A Crucial Distinction

Someone’s supposed to come to help you. You have a glance at the watch and it’s already 15 minutes past the agreed meeting time. You start fidgeting. Your mind starts thinking of the reasons for his/her absence. You try to squash the assumptions by making a call. The person’s phone is switched off. This adds to the number of possible scenarios unfolding in your mind. You grow restless and perhaps, start plotting ways to get back at the other person.

The next day, the person arrives as usual. He/she apologizes earnestly; cites reason for ill health for the absence. You realize you don’t feel as bad about the person as much as you did yesterday. But there’s an unease to your way of being; regrets of having wasted the whole of yesterday thinking and feeling negatively start piling up inside of you.

How often does this happen to us or those around us?

We waste our time affected by events that we have no control over. It sounds ridiculous to be even admitting to it: shouldn’t it be obvious? But common sense isn’t common practice; especially with things we are invested in emotionally.

So what can we do? As someone who has been practicing the philosophy of Stoicism for over 3 years, if I can recommend one mental model, it would be this:

Lets get into the habit of asking ourselves: is this in my control or not?

Of things that exist, some are in our power and some are not in our power. Those that are in our power are conception, choice, desire, aversion, and in a word, those things that are our own doing. Those that are not under our control are the body, property or possessions, reputation, positions of authority, and in a word, such things that are not our own doing. ~ Epictetus

Making this crucial distinction is what makes all the difference in the world: between someone who acts vs who complains; who is proactive vs who is reactive; who takes responsibility vs who deflects blame.

If we can internalize Epictetus’s quote, we will realize that our well-being is one choice away: from establishing the crucial distinction between things of our own doing vs things that are not up to us.

This should of course not mean that we become passive. Rather, we are being encouraged to separate what we can do from what we can’t, and then act accordingly. The result: better peace of mind by actively letting go plus working our way to whatever it is that we long for.

Which life circumstance requires your crucial distinction right now? What’s in your control? What’s not? What will you do about it?

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  1. This reminded me of ‘The Serenity Prayer’. And Leadership & Self-deception, too. Everything changes ones you realize you are responsible for everything. lf you take full responsibility you have no excuse to blame others for your “misfortunes”. In the person-being-late-scenario you have 3 choices to deal with it: you can blame the other person, you can try and help, or you can (almost always) choose to limit your interaction with that person/not have that person around you anymore.

    Looking forward to the next post, Sagar!


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