables. Let go of the rest. Focus on developing the situation.

Gear for a small project: Spartan9 Street Satchel MKI, iPad Air, Surefire Backup light, Tornek Rayville TR-660 watch, entry/E&E kit, folding knife.

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