<span class='p-name'>Identifying what we can control in our own lives</span>

Identifying what we can control in our own lives

One of the challenges that we have in life is a difficulty in understanding what is in (and out) of our control. This is to say, we need to identify the things that we can effect change, as opposed to what elements are out of our purview. In this, we are asked to identify our locus of control.

Marcus Aurelius provides some guidance about identifying your locus of control in Meditations, 5.1:

Early in the morning, when you are finding it hard to wake up, hold this thought in your mind: ‘I am getting up to do the work of a human being. Do I still resent it, if I am going out to do what I was born for and for which I was brought into the world? Or was I framed for this, to lie under the bedclothes and keep myself warm?’ ‘But this is more pleasant’. So were you born for pleasure: in general were you born for feeling or for affection? Don’t you see the plants, the little sparrows, the ants, the spiders, the bees doing their own work, and playing their part in making up an ordered world. And then are you unwilling to do the work of a human being? Won’t you run to do what is in line with your nature? 

Outside of our control

In working with teachers, I often refer to this as “parking lot problems.” When you try to help students, but start discussing the challenges with home life, upbringing, or other issues that you really cannot “change”…I see these as things that should be left aside in the parking lot when you come in to work each day.

Epictetus makes this much easier to consider as he writes about the proper things for us to be concerned with.

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 one word, whatever are not our own actions. 

Epictetus is making it clear for us what is in our control, and what should not be included in our locus of control. In short, things that we control through our own actions, are in our control. I believe this is a good starting point to think about voice and choice in our own lives.

When life gets in the way

Of course, it can seem somewhat simplistic to follow the guidance from Epictetus on what we can effectively “control” in our own lives and actions. The challenge is that sometimes life gets in the way.

The challenge in this is sometimes life gets in the way, and we hope to extend this locus of control. For these situations, Marcus Aurelius provides a bit of guidance, that I believe acts as a corollary to the guidance from Epictetus.

In Meditations, Marcus Aurelius presents the following:

The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.

In this, Marcus is indicating that in every action and situation, there is an opportunity to practice a virtue. When we have a problem, we know exactly what to work on. When we are stuck and have no idea where to start, we begin working on the obstacle in our path.

Paired with the earlier gudiance from Epictetus, this indicates an opportunity to focus on elements that are solely within your control.

Identifying your locus of control

Specifically, you might ask yourself these two questions when you encounter problems, choices, or obstacles:

  • Is this solely up to me?
  • Does this keep me from being virtuous?

If the answer is no, then this is outside of your locus of control. It is nothing to you.


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2 Comments Identifying what we can control in our own lives

  1. Aaron Davis

    I find external influences an interesting topic. I am not sure how stoic I am though.
    On a side note, I really enjoyed Kin Lane’s recent post on choosing to ‘seize the day’ and not be overrun by fear.

    Each day I am able to seize the widest possible definition of my day that I can. Across multiple cities, states, or countries if I so choose. I do this without being shot. I do this without the financial system crumbling around me, or the government invading my home. I do this without any brown person hurting me or taking my job. I do this without dying of cancer received from being scanned at the airport. Why is it that I’m able to move around so freely? What makes it so that I can seize the day without a gun on my side, or within arms reach? It is because I’ve chosen to seize the day from the fears I’ve been programmed with in the past, and from the possible futures these fears can dream up. I’ve seized the day for me. Not for what might be. It is my day. I get to decide. I get to enjoy it to its fullest, without any concern for tomorrow.



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