Post #92. The Stoic Principle of Control

“Happiness and freedom begin with a clear understanding of one principle: Some things are within our control, and some things are not. It is only after you have faced up to this fundamental rule and have learned to distinguish between what you can and can’t control that inner tranquility and outer effectiveness becomes possible.”
– Epíktētos, Greek Stoic Philosopher, AD 50 -135

This is one of Epictetus most fundamental principles.

He encourages us to think about the fact that there are two kinds of events in our lives…
a) Events that are caused by outer circumstances, not in our control
b) Events that are caused by our choice, in our control

Epictetus wants us to focus all of our attention 100% on what we do control…

Because trying to control what we cannot control can be quiet… frustrating…

Or depending your happiness on things that our outside of your control, puts your happiness outside of your control also.

We want things to be all good, cool, kind, friendly, easy and nice… but they don’t always turn out that way…

Let’s say you spill coffee on your pants on your way to work…

We have two choices here:
1) Whine, complain and let yourself become agitated, blaming and cursing.
2) Saying to yourself: “I might need to be a bit more careful next time… I cannot change what happened, but I can try to do better next time.”

THE PRACTICE 
Whenever something happens that you experience as unpleasant and challenging…
Do this:

IF YOU CANNOT CHANGE IT, ACCEPT IT.
(hint: the past, other peoples’ words, actions, stuff that happen)   
IF YOU CAN CHANGE IT, CHANGE IT. (your focus, opinion, actions.)

It sounds a lot like the serenity prayer: 
“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.”

But this “wisdom to know the difference” is no longer hidden for me… now, I simply know that this “wisdom” is found in the freedom we have within, when it comes to the power we have over our own choices, our free will.

YOUR CHOICE (It’s in your control!) 

Choices about what to focus on

– focus on the setback or the lesson? Your choice.
– focus on the growth or the pain? Your choice.
– focus on the positive rather than negative? Your choice. 

Choices about what words we put to things (thinking/perception)
– is it “boring” or “meditative” to wash dishes? Your choice.
– is it “impossible” or have it simply “not been done yet”? Your choice.
– is it a “failure” or “a great learning opportunity”? Your choice

Choices about what action to take
– Do you take a deep breath or scream? Your choice.
– Do you do a good job or a sloppy job? Your choice.
– Do you tell truths or lies? Your choice.

***

Use your power of choice… It’s your greatest gift. Don’t let it go to waste. 

When you’ve looked yourself in the mirror and honestly claim that you can do nothing, use your common sense and accept that which you truly have no power over. 

Self-honesty is key here. 

Always do what you can. Accept the rest as it occurs.

In this way, peace will always be possible. 

***

With love, 

Daniel Galovan 

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