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Focus on What You Can Control
Avthar’s Weekly Newsletter #10 (7/3/2020)
Woza Friday from New York City!
Welcome to the edition #10 of Avthar’s Weekly Email. This is where I share lessons and experiences about startups, learning, health and happiness, all to help you level up your own life. There’s now 133 of you in the this growing community — thank you for your support! 🙏
What’s in this week’s newsletter?
Changing things up from last week’s guide on How to Program Your Mind for Fitness (or any other skill), this newsletter is focused on success and happiness, and in particular, on a book that changed my life, The Manual by the Stoic philosopher Epictetus.
Let me know how you like it. Please enjoy!
📚Book that influenced by life: The Manual by Epictetus
For those who are new to the newsletter, one of the most popular responses to my feedback survey about what you’d like me to write and talk about in future was “Books That Changed My Life”. I kicked-off this series by featuring the book Deep Work by Cal Newport.
Side note: If you’d like to request a topic for me to cover in future, please fill out the survey!
This week, I want to share a book that transformed the way I think about living a successful and peaceful life: The Manual by Epictetus, also known as Enchiridion.
The Manual is a short book of aphorisms, or short philosophical ideas about how to live a good life. Here are my top 7 takeaways, with my favorite quotes related to each theme:
1. Focus on what you can control
If you wish to have peace and contentment,
release your attachment to all things outside your control.
Whenever a challenge arises, turn inward and ask what power you can exercise in the situation. If you meet temptation, use self-control; if you meet pain, use fortitude; if you meet revulsion, use patience. In this way, you will overcome life’s challenges, rather than be overcome by them.
Working within our sphere of control, we are naturally free, independent, and strong. Beyond that sphere, we are weak, limited, and dependent.
This is the most important message of the book. Focus on what you can control. Accept everything else.
2. Suffering comes from our interpretations, not from reality
When you understand that outside events do not touch your deepest self
—what matters is your interpretation and reaction—
you can use any circumstance to your benefit.
Whenever distress or displeasure arises in your mind, remind yourself, “This is only my interpretation, not reality itself.” Then ask whether it falls within or outside your sphere of power. And, if it is beyond your power to control, let it go.
When anyone provokes you, remember that it is actually your own opinion provoking you. It is not the person who insults or attacks you who torments your mind, but the view you take of these things.
3. Don’t give others control over your mind
If a friend tells you that someone has criticized or insulted you, say, “They must not know about my other faults, or they would have pointed out those, too.”
If someone tried to take control of your body… you would fight for freedom.
Yet how easily you hand over your mind to anyone who insults you.
When you dwell on their words and let them dominate your thoughts, you make them your master.
This pair of quotes are my favorite quote from the entire book. It illustrates the humor and deep self-assuredness of someone who’s focused on reality, rather than opinion. And reminds us about the importance of not letting people live rent free in your head.
4. Flow with Life
Do not wish that all things will go well with you, but that you will go well with all things.
5. Watch the state of your mind
We should watch our mind for unreason and irrational thought like watching for sharp stones when walking barefoot on an unfamiliar path:
...when walking, you keep an eye out for sharp stones and fallen branches in your path;
so when thinking, watch for obstacles and errors in your line of thought.
Tread carefully, taking care not to stumble into illogic and unreason.
6. Have an Internal Scorecard
Do not fret about your own significance, worrying, “I’ll never become admired or renowned—I’m just a nobody from nowhere.”
Is it your business to chase after political power or fame? No.
Find your significance within yourself.
Within your own sphere of power—that is where you have the greatest consequence.
7. Be True to yourself
If you find yourself acting to impress others, or avoiding action out of fear of what they might think, you have left the path. Find satisfaction in following your philosophy. If you want to be respected, start by respecting yourself.
If you win the adoration of others by pretending to be someone you’re not, you may gain celebrity or high office—
but you will lose out on the fulfillment of a life best-suited to your attributes and abilities.
How “The Manual” influenced my life
“The Manual” was the first book of stoic philosophy that deeply resonated with me.
It influenced my life in 3 key ways:
Helped me find and focus on things in my control in even the most disastrous circumstances (my words, actions, how I treat others). This helped me avoid sliding into a downward spiral of feeling helpless in difficult situations.
Made me less concerned about external events that I couldn’t influence (e.g actions of other people) and helped me accept them and be at peace.
Helped me realize that your internal state is most important and that power and success don’t improve your internal state, you still have to consistently work on it.
The third point is wonderfully illustrated by the sheer variety of socio-economic circumstances of the most famous stoic philosophers:
Epictetus was born into slavery.
Seneca was a business person, political advisor and artist.
Marcus Aurelius was the most powerful person in the world at the time, as Emperor of Rome.
All three three come from drastically different lives, but all share the stoic philosophy of focusing on what you can control, prioritizing your internal state and being at peace with external events you can’t control.
Reading Epictetus, Seneca and Marcus Aurelius, you realize that they all had all the same issues, the same mental struggles and they were all trying to be better people.
That shows you that your financial circumstances don’t automatically improve your internal state. Internal peace cannot be bought, but must be earned.
Book Highlight of the Week
Philosophy isn’t just for thinkers. Here’s an Ultimate Fighting Champion’s thoughts on focusing on the present:
That’s all for this week!
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