“The chief task in life is simply this: to identify and separate matters so that I can say clearly and to myself which are externals not under my control, and which have to do with the choices I actually control. Where then do I look for good and evil? Not to uncontrollable externals, but within myself to the choices that are my own . . .”Epictetus, Discourses, 2.5.4-5
Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman kick-off with this quote. It takes the prime January 1 position because it’s the most essential practice of Stoic philosophy. That is: we must take some time to understand the difference between what we can change and what we can’t.
When working to build wealth and take control of our life, we must use every advantage we can. And I can’t think of anything as powerful as this idea. Know the difference between what we can change and what we can’t.
The idea of focusing on what we can change and not wasting time on what we can’t isn’t exclusive to stoicism. It’s a universal concept. It doesn’t matter what our personal philosophy is. Living this advice daily will help us to a happier, more successful life. So, it’s a fantastic reminder to start off the year.
Don’t Spend Time and Energy on Immovable Objects
There are some parts of life that we can’t control. No matter how much effort we put into trying. These are immovable objects. We can smash our heads them against again and again and end up with nothing but a headache. Don’t focus on these immovable objects. Instead, we must focus our energy on those parts of life where we have control.
For those more practical-minded readers, think of it as or the . Where will focusing our effort have the most significant impact on our life? Those aspects that are within our ability to change or those that aren’t? Will we get more from arguing politics on social media or by working to improve our human capital? What will give us the greatest bang for our buck?
We Control What We Do
One thing we have absolute control over is what we do. How we choose to spend our time and how we decide to react in a given situation. When bad weather delays a flight, don’t waste time fuming at Mother Nature. Instead, look at that time as a chance to get some extra reading or work done.
Twitter and Netflix offer a path of least resistance. It’s easier to get lost in those empty pits than it is to improve our skillset, build wealth, and take control of our life. But, in the end, which will do more to give us the life we want? Avoid temptation.
We always have choices. Our success depends on our making the most of those choices.
The trick is understanding what we control and what we don’t. Sometimes it’s not clear cut. It comes down to cost and benefit. You may be able to change the local tax code by becoming active in politics. But that may require a run for office or lobbying your City Council. After considering it, you may decide the payoff isn’t worth the effort. That choosing to spend your time building your income stream will get you closer to your goal. Like everything in life, we must consider the tradeoffs.
Through experience, we can learn. And when we know, we can focus our time on doing what moves us closer to our goal and avoid wasting time on the rest.
What we Do and Don’t Control
It will surprise some of us to hear that we don’t control everything. But we still have a lot of power. Like I mentioned, one thing we always have control over is our actions. For example:
- How we respond to unexpected events,
- How we spend our time,
- How we build our life,
- Our personal philosophy, and
- Our purpose or mission.
How we choose to exercise that control is what makes us who we are.
Likewise, there’s a lot we don’t control. Here are some examples, but keep in mind this list is not close to exhaustive:
- Whether someone likes us,
- Where we start out in life,
- The actions of the government, our boss, the barista, or anyone else we encounter during the day, and
- Any of the various obstacles the universe decides to throw in our way.
Give Yourself the Advantage
Work hard to identify where you have control to maximize your chance for success in the coming year. Then direct your time and effort in those directions. Doing so will give you an overwhelming advantage in life. And don’t think of it as an advantage. Think of it as The Advantage.
Like the Daily Stoic says:
“If we can focus on making clear what parts of our day are within our control and what parts are not, we will not only be happier, we will have a distinct advantage over other people who fail to realize they are fighting an unwinnable battle.”The Daily Stoic, January 1
What are some ways you benefited by focusing on what you can control? Leave a message in the comments.