The five rules to live by to master the dichotomy of control.
“The chief task in life is simply this: to identify and separate matters so that I can say clearly to myself which are externals not under my control, and which have to do with the choices I actually control.”
Where is your circle of control?
How wide is your strip of influence?
Why are you resisting the universe?
The more I think about it, the more I feel the struggle. For most of my life, I have been a frustrated man. For most of my life, I have been an angry man. Yet, I have been faking it with a smile for most of my life.
I have felt powerless in the face of everything I cannot control. Be it things that I wanted that slipped between my fingers. Be it things happening to loved ones that I wish would not happen or the opposite.
We all are facing that dichotomy in our world. There are things we can control, and the rest of the universe is outside our reach. So we might think that there is a clear border between those universes. Yet it is more complex than that. It is like the DMZ between North and South Korea.
“The Korean Demilitarized Zone (Korean: 한반도 비무장 지대 / 韓半島非武裝地帶; Hanbando Bimujang Jidae) is a strip of land running across the Korean Peninsula near the 38th parallel north. The demilitarized zone(DMZ) is a border barrier that divides the peninsula roughly in half.”
Korean Demilitarized Zone. (2022, September 20). In Wikipedia.
Between what we control and what we cannot exist is a kind of DMZ, our zone of influence. Nature loves continuity and is not a big fan of abrupt cuts.
I recently learned about my zone of influence at the edge of my sphere of control.
Hence there is complexity in the dichotomy of control: there is a DMZ. But, for the sake of simplicity, let’s go back to our initial assumption: there are only those two zones. Most of us struggle to live in our circle of control and accept what happens beyond.
What are some principles that could help soften that entanglement?
Below are five principles from stoic philosophy that can help:
- Turn the other cheek,
- View obstacles as opportunities,
- Amor Fati,
- Memento Mori.
We can apply those principles and ensure that we are back in the driver’s seat of our life.
1. PERCEPTION — We often project our own biases into the things we experience. We wear the glasses of our upbringing, beliefs, and worldview to look at the universe as it unfolds. As a result, we are often blinded by how we perceive things.
Things just happen as they should. Yet we have expectations about the way things should happen. Sometimes we wish that they occur in a way to serve our purpose. Other times, we wish that they did not happen to us. With our glasses of expectations, we are often deceived by our preconceived perceptions.
We can see the glass is half full or half empty. Both perceptions are accurate. But depending on which mindset we adopt, the consequences can be different. Adopting the perspective of curiosity will help us shift our perceptions in a way that serves us.
2. TURN THE OTHER CHEEK — Tit for tat or equivalent retaliation is at the root of many conflicts within us or the world today. We should ask ourselves the “right amount” of revenge to match how we think we have been hurt.
We can see nothing such as an equivalent retaliation by reflecting on our perception. Yes, we don’t want to turn the other cheek. Yet the positives in doing so outweigh the negatives. Indeed whenever we hold grudges, we are the first victim. If we look at it, resentments, bitterness, and unforgiveness are poisons that we hold in the cup of our minds. So we are the ones suffering more from it.
We need to learn to let go, to move on even if it feels like the hardest thing to do. We can forgive even if we do not forget. We are not always obliged to hurt back people that hurt us. We will get more when we focus on letting go of so many things and just turn the other cheek and look for another creek.
3. VIEW OBSTACLES AS OPPORTUNITIES — We spend so much time and energy trying to avoid obstacles in our life. We want the shortest path to success. We imagine it as a highway where we can speed up to reach our destination. Yet, “The obstacle is the way!” and that is the way to growth and creating our meaning.
Imagine two people trying to get to the top of a mountain. One goes there by helicopter. And the other one hikes to the top. In the end, we all know who will enjoy the view better. We all know who will be ready to climb another mountain when the world runs out of helicopters.
Life is more about whom we become all along the journey than the destination we are trying to reach. Obstacles and challenges will make us grow and get to the next level of ourselves as we walk through the mountain.
4. AMOR FATI (LOVE YOUR FATE) — We are all born with unfair advantages, be it our place of birth, our family, our welcoming environment, or even some genetic aptitudes. That is part of our fate. We did nothing to deserve that. We were just lucky.
Sometimes we complain about the things that happen to us that did not happen to other people. Instead of saying, “Try me!” we say: “Why me?” The universe has nothing against us, personally. Things just happen as they should again. We must learn to accept the cards we are dealt with and use them to our advantage. That does not mean relinquishing control over our life. It just means that accepting where we are is the best way to move to where we want to go. There is no shame in acknowledging our humility before the universe.
There is the wisdom of accepting things that happen to us beyond our control. There is shifting our perception in a way that empowers us.
5. MEMENTO MORI (REMEMBER YOU WILL DIE) — Remembering that we will day is the best way to live in the present moment. It is not about having morbid thoughts and just sitting with dangling arms waiting for death.
Memento Mori is the best way to seize the moment before it flies. It helps us also put things into perspective. We can take a step back from a situation. We can look at it from our deathbeds. Then, we can ask if that is as important as we think. So often, when we take that helicopter view of the Memento Mori airplane, we will see how insignificant most things are in our life.
We should live as if we will never die and be present as if we will die the next second. Through the lens of our limited time on Earth, we can appreciate all the blessings that are coming to us. We can be more forgiving of the missteps of other people. We can learn to live a meaningful death. Because, in the end, living is just walking toward death.
Each day, I remind myself that I have some perception biases. I resist the urge to retaliate when I feel harmed and disarmed. Instead, I embrace each challenge as an opportunity to grow or a lesson to be taught. I don’t always love my fate. But I do my best trying to do it. I remind myself that my death is imminent. I live in the present moment to the best of my abilities.
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You can read my previous article on The 3 dark lights to a successful journey! (Friendly link)
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