Identifying What You Can (And Can’t) Control

A huge turning point for many of my clients is realizing that they don’t directly control their weight.

This is huge.

When it comes to mainstream short-term detoxes, cleanses, high-intensity workouts, and more, magazines would have you believe that you exercise complete (and almost immediate) control over the numbers you see on the scale, your clothing size, your belly fat, or your cellulite.

The reality is, of course, much more nuanced. With my private clients, we spend a lot of time whittling down what they can control, versus what they can only indirectly influence.

A constructive way to look at it is to keep goals extremely behavior-based. 

Let’s use weight loss as an example. This means, on a practical level, that you identify a “weight loss goal,” but only measure success using your behaviors (not the scale itself) on a day-to-day basis.

Instead of deciding whether or not your week was successful based on whether or not you lost weight, you measure progress by whether or not you met your eating and exercise goals. You can trust that – eventually – “results” will show up and external progress will be made, but investing your energy in what you can actually change (i.e. your behaviors) is a mentally and emotionally healthier way to frame your weight loss journey over the long haul.

Self-Worth vs. Self-Esteem

This is an important side-note.

Self-worth is unshakeable. Inherent. Innate. It’s the core value that you have because you are born, because you are here, because you are simply existing.

Self-esteem, on the other hand, often tends to flow from our behaviors. We feel more esteem for ourselves when we meet our own expectations, when we accomplish something, and when we feel the power of self-efficacy.

My unhappiest clients are the ones who tie their self-worth to their “results” – their weight, their appearance, or their clothing size. 

My happiest clients are the ones who understand that self-worth is unbreakable, but that self-esteem is powerfully boosted by behaviors like daily exercise, setting and achieving goals, and showing up for themselves. 

It’s essential to remember that you will never feel good about your body 100% of the time. You will never be 100% in control of your weight.

This is where shifting your goals from outcome-based goals (that you can’t control) to behavior-based goals (over which you have full control) can enhance your self-esteem, helping you to feel better about yourself and cultivating a more positive outlook on life.

Here is a short list of life factors that you can only indirectly influence, versus factors that you actually can control.

Factors that You Can’t control


The most frustrated my clients ever get is when they gain a pound or two after a week of “perfect” exercise and eating. It’s important to remember that weight is only a product of indirect influence, not something we can directly control. Eventually, it is almost inevitable that weight will follow the trend of your behavior, but it may not happen on your timeline.


I often see clients fighting their natural body shape or build, or other genetic quirks. It breaks my heart when I see short clients thinking they can get “longer” muscles from certain workouts, or women hoping to lift their breasts with pectoral workouts.


Ultimately, you can’t control a bad knee, vertigo, or Hashimoto’s, but you can find ways to work around conditions and indirectly improve them. The same goes for the postpartum body – you may not be able to change “new” body features like loose skin or separated abs (diastasic recti) right away.

Work Load 

A common mistake that I see is clients waiting for “life to calm down” to get started on their health and fitness journey. Unfortunately, we can’t control the curve balls that life throws at us – extra assignments at work, a busy week, or additional life and family obligations.

Other People 

We often give our power to other people to determine our own behavior. However, we can’t control other people – the best we can hope for is indirect influence. Letting other people determine our approach to health and fitness is a mistake – often, you will be the only person who can give yourself permission to take action.

Does this seem overwhelming, like there are an incredible number of factors that we can’t directly control?

The good news is that there are just as many, if not more, factors that we can control, and – if we do so consistently – it is likely that doing these behaviors will eventually change the factors that we can’t control. 

Factors That You Can Control


You have complete control over your exercise routine and schedule. You may feel that you do not have time or cannot make time, but the reality is that you can control this element of your behavior to some degree. The benefits of exercise are innumerable, and taking charge of this simple part of life will yield incredible change.


While you can’t exert control over your actual sleep patterns, you can develop smart morning and nighttime routines that cultivate good sleep hygiene – especially decreasing screen time at night. It is almost inevitable that your sleep will improve along with your routines, and other positive life changes – everything from improved willpower to more energy to exercise – will follow.


You can take responsibility for meal planning, grocery shopping, and food preparation at any level of detail. Whether you simply fill your house with healthful, fresh food that is easy to throw together, or you take the extra step to weigh and measure your portions, you are in control of who much (and what) you eat.


Special events and travel often get a bad rap as being huge obstacles to progress. However, what you can control is thinking ahead to settings that commonly trigger you, and coming up with a game plan to handle the situation. This gives you, in reality, incredible control.


People often think that their mindset and thoughts are “fixed” – that they are “thinking” immutable facts. However, mindset is incredibly malleable, and we typically aren’t “thinking facts” – we’re usually ruminating over long-held beliefs and anxieties. Pay special attention for thoughts that include the words “always” or “never” – these words are dead giveaways for all-or-nothing, fearful thinking. You have incredible power (through practice) over the tenor of your inner dialogue – if you take the time to cultivate a more peaceful, positive mindset, you will be amazed at how much more empowered you feel.

When you shift your focus to what you can control (i.e. your behaviors), you’ll find that – reassuringly – you’re in control of an awful lot. 

The best part is that – when you focus on these behavior-based goals – the outcomes tend to show up pretty reliably on their own, minus the anxiety and frustration.

What out-of-control things is it easy for you to obsess over, and which behavior-based goal would be easy to master? 

Let me know in my closed Facebook discussion group, Habits First! 

Rachel Trotta

I am a Certified Personal Trainer, Fitness Nutrition Specialist, Physique and Bodybuilding Specialist, and Women's Fitness Specialist. I live in New Jersey in the NYC metro area, and I coach clients online all over the world. As a trainer and health writer, my mission is to make healthy living sustainable for the average person. I’m also a wife, mom, nature lover, runner, avid cook, weightlifting aficionado, history nerd, travel addict, and obsessive podcast listener. Get in touch!

Free Download

Get My Free 28-Day Meal Prep Guide