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Stop focusing on what you can't control: An Emperor's advice to himself

"God give me patience, to reconcile with what I am not able to change. Give me strength to change what I can. And give me wisdom to distinguish one from another," - Marcus Aurelius, Roman Emperor and Stoic Philosopher

We love to focus on the outcome of what we are working towards.

And we usually think of it far more often than we should.

Why, you may ask?

The answer is simple: because it is ultimately out of your control.

How many times have you been so excited for things to happen as you wish them to happen, only for them to happen differently?

Too many times.

You'd feel let down, heartbroken, or even betrayed. What you put so much emotional and physical effort into, gave you little to no return.

There have been many times in our lives when we've felt this way, and chances are there will probably be many more.

It's a part of life.

But we grow from these moments because we will begin to learn that ultimately, many things we wanted that we didn't get were simply out of our control.

And there are typically three types of reactions people take once they learn this life lesson. People will either:

  1. Give up on everything they want because what's the point in striving for a goal if life isn't in their control?

  2. Decide on trying to control everything in their lives, big and small, till they burn themselves out from exhaustion, and end up never reaching a desired goal because they're too busy trying to control everything.

  3. They realize that it would be in their best interest to let go of what they can't control, and instead focus on what they can control.

You're most probably thinking that the third reaction is the smartest, and you're correct. It is.

The reason why I decided to put it last on the list is because it's the reaction we least see.

The first and second reactions are the most common, and both are the results of people overvaluing things outside of their control, ultimately leading them to defeat and weakness.

I take the term 'overvaluing' from the famous Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius (yes, he's the emperor in film Gladiator).

He is known to be one of the last "five good emperors of Rome" who ruled the Roman Empire with wisdom, justice, and temperance. He is uniquely considered to be a philosopher of Stoicism, a philosophy that argues happiness is achieved through living a life of virtue, emotional indifference, and self-control.

Marcus Aurelius would write in his famous diary known as Meditations, a collection of his journaling which was found after his death. It is in Meditations where we find his love for philosophy, virtue, and his desire to rule his empire justly.

He once wrote to himself, "The more we overvalue things outside of our control, the less control we have."

This makes sense.

When we focus on controlling what we cannot control, can we control what is in our power to control? No, we cannot.

If someone only focuses on what they cannot control, they have automatically decreased their power of control in life. Let me explain.

The only thing you can control is yourself, and how you react to what happens in your life, which is out of your control. No human being has ever had and will ever have a remote to control what happens in their lives.

No human being was ever able to decide which family bore him/her, what name they were given, what they look like, or where they lived when they were little. Similarly, no one was ever able to control who came in and out of their lives, which company would accept them for a job, or how long it would take for them to get to work on a day that had unusually heavy traffic. These examples are vast, but the point remains: your life will be full of uncontrollable events, and the smart way to react to this fact is to stop trying to control them, and rather, control how you react to them.

Aurelius also wrote, "Don't seek to have events happen as you wish, but wish them to happen as they do happen, and all will be well with you."

It's in our best interest to focus on how we react to what life throws at us.

Everyone will experience tragedies, heartbreaks, betrayals, and defeats, but also opportunities, gifts, celebrations, and victories. How we react to the good or bad in our lives is what we can control, so react in the best way possible.

Make the most out of what life gives you, both good and bad. If you're experiencing bad times, react with strength and patience. If you're experiencing great times full of success and happiness, react with joy, and capitalize on the success to give you more success.

If you consider yourself to be given a bad hand in life with tough situations, good. As a matter of fact, excellent. Use the tough times to make you stronger. If you're dealing with tough things that most people don't deal with, focus on how you can get the most out of it. You don't become stronger during times of ease. You become stronger during times of difficulty.

React to life properly, and you will be given a proper reward.

Focus on what is internal, and what is external will mold itself around you.

Pursue Alchemy


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