The Ancient Stoic Phrase That Will Change Your Life

The Ancient Stoic Phrase That Will Change Your Life

What led Thomas Edison to continue searching for the answer of the light bulb, in the face of repeated failure?

What drove the Wright Brothers to crack the puzzle of controlled man flight, despite being severely lacking in resources?

What inspired Benjamin Franklin to strive for moral perfection in his daily life?

In each situation, the individual understood what was under their control and they focused on that. They understood there was a chance to invent the light bulb. There was a chance to take the first flight. There was a chance to be a better person.

There was a chance and they took it.

I’m currently reading The Obstacle Is The Way by Ryan Holiday and in it he shares a phrase from ancient stoic philosophy that perfectly describes the core of these decisions: ta eph’hemin, ta ouk eph’hemin. This roughly translates to, what is up to us, what is not up to us.taephhemin-definitionThere are two buckets in life. The things we can control and the things we cannot.

We can control our emotions, our decisions, our perspectives, and our desires. We have a say in how these things go. These are things that are up to us. We can’t control what other people think, the state of the economy, the president elect, the traffic, and so on.

Between the two, we face a choice on what we focus on – what is under our control or what is not. I’m sure you can guess which of the two is more productive. If we choose to focus on the things that we can control, we can make progress, we can grow and learn and reach our goals.

How can we apply this idea to our lives? I believe it starts with two simple steps.

1. Take inventory of your time

As is often the case, it starts with awareness. Take a look at your life and notice where you’re spending time.

Are you trying to create things that you control? Are you complaining about things out of your hands? Are you spending time on things that could change your life?

Not only will you begin to see where you spend your time, but also what opportunities are available to you. What is up to you.

2. Discover where the opportunities are

Based on where you do have control, what are the opportunities in them? No matter how minuscule the odds, if there’s a chance, there’s value in working towards it.

These are the parts of your life worth spending time on. They can serve as your guide towards the path you should be walking.

The key is choosing the ones that fit your goals and what you want to do.

You have power over your mind – not outside events. Realize this, and you will have strength.Marcus Aurelius

Being able to differentiate between these two parts of your life is invaluable, especially when you actively seek to focus on what you can control. Knowing that you spend your time on things that are up to you, not only maximizes your productivity, but unlocks your potential.obstacle-is-the-way

On the other hand, if we focus on those things out of our control, we may as well give up before we begin.

Focus exclusively on what you can control: emotions, ideas, beliefs, grit, knowledge, creativity, decisions, and the like. You’ll be better off for it.

P.S. I highly recommend picking up Holiday’s book, if you haven’t read it already. Great read, full of inspiring stories that will help you find your way.