Trichothomy of Control

The Stoics advise us to perform a kind of triage with respect to the elements of our life and sort them into:
  1. those we have no control over,
  2. those we have complete control over, and
  3. those we have some but not complete control over.

Reaching for things that are beyond our control leaves us with far less energy to master those which are within our control. If we focus on what we can change, rather than wallowing in arguments about what we cannot change, we get more done and things get simpler.
For what is in between, i.e. the things that are to varying degrees outside our control, we should give an appropriate amount of attention.

External factors are far too unreliable to build one’s happiness and self-identity upon and since life is so precious and brief, it is important not to spend it chasing after things that are not important, as well as to avoid wasting our energy trying to control things that we cannot.

(1) No control over:
The past, which lies at the most extreme end of things outside our control, ceases to trouble us, as does the future, which lies only marginally closer to our influence. An other example is thoughts and opinions of others, we can aim at influence them but we should not trouble ourselves if we encounter people who are hostile to us.

For things we have no control over, it is up to us how we react. We can’t alter what has happened, but we can alter what will happen next.
Because we have no control at all over the things in question, any time and energy we spend will have no effect on the outcome of events and will therefore be wasted time and energy, and, as Marcus observes,

“Nothing is worth doing pointlessly.” – Marcus Aurelius

We should, in other words, want events “to happen as they do happen.” We can either spend this moment wishing it could be different, or we can embrace this moment.

(2) Complete control over:
All that exists in the realm of our minds is the only thing that is closest to our full and complete control. Since the mind is the seat of the “self”, it is the only thing we can exert full control over the ability to discern which goals are important and worth chasing.

(3) Some but not complete control over:
We can’t be certain of winning a match, we can hope, through our actions, to affect the outcome.

By internalizing hiskgoals in daily life, the Stoic is able to preserve his tranquility while dealing with things over which he has only partial control.

Example: The goal in playing a game will not be to win (something external, over which he has only partial control) but to play to the best of his ability in the match (something internal, over which he has complete control). Translate the objective to something you have full control over and be realistic about it, we should not be delusional, but push towards what can be accomplished.

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