At the Atlanta Summer Olympics, American swimmer Gary Hall Jr. faced off against Russian swimmer Aleksandr Popov in the final of the 100-meter freestyle event – the 100m dash of swimming. The best in the world. America vs. Russia. Hall on home turf. Intense.

As they were introduced, Gary played to the crowd, shadowboxed, and looked up into the stands while Aleksandr stared calmly at Gary. As they prepared for the race, Aleksandr stared at Gary more while Gary looked aroud. And when they were racing, Aleksandr breathed so that he could see Gary alone.

Throughout, the attention of the two athletes was very different – and when they arrived at the wall to end the race, Alexsandr out-touched Gary to become Olympic Champion.

A key factor that led to Aleksandr’s win was his belief that, if he focused on Gary, he could control the outcome of the event. In the scientific literature, this is often referred to as the locus of control.

If you can learn to direct your attention toward the tasks or issues in your life that you can change and control, you will be more able to get into the Zone and succeed. You will also be less anxious because you aren’t worrying about things that are beyond your control, such as traffic or whether your teacher is going to give you a pop quiz. They are things to hold in mind but you cannot change them.  

Being clear about our locus of control allows us to focus on the right things at the right time. By concentrating on the things that you can have an impact on, and not getting worked up about those you can’t, you are far more likely to achieve an ideal state and excel.

Today's POWER-UP: Clarify your locus of control

Look at this image of a green circle inside a red circle:

Now write down a list of things in the white space all around the two circles that stress you out or that require your attention and energy. Brainstorm for as many stressors as possible. Then draw a line to the green area from each stressor that you can actually control and a line to the red area from each stressor you cannot control.

Act on the items in green (green means GO!) and let go of the ones in the red area (red = STOP!).

By doing this exercise a few times, you’ll quickly discover how you can control your attention and direct your efforts and energies toward things that you can affect and improve. This will make a huge difference in your life. Your mindset will be simply, “I can’t control that, move on.” Or, “I can make a difference here, let’s get to work.” Try it out and see how that helps you to direct your focus and energy.