Get in Control


Focus on what you can change, no matter how small.

By Brett Gajda

“We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” —Albert Einstein

There is perhaps nothing more frustrating than a situation where your level of control is small but the impact of not having control is potentially large. Imagine being in the middle of the ocean in a rowboat when a storm hits. All you can do is figure out what small moves you can make to increase your chances of survival. What you cannot do is stop the rain, stop the wind, or stop the waves.

I work with businesses all over the world and it seems like every week I get into conversations with people in different industries about how things are tough in their industry. Through these discussions, I have realized that in every industry there are things that are out of a business’s control, which can have a negative effect.

Through conversations with owners of private practice physical therapy clinics, I know this is no different for you. There are many issues you are facing as an industry, as well as an individual business owner. Here are just a few of the topics that I have heard discussed:

  • Declining reimbursements from insurance companies
  • Increasing cost of education and resultant increased debt load when entering the workforce
  • Over regulation
  • A professional identity crisis resulting in decreased public awareness of what physical therapy is

Some of you might read that list and relate. Others might want to add 10 more things. Either way, this is your reality. A lot of items on this list are no different than the earlier analogy of the storm. You cannot control it.

So, what can you do? What is the best strategy?

In Stephen Covey’s classic book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (Simon & Schuster, 2013), Habit 1 is Be Proactive. Within this habit, he talks about two circles—the Circle of Concern and the Circle of Influence. The Circle of Concern is the collection of things you have no control over. Common items in this infinite circle include the national debt, the market, and laws. The Circle of Influence is a group of things you can do something about: how you eat, how you exercise, your spending, your attitude, what you learn, how you treat patients and colleagues, and how you practice on a daily basis.

When I hear and read people in the business world address this model, I most often find it turns into a conversation around attitude, which makes sense. One of the biggest things within the Circle of Influence that you can control is your attitude. That said, it can also be frustrating when a storm is barreling down on you and someone says, “Well, you just need to change your attitude.” While I believe an attitude shift helps tremendously, sometimes it is just putting a Band-Aid on a situation.

So outside of changing our attitude, what can we do in our approach and actions to not only “deal with,” but also to change things that we feel we have no control over?

I think that one of the errors people make in addressing issues in their Circle of Concern is that they look at these issues through a lens of quantity instead of a lens of quality. They look at a problem and think the biggest impact will be made through tackling the biggest piece. So, for example, when 99 percent is out of their control, they feel it does not make sense to focus on the 1 percent that you can control. They think, “If I focus on the 1 percent, what difference will it really make?” It seems futile.

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And so instead, they focus on the 99 percent that is out of their control. Because it feels like even if they just change some of that 99 percent, they have solved a larger piece of the problem. However, this is your Circle of Concern. Where you stand right now, no matter how hard you try, no matter what you do, that boulder will not move. Focusing on the 99 percent is what is actually futile.

And in the process, you will probably just get more frustrated, exhausted, drive yourself crazy, and take it out on others—it will have a negative effect on you, your family, your business, your patients, and your life.

Last week, I was speaking with a colleague about this concept, and he used an analogy from wrestling about how we can move things that are currently in our Circle of Concern to our Circle of Influence.

He shared with me that at certain points in a wrestling match, you can be at a severe disadvantage. Your opponent is on top on you, you are pinned down, you can barely move, and you are inches away from losing the match. And in those moments, almost nothing is in your control. However, if you panic and think, “How do I get out from under him?” you just get even more discouraged. The only thing you can do to have any chance of survival or success is to look for one thing that you can influence in that moment. One thing that maybe you can change.

The example he gave me is you suddenly look over and you see that with your hand you can reach his hand, which is gripped on your right wrist. And the only thing you can influence is the grip he has on your right wrist. And so with your hand, you work on loosening his grip. His grip being 1 percent of the problem that you are facing, but the only part of the problem you are facing that you can influence.

Now imagine you loosen that grip, and then his arm moves. Now you have access to 5 to 7 percent of the problem, and you realize, “Oh, I think I can move my arm out now.” And so you focus on that, and you move your arm and spin your body just a bit. You see his leg and think, “I may be able to grab his leg and flip him.” All of a sudden you now have access to 50 percent of the problem.

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You see, from where you stand, you may only be able to influence 1 percent of the problem. However, once you change that 1 percent, it actually changes the entire landscape of the situation. And then sometimes, from that new place, that new perspective, you gain access, or expand your Circle of Influence, to a part of the problem that was previously only in your Circle of Concern.

For instance, declining insurance reimbursements or Medicare’s therapy cap may seem to be in your Circle of Concern, and completely outside of your control. However, in each situation, where can you find the “wrist” or the one percent that is inside your Circle of Influence? Can you meet with a legislator; can you educate your patients?

Oftentimes, people are discouraged from taking action because they already have the mindset of “It is not going to work” or “It will not make a difference.” The missing piece is realizing or remembering that you do not know what new perspectives or possibilities will open up, once you make a small change. When you influence that 1 percent, what else does it potentially open up in your Circle of Influence?

Going back to Stephen Covey’s Habit 1, a Proactive person looks at issues through a lens of quality, not quantity. They understand that the only place that they can truly be proactive is in their Circle of Influence.

Do not get caught in the trap of thinking that if you need $100, getting $1 won’t make a difference. Because when you have $1, you now have $1 to invest. If you invest it wisely, you can turn that $1 into $3…and maybe that $3 into $10. It does not matter how big or small what you can influence is, because it is the only thing you can influence. And so for the sake of effectiveness, success, and sanity—start there.

Brett Gajda is a global consultant, trainer, and speaker for Fortune 1,000 companies, as well as entrepreneurs. He is also the writer/host of the Where There’s Smoke podcast. He can be reached at

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