8/19/21: Why we should prioritize controllability over accuracy

Sent 8/19/21


  • I forgot to mention this last week, but my article How an Explorative Mindset Leads to Breakthroughs went up on PodiumRunner!
  • Elite US Marathoner Peter Gilmore reviewed Make the Leap. I added some context about the role he played in my journey and why his feedback is particularly meaningful to me.
  • I re-published an old article from 2009 about how we overrate current athletes called The Bias of Now. I propose we use an "era" based approach to evaluating who is the best ever.
  • Finally, my July progress is out now. Subscribe to get my monthly sales and marketing updates.

This week's Think Better Newsletter is about the importance of attributing to effort over other factors. 

The Idea

Last week's newsletter introduced the four factors that we attribute our results to: talent, effort, task difficulty, and luck. This week I want to explain the three qualities that define each of these factors, and how it affects our motivation.

Each of the four factors can be viewed on the following dimensions:

  • Locus of Control: Is it internal (in us) or external (in our environment)?
  • Stability: Does it change or is it "fixed"?
  • Controllability: Can we control it or do we have no influence on it?

When we look at each of the four factors through these dimensions, we can group them as follows:

Attribution: four factors in three dimensions

  • Talent is internal and fixed. We can predict it but we can't change it.
  • Effort is internal and variable. We can not only predict it and change it, we can control it.
  • Task difficulty is external and fixed. We can predict it but we can't change it.
  • Luck is external and variable. We can neither predict it nor change it.

You've no doubt noticed that there is only one factor that we can actively control: effort. (Note: in this framework effort would also include preparation and focus.)

Here's one of the core insights of attribution theory: high achievers prioritize controllability over accuracy.

The System

Last week I asked you to pay attention to the words you choose when you tell the story of why something happened. If you're like me, you probably found yourself defaulting to talent and luck more often than you expected.

To overcome this, I created a simple rule, which I've cheekily named after myself. Green's Razor (modeled after Hanlon's Razor) says: Never attribute to talent or luck that which is adequately explained by effort. 

Talent, luck, and difficulty will always play a role in our outcomes. But high achievers don't emphasize what they can't control. Even if they suspect focusing on them to be more accurate.

When you focus on the three factors you can't control, you emphasize that your results are outside your control. This is unproductive and undermines your motivation by reducing your belief in the ability to influence a future outcome.

Start with what is controllable. Then, if the situation calls for it, sprinkle in some extra detail with the other factors. Effort (and preparation, and focus) should be the meat and potatoes of your explanations. Everything else should be garnish.

The Question

Is it more important to you to be accurate or to improve your results?


Go Be More,

Bryan Green
Author of Make the Leap: Think Better, Train Better, Run Faster and the companion Think Better Workbook
Co-host of the Go Be More Podcast
Co-host of the Fueling the Pursuit Podcast

"At the end of the day, you can't control the results. You can only control your effort level and your focus." — Ben Zobrist



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