February 28

“Whatever standards you have chosen to adopt, you should abide by them as if they were laws, as if you would be found guilty for breaking any of them.” – Epictetus

Today’s thought is about holding ourselves to the standards or character we have chosen to demonstrate in our daily actions. We do this by developing discipline. Discipline in setting the standards in the first place and then holding ourselves accountable as we go about our daily lives.

Maybe we have decided we aren’t going to take things personal at work, at home, or at all. That will take discipline. Discipline to detach from the situation and to see it as one of the many things we have decided we are not going to allow to get to us anymore. And it will take discipline to train our minds to start to see things that way.

Maybe we decided we are going to listen more and speak less in social situations. This takes biting our tongues and at the same time, hearing the things other people are trying to tell us. Having the discipline to silence the little voice in our heads that gets excited when we have something to say is difficult. It takes constant vigilance to keep listening and refrain from speaking. It takes discipline to work towards hearing and processing the things that others are saying to us.

It takes discipline to set any standard and hold ourselves to it. But discipline is worth the effort. Always.

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February 27

“The condition and characteristic of an uninstructed person is that they never hold themselves accountable for the good and the bad that they experience whereas an instructed person expects all of the good and bad to come from himself.” – Epictetus

Back to the idea of sticking to what we can control and using that to control the way we experience the world.

By going through life focused on what we have control over, recognizing what we don’t have control over, and then distancing ourselves the amount required to see the difference between those things we give ourselves the ability to respond appropriately to the difficulties and luxuries we encounter in life.

By recognizing that we don’t have control over the way other people choose to act makes it easier for us to deal with people when they are acting poorly towards us. It also makes it easier for us to keep ourselves in check when people praise us or defer to us in difficult situations.

That is not to say that good or bad things aren’t going to happen to us. It is just meant to highlight that when good things happen to us, it is important for us to step back, recognize what role we played in achieving this outcome, if the outcome was something we want to replicate in the future it is worthwhile to reinforce the actions that shaped our role , but it is equally important to remember that in all likelihood, we did nothing special. Nothing anyone else wouldn’t have done in the same situation. We need to do the same thing when bad things happen as well.

Bad things also require us to remind ourselves that while the situation we are in is difficult and there is possibly no good that can come from it, it is our choice to be the victims of our circumstance. It is important for us to recognize that when bad things happen to us, even if we put ourselves in this position, even if these bad things are the actions of people we know or are close to, it has little to do with us as people.

This is, of course, easier typed than practiced and it was not that easy to type.

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February 26

“Does a man drink a lot of wine? Do not say that he is a drunk but that he drinks a lot of wine. Because unless you perfectly understand the principle from which a person’s actions come how can you know if their actions are wrong? This way you will avoid making assumptions that are incorrect and will leave yourself open to the whole story.”    – Epictetus

It’s easy to assume things abut people. In either direction we are likely missing the whole story. Very rarely are people doing as well or as poorly as they might seem to be doing when we meet them for the first time. Instead, our minds make assumptions about them based on how we interpret people’s words and actions.

To use the drinking example. Perhaps the person we are judging has an unexpected day off in the morning, maybe they are celebrating a particularly good day, maybe drowning a particularly bad day, or maybe they were recently introduced to this particular wine and is enjoying it a little more than maybe he normally would. Or maybe he is a drunk.

The point is, there could be many reasons for a person to act the way they do and we will never be able to fully understand why people act the way they do. Instead, we can return to the things we do control. Us.

We can choose to hold on judgment, we can choose to ignore our first impressions and give ourselves an opportunity to get to know the whole story.

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February 25

“Also, do not show your ideas or speak of your practices to the uninformed, but show them the action and results that come from their understanding.” – Epictetus

Actions speak louder than words. We’ve heard it at least a hundred times in our lives. We understand the idea. What we do always matter more than what we say.

But do we actively try to make our actions speak for us? If we did what would we want our actions to say? How can we plan our actions to say the things we want them to about us?

Maybe we can use today to think about one or two things that we want to project to the world. Maybe it is kindness, maybe compassion, or maybe it is strength, or resolve. Whatever things we think about let’s keep the number to a maximum of two. Then let’s try to think about a few things we can do everyday, in as many interactions as possible that allow us to demonstrate one or both of these attributes. Without words.

For the rest of this week, let’s keep track of how we do and also try to keep track of how people respond to us. Maybe it works out, maybe it doesn’t but let’s try. And if it does work out, let’s commit to one month of trying to silently portray these attributes in our daily lives. Eventually, these should become easier and easier until they become a habit. Then we can pick a few more attributes and start all over.

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February 24

“If any conversation should arise among uninformed people about a subject you are knowledgeable about, it is best to remain silent. Otherwise, you may very well vomit up information that you have yet to digest.” – Epictetus

One of the hardest parts about being a social animal. Conversations. We are going to have to be a part of conversations and we are going to have to listen – really listen – to other people’s opinions. And sometimes those opinions are going to be about subjects we are interested in. Maybe subjects that we like to think that we are well versed in. Possibly even subjects that we are actually experts in. The end result is the same. It is always best to remain silent and to listen.

While it takes some getting used to and in the beginning is going to distract us from listening, a good exercise for us in these situations is to listen to the person’s perspective or interpretation of the subject. Then we should think about what the possible outcome of our interjection is going to be. Maybe it’s a little thing and the owner of the opinion isn’t all that invested and our interjection will be amusing and or informative. But more likely, this is something a person feels strongly about. Is putting our impression or partially formed opinion (all opinions are only partially formed) going to benefit the recipient enough to risk them choosing to be insulted or offended by our interjection. Most often the answer is; no.

It is better for us to listen and learn how other people interpret or see these subjects that we are interested in. Learn from them. Maybe we will find something to add to our knowledge base or perhaps we will recognize ways of presenting information in more effective ways.

All that and we will look attentive and kind and won’t look like argumentative or difficult people.

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February 23

“For example at a banquet do not tell people how they should eat, instead eat the way you are supposed to eat.” – Epictetus

Leading by example. We all know we are supposed to do it.

Staying humble. Same story.

But how many of us find a new diet, a new workout, a new philosophy, or a new money management tool and we become dogmatic, trying to enforce these lessons on everyone around us.

(I understand the irony of reading these words about philosophy written by someone who knows nothing about philosophy)

Better to instead give new ideas and practices a chance to work for us, a chance for them to develop the way they are supposed to or to reveal themselves as garbage. That way, when our new workout plan fails to incinerate our belly fat in thirty days or less our loved ones won’t have that failure in mind when we are demonstrating the value of the next new idea.

Instead we should be waiting for them to come to us asking what we are doing differently. They should see the changes in us that we achieve through choosing to live a little differently, respond to life’s challenges a little differently, and as a result interact with the world around us a little differently.

And if people do not seek out the reason we seem different to them we should be ready to acknowledge that maybe we do not demonstrate anything that sets us apart. If that is true, maybe we don’t need to be sharing our ideas or practices with others.

Instead we can focus on the one thing we have control over. Ourselves. The thoughts we think, the things we do, and who we are becoming.

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February 22

“Everything has two handles, the one it can be carried by and the other by which it can not be carried. If your brother acts poorly towards you, do not lay hold of the handle that reminds you he has acted poorly towards you. This is the handle by which this can not be carried. Instead, grab hold of the handle that reminds you he is your brother and you were nurtured and raised together. This is the handle by which this can be carried.” – Epictetus

Choices. It all boils down to choices. We do not get to choose how people act towards us. That is not up to us. Sometimes they will act poorly. Sometimes they will act despicably.

We choose how we handle the way people act towards us. We can choose to respond in kind. We can lose our tempers, feel hurt, and defend ourselves in an attempt to make them see how they are acting is hurtful.

What does that accomplish? How many times can we lose our tempers and have people realize that they are acting poorly towards us? The answers are; nothing and never.

Instead we do well to maintain our composure and our life’s rhythm. Not only because more often than not, being the calm in the face of other people’s poor behavior is the best revenge. But most importantly because by maintaining our life’s rhythm and refusing to allow the actions of others to disrupt that rhythm is the best way to stay happy. It is also the best way to accomplish the tasks we have in front of us and to be successful. Who would we rather follow? The person losing their temper and acting poorly or the person weathering the behavior and maintaining their composure? Who would we rather be?

Let’s focus on what we control. We control us.

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February 21

“If a person is wrong in his opinion, he is the person who is hurt, for he is the person who has been deceived. If a person supposes the truth is false, the truth is not hurt, but the person who has deceived himself has.” – Epictetus

It’s something we are all going to encounter, either in our professional lives, our personal lives, or if we win the exacta of life; both. People are going to believe things that are clearly not true or correct. Sometimes these things will be about issues we strongly believe in. Sometimes these beliefs will be about us. Either situation is the same. People don’t know they are wrong. In fact, they often will believe they are right and we are wrong.

It doesn’t matter. We don’t control what people believe. If it is imperative that we defend ourselves against the thoughts and beliefs of others, we can do it without becoming emotional or being insulted. Those are choices we don’t have to make, we don;t have to choose to be offended or hurt. We can stay out of it emotionally by remembering that this is how it seems to them, they might be wrong but they don’t know any better. It seems right to them at the time.

So when we have to. We can state our case without becoming emotionally invested and we can move on. Because we do not control what other people are going to believe or what they are going to do with our perspective.

It is better to spend our time and energy on the things we can control.

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February 20

“If you have assumed a character above your strength, you have acted in a manner that is unbecoming to yourself and you have neglected the things that you could have accomplished.” – Epictetus

Biting off more than we can chew. We all do it. We all watch other people do it and secretly judge them even though we are equally guilty. There are so many reasons we choose to take on more than we can handle or attempt things which we should have known we were not capable of.

It is easy for us to look at others and think that they were arrogant or overconfident and made the decision to take on more than they could handle or tried to do something that was “above their station.”

But we don’t control others and it is not our place to judge their actions, especially when we do not know their minds. In our own lives, in our own hearts are we taking on tasks that are outside of our ability to complete out of hubris? Maybe but probably not.

More likely, we are trying to help as much as possible. Maybe we do not realize how difficult a job will be. Maybe we think we have more time. Maybe we are being impatient and we want to see results of our efforts before those results are really ready to be apparent.

So often, it comes back to control. We do not control how quickly certain things in life happen, we do not control the actions or thoughts of others, we do not control the natural order of the universe, and so we are left to control the things we can. Our efforts, our thoughts, and our reaction to the world around us.

We should recognize the things we are capable of, we should recognize the amount of time we actually have available, and we should stay within our sphere of control.

And when we find ourselves outside that sphere of control, we should ask for help.

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February 19

“When you have decided that an action is the right one to take and are carrying it out do not try to hide it from the sight of others even though they may judge you. If it is wrong, you should avoid doing the thing but if it is the right thing to do, why do you concern yourself with those who judge wrongly?” – Epictetus

There are a lot of things that we will all resolve ourselves to do over the coming months and years. A good many of them are difficult to start doing because we are worried about how we will look in the eyes of our peers.

There are a number of examples we could draw from this morning but let’s focus on the one that holds most of us back and stands to benefit us the most. Living a more active or fit lifestyle.

We all want to exercise more but the biggest thing holding us back is that we are afraid of how we will look to our peers. We might not know how to do exercises properly, or we might be intimidated by that section of the gym we’ve never used before, we might even be afraid that our running form or abilities will be laughed at by our neighbors.

Let’s flip that idea over on its head, if we saw a person using their lunch break to get in a run or even a silly looking body weight exercise routine would we judge them? If so, are they in the wrong or are we? Would we expect that person to care about our opinion or rather, would we be embarrassed if they knew what we were thinking? Why would it be any different the other way around?

There are a good many things we should be doing for ourselves. We can not control what other people are going to think. If there is something we should be doing, let’s do it and let’s not give any thought to other’s judgement.

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February 18

“In company take care not to speak much or excessively about your own accomplishments or trials; for as it is pleasant for you to discuss your troubles, it is equally unpleasant for others to listen to you discuss them.” – Epictetus

As we listen to people in conversation, especially as we listen more and talk less while we practice disciplining our emotional response to things, we will notice a pattern. In many normal everyday conversations, a large majority of us send a good deal of energy and time complaining about the hardships they are currently enduring. If we are discussing anything positive, if we are paying attention, the positive talk can usually be described as bragging.

If we are truly listening and observing within the group, neither the complaining nor the bragging do much to add value to anyone’s day. Instead we seem to share our negative experiences with one another or try to make each other feel like we’re doing better than they are.

Instead, for today and as many days as we can, let’s try to actually just listen more and when someone is sharing anything with us, positive or negative, rather than feeling like we need to chime in and top their story with one about us, let us instead try to ask, “What else?” Perhaps we can even get someone to share something truly positive with us. Regardless of the outcome, the exercise itself will be good for us to practice.

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February 17

“If one of your friends tells you that another person is speaking ill of you, do not become defensive about what you have been told. Instead reply, this person must not know the rest of my faults otherwise he would not have only mentioned these.” – Epictetus

In addition to being a pithy retort to a friend reporting gossip to us, the reminder that we typically have way more faults than anything anyone speaking ill of us could bring up stands to remind us how little their opinion really matters. It also serves to remind us that we still have a long ways to go in achieving the standards we have set for ourselves.

In fact, it is a good mental exercise when we encounter people gossiping about us to think about all of the things they could possibly have said about us. The list will be long and difficult to face and that is only the stuff we are aware of and the stuff that is true. We all know that gossip is never limited to the truth.

In addition to using the list to remind us that it could be worse, the quick list of all of our faults is a helpful reminder that it’s no one’s business. We all have lists of faults. That’s why this exercise is universal. Literally all of us have laundry lists of ridiculous shortcomings. Including the person speaking ill of us, in fact speaking ill of others is a pretty big shortcoming.

It also happens to be one we have no control over. People are going to speak ill of us. That’s part of the game and we have no control over it. The most we can do is focus on what we can control and make people who will speak ill of us liars as well.

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February 16

“And let silence be the general rule, or let only what is necessary be said, and in a few words.” -Epictetus

Listening. The most forgotten and possibly the most important part of communication. Learning to listen is as important and as difficult as learning to speak or write effectively. It takes practice and discipline. But like every skill that is difficult to master and requires discipline to practice, listening has incredible benefits.

For starters, listening or rather not speaking gives us an opportunity to step back. allow others to say their piece and give us a chance to control our reactions. By listening better we end up speaking less which gives us more time to control our emotions and focus on the things we can control.

Listening also allows us to actually get to know and connect with the people in our lives. By understanding what is going on in their minds, and in their lives we can understand better what motivates them and why they do the things that they do. This allows us to keep in mind how they operate and gives us better perspective. Having better perspective is a good way to avoid being upset by the things which should not have upset us.

So today, as an exercise, let’s try to keep ourselves from speaking as much as possible. In every interaction let’s try to be sure the other person gets to say more than we do.

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February 15

“Immediately prescribe some character and some form to yourself, which you shall observe at all times whether you are alone or in the company of others.” – Epictetus

Most of us will have heard the quote often attributed to John Wooden, “…Character is what he does when no one is watching.” Fewer of us might think that these thoughts may very well have originated nearly 2,000 years before Wooden spoke them.

As a means of approaching the world, setting our standard too be who we want to be before giving any thought to the way that others might perceive us is a much better way to set a standard that we will want to work towards meeting. And it will be work.

It is not easy to set the standard in the first place. The most common theme from Epictetus’ work – if we are using his standard – would be focusing only on that which is within our control. Ignoring the things that are outside of our control takes constant effort.

By taking the time to determine who it is we want to become when we are alone and dealing only with our perceptions, it will be a little easier to understand why we want that to be our standard. From there we will have a better understanding about why we want to discipline ourselves to meeting our own standards.

It makes the most sense though, to set these standards when no one is looking to remain true to ourselves. And it makes sense to set them today.

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February 14

“Seek not that the things which happen should happen as you wish; but wish the things which happen to be as they are, and you will have a tranquil flow of life.” – Epictetus

Relationships. They are a part of life. They are the part of life that makes life worth living. But relationships are two sided ordeal and we are going to be let down and we could allow ourselves to be frustrated nearly as often as we feel uplifted and supported by our relationships. We all have our own agendas and aspirations and while these often match up with those around us, they do not always.

The best safeguard of our own happiness is to not try to control the other people in our relationships. Don’t try to force them to behave or be the way we think they should be. Instead, we should do our best everyday to accept them as they are and remind ourselves why we value the relationship in the first place.

It turns out that the only one who really suffers when we let the way people act, talk, eat, or work to get under our skin, is us. Trying to change the way another person does anything is a futile and hurtful exercise. Instead, we should focus on addressing our own shortcoming, which is our response to their behavior. If the behavior needs to be changed, we should show them gently and they should be able to see and augment their behavior accordingly. If they can not see, it is because we are not showing them clearly enough.

Focus on what we can control, our reaction to the way things happen. Accept that the way things happen is outside our control and we should accept and appreciate things the way they are. By doing this, we can find peace and happiness. In fact, this is the only way.

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February 13

“Another will not damage you, unless you choose to allow them to: but when you choose to think you have been damaged then you will be.” – Epictetus

This is an important and difficult idea for us to implement in our own lives. Trying to remember that we are choosing to be hurt, offended, insulted, or demeaned by others is difficult in the moment. Especially if the other person is choosing to allow their emotions to run amok.

But that is exactly what we are doing, we are choosing to allow our emotions and our reaction to an incident to impact our feelings about the incident, the other people involved, and ourselves.

We should be better than that. We should be able to step back from any situation, take a moment to breath and assess the situation, and then respond to the situation calmly and in control. But that is super difficult. We need to practice a lot before that will become second nature.

Fortunately, life will give us opportunities to practice as often as we want to. We start by acknowledging that the things that annoy us or cause us to lose focus are our own fault. Then we put ourselves in situations where we are definitely going to get distracted and annoyed and we try to complete a task or focus on work. Every time we do it, we will get a little better. As we get better here, it will translate to bigger and more important things. So, let’s get to it!

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February 12

“Does a brother wrong you? Remember your relationship with him. Do not focus on how he has wronged you but focus on the relationship. Then you can remember that you are choosing to be angry or hurt.” – Epictetus

If we haven’t realized already, it would be good for us to recognize now that people are going to fail us. By default, we will also fail others. We will hurt each other, we will take jokes too far, we might even do some terrible things to one another.

It is important for us to keep in mind, when someone does something wrong to us we are the ones who decide how hurt we are going to be by the action. It is also really important to look at things through the right perspective.

If someone we love does something mean or hurtful to us, we need to remember the nature of our relationship with this person and how our response to their actions might damage that relationship. Sometimes, the relationship might need to be damaged, most of the time it doesn’t

The only way to be able to honestly tell ourselves that we are responding to someone else’s actions in an appropriate manner is to ask ourselves if our response takes the entirety of the relationship in mind. If we are simply reacting to the feeling of being hurt, we need to recognize that we control this feeling and that it is not the other person’s responsibility. If the action was so egregious that we need to consider not associating with this person any longer, we need to reconsider that thought and reevaluate our reaction. If after reflection and reevaluation our decision stands, so be it.

All of the time, we can choose to not be hurt and most of the time we can choose to maintain the relationship.

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February 11

“Just as a target is not set up with the intention of missing it, evil does not exist in the world naturally.” – Epictetus

Most people, even people who end up doing some pretty heinous and evil things aren’t aiming to be evil. They aren’t plotting what would be the worst possible way they could deal with the people around them and then acting that out. In almost each instance, people are trying to do what they think is right or best in advancing their particular idea or way of life.

Unfortunately, it is incredibly easy for us as humans to forget that our actions effect those around us. It is also unfortunately easy to convince humans that other humans with different ideas or ways of life are less human or in worst cases, not humans at all.

It is also easy for us to ignore the consequences of our actions if they do not directly affect us or people we care about or if the effects are delayed for a long period of time. It’s just the way our brains work naturally.

As a result, we are capable of doing despicable things and not realizing in the moment that what we are doing has severe consequences.

Remembering this when people are rude, hurtful, or even when they do really bad things to us helps to put things into perspective and allows us to create enough emotional space to detach from the event and recognize that it is not really about us. In fact, it is not about us at all because we are not being considered, at all.

We would also do well to consider these things as we navigate our own lives and reflect on our own actions and intentions.

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February 10

“If something is worth it to you, you will pay the price required. But if you don’t want to pay the price and still want to obtain these things, you are insatiable and silly.”                   – Epictetus

This goes beyond the expression, ‘There is no such thing as a free lunch.’ This cuts to the heart of all worthy endeavors. Not the least of which is becoming a better person.

There is no easy way. No shortcuts. If we want anything worth having, we have to put in the work. We have to pay the price.

Success as a person, to be the best versions of ourselves, takes putting in the work everyday and at the same time accepting that there will be days where we fail. Days where we fall off the path and days where we have to force ourselves to get back on the path even if it’s just to go through the motions until we find our rhythm again.

The same is true of everything else. If we want a healthy family life, a successful career, or good friendships we have to pay the price it takes to have those things. And sometimes that is going to mean we have to choose between two things we may want. Maybe we want a successful career and a healthy family life but we find ourselves in an industry that requires eighty hour work weeks and constant networking to get ahead. We have to decide which is more important to us and the price of attaining the one thing is going to be forsaking the other. But if we are honest and we focus on the things we can control, the price is always worth it.

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February 9

“Is another person going through a hardship? There is not one among us who would not say, ‘These things happen to everyone.’ We should remember that point of view when we experience our own hardships.” – Epictetus

Remembering the way we see the things that happen to others is an important perspective to apply to ourselves. Whether we are experiencing hardship or success it serves us well to try to see it as if it were happening to someone else. It reminds us to stay humble when we achieve our goals and also to remain humble when we are going through bad times.

Because self pity and allowing ourselves to be victims is a form of narcissism. Just as it is self centered and delusional to assume that a minor – or even a major – success is something that is all about us the same principle applies to hardship.

We have not been through pain or hardship that has not been endured by others. At this point in human history, the most wretched of our nightmares has been visited on our fellow humans. Usually by other humans. In fact, when many of us are facing an obstacle it is entirely possible that we know someone who has been through a similar hardship before.

It would serve us well to remember how we viewed the way they dealt with the hardship and at the very least, try to live up to their example.

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February 8

“What rank can I achieve then in life you ask? Whatever rank you desire so long as you maintain your faithfulness and modesty. But if on your way to success you have to give up these qualities what have you gained if it has left you shameless and faithless?”             – Epictetus

The good news is that we don’t have to feel bad about acquiring as much material wealth and social success as we choose to. The bad news is going to be that acquiring any amount of success while compromising on the qualities that we are working on improving is not going to increase our level of happiness. Far from it.

We all have to make a living in this life, we all have to navigate in social circles and we will all meet varying degrees of success. The fact that you are reading this on the internet puts you in the top half of the planet for material success. If you are reading this on a smart phone half that again. We are all already pretty successful by many measurements. And we are working towards regaining and preserving our humility.

We should aim to go through life with the intention of putting our absolute bet effort into everything that we have control over. We should focus on the things that fall within our sphere of control and then do our absolute best to maximize our effort on those things while choosing to ignore the things that do not fall within our control.

This will be something we will work on for the rest of our lives. But it will be worth it.

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February 7

“If it should every happen to you that you turn to things outside of your control in order to please someone else, you must know that you have lost your purpose in life.”                  – Epictetus

One of the goals we should have as we attempt to navigate the expanse between who we are today and the people that we should be is that we learn to understand the things that are in our control and the things that are not. The next step is learning to accept the things that we cannot control as just that, outside of our control and to focus our energy on only the things that we can control.

It will happen almost daily that someone will request us to be involved in trying to control things that are we can’t. When we accept that request and try to accomplish these things, we are compromising a position that is not ours to compromise. Either we accept that we can not control certain things or we do not. There is no in between. We are not going to calm an angry client, we are not going to make a tardy employee prompt, we will not be able to ensure that we are on time to dinner with our spouse’s boss, and on and on.

We live in the here and now. When an action presents itself, we need to understand that our duty is to carry out actions to the best of our ability, but it stays there. Once a job is done, once we have explained a situation to the client, explained how being tardy hurts the team to an employee and made the correct amount of effort to be on time to dinner, the rest of it has nothing to do with us. We don’t control whether or not someone chooses to remain angry, how they value punctuality, or traffic and accidents.

We do ourselves a disservice and we slow our progress towards our best selves when we forget this.

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February 6

“If you wish to hold yourself to a higher standard, prepare for people to mock you and call you arrogant. If you hold to your principles and maintain your humility, these same people will admire the example you have set. If you allow them to knock you off your path, they will mock you double.” – Epictetus

It doesn’t matter what we choose to to do to make ourselves better. We might change out diets, we might start working out, we might change our careers, or we might further our education. Someone is going to make a negative judgment about our actions. They will have their own reasons for doing so. Maybe they don’t think we will be able to stay on the path. Perhaps they feel like it is a bad idea or an arrogant lifestyle choice. They might be a little bit jealous of our ability to attempt to better ourselves.

It does not matter.

If we have weighed our choices. If we have looked ahead and come to the conclusion that the path we are on is the best way to get from where we are now to where we want to be as people, it does not matter what others think. We have to stay resolute in our conviction that we are on the way to becoming our best selves. And we have to do it with humility.

This means we need to listen to the concerns and judgments we get from others and we need to determine if they consist of information we should incorporate into our lives or if their criticism can be discarded out of hand. The key to discerning this is whether or not the criticism they are offering helps us to better navigate the distance between who we are now and our best selves.

But make no mistake, we have to stay on this path. We not only hurt ourselves but also everyone watching us when we fail. Because if they can relish in the knowledge that we couldn’t stay on our path what reason will they every have to step on their own path?

virtus fortis vocat


February 5

“But you yourself will not wish to be a general or a senator or consul, but a free person: and there is only one way to do this, to not care about the things which are not in our power.” – Epictetus

This is definitely a recurring theme in Epictetus’ works. If you want to be happy you have to focus your energy only on the things that are within your control. The things within our control consist of how we prepare for life’s challenges, how we react to the events of our lives, how we speak of others, and how we carry ourselves through life.

It turns out we all have the ability to control human minds and actions. It just so happens that we can only exert this phenomenal power over one human; ourselves. We control the thoughts our minds think, we control how we act, and we control how we speak. We control the way the world see us but we have no actual control over how others choose to interpret us.

It can be difficult to consider that we control the thoughts our minds think. Especially those of us who have allowed our personalities to become more reactive. But it’s true, we can control our own minds and focus on controlling the story line our own narrator tells as we navigate this life. This takes practice and for some of us will continue to be a life long task but it also gives us something to constantly work on. And that will help us stick to things we can control.

If we focus on making ourselves better, others won’t have time to intrude on our thoughts as much.

virtus fortis vocat

February 4

“Take care when when you observe a man honored before others or possessed of great power or highly esteemed for any reason, not to suppose him to be happy, and be not carried away by the appearance.” – Epictetus

We see the surface of fame, prestige and power. We see the bright lights, the cameras, the events, and the talk shows. We don’t see the sacrifice, the hours of loneliness or the time spent living a life where none of it belongs to the individual living it. Where relationships and friendships are groomed by handlers and schedules are made by others. We don’t see the pressure of having actual enemies who plot our destruction or the stress of needing to be “on” every minute of every day.

Success at any level comes at a cost. With success often comes responsibility for the livelihood and well being of others, others who often times are also subordinate to the the responsible party. Human nature often causes this relationship to be antagonistic. So even at the lowest of levels, success in business will often come at a cost. Success at most levels is also going to involve you worrying about a number of things you have no control over.

Instead, happiness and freedom come from sticking to the things that fall within our control. So let’s stick to the things we can control, let’s enjoy our happiness and freedom and leave the “success” to others.

virtus fortis vocat

February 3

“You can be invincible, if you enter into no contest in which it is not in your power to conquer.” – Epictetus

This is different than entering into a contest you know you will conquer. Knowing you can and knowing you will are two very different things. Entering into a contest you know you will win isn’t entering into a contest at all. Whereas entering into a contest where you don’t know if you can win is a terrible idea.

This strikes back at knowing where the limits of your abilities lie and then making the choice to work within those limits. If we work at knowing where our abilities are strongest and where they are deficient and if we are honest with ourselves, then we will never find ourselves in situations where we have bitten off more than we can chew.

This allows us to grow without the stress and uncertainty that comes with finding ourselves in situations that are beyond our abilities and require us to “fake it until we make it” in order to get through the day. Stress and uncertainty are unavoidable but they also interrupt the learning process and make it difficult for us to grow.

Better for us to recognize exactly what is within our sphere to control and to be aware of the limits of our abilities. Then we should strive to live each day within those limits while constantly seeking to identify and bolster weak points without entering into contests where we are unsure of our ability to handle them.

virtus fortis vocat

February 2

“On the occasion of every accident that befalls you, remember to turn to yourself and inquire what strengths you possess that could turn this incident into a lesson.” – Epictetus

Obstacles are standing between where we are right now and where we want to be as people. In addition to those obstacles, there will be times where we feel like we are being attacked by people/situations. In some cases we might actually find ourselves under attack. While there are things you can do to mitigate some of the risks in your life, you will never be able to remove all of the obstacles and hardships that are coming for you. And the more you want to get out of life, the more life is going to put up obstacles and throw hardship at you. How we  prepare for and deal with those inevitable difficulties are the only parts of this equation that we have control over.

We could choose to not face them, pretend they weren’t there and then sort of flap about uselessly never solving our own problems. But then, if we can’t solve our own problems we really aren’t going to ever be that good at solving anyone else’s. And that’s the give and take we use as our contribution to society.

We could deal with our problems enough so that we are able to move past them. And that would be enough. We might not ever get much better but we would get through and we would get by.

Or we could take each problem and look at it as a way to get better. Someone is being rude or argumentative? It is a chance to develop patience. Someone didn’t follow through on their part of a project? An opportunity to work on leadership. And the list goes on and on.

We should welcome our hardships and use them as a chance to become better.

virtus fortis vocat


February 1

“Disease is an impediment to the body, but not the will unless the will itself chooses. Add this reflection on the occasion of everything that happens; for you will find it an impediment to something else, but not to yourself.” – Epictetus

The recurring theme here is that we cannot control the things that happen to us in life. We will get sick, we will get injured. Someday we will die. What we can control is how we allow those things to affect us. We could look at life through the prism of cynicism. Literally everything we do in this life will be forgotten or will fail eventually. That is a reality. We could look at that and say why do anything? Why try to accomplish anything of value?

The other way to look at it is that we only get one chance at this. We have this one life to make the most of it. And when bad things happen. It becomes easier to look at things and wonder why we should even continue to try. Because the alternative offers us and the people around us nothing of value.

Allowing the obstacles we encounter in life to beat us down and stop us from living the lifestyle we have set out for ourselves benefits no one. Least of all ourselves. The obstacles are coming regardless of how we are going to deal with them. We should prepare ourselves to weather them with gratitude, humility, and resolve.

At the very least we can be examples of strength to those around us.

virtus fortis vocat