If I had the choice to travel back in time and give young-me one piece of advice from what I know now, it would be this: invest in Bitcoin early.

If I could give young-me a second piece of advice, it would be that we can’t always control what happens to us, but we can always decide how we react to it. Our response is our responsibility, it’s a choice.

“Some things are within our power, while others are not. Within our power are opinion, motivation, desire, aversion, and, in a word, whatever is of our own doing; not within our power are our body, our property, reputation, office, and, in a word, whatever is not of our own doing.”


In the quote at the top of the page, the stoic philosopher Epictetus outlines the stoic dichotomy of control. It’s a simple concept that has the potential to completely change how we deal with life, problems, and suffering.

The serenity prayer offers a similar message:

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

Courage to change the things I can,

And wisdom to know the difference.”

What is the Dichotomy of Control?

The dichotomy of control is a Stoic practice that basically states some things are within our control and others are not.

It provides us a framework to be effective at solving problems by dividing them into segments. Things we can control, and things we can’t.

Regarding control we normally suffer in one or two ways (most often both):

  1. We try and control the things in life that we have no influence over:

  • Other people, their beliefs, thoughts, actions and values.

  • The weather

  • Traffic

  • The economy

  • Politics

  • Time

  • etc

Obviously when we try and control the uncontrollable we have no impact and end up feeling powerless, frustrated, anxious, ineffective, bitter, angry etc. We suffer.

2. We don’t take responsibility for what we can control:

  • Our beliefs

  • Our values

  • Our perspective

  • Our actions

When we don’t take responsibility for the things within our control we can’t overcome our situation because we’re not focusing our energy where we have an impact. We remain stuck. People stuck here often complain, moan, whinge and create a mentality of victim-hood. It’s not a healthy place to be.

The dichotomy of control helps us shift our perspective in two important ways:

  1. When we are able to determine what is outside our control we no longer waste our time and energy trying to change it. We see it for what it is, accept it, and move on to what we can control.

  2. When we are able to determine what is within our control (our beliefs, values, and actions) we are able to focus our time and energy on taking action in these areas and moving forward. This makes us much more efficient and effective.

As Epictetus says:

“Make the best use of what is in your power, and take the rest as it happens.”


How Can the Dichotomy of Control help us?

What do we do if we can’t change something but we want to limit its impact on our well-being?

Well, being able to identify what we can and can’t control also helps us develop as people. When we are suffering but the thing that’s causing us to suffer is outside our control, we are then left with one option: change how we look at it.

Viktor Frankl wrote about this in his book Man’s Search For Meaning:

“When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.”

Suffering Becomes A Choice:

As soon as we develop the ability to identify what we can control, suffering is now a choice.

  • Can we do something about it? No. So then why waste your time worrying?

  • Can we do something about it? Yes. Then do something.

  • The third option is to know that you can do something about it but you decide not to. It’s still a choice.

Final Thoughts:

There’s a lot on life that’s outside our control. Learning to accept this is probably the greatest stride someone can take towards living a resilient life and reducing suffering.

While the dichotomy of control is sometimes criticised for being defeatist or passive, it actually focuses our energy exactly where we can add value to our lives. Rather than wasting it on stuff that won’t budge no matter how much we complain, suffer or dislike it.

Shit happens, sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse. However, we always have the ability to decide how we respond. We always have the ability to make the best use of what is within our power and accept the rest as it happens.

Amor Fati

Extra – 2 Minute Dichotomy of control Meditation

Get yourself a piece of paper and a pen and think about a problem you’re having in your life.

Draw a big circle and within in draw a smaller one. In the smaller circle thing about what’s within your control (your thoughts, beliefs and actions). Write them in that circle.

With this list you can begin to see where you can leverage what you have to improve your situation.

In the larger circle write down what’s outside your control (the weather, the economy, other people, other people’s opinions, other people’s actions, politics, traffic etc)

With that list you can more easily see what is causing you suffering, and what you should learn to accept. It’s outside your control, so no about of complaint or suffering will change it.

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