There’s a freedom that comes with realising you have more influence over your life than you thought
Recently – oh, no particular reason – I’ve found myself returning to the ancient philosophical idea known as “the dichotomy of control”. “Some things are within our power, while others are not,” wrote Epictetus, the Greek Stoic, in a line you’d be justified in dismissing as obvious, if it weren’t for the fact that we ignore its ramifications every day, and suffer as a result. In every situation, there are things we can control and things we can’t, and struggling to control the latter is a recipe for anxiety and stress. “Partial control”, like the kind I have over my three-year-old’s behaviour, can be broken down into the two: I usually have total control over what I say or do; and none, technically, over how he reacts.
It’s an idea that’s echoed widely elsewhere, for example in the Serenity Prayer, associated with Alcoholics Anonymous, and in an observation with Buddhist origins: if a problem can be fixed, there’s no need to worry about it; and if it can’t be fixed, well, why bother worrying?
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