Actionable Wisdom

42 Focus Quotes to Concentrate on What Matters

Published August 30th, 2018 by Ben Reynolds

What we care about and what happens to us falls into just 1 of 2 categories:

  1. Things we can do something about
  2. Things we can’t do anything about

You can realize rapid growth in your life by focusing your energy where it can make a difference.  This means focusing on things you can do something about, and making peace with the things you cannot change.

This article provides 42 focusing quotes (along with analysis on each quote) to help you concentrate on what matters and let the rest go.

The article is divided into 5 sections:

8 Quotes About Where To Focus

“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.”
The Serenity Prayer

The Serenity Prayer succinctly encapsulates the idea of differentiating things into what we can’t and can change.  We can then change what we are able to, and accept what we can’t change.

The Serenity prayer also adds the crucial factor of having the wisdom to know the difference between the two.

“The chief task in life is simply this: to identify and separate matters so that I can say clearly to myself which are externals not under my control, and which have to do with the choices I actually control.  Where do I look for good and evil?  Not to uncontrollable externals, but within myself to the choices that are my own…”

Epictetus’ above quote is a precursor to the Serenity Prayer.  Epictetus lived from 55 to 135 AD, almost 2000 years ago.  The wisdom of the above quote still rings true today.

In the above quote Epictetus says to not look to ‘uncontrollable externals’ for good and evil – they are merely what happens – instead, look to your own choices.  The power of choice is what allows us to do good or (hopefully not) evil.

“Let me (or us) seek acceptance of life as I find it, even though I may not approve of what I find, wisdom to see what would be good to change, willingness to act, willingness to follow through, and gratitude for the opportunity to try to live my life as best I can.”
Hank Robb

This Hank Robb quote has much in common with the Serenity Prayer.  Hank Robb advises us to:

  1. Accept reality, even if we don’t approve of it
  2. Think about (use wisdom) what would be good for us to change
  3. Take action on these changes
  4. Follow through on these changes
  5. Have gratitude for the opportunity to try to live our best lives

This 5 step process ties gratitude into the core aspects of the Serenity Prayer.  We all have the choice to take steps 1 through 4 above, and the capability to be grateful for the opportunity to do so (step 5).

“The problems we face fall in one of three areas:  direct control (problems involving our own behavior); indirect control (problems involving other people’s behavior); or no control (problems we can do nothing about, such as our past or situational realities).  The proactive approach puts the first step in the solution of all three kinds of problems within our present Circle of Influence.”
Steven Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, page 85.

Dr. Stephen Covey breaks down the problems we face into 3 categories:

  1. No control
  2. Indirect control
  3. Direct control

Proactive people don’t wait for their problems to magically go away.  Instead, they see where a problem falls in their circle of influence.

If you have either direct or indirect control over a problem, it falls within your circle of influence.  If you have no control over a problem, it falls outside your circle of influence.

If you have no control over a problem, you still have control over your reaction to the problem.

“Incredible change happens in your life when you decide to take control of what you do have power over instead of craving control over what you don’t.”
Steve Maraboli

It’s normal to want what we don’t have.  That means we often crave control over what we cannot control instead of focusing on what we can control.

“See if you can catch yourself complaining, in either speech or thought, about a situation you find yourself in, what other people do or say, your surroundings, your life situation, even the weather. To complain is always nonacceptance of what is. It invariably carries an unconscious negative charge. When you complain, you make yourself into a victim. When you speak out, you are in your power. So change the situation by taking action or by speaking out if necessary or possible; leave the situation or accept it. All else is madness.”
Eckhart Tolle, The Power of Now:  A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment

Eckhart Tolle says that complaining is not accepting reality.  You can (in some cases) change a situation by speaking out and taking action.  Alternatively, you can (if possible) leave a situation or accept the situation as it is and move on.

These are the only positive options.  The other option is to not accept a situation, but do nothing to change it.  This results in ill will and complaining.

“Let go of all the stuff you can’t control and start using your time to master what you can control.”
Catherine Goldberg

This quote is straight to the point.  Let go of (accept) what you can’t control, and use your time to master what you can control.

“If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.”
–  Maya Angelou

In the quote above, Maya Angelou’s brevity stands out.  If you don’t like something, you should change it.  If you can’t change it, you can change your attitude about it.  In either case, the situation has resolved itself from your perspective.

10 Discernment Quotes

Knowing what can and can’t be changed – and what things that can be changed which we should focus on first – isn’t always easy.

The 10 quotes below will help you to decide what can’t be changed and what should be changed.

 “The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything.”
Warren Buffett

It’s hard to say “no” to all the things we could do, in order to focus on the one most important thing we should be doing now.

We all have the same 24 hours every day.  Warren Buffett has spent his life focusing on where he can provide the most value (primarily understanding business and investing), and ignoring much of the rest.  The result:  A fortune of more than $80 billion.

“I must judge for myself, but how can I judge, how can any man judge, unless his mind has been opened and enlarged by reading.”
John Adams

Good judgement is a learned skill.  We must continuously improve our judgement on where to act by increasing our wisdom through reading and learning.

“Things which matter most must never be at the mercy of things which matter least.”
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

How we spend our time matters.  Disruptions come throughout the day, that is unavoidable.  But we can start with the most important thing, and return our focus to it throughout the day.

 “…when I was young nothing could hold me back.  No, sir!  I thought I could change the world.  It took me a hundred years to figure out I can’t change the world.  I can only change Bessie.  And, honey, that ain’t easy either!”
Bessie Delaney

Bessie Delaney was a civil rights pioneer, dentist, and centenarian (she lived to 104).  When trying to discern what you can and can’t change, remember the quote above.

You can’t change the world, but you can (with difficulty) change yourself…  And sometimes, the changes and choices we make to ourselves do end  up impacting the world.

“I can find only three kinds of business in the universe:  mine, yours and God’s.  Much of our stress comes from mentally living out of our business.  When I think, “you need to get a job, I want you to be happy, you should be on time, you need take better care of yourself,” I am in your business.  When I’m worried about earthquakes, floods, war, or when I will die, I am in God’s business.  If I am mentally in your business or in God’s business, the effect is separation.”
Byron Katie

When analyzing if something is within your control, ask yourself whose business it is.  Is it your business, someone else’s, or God’s (or nature’s)?

If it’s your business, do something about it.  If it’s someone else’s business, don’t get overly wrapped up in it (which is much easier said than done).  Finally, if it’s God’s business, let God handle it and worry about what is in your power to change.

“You can never control or change how others think, feel or act.  You can only change how you think, feel and act and lead by example.”
Celestine Chua

When deciding on what to act on, ask yourself if you are trying to change how you feel, think, and act; or how someone else feels, thinks, and acts.

You have power over yourself, and only varying degrees of influence over others…  Your influence over yourself is always greater than your influence over anyone else.

“For every thing in life you can’t fix, there’s another part of life that you can fix.”
Dan Waldshmidt

Don’t be discouraged by the things you can’t fix.  There is so much in each of our powers to improve; what we have in front of us is already virtually limitless.  There’s no need to go on and add more to our plates.

“The only way to fight focusing on the wrong things is to recommit to focusing on what you control–the thoughts you have, the words you speak, and the actions you take now and in the future.”
Adam Kirk Smith

The above quote by “The Bravest You” author Adam Kirk Smith explains how to battle against focusing on the wrong things.

It’s more effective to fill our focus with what we can control than to try and stop focusing on what we can’t control.

“No person has the power to have everything they want, but it is in their power not to want what they don’t have, and to cheerfully put to good use what they do have.”

Stoic philosopher Seneca says in the quote above that you can’t do everything you want.  But you can stop desiring what you don’t have, and put to good use what you do have.

In this way, we can focus on what we control and limit our urges for what we don’t have.

“Between stimulus and response there is a space.  In that space is our power to choose our response.  In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”
Victor Frankl

We must take a step back from the moment-to-moment bustle of life to see the space between stimulus and response.  Only in that space can we make the decision to focus on what we can control; and in that space lies our ability to make choices that result in growth and freedom.

13 Acceptance Quotes

In the final analysis, many of the things we care about, we won’t be able to change.  In these cases, acceptance is critical.

The following 13 quotes put the practice of acceptance into perspective.

“In the end, only three things matter: how much you loved, how gently you lived, and how gracefully you let go of things not meant for you.”

It’s easy to lose sight of what really matters in life.  It’s also very difficult to gracefully let go of things not meant for us.  With that said, letting go of things outside our power is a skill we can practice every day.

“When confronted with a situation which we cannot change, we are then challenged to change ourselves.”
– Victor Frankl

When we accept things as they are, we change ourselves.  That’s because we acknowledge what is, and let go of what we think should be.

“Letting go doesn’t mean giving up, but rather accepting that there are things that cannot be.”
– Unknown

The quote of unknown origin above differentiates letting go from giving up.  Accepting what cannot be should have not have the negative connotation of ‘giving up’ attached to it.  It’s a positive to ‘give up’ on things we have no control over, as this gives us more energy to focus on what we can control.

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms…  to choose one’s attitude in any give set of circumstances.”
-Viktor Frankl

The profound Viktor Frankl quote above shows that your attitude is your choice regardless of circumstance.  As a holocaust survivor, Viktor Frankl lasted through some of the worst conditions imaginable in large part by focusing on what he could control – his attitude – rather than all that was outside of his control.

“Men are disturbed not by things, but by the view which they take of them.”
Albert Ellis

Albert Ellis is one of the most impactful names in psychology and one of the originators of cognitive behavioral therapy.  Cognitive behavioral therapy is based in part on teachings of the Stoic philosophers (Seneca, Marcus Aurelius, and Epictetus are all Stoic philosophers quotes in this article).

The above Albert Ellis quote points out that we aren’t upset by actual events.  It’s our subjective interpretation of events that we allow to upset us.  But the choice is ours on what views we take on external events.

“For there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”
William Shakespeare

The above Shakespeare quotes is similar in meaning to the previous Albert Ellis quote.  Things themselves simply are.  Our thoughts are what colors events as ‘good’ or ‘bad’.

Accepting things as they are and molding our thoughts to observe reality as much as possible rather than interpret the ‘goodness’ or ‘badness’ of situations will only bring us closer to truth.

“You have to accept whatever comes and the only important thing is that you meet it with courage and with the best that you have to give.”
Eleanor Roosevelt

We must accept what comes our way.  There’s no denying that.  Once accepted, the quote above reminds us that we should meet life’s challenges head on with the courage to give all that we have.

“The best years of your life are the ones in which you decide your problems are your own.  You do not blame them on your mother, the ecology, or the president.  You realize that you control your own destiny.”
– Albert Ellis

The problems in our life are ultimately our responsibility.  We can deal with them or accept them, but they are our responsibility and ours alone.  When we accept responsibility, we give ourselves the power and freedom to craft a better life.

“It’s not what happens to you, but you react to it that matters.”
– Epictetus

What happens, happens.  Reality continues to unfold on us as long as we are alive.  It isn’t what happens that matters.  We must practice acceptance on what happens, and control our reactions.  It is our reactions that determine what type of internal life we live, not uncontrollable circumstances.

“You can’t control the unexpected, but you can control your response to it.”
Aikido principle

Aikido is a non-aggressive martial art.  The Aikido principle says that you cannot control the unexpected.  But we do have the ability to dispassionately control our reaction to the unexpected to deal with it to the best of our abilities.

 “External thinks are not the problem. It’s your assessment of them. Which you can erase right now.”
– Marcus Aurelius

When we accept that we don’t have power over external events, we can better assess them.  We have the power to erase negative assessments and see things for what they are instead of painting them with negative emotions.

“The fountain of content must spring up in the mind, and he who hath so little knowledge of human nature as to seek happiness by changing anything but his own disposition, will waste his life in fruitless efforts and multiply the grief he proposes to remove.”
Samuel Johnson

We only have the power to change our own disposition, and nothing else.  Samuel Johnson says that we will waste our lives in fruitless effort and multiply our griefs by attempting to change other people.

We must accept the limits of our power; they end with us.  No one has complete control over the thoughts and actions of another.  Pretending to, or trying to get people to behave exactly as we want, will only lead to frustration.

“I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% of how I react to it”
- Charles Swindoll

The above quote might not go far enough in saying that life is 10% what happens and 90% how we react.  Still, the point remains.  Life is about accepting things as they are, and controlling how we react.

11 Courage & Action Quotes

Differentiating between what we can and can’t change, and accepting what we cannot change are critical steps for growth.

The final step is to have the courage to take action – and to actually take action on changing what we can and should.  The following 11 quotes provide motivation to have the courage to act.

“You, and you alone, are 100 percent responsible for your own successes, opportunities, and happiness.”
Linda Galindo

It is motivating to know that you are responsible for your life.  No one is going to make you a better person.  It all falls on you.  We control our own destinies.

“To know and to not yet do, is to not yet know.”
Lao Tzu

You can’t really understand something until you put it into practice.  Knowledge is useless unless it is applied.

Learning is important, but it is wisdom applied to action that makes a real difference in your life – and in the world.

“Bran thought about it. ‘Can a man still be brave if he’s afraid?’
‘That is the only time a man can be brave,’ his father told him.”

George RR Martin, A Game of Thrones

Being brave means acting when you are afraid or scared to act.  Being brave is not the absence of fear, it is willing to do what we need to do despite the fear we feel.

“Confront the dark parts of yourself, and work to banish them with illumination and forgiveness. Your willingness to wrestle with your demons will cause your angels to sing.”
August Wilson

It takes real courage to confront the dark, weak parts of our character.  In the quote above, ‘illumination’ requires courage.  You won’t see what you don’t want to within yourself.

The act alone of confronting our ‘demons’ makes us better people because we have the courage and will to improve.

“Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear – not absence of fear.”
Mark Twain

The courageous have fear.  They have simply decided to act despite their fear.  Anyone can decide to be courageous (though of course it isn’t easy).  It is a choice.  We don’t get to decide how much fear we have, but we do get to decide what we do with the fear we have.

“We can’t be afraid of change. You may feel very secure in the pond that you are in, but if you never venture out of it, you will never know that there is such a thing as an ocean, a sea. Holding onto something that is good for you now, may be the very reason why you don’t have something better.”
C JoyBell C

Sometimes it is necessary to change ‘good’ things in our life to find what is ‘great’.  The courage to move onward from ‘good enough’ is difficult to find.

The fear of not finding something better is what holds us back.  But fear is an emotion that can be overcome when we have the courage to see it for what it is.

“It takes courage to examine your life and to decide that there are things you would like to change, and it takes even more courage to do something about it.”
Sue Hadfield, Change One Thing

Just admitting there are things you need to change is an act of courage.  Actually doing something about it takes even more courage.  The quote above reminds us that the things that matter in life aren’t easy, but we must proceed anyway.

“The opposite of courage in our society is not cowardice, it is conformity.”
Rollo May

It is easy to follow the crowd.  There is comfort in conformity.  But being ‘average’ isn’t what most people yearn for.  It takes courage to buck the typical path society puts on us and strive to do better.

“How few there are who have courage enough to own their faults, or resolution enough to mend them.”
Benjamin Franklin

The courage to own our own faults is rare.  It’s much easier to say fault lies with other people, or society, or the world.  But finding the resolution to both admit our own faults and mend them is what is required to truly better oneself.

“Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage. If you want to conquer fear, do not sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy.”
Dale Carnegie

Sitting around pondering what to do won’t do much for you in the long run.  Action creates confidence and courage.  We have to get out and act in the real world to make positive changes.

“Success is never final, failure is never fatal. It’s courage that counts.”
John Wooden

You win, you lose, life goes on.  The courage and conviction to stay true to who you are and do what must be done is what counts in life.

Actionable Next Step

This article includes 42 quotes to help you:

  1. Differentiate between what you can and can’t control
  2. Accept what you cannot change
  3. Change what you can and should

Reading a few dozen quotes will likely not make a meaningful impact in your thinking or life.

Change happens over time, through receptions.  That’s where the 30-Day Focused Action Challenge comes into play.

Coming soon:  The 30-Day Focused Action Challenge is a free 30 day email course to build the habit of identifying what you can and can’t change, accepting what you can’t control, and changing what you do have power over.  Click here to join the wait list.