Whether you realize it or not, you’re on a path. You can look back and see exactly how you got to where you stand today. The path ahead is far more nebulous, of course, but it’s still a path. Your actions and decisions help to define it, as do all sorts of factors both in and out of your control.

If you think of your path as a physical entity, you can easily see that it has certain properties. And understanding those properties can lead to surprising and profound insights into how something as simple as awareness of what’s going on inside and around you can help you to visualize and influence your future.

No, this isn’t some metaphysical mumbo jumbo but a useful metaphor. A simple yet highly effective tool to help open your eyes and give you more control than you ever realized you have over your career, your business, and your life’s outcome.

Your path is part of a larger landscape. Nobody walks alone. There are all sorts of external influences on your path. And awareness of those influences and surroundings enable you to more effectively take advantage of them, going forward. Said another way, if you’re not particularly aware of what’s going on around you, you’re behavior is likely to be reactive, meaning your path will be mostly defined by others.

Your path is an extension of you. Since your thoughts, feelings, behavior, and choices influence your path, to some extent, it’s an extension of you. People often lament a lack of control in their lives. By that, they’re usually referring to control by others. But we rarely stop to consider that maybe we’re the ones that are out of control. That lack of awareness of our own deep-seated beliefs and feelings can result in unpredictable and undesirable behavior.

Your path has varying degrees of clarity. The past is well defined, and while you can’t alter it, it does contain valuable information you can put to use in the present moment to help guide your future. In that sense, however, the past can be a double-edged sword. It’s surprising how often we think of hindsight as insight, or that past performance is predictive of future results. In reality, neither is true.

Now, with that thought experiment in mind, here are a couple of important takeaways for entrepreneurs, business leaders and pretty much everyone:

Vision that isn’t grounded in reality is always flawed.

We all know that the concept of “vision” plays a big role in the success of entrepreneurs, business leaders, and their companies. But based on what we’ve just learned, what we call vision is actually a process by which we use our experience–our awareness of external surroundings and our inner selves–to develop ideas and plans that we believe will shape our future path.

To put it more succinctly, if you’re not aware of what’s really going on around and inside you, your vision is likely to be severely compromised.

You have more control over the future than you realize.

Granted, there are loads of external factors that play a role in determining what happens down the road. But there are also lots of internal factors that, for whatever reason, we may not be fully aware of and therefore fail to take advantage of in helping to shape our future.

To put it another way, if you’re always busy, running from meeting to meeting, and giving in to distractive impulses we’re all subject to these days, you sacrifice awareness of the present and compromise your influence over the future.

If you want to have control, first you have to relax and pay attention. Only then will you gain clarity and perspective. Only then will your vision have a snowball’s chance in hell of becoming reality down the road.

A version of this post originally ran on Inc.com.

Image credit CLAUDIA DEA / flickr