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Not Controlling the Uncontrollables [aka Acceptance]

If you’ve had any exposure to sport psychology you’ve probably heard the phrase ‘control the controllables’. I hate it!

Don’t get me wrong, I understand what its getting at. I just don’t like the way it simplifies the way we should respond to complex and often highly charged situations. More importantly though, it encourages us to start at the end.

Bad Stuff Happens

In my playing days, things went wrong – a lot! I was fortunate with injuries but the few I had never came at a good time. I was dropped from teams and forced to watch other people play in my position. Nobody seemed to understand it was my position! My team lost matches and failed to qualify for tournaments. And, quite incredibly, umpires kept getting it wrong.

I’m pretty sure it’s the same now. Sport mirrors life and isn’t always fair. Going straight to ‘controlling the controllables’ is tough and misses an important step. It’s called ACCEPTANCE.

The ball was OUT!!!

The idea of acceptance is not always welcome in the world of sport. Many see it as mumbo jumbo, even spiritual, rubbish. Winning is about endeavour and discipline, so control is vital isn’t it?

Without acceptance though, change won’t happen. If you don’t accept that you’re injured, that you’ve been dropped, that you’ve lost the biggest match of your life because the referee didn’t see that the ball was out (I’m being serious, the ball was out!!) then being told to ‘control the controllables’ will fall on deaf ears.

Acceptance is not being passive

So what is acceptance? One way to describe it is: The ability to experience all the emotions, sensations and thoughts that unfold without defence or judgement or letting them guide our behaviour. Acceptance is not about being passive, letting standards slip or taking the easy option. In many respects, it can be the hardest option.

For many of us, the difficulties we face or the injustices we bear can increase our motivation to make good. Some athletes even believe that being angry brings the best out of them. Practicing acceptance does not stop this necessarily, it allows us to do it consciously and productively.

Direct Your Own Film

One way to describe acceptance is that it starts with us watching ourselves in a video about ourselves. Many of us hate watching ourselves on camera but if we learn to do it willingly and with curiosity, we can choose how we want to change the video. Become the film director, if you like. Maybe we want to change the script completely, maybe we just change some camera angles, zoom in, zoom out, change the sound track, add a lens filter. The possibilities are endless and with them comes energy, creativity and enjoyment. It starts with letting go - the alternative is watching with gritted teeth, trying to control the controllables and ending up exhausted.

If the idea of watching your video sounds too daunting or you’re not quite sure how to direct your video, then all you need to do is get in touch at We're here to help you find your way....

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