With Martin G. Moore

Episode #288

My Recent Epic Fail: Controlling the controllables

We all know what to do, for the most part. Each day when we wake up, we can either choose to do it, or not do it. If we choose to not do it, then our brains quickly come to the rescue to tell us why that’s the best decision under the circumstances — this is rationalization, and we all master it at a pretty young age.

But, no matter how hard we try to convince ourselves, deep down… we know! It niggles at us — we can’t avoid the feeling that comes with the subconscious fallout of not doing the things we know we should.

Leadership is like this! One thing I was able to master during my corporate career was the discipline of doing what needed to be done as a leader, without hesitation. And I was able to do it with commitment, energy, and integrity. When I look back, I’m very proud of how I conducted myself as an executive leader, for the most part.

But on the rare occasion, the dog eats my homework too! I mastered my leadership discipline long ago — but why haven’t I mastered these identical principles in every other area of my life? They’re so obvious… I’ve used them in so many areas… and I’ve experienced the deep satisfaction and success from the hard work I’ve put in.

Yet still, I find myself dedicating today’s episode to a recent epic fail in my choices. I took my eye off the ball, and didn’t control the controllables. And now I’m paying the price!

I start this episode by telling my sad tale of woe, and then I give you a simple but powerful process, which I hope will help you to identify and control the controllables in your life.


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Episode #288 My Recent Epic Fail: Controlling the controllables


We all know what to do, for the most part. Each day when we wake up, we can either choose to do it, or not do it. If we choose to not do it, then our brains quickly come to the rescue to tell us why it’s the best decision we could have made under the circumstances.

This is rationalization, and we all master it at a pretty young age. So, we happily move on, deluding ourselves that we’ve done what we needed to do. But in effect, we’re just making excuses — and you may have heard me say in the past that every excuse sounds to me like, “The dog ate my homework”.

But no matter how hard we try to convince ourselves otherwise, deep down… we know – it niggles at us. We can’t avoid the feeling that comes with a subconscious fallout of not doing the things we know we should.

Leadership is like this! One thing I was able to master during my corporate career was the discipline of doing what needed to be done as a leader, without hesitation – and with commitment, energy, and integrity. When I look back, I’m really proud of how I conducted myself as an executive leader, for the most part.

But on the rare occasion, the dog eats my homework too. I managed to master my leadership discipline a long time ago: then why haven’t I mastered these identical principles in every other area of my life? They are so obvious.

I’ve consistently experienced deep satisfaction and success from the hard work I’ve put in. Yet still, I stand here (yes, I’m standing – but more on this shortly), writing this LinkedIn Newsletter to tell you about a recent epic fail in my own choices.

I took my eye off the ball and didn’t control the controllables – and now I’m paying the price. I’ll begin this letter with a somewhat lengthy story that brings me to where I am today, with my most recent epic fail, and then I’ll give you a simple process to help you to identify and control the controllables in your environment.


I want to start by telling you about my recent epic fail, but to do so, I need to go back in history a little way, so please bear with me. I think there are some lessons on the way through for everyone.

After almost 62 years on this planet, you’d think I’d know better – and I kind of do – but it doesn’t mean I always get it right. Occasionally I, too, can become complacent. And when that happens, I’m forced to pay attention via the cosmic wake-up call that inevitably follows.

I’m definitely not a dysfunctional performance outlier, like a David Goggins or Tom Bilyeu. I’d like to think I’m a little more representative of the No Bullshit Leadership community. Let me give you a little background:

One thing I’ve always told myself is that I operate at my peak when I focus predominantly on one thing at a time. This has served me pretty well, for the most part, with only the occasional mishap. It’s enabled me to navigate the demands of life with a huge amount of optimism, joy, and ultimate fulfillment. I have lived an incredibly fortunate life so far, and hopefully I still have a bunch of productive years ahead. I feel as though I’m just starting to get good at this sh!t.

You may have heard me describe my philosophy using the analogy of the circus performer who does the spinning plate routine. She starts with a single plate, which she elevates to the top of a long pole and then sets it spinning, so that it stays on top of the pole all by itself. Then she spins another plate, and another, and another, and so on, until there are dozens of plates spinning on top of the poles.

As the momentum of each plate begins to slow, the performer moves from pole to pole, giving each a quick gyration to increase the rotation speed of the plate. Often, just as a plate’s about to fall, she makes it back to the pole just in time, as the audience draws a sharp intake of breath.

This won’t necessarily be the same for you, but I tend to think of my life like a bunch of spinning plates. Like everyone, I’ve got a lot of plates in the air at any one time, and my habit is to really concentrate my energy onto one plate in particular, at any given point. When one of the other plates is about to fall, I rush over and give it the attention it needs. And, very occasionally, a plate falls.

I’ve had many different stages in my life where my focus has shifted from one thing to another:

  • After six years in an all-boys Catholic boarding school, I focused on my social growth and personal maturity;

  • As I became more confident, I focused on being the life of the party – and I was… clearly! 😂

  • I had a significant period when I was ultra-fit, where I focused mainly on my health and family;

  • Then, when I realized that life was about more than just trying to break the 3-hour mark for the marathon, I focused on my career;

  • After my first marriage broke down, I was forced to pay attention to my psychological and mental health;

  • And in the last 20-plus years, I feel like I’ve been getting it right – I’ve been variously focused on the things that bring me the most joy: my close relationships with my wife and daughters; my impact on the companies I worked for; and now, my purpose in this business, to make as much impact on the world of leadership as I possibly can, with whatever time I have left.

So which plates are at risk of falling?


Even when I was ultra-fit, I didn’t look after my complete health. As a long-distance runner, I would clock 60 to 80 kilometers every week on the roads and forest trails around Canberra. I was an ex-smoker and I was determined to rebuild my cardiovascular engine.

After some years, I developed an incredibly strong set of legs, lungs, and heart. But my upper body strength left a lot to be desired. Because I didn’t put any focus on my core strength, I used to get injured fairly regularly.

This came out in different ways. But one interesting statistic is that, although I mounted a serious preparation campaign for seven marathons, I only made it to the starting line of three. I was brittle. I tended to break down as soon as I ramped up my weekly mileage. In particular, I had a weakness in my lower back.

Over the years, I learned how to manage this predisposition, so that I did just enough to remain functional. You all know what I mean when I say I was doing the bare minimum, and this kept the injury at bay for the most part.

But neglect accumulates over time. Fast-forward about 15 years, and my back condition caught up with me, not long after I started my contract as CEO at CS Energy. All the years of running long miles on hard surfaces (and when I wasn’t, sitting at a desk for way too many hours) came home to roost. I ended up with compressed discs in my lower vertebrae and the excruciating sciatic nerve pain that comes along with it.

Thankfully, I avoided surgery and managed to build back my core strength with an extremely diligent daily exercise routine. The plate had fallen, but I’d managed to catch it before it smashed.

Then, of course, as time passed, what did I do? I became complacent again.

I focused on the spinning plate du jour, and to give it even more attention, I made it a point of being as efficient as possible in every other area. Subconsciously, I tried to work out how far I could push the boundaries, right? How much of a shortcut can I take without breaking the plate?

Our brains love to take shortcuts to make processing as efficient as possible.

This led me to realize that I could get away with not doing my core strength exercises as diligently as I used to, and I was still going to be okay. Time efficiency is everything, right? Especially when I’m traveling… or if I have a particularly bad timezone schedule… and, lo and behold, it didn’t come back to bite me.

I got into the nasty habit of running the gauntlet on some of the most foundational things that keep me at my peak.


By this stage, my habits were on autopilot, even though I know that they’re barely enough. At the start of this year, I wanted to go a little further, so I decided to take some time away from alcohol. No particular reason, really, but I’d been toying with the idea for some time because I just wasn’t feeling as sharp as I wanted to.

I never drank a lot on any given day anyway, but I had a sense that I needed to break what was a pretty consistent habit throughout my adult life. And, when I really thought about it, I wasn’t even particularly enjoying it.

On top of that, in the last little while I just happened to come across a couple of podcast episodes that flipped me over the edge. The first one, from Dr. Andrew Huberman is very clinical. It’s a comprehensive look at the biochemical effects of alcohol on the brain and body. The other, a little more wide-ranging, is an interview on the Diary of a CEO podcast with Kristen Holmes. And even though this one was predominantly on the science of sleep, eating habits, and circadian rhythms, she made some interesting observations on the effects of alcohol.

Now, please believe me when I say I am not pushing an agenda here in any way, shape, or form. I am the last person on earth to tell you what choices you should make for yourself. Having said that, I do love a good source of unbiased, factual, and science-backed data, so I’ve linked you to those episodes (above).

Anyhow, I’m thinking that for me, I could benefit with some time away from alcohol. Apart from the pure health benefits, I was mindful of the fact that I make bad choices when I drink. Not bad, bad – but choices like, “Absolutely! Of course, we need to finish the meal with Tiramisu and a late-picked Riesling!

But, in all seriousness, I wanted to step back. I wanted to figure out how serious I am about serving our significant global leadership community, who rely on me for guidance every week. As my high-performance coach, Rachel Vickery often tells me, “You never know when someone’s going to need you to be your best.

And, to be perfectly honest, coming from a long line of alcoholics, I wanted to reestablish in my own mind that I don’t need alcohol to enjoy being around other people. So, I’ve been focused on this major lifestyle change so far this year, and it’s going super well. After a couple of months, I’m feeling much sharper, more centered, and even calmer than normal, now that I don’t have all that extra cortisol flowing through my system.

What else have I been focusing on this year? Well, Em and I have been going through a huge amount of strategic rethinking to reposition our business for the next phase of growth. I’ve been focusing brilliantly on the two or three plates that are spinning wicked fast.

So which plate fell? Yep, you guessed it: my health plate. After a little too much travel, and a little too little attention to my core strength routine, my lower back sent me a message in the form of excruciating sciatic nerve pain in my right leg. Now, a little over a week later, I’m only just getting to the point where I can get out of bed without experiencing the level of pain that almost makes me pass out… and that’s why I’m standing while I write this.


Rather than beating myself up for letting this plate fall, I prefer to focus on what I need to do to recover, and I’m pleased to report recovery is going pretty well, so far.

But it’s also given me pause for thought: How could I let this happen? Given that my well-established life philosophy, my track record of success, and my belief system – which I’ve backed up over the years with a lot of hard work – has enabled me to do so much, how could I make such a basic, rookie error?

I guess I’m really no different to anyone else, right!? I am so not perfect. However, being extremely optimistic in general, instead of viewing it as a failure, I put my energy into going back through the sequence of events to try to discover the root cause, so that I can patch up any cracks in my process.

Where I landed, after some reflection (and the thing I really want to share with you today), is that I didn’t control the controllables. In leadership, in business, and in life, there are many things that are completely out of your control… but for me, this wasn’t one of them.

Ironically, those of you who’ve already committed to our Leadership Beyond the Theory program know that I’ve developed tools to help you focus on the things you can control so you don’t waste energy on the things you can’t. The principle of controlling the controllables seems so obvious, right!?

But the pie-in-the-face moment for me is this: I finally understand that I can control the controllables, without detracting from the things that I’m applying my main focus to at that particular point.

This would effectively enable me to put a number of plates on autopilot, so to speak, and manage them at the same time as whatever other pressing priorities are vying for my attention.

Now, this might not seem revolutionary to most of you. But my self-talk, for many years, has been that I can only focus properly on one thing at any given time – that I have to put other things on the back burner to enable me to do that properly.

In retrospect, while I spent the first weeks and months of 2024 focusing on life without alcohol, producing leadership content, and doing a few speaking engagements, I didn’t have to sacrifice the other things. I could have easily given the necessary attention to my controllables (like maintaining my core strength routine).

I was just giving myself an excuse to be lazy. The dog ate my homework

So, I went back and thought about the things in my day that are completely within my control. I know I can do these without risking whichever spending plate I happen to be focusing on at that time. Heck, I even have a spreadsheet that itemizes them already – things like:

  • What time I go to sleep

  • What time I wake up

  • My exercise habits

  • My eating and drinking habits

  • The amount of time I spend watching football instead of reading and developing myself

  • How much time I spend on each critical business activity.

Most of the things on my list are entirely controllable. They don’t have to interfere with the other big ticket items, and they are the consistent baseline of habits that underpin everything else I want to do. There aren’t a lot of them, but they’re important.

So, for now, I’ve gone back to basics:

  • Finding the right balance between doing what I need to do to recover from the injury without exacerbating the problem any further;

  • Pinning my daily habit spreadsheet to the homepage of the MacMini in my studio, so that it’s front-and-center every time I turn my computer on; and

  • Getting healthy enough to start my full recovery and rebuilding.

It’s not that long ago that I used to be able to hold a plank position for almost 10 minutes, and I’ve committed to getting back there again by the end of 2024.


I want to finish with a few tips to stop you from having an epic fail, like the one I’ve just related to you. Hopefully, it won’t take you as long as it’s taken me to really master this in every life area. There are no silver bullets of course, but I reckon this is a pretty useful life hack.

As I tell you how I’ve solved this problem (which, by the way, I’m really confident that I’ve finally solved), I’d love you to think how you can incorporate this for yourself. I’d really like my epic fail to help you avoid that landmine.

I’m now approaching this problem from a different direction. I’ve absolutely let go of the notion that I can only really focus my energy and attention on one thing at a time.

I’ve refreshed the list of habits that are really important to me because I know that without that solid foundation, I can get blindsided any time. I’ve been using a daily habit spreadsheet for years. But here’s the step I’ve just added. Of those daily habits, I went down the list to work out which ones are completely within my control and which ones aren’t. As it turns out, the majority of them are…

And here’s the important mental shift I’ve made: I’ve replaced my decades-old self-talk – that I can only be successful by giving my energy to one thing at a time – with a completely new mantra. Now I tell myself something different:

I can control the controllables, and they have no negative impact on the main game.

I’ve now put a new process in place, which is going to allow me to control the controllables every day, in quarantined time blocks that I have the ability and the desire to preserve.

Without trying to get too philosophical, none of us knows how long we have on this planet. But I’m at the age where I’m pretty sure I’m in the second half of my journey… and I don’t know about you, but whenever I watch a sporting event, the second half always seems to go a lot faster than the first half.

So, my mindset has shifted a little as a result of my most recent epic fail. If I can get as good at controlling the controllables as I have, with the intensity of commitment I put onto other things, I’ll not only optimize my day-to-day performance, but hopefully, I’ll be able to extend the number of years that I can keep doing what I was put on this planet to do.

I know that my absolute purpose is to make as much difference as I possibly can to the millions of leaders in the world who need to be better, and have the courage to take those first few tentative steps – for the benefit of their organizations, their teams, and their families.

Looking back on my days as a runner, I recall a mantra that I used to repeat in my head at the end of a tough race, when I was tempted to back off the pace and cruise through to the end. I used to just repeat the acronym, FLAP: Finish Like a Pro.

We all have periods in our life where we ease off, or where we fall below our own personal standards, or even spend some time in the doldrums. But if you can see past that and refocus, you can come out the other side to a place where you get really good at controlling the controllables: where you can do the (often difficult) things that build your character, your confidence, and your self-esteem.

I’m going to put a huge amount of attention from now on into controlling the controllables, to make sure I finish like a pro. And, hopefully, the commitment I made this week is going to serve you well, too… for years to come.



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