Book: The Obstacle is the Way – Ryan Holiday, The Four-Hour Workweek – Tim Ferriss
Concept: Focus only on What you Can Control

Why is that we all have only 24 hours in a day, yet some can achieve so much more than others?

Understanding this phenomenon starts by realizing one important fact – our time and energy are very limited resources. They are also our most valuable resources.

Every time that we choose to spend time or energy on one thing, we are left with less to spend on other things. I, personally, feel that most of us develop bad habits when we are young… young people have a surplus of both time and energy. There is a tendency to “carry forward” the attitude of being overly free with both into adulthood.

So, here’s the trick: focus 100% of your time and energy on the things that you can control. Spend 0% of your time & energy on the things that you can’t control.

The default behavior for the average person is to spend the majority of their time and energy worrying over things they can’t control. News, sports, gossip, decisions that are for others to make. Yes, even mindlessly scrolling Facebook on your phone for 15 minutes is burning precious time and brain cycles.

In addition to lost time & energy, these things we can’t control (politics, sports, etc.) can cause us stress. Stress further damages our ability to be productive and makes us unhappy.

When we focus on things we can control, we feel empowered. When we focus on things we can’t control, we feel powerless.

The lesson that high performers teach us is that those who tune out the distractions and get focused can achieve amazing results. When you dig into high performers and their habits, laser-like focus (and the accompanying ignorance of trivial matters) is the most commonly shared behavior among all different types of high performers.

Why do high performers achieve more in 24 hours than the average person?

  1. They “create” time & energy for themselves by not wasting their limited time & energy on things that they can’t control.
  2. Because they are focused 100% on the things that they control, they develop a mindset of confidence. They don’t feel like helpless bystanders watching other people do things. This makes them more prone to take action (click here for more on the power of taking action) in the future.

Diverse Example #1 – Zen California Entrepreneur

Author Tim Ferriss details this “focus” philosophy in his book, The Four-Hour Workweek. This idea is, in many ways, the core idea in Ferriss’ productivity system.

Ferriss encourages avoidance of media which has no impact on your goals. To have good ideas and to be productive, we must “turn down the noise”, Ferriss warns us. Ferriss was warning us of this way back in 2008, the noise has only cranked up in recent years.

Diverse Example #2 – Hard-Driving Southern Football Coach

At the other end of the spectrum from author/entrepreneur Ferriss, we have University of Alabama Football Coach Nick Saban. Focusing only on what you can control is the cornerstone of the system that Saban calls “The Process”. The Process has netted Saban multiple national championships and the most dominant college football dynasty in decades.

The only media consumed by Saban is 10 minutes of the Weather Channel each morning while having coffee with this wife. When asked about the 2016 Presidential Election the day after the election, Saban answered that he “didn’t even know that yesterday was Election Day”. He didn’t appear to be joking. It’s not a coincidence that this was in the middle of football season.

Saban is also the same man who, in 2006, famously skipped dinner with President George W. Bush because his Dolphins team had practice (not a game) that night.

Saban continually coaches his players to think only about the current play, the present moment. He tells them not to think about what the score is or what the outcome of the game is. For Saban, it is all about complete and total focus only on what you can control at this very moment.

The Power of Focus

In Ryan Holiday’s words in The Obstacle is the Way:

Focusing exclusively on what is in our power magnifies and enhances our power. But, every ounce of energy directed at things we can’t actually influence is wasted… So much power – ours and other people’s – is frittered away in this manner.

What are the things you can can control? “Our emotions, our judgments, our creativity, our attitude, our perspective, our desires, our decisions, our determination” according to Holiday.

The things you can’t control? Who is President, who won the Broncos game, what Kim Kardashian did today. Quit opening the news app. Unfollow those noisy folks on Facebook that are going on and on about these things. Turn off notifications for non-essential apps.

There are less obvious things we can’t control that can sap our time & energy. You can’t control if the customer accepts your proposal. You can only control giving the best proposal possible. If you are part of a team pursuing a goal, you can’t always control if your team achieves the goal or not. But, you can control whether or not you gave your best effort.

Even in your own life, you can only control your end of the deal. Focus your time and energy on that. Focus in on the things that you can control. Leave the rest. Simple, but, by no means easy.

Eliminate Distraction, Focus In

Your career, your family, your friends, your dreams, your happiness and fulfillment are the things that deserve your time and energy.

The events that our society watches from afar and talks endlessly about will only waste your time and energy away. The same goes for burning time and energy worrying over the choices that are up to others to make.

If you tune these things out and focus 100% on what you can control, you will seem unusual to many people. But, those who are the most successful always seem unusual to everyone else.


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This post summarizes some concepts from The Obstacle is the Way by Ryan Holiday. Check out the full book, The Obstacle is the Way on Amazon by clicking here.

We used the above images in accordance with the Wikimedia Commons license.