What Should Be Under Our Control to Live a Great Life
Welcome to our Stoicism class!
I'm Epictetus, your lesson one lecturer.
I was born a slave in the Roman Empire and was crippled later on in life. It may seem unbearable and far from calling a good life.
And yet, these unfortunate events never hold me back from living with joy. I know it sounds impossible, so let me explain.
Some things are within our total control, unlike others. We hold the power over our judgments, expectations, desires, hopes, fears, aversions and other things that arise in us.
What isn't in our complete control is our body, power, property, reputation, and whatever doesn't entirely belong to us.
The things outside of our control are by nature not free, subject to external constraint and hindrance. It's impossible to secure them reliably.
Even if we possess them for now, they may be only temporary. Nature might always ask to give them back when we least expect it.
That's because there are many external factors involved: illness, crisis, misinformation, people around you with their own agenda and intentions.
However, very often we ignore them and make up delusional, fictional stories in our heads about how things should go, forgetting that events happen as they happen rather than conforming to our needs.
When considering the future, remember that all situations unfold as they do regardless of how we feel about them. Our hopes and fears sway us, not events themselves.
Think of your last sudden misfortune or time when something went wrong.
Write down what was this event and how did you feel about the event when it happened.
Examples: flight delay, catching illness before an important meeting, etc.
Now try to recall and write down how did you desire, hope and imagine that event to unfold in your head before it happened. What did you assume was under your control when in fact it wasn’t, when you were imagining that event in your head?
Example: I assumed weather would be good so the flight wouldn’t be delayed
People usually tend to think of their negative experiences as a result of external events. They blame circumstances, unluck, accuse people around us or even themselves.
They generally see these as the cause of their misfortune rather than look within and pay attention to the wrong orientation of their desires, hopes, and fears.
Remember that desire contains the promise of obtaining that which you seek, and the fear contains the promise that you will not fall into that which you attempt to avoid.
Only he who fails in obtaining what he desires is disappointed, and he who fails in avoiding what he fears is unhappy.
What is needed is to reorient desires and fears in such a way that they match only what is up to you.
We Stoics believe that we can't truly fail in desires and fears and thus be disappointed as long as we are doing everything possible within our control.
So how, for instance, should you deal with things like our health?
You can't stop caring about it, so you should do everything to stay healthy. But there is no guarantee you can't get an unexpected disease or an injury. So even if it happens it was not your doing, so it's not a failure.
Let me give you an example.
Imagine planning a sea voyage. What can you do? You can choose the captain, the sailors, the day, the right moment. Then unexpectedly, a storm hits. At this point, what are your concerns? You've done your part.
Choosing the captain was under your control, but the weather conditions were not. So why would you even be bothered by the failure if it was not under your complete control?
What can you do in situations like that? Shift your goals from the external to the internal: keep reminding yourself that your objective is not to have a safe voyage but to do the best that is within your power to make it safe.
If you reorient your attention and desires in this fashion, you can't get disappointed that easily.
So let's do a quick exercise.
Think of an important event you have soon. It might be a date or a public performance. What do you feel? Anxiety, excitement? Try to retreat from your initial projections into the event (what you imagine it to be). What is under your control within this event? What is not?
Great. How can you focus more on things you can control and pay less attention to something you can't?
You should focus your energy and resources on affecting what you can control and turn away as much as possible from what you can't.
This school of thought boils down to the idea that you are in charge only, and exclusively, of your judgments, desires, aversions, and our decisions to take action or not.
I highly recommend doing this exercise daily by looking at specific events in your life. As you continue practicing, you'll internalize what is really under your complete control and what isn't.
In the next lesson, we will discuss how to approach things within our control. Thank you for your time, my friend!