If you have been exposed to Stoicism, you probably have known that one of the ways we can attain inner peace is to divide things into which we have control and that which we don’t have control. Things in our control include our thoughts, emotion, and behavior and things not in our control include our reputation, other people’s opinions, weather, death, and general life circumstances. This is popularly known as the dichotomy of control and can be simply illustrated in the graph as shown.
According to the Stoics, the way to live a good life is to focus all our energy on the things we can control (left circle) and to be indifferent in the things we don’t have control (right circle)
However, some modern practicing stoics believe that there is somehow an overlap between these two divisions. This led to the term trichotomy of control to include these areas of overlap. For example, we can influence our reputation to a certain degree by being a good person and doing the right thing. This can be illustrated in a graph as shown:
The first two models look like Venn diagrams (if you have heard of the term in math). The next one is a variant of the second because it recognizes the fact that we do have control in external things to a certain degree. We can call it “concentric model” diagram in which we are going to draw concentric circles. We then make your own judgment as to what extent (by writing rough percentages) we have control over the thing or event and place them according to the circles. The bigger or farther the circle, the less our control of them, and the smaller the circle, the more your control of them. The good thing about this model is that we will see right off the bat what matters most because the things we have control over are placed in the “centermost” circle.
As a modern practicing stoic I like the concentric model. Regardless of what model we choose to adopt, the message of the ancient Stoics was clear. The key to happiness is to direct our energy to things we only have control. So when someone speak of ill of you behind your back, remember this line from the Roman Emperor and Stoic philosopher Marcus Aurelius
“So other people hurt me? That’s their problem. Their character and actions are not mine. What is done to me is ordained by nature, what I do by my own.” Meditations
How about you? What is your effective way of defining your sphere of control?
Are you new to stoicism? Stoicism is 2000 year old philosophy that started in Ancient Greece and is known to give practicing stoics tranquility and resilience in high stress situations. Its doctrines have been used by Presidents such as Theodore Roosevelt, in war such as Vice Admiral Stockdale, and in sports such in superbowl by Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Caroll.
Want to learn more about Stoicism? Use our easy to navigate handbook on Stoicism. Click here
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