Welcome to 2023 my friend! It’s a new year with a new set of challenges and with any luck, a whole bunch of new opportunities. “What stands in the way becomes the way”, wise words from Marcus Aurelius that we should keep that in mind as we launch ourselves into another year of the unknown. 

The only guarantee I (or anyone) can offer moving forward is that things will change. They always do. The changes could be a small adjustment to the routine or an earth shattering catastrophe - unfortunately we won’t know until it happens. The best we can do is be prepared. 

According to Stoic philosophy we can prepare for change by focusing our precious energy on what we do have control over in a situation before taking action. Stoics believed that by focusing our energy on the parts we can control we’ll live a more tranquil and fulfilling life. Luckily for us they also devised a simple test, the ‘Control Test’ or ‘The Dichotomy of Control’, which can help us to understand what we can and can’t control.

The Control test looks a little like this:

“Some things are in our control and others not. Things in our control are opinion, pursuit, desire, aversion and in a word, whatever are our own actions. Things not in our control are body, property, reputation, command and in a word, whatever are not our own actions” ~ Epictetus.

In a nutshell it all boils down to our character. The things we can control, our actions, reactions and how we treat others are the building blocks of what makes you, distinctly you. How we behave in life's many situations is what forms our personality. Our character transcends wealth, health and one’s position in life. 

When we reduce a situation down to its parts and take the time to assess what areas we can actually control, we’re able to focus our energy in the most effective way. If we pour our energy into areas we can’t change we’re essentially wasting our time. 

Take an international holiday for example - if you got a positive Covid test the day before you were going to leave it would be a waste of time getting angry at the airline or the party you caught covid from. What happened was out of your control. The stoic perspective would be to brush it off because your health is out of your control. It sucks, yes, but we don’t need to suffer twice. Once by missing out on the trip and secondly by being miserable about missing out. 

By bringing our energy inwards and focusing on what we can control we remove the ability for things outside of our control (like getting covid) to throw us off course. This seems like a rather narcissistic view to take but stoics understood that even if they trained hard, acted with integrity and put in a lot of effort, they still couldn’t control the outcome of a given situation.

Take applying for a new job. You can only control your actions - for example, researching the role/company, turning up on time and what kind of vibe you bring to the table. What you can’t control is the other people that get interviewed, what’s going on in the business or even if the interviewer is having a shitty day or not. All of these things can affect whether you get the job. We only have control over ourselves and not others therefore worrying about the things we can’t control is wasted energy. We’d be better to work on our character instead.

I’d take this one step further and add that the payoff of actively working on our character is that you should technically become a ‘better’ person. While that could simplify things a little it makes sense that if consciously worked on your character, like you did any other muscle then it would get stronger. The Stoics believed that good character comprised the four virtues - wisdom, courage, justice and temperance.

‘Some things are in our control and others not’ is going to be my mantra for 2023. If my time on earth is diminishing rather than accumulating then I don’t want to waste a second worrying about things that I have no control over. Gone are the days of stressing about how this blog is received for example. I write it to the best of my ability in the moment in which it's written (which is compromised right now as we’re in full school holiday mode). How you read it, what mood you're in and your perception of stoicism are all out of my control.

There is something very liberating about that. Here's to 2023.

Video of the week
Stoicism Explained : The Dichotomy Of Control - Stoic Mindset
Podcast of the week
20 Square Blocks: Now You Can Eat Father Christmas
Font of the week
Stravinsky: Font of the week by Interval Type

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