Losing Control, Gaining Gratitude

A Super Bowl champion will be crowned today, and football fans and announcers will talk about how the winning team controlled the line of scrimmage, emotions, and the game. Perhaps the ultimate misnomer will be thrown out: Controlled their own destiny.

I’ve played and coached football, and lived life with what I like to consider a keen eye for observation for 43 years, and the term control should rarely, if ever, be applied to either. Sure, football and life both have elements of command, composure, and overpowering, but control is never complete. It is always limited. It is always conditional. And even when it seems like it is complete, it’s only because we aren’t considering at least a dozen factors we don’t control but are going in our favor at the moment. We have complete control over  nothing in life, and what we believe we control is only by definition, not reality.

What do we completely control? Emotions? Good luck controlling them. We don’t control our emotions any more than we control the weather. If we truly had complete control over our emotions, most of us would exert our control in order never to feel lonely, anxious, sad, or irritated, and yet we do. Emotions come and go. Sometimes they match what we want, sometimes they don’t. We don’t control our emotions, and yet, it’s not a problem.

What do we completely control? Our thoughts? I don’t know about you, but I have doubts, fears, and distracted thoughts all the time. If I controlled my thoughts I would always choose to be focused and confident. If I completely controlled my thoughts, I would control them into inventing a helpful product everyone in the world desired and would purchase for a nice profit, and I’d sit back, cash checks, and write witty blog posts all day. But I don’t control my thoughts, so I go off to work 6 or 7 days a week trying to point in the right direction and influence what I can. We don’t completely control our thoughts, and yet, it’s not a problem.

What do we completely control? Our actions? I will grant this, if it seems like we control anything in life, it’s simple actions that don’t involve interacting with too many other people. We might control little actions like getting dressed and selecting music on an ipod, little things like that, but if you’ve ever been injured or sick, or had a coach or someone else who influenced when, where, and how you conducted your actions, your illusion of control over your physical actions was probably challenged.

I used to take for granted the control I had over walking and standing when and where I wanted, but nerve damage from a back injury destroyed my illusion of control. All of sudden, the control I had over something as simple as standing and coaching on the sideline didn’t seem to be within my control at all. The control I might have been able to claim was only temporary. The weakness in my left leg made me feel quite out of control of my own simple actions, like walking and standing. I came to realize the simple control I used to enjoy was temporary. At best, when our actions match our intentions, I like to think we have perfect influence over actions, but it’s only because other uncontrolled factors are going in our favor. Even when it seems like control, it’s control only by definition, a misleading definition at that. We truly only have influence over our actions, and yet, it’s not a problem.

What do you control in a game or life? No interaction is completely controlled. The world is full of interacting forces/influences every second of every day. If an action or outcome of a play results in what you intended, it doesn’t mean you controlled it. The outcome simply matched your intention. That’s not control, it’s icing on the cake. It’s a bonus. We don’t always get what we want, but it’s great when we do. We don’t control any interaction, and yet it’s not a problem. Our influence is so often enough.

Do not fear this lack of control, indeed, a lack of control is one of the very reasons we compete and take on challenges. There is a reason we don’t compete in activities that have no challenge. For any activity we might be able to control (if control truly existed), there is simply nothing to measure against an opponent to make it fun, challenging, and exciting. Think of some simple actions you are tempted to believe you control. Do you engage in those activities? No. There is a reason we don’t run football plays against air for guaranteed touchdowns every time. The opponent has a purpose. The opponent creates a challenge that we do not control. Competing against an opponent creates an unknown outcome, and that is fun, challenging, and exciting.

It is precisely our lack of control that makes competition and challenge delicious. We don’t compete to control. That would be boring. We compete to influence! We want to feel powerful, and real power doesn’t come from control, it comes from successfully exerting influence over that which we cannot control.

In discovering our true power, influence, we are no longer confused or frustrated about trying to control the uncontrollable. This confusion and frustration that accompanies the illusion of control often leads to the blame game, and we begin to blame anything and everything, including ourselves, for controlling something in a direction we don’t desire.

Influence is incredibly empowering. When it works favorably, it feels like control, because the process matches our intentions, but unlike the illusion of control, it never promises what it can’t deliver. Like a boat in the water, we have some command of the boat, but so does the water. Sometimes it is exerting minimal influence, and sometimes it is exerting its influence with a raging storm. Sometimes our best influence is knowing when battle the storm and when to seek safe harbor.

I jettisoned belief control from my life about a year and half ago, and the difference I feel is impressive. With a clearer understanding of how the world works, I have an emotional freedom that I never expected but always desired. I still screw up and act as if control exists sometimes, but my recovery to clarity is much quicker now.

I think the biggest benefit of influence over control is the gratitude I feel for simple pleasures that I influence but do not control. For example, in the past year, I’ve known two gentlemen under 45 years of age who went to bed believing they were perfectly healthy but died in their sleep.Understanding my lack of control in this process has led to feeling more gratitude for waking up each day and getting another crack at this great life I have been given.

Two months ago, a wheel basically fell off my wife’s car when a strut broke and a cascade of suspension problems occurred. She thought she was in control of that car when it did her bidding, but as it turns out, the car is always under a whole set of influences few of us ever consider. He actual control of the car was the same before and after the wheel fell off, but her sense of control was vastly different, her illusion of control smashed to smithereens after the car crumbled beneath her. Thank goodness the forces of the universe came together to break the car in a parking lot instead of at 75 miles per hour on I75.

So these days, when the forces of the universe don’t converge in my favor, I try to remember that I never had control, and I try to move on by influencing what I can with as little frustration as possible. But when the forces of the forces of the universe converge in the moment to give me what I want, I can’t help but consider it…..miraculous. I’m not really a miracle kind of guy, but I can’t think of a better term to described what I sense. With that miracle in hand, I feel fortunate and experience gratitude for simple pleasures like waking up and arriving at my destination safely.

To me, this gratitude for the influence I have is the most accurate, powerful way to conduct my life. I hope you find the same and enjoy your Super Bowl Sunday. Get after making plays in your world with the influence you have at your command.

Pick ‘Em Up

My college coaches didn’t allow us to practice in silence. We were supposed to be loud with encouragement and communication. When practice fell silent with apathy or self pity, we were sure to hear a certain phrase: “Pick ’em up!”

Pick ’em up was our command to get loud with encouragement and enthusiasm. Of course, the command did not need to be issued by coaches. Players could just as easily sound the command to pick ’em up.

The idea was that when we were silent, we were probably too focused on being down in someway….

  • down on the scoreboard,
  • down on our playing time,
  • down on the weather conditions,
  • down on our conditioning, or
  • down on our selves, coaches, or teammates.

When we shouted encouragement, we were picking each other up. Now, based on what I’ve written lately (see It’s a Great Day to be Alive or Pointing in the Right Direction), you should understand that nobody can actually force another person to increase their own enthusiasm. However, we are reliable beings with working senses, and if someone is shouting encouragement at you, it’s hard to ignore.

It’s also hard to ignore the messages we send ourselves in a loud and clear fashion. If I am yelling, “Come on! Let’s go! We’ve got this!” at you, it’s also hard for me to ignore my own voice, and it tends to feed my own enthusiasm, even if I initially had to fake it.

In yelling encouragement, it is very likely that I will pick up my own enthusiasm, and it’s also likely that anyone hearing me will connect to my enthusiasm. The reason they connect is not because I forced them to be enthusiastic. That’s impossible. What really happens is that I am pointing in a direction that they understand. As with Coach Egnatuk reminding me that it was a great day to be alive, the enthusiasm is in them already, and they simply recognized or remembered it when I pointed it out. Their fire was never out. It was just forgotten momentarily and only needed a reminder to be stoked into a raging blaze.

This is great to know because it means that if we ever feel as if someone else motivated us, the motivation was within us all along. The implication of this is that we never really need anyone else to pick us up. We only need a reminder, and that reminder can come from inside or outside.

When you get many people together on a team who understand this, enthusiasm appears to be contagious, and indeed, some people may describe it that way. One person points in a direction, and two or more people connect to it and follow that direction. It can be an incredible experience.

So when life seems like it is driving on your team and about to score, remember to point in the right direction for your teammates and pick ’em up.

It’s a Great Day to be Alive

I’ve been writing for a two weeks about how no person and no thing outside you can make you think or feel any certain way, yet I advocate for positive communication. This can seem like a contradiction without further explanation, so I’d like to explain how communication and sharing our light works upon the world around us. As you know from reading my other posts, it’s not through external control.

A quick story will help me illustrate my point:


Albion, MI 1992

There’s a fire in the sky. The sun burns hot and bright already at 7:45am, and its rays punch me as soon as I step out of the locker room. As a biology major, I understand that the sun is the source of energy that fuels all life on earth, but lately its August heat just seems to drain me of mine.

I can smell the freshly cut grass and the unmistakable stench of sweat-soaked football pads. My own gear is damp and uncomfortable, and pain radiates through my body, hard-earned through pounding runs on the rock hard practice field and crushing collisions over the past week’s two and three-a-day practices.

As I trudge slowly toward the practice field, I hear Coach Dave Egnatuk’s cleats scratch the pavement as he runs up behind me, and I know what’s coming next. His voice echoes in my head before he even speaks a word. Then I hear him belt it out at the top of his lungs.
“It’s a great day to be alive!”

Coach Egnatuk runs onward toward the practice field and shouts, “It’s a great day to be alive!” every 30 yards or so. A gathering mass of players hustles behind him as he runs, a smaller mass tries hard to stay ahead of him. Many players now echo Coach’s shouts with their own.

“It’s a great day to be alive!”

“It’s a great day to be alive!” I hear Coach shout again, and suddenly I become aware of another fire. This fire is burning inside my own chest.
“It’s a great day to be alive!”

The shouts all around me are reminders of what I already know, affirmations of a core belief about the fire, warmth, and greatness of life, and as my inner fire blazes I kick up my pace to a sprint. It’s a great day to be alive indeed.


I used to think Coach Eggy shouting, “It’s a great day to be alive,” made me feel good. I mean, that’s what we call it when someone says something, we hear it, and then we start to feel good.

But there is a problem with that type of thinking. If you are a careful reader of my recent blogs (such as Be Aware), you understand that type of thinking falls into the category of giving in to the illusion of control. Nobody can make you think or feel anything. Nobody controls your thoughts or feelings. So what was going on there? Why is this concept so important? And how is it that what’s going on is something much greater than it even appears?

As we go through life and take in the world around us, we project our mindset onto it. Therefore, if I hear, “It’s a great day to be alive!” and begin to feel good, it’s because my mindset recognizes the truth or beauty in those words. The sentiment that it’s a great day to be alive was certainly within Coach, but he didn’t make it appear in me. Certainly he provided the voice to that thought at that moment, but I had to recognize my own understanding in his words. The idea that it was a great day to be alive was already within me. It was just momentarily obscured from my thoughts. I needed a reminder from out in the world to recognize it again, and in that regard, Coach was a great leader who did me a huge favor.

The power to influence our own experience of the world resides within each of us, not outside of us, and that’s a very powerful realization. It means we don’t need anyone or anything to make me feel motivated, strong, powerful. However, because we don’t control our thinking (we influence it, we truly don’t control it), we aren’t always aware of what we are overlooking. So sometimes it helps to have a leader who is pointing in the right direction.

Sometimes, you need a leader to point you in the right direction. Other times, you are the leader pointing others in the right direction.

Be a great leader today. Be a great follower today. Point in the right direction. It’s a great day to be alive.

Love and Football

In yesterday’s post (The Light that Shines Inside of You), I wrote about something Clemson Head Coach Dabo Swinney said to his team before the College Football Playoff Championship Game:

“When the light that shines inside you is greater than the light shining on you, there is nothing to be afraid of.”

Yesterday’s post noted how this light analogy seems to ring true, and has throughout time. And I really think Dabo is onto something because he said something else that I think rings true about the light inside of us.

Dabo said, “This game will come down to love.”

To some, love may seem like an odd thing for a football game to hinge on, but for those of us who have played the game, or for that matter, for any of us who have taken on any great challenge in life, love is the most powerful thing in this world. Why wouldn’t it matter in football?

Taking this idea of the light inside of us a step further, this light analogy is a description of the love inside us. This light, this fire, this energy inside us is love. I am hardly the first person to see things this way. Love is often described as fire, warmth, or light. People who are loving are often described as shining, glowing, and a light of life. Love is often described as a burning desire or a warm feeling radiating from the heart, from the center of the torso, the core, and I don’t think this is a coincidence. The body’s responses to love, which include a release of adrenaline and an increase in heart rate, explain this feeling biologically and support the idea that love feels hot, warm, and exhilarating. Love is a fire inside you.

The more you understand the fire’s unconditional existence, the more you will connect to the passion, brilliance, possibility, creativity, freedom, and love it creates in your life. The more you believe this fire is conditional – that it only burns occasionally when the right conditions exist – the more you will disconnect from your passion, brilliance, possibility, creativity, freedom, and love.

Please connect. Love. Let your fire warm and light your path in life.