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.

The Ego Climber

I found this quote almost 21 years ago when I was 23 years old. It was written well before that , but it so accurately described my sense of urgency at the expense of living in the moment that I almost thought Robert Pirsig wrote it for me. I think it is a beautiful description of a tension we all experience at times, and for me it is a reminder that my goal is internal and within reach.

I’ve had different favorite parts at different stages in my life. Currently, I think my favorite part is that I realize what I want is all around me.

Thanks for reading and sharing. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.


To the untrained eye ego-climbing and selfless climbing may appear identical. Both kinds of climbers place one foot in front of the other. Both breathe in and out at the same rate. Both stop when tired. Both go forward when rested. But what a difference! The ego-climber is like an instrument that’s out of adjustment. He puts his foot down an instant too soon or too late. He’s likely to miss a beautiful passage of sunlight through the trees. He goes on when the sloppiness of his step shows he’s tired. He rests at odd times. He looks up the trail trying to see what’s ahead even when he knows what’s ahead because he just looked a second before. He goes too fast or too slow for the conditions and when he talks his talk is forever about somewhere else, something else. He’s here but he’s not here. He rejects the here, he’s unhappy with it, wants to be farther up the trail but when he gets there will be just as unhappy because then it will be here. What he’s looking for, what he wants, is all around him, but he doesn’t want that because it is all around him. Every step’s an effort, both physically and spiritually, because he imagines his goal to be external and distant.

By Robert M. Pirsig, from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance


Grit: A Different Label for Rising and Shining

Grit seems to be all the rage these days. It’s a popular word, and it is – and always has been – an important concept. Call it grit, perseverance, tenacity, stick-to-it-iveness, whatever you want, it’s good to have. So let’s think about it more.

Some folks think grit is a characteristic some people have and others don’t. I don’t think that’s accurate. To be sure, some of us show grit more often than others, but that doesn’t mean there is a population of people who have no grit. More than likely, we all fluctuate in our own understanding of our personal grit, and some people simply think in ways that keep their natural grit hidden or covered up.

If you think about it, grit may be an aptly named but misleading term. Grit is a term we apply to people who excel through all of life’s dirt and grime. So on one hand, it certainly appears aptly named, at least for onlookers gazing at gritty individuals.

To the individual, grit often appears very different. Someone who is gritty has become aware of illusions of control and resists them (see Be Aware for more on illusions of control). They have begun to see that the outside world of circumstances has no power over them, and they understand they are free to think and feel as they can, as they feel they must. In essence, they are shining with their inner brilliance and fire despite the appearance of what we call the dirt and grime and life. When we realize the dirt and grime is just a filter, a label if you will, created by one’s own belief system, we are free to rise and shine.

The gritty individual appears to rise above the circumstances of her life. The truth is, we all live above the circumstances of our lives. Only some of us realize it.

There is one sure way to have more grit, persistence, and mental toughness in your life: Be aware that the conditions/situations of the world have no control over you.

To put it another way, nothing outside of us can make us think or feel any certain way. We think and feel certain ways about things. We project our mindsets (and the thoughts churning within them) onto the world in front of us, and this creates our experience of the world. The more we realize this process is free from external control, the more freedom we gain. The more freedom we gain, the possibility opens up to us.

I want you to imagine for a moment that the dirt and grime of the world is not controlling you. Sure, you can feel badly about it. There’s no blame to be cast your direction for feeling down, sad, anger, or fearful, but never lose sight of the fact that you are free to evolve when you are ready. When you realize you are free to do so, when you realize you live above those situations, you will naturally rise and live a life of greater possibility (see Be Awake for more on possibility). You may also see that despite negative feelings and thoughts, you need not act in a negative way, and indeed you may realize you are quite capable of greatness even when not feeling your best.

So my question to you is: What will you do when you awaken to your freedom and possibility? What plays will you make with your newfound sense of grit, or as I like to call it: tenacity, perseverance, mental toughness, shining, brilliance?

As you make plays today, please share with me if you like. Use #madetheplay as your hashtag.

As always, thanks for reading, and I greatly appreciate all your shares and spreading the message.

The Way We Point Matters

As I noted yesterday in Leaving It Blank, one problem with communication is that we point in too many directions, or the words we use to point are unclear. Another problem is that we don’t always understand that we often point with various methods. In other words, what we point to matters, and the way we point matters.

For example, when we speak to someone, we point with our words, and we also point with our tone of voice, facial expressions, body posture, and other forms of messages. To be clear, none of what we point to or the way we point makes anyone interpret a message in a certain way, but people are pretty reliable. Communication is possible because certain messages tend to be interpreted in consistent, reliable ways.

A verbal message said in the wrong tone of voice often points in a different direction than the one we intended. If you want to be effective in your communication, it helps to understand the mindset of your audience (seek first to understand), and point in a certain direction as clearly and consistently as possible. This entails considering what your audience can see, hear, feel, smell, taste. You certainly might not use all of these senses, but you might. Consider as many senses as you need to, and communicate accordingly.

Keep in mind that people are often very good at picking up on subtleties in voice, eyes, and body posture/movements. What they think about your complete communication package will create their experience of you, and one of the best ways to make sure you communicate consistently in all possible ways is to communicate from your love, passion, compassion, light, etc. The more you know your basic self, and the simpler your intention, the greater the match between what you point to and the way you point to it.

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.

Overcoming Fear of Your Light

Earlier this week, one of my friends, Benjamin Rice, reminded me of one of my favorite quotes about our inner light.

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness which most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people will not feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone and as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” – Marianne Williamson

This quote is from Marianne Williamson’s book A Return to Love. I’m not sure I agree with the entire quote, but I think it rings true for many people. What I really love about the quote is it accurately captures a concept I’ve seen in many people: Fear of our light.

Does this ever happen to you? Do you fear your light, brilliance, radiance, power?

For a moment, consider why anyone would fear their light, goodness, power, brilliance?

I have a few thoughts on why this could happen. Some of these thoughts come from research, but others come from thorough experience and observation working with a good number of clients over the years. Here are a few good candidates for why someone might seemingly be afraid of her own light.

  • Discomfort with Change: People are simply very uncomfortable with change at times.
  • Fear of Failure: If we try to shine, and don’t meet with what we term successful outcomes, we believe we will feel like we failed. Or perhaps worse, we believe we will be failures. Thus, in this case, fear of success really turns out to be fear of failure.
  • Fear of Losing a Sense of Control: People are sometimes afraid to confront their light because they are fearful of giving up control. If I believe in control but don’t attempt to exert that control in pursuit of some outcome, I can still believe that I will have control when the conditions are right. I can save face, so to speak. There’s some safety in that. But if I let my light shine, and I get rejected or don’t get the outcomes I’m looking for, my confrontation with the limits of control is more stark and forceful. This seems risky if I am not ready to confront the limits of my control. Here again, fear of success turns out to be fear of failure.
  • Fear of Being Powerful: Marianne Williamson’s quote above has an important suggestion for why we might fear our light: Maybe we simply fear standing out as special. After all, if we are special and not doing much with our lives, aren’t we squandering our talents?

If you’ve read Marianne Williamson’s book A Return to Love, you probably know that she defines a miracle as a change in perspective. So following her lead, if you are stuck fearing your light or darkness, I’d like to point in a different direction for you. See if these perspectives help you embrace your light.

  • Discomfort with Change: If you are having discomfort with change, relax. You certainly aren’t alone, and there is nothing wrong with you. If you are truly letting your light shine, rather than making a grab at the illusion of outside sources of happiness, you will be fine.
  • Fear of Failure: We create our experience of the world with our thoughts. Success and failure are mental concepts, not physical ones. When we fear failure, we aren’t typically thinking about being a novice high wire walker practicing without a net. We When we fear failure, we are usually fearing the imagined consequences of failure. This is usually not a productive endeavor. It’s more accurate to understand that you can and will change your interpretation of success and failure as your thoughts shift (and they will shift as surely as the winds will change direction and intensity). You can also understand that you aren’t defined by outcomes, and you can focus on the moment.
  • Fear of Losing a Sense of Control: If you read my writing, I hope you already have an understanding of the illusion of control. Control actually contracts your influence and potential. Lose control, and replace it with belief in your powerful influence, and you will feel your light shining brightly.
  • Fear of Being Powerful: I think Marianne’s words point in the best direction here. She wrote:

Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people will not feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine……

Please do not fear your inner fire. We are all powerful beyond measure, beyond our wildest dreams, and when we let this light shine, we can help light the world for others, pointing them toward their own inner brilliance. Use the gifts you have to influence the world in front of you. Don’t worry about making a huge contribution to the world, your contribution should be to your world, which is your team,  your family, your friends, your community, your organizations. Rise and shine today. Be brilliant.

Finding the Light of Love

The third key in making the play is to be alive. In this week of connecting to the light inside of us, I think it helps to think of this light as love (and there are good reasons why it makes sense to think this way, including the hot rush of adrenaline we can get when doing something we love). It doesn’t matter what type of love, it’s simply a loving, warm, thought and feeling. This love could be used to connect with another person or it could be used to build something out of wood and nails. The medium doesn’t matter. The love behind it is what drives it all.

If you think of love, it’s one of those things that never really runs out of supply. We think it does. It seems like it does. But if you find someone who is very loving, they will tell you that the more we love others and the world around us, the more love we have in reserve when we need it. The tank is always full no matter how much we use. In fact, it seems like using love in the tank fills it with even more love.

If you can’t find it for a moment, relax. It’s not lost. It never goes away. It’s only temporarily hidden from your view. Be confident that no person and no thing, not even you, can dull your love.

Love is in you and your world even when it appears to be gone. Other emotions are connected to love in ways we rarely consider. When feeling anger, we are energized to defend something we love. When feeling fear, we are scared we might lose something we love. When anxious, we are fearful about what may or may not happen to something we love. Surprise and disgust are sudden distractions from, or even toward, love. Happiness is warm love. Love is the fire. Love is the burning passion. It’s like our sun. It’s the fuel for life, and it’s always burning bright no matter what the emotional weather. It’s all love in various disguises.

So here’s a question to ponder: What do you want to get done? Do you want to point people toward having a good day? Do you want to coach a team the best you can? Do you need to solve a mechanical problem?

Whatever the plays of your life, find the love, connect to it, and use its energy to be alive and make the play.