“Focus on things you can control” is advice often given by those who follow Stoic philosophy. But what does this truly mean? How do we determine what is within our control?
Our circle of influence is limited, and what we can actually control is even smaller. Sometimes, we can’t even control our innermost thoughts and feelings. If you’ve ever practiced meditation, you’d know how thoughts can drift in and out unexpectedly, a phenomenon Buddhists refer to as the ‘monkey mind’. The same is true for emotions. You might wake up feeling peaceful and calm, only to become furious when someone nearly crushes your car on the way to work. These swings are natural and it’s key to accept them as a part of the human experience.
That’s why we shouldn’t identify with our thoughts, emotions, or even our actions. Because our actions can be constrained by outside forces. For example, you might wish to go to a festival on the other side of the world tonight. Yet even if you have the money, it’s physically impossible to get there in time.
What’s truly within your control are the decisions you make. Every moment presents an opportunity: the choice to act in a certain way. You might not be able to attend that festival, but you can choose to come to terms with it. While you may not have the power to alter your current circumstances, you can decide how to respond. Recognize the challenge, evaluate your options, set your intentions, and take action.
So, where should your focus be? On the choices before you. That’s the real realm of your control and what truly matters.