Lucas Brenner » Articles » Limits of Control

In everyday life, people often think they can control everything and that all they have to do to change a situation is work hard enough. This addiction to control, especially in difficult situations, leads to stress, panic and anger. By overcoming this addiction, you can lead a quiet, calm life.

In fact, it is much better to remain calm and rational, because those who react emotionally usually overlook the simplest solutions.

The following principles originate from the ancient philosophy of Stoicism. This philosophical school is still relevant today and there are numerous books and articles on this worldview.[1]

The following lessons are part of the guiding principles for a better life.

Control What You Can Control

You are not subject to external determination or fate in all situations. Your own perception determines your worldview and your emotions.

The same circumstance appear in a completely different light, depending on how you classify and perceive it.

You generally have full control to a much lesser extent than you might think. The things that are under your control are:

These things can and should be controlled in order to live a happy life. For example, you can focus on the positive aspects of a situation to improve your opinion of what is happening. Making progress is more important than being perfect.

There are also situations in which you have limited control. This concerns, for example, your health, your relationships with other people, and your social status. You should influence these things as much as possible, but not make your happiness dependent on them.

Accept What You Cannot Control

In many situations, your have no control at all or only limited control. Sometimes you can influence what happens, but there are also situations where you can do nothing. Losing or saying goodbye to a loved one and one's own death are examples of these uncontrollable situations.

Even if you influence your health through exercise, healthy eating and sleep, in the end you have no control over whether you get sick or not. Also the opinion of other people can be influenced at most by kindness and helpfulness.

Finally, your fate and your death are completely beyond your control.

Acceptance is not meant in the sense of surrendering to your suffering, but rather in the sense of welcoming your own suffering, because without suffering there can be no joy. Without suffering there can be no life. Anything else will only cause unnecessary stress.

Suffering and joy are equal parts of life and you should not waste energy on trying to change this. If you accept a problem, you can respond to it appropriately without going crazy.

Of course, you should not react without emotions at all. Allowing your emotions and showing compassion are important traits that should not be suppressed.

However, after the initial emotional reaction, you should see the positive and focus on what you can control and do to improve the situation.

This not only makes you feel better, but it also prevents you from overreacting. If you follow these principles to the best of your ability, you will live a much more positive life.

This is easier said than done. No one can follow these principles in every situation. And yet, it is possible to change your reaction to an obstacle over time. I try to apply these principles as often as possible and have learned a lot as a result.

Over time, applying these principles becomes easier. Control what you can control. Accept what you cannot control.


[1] The best known contemporary author is probably Ryan Holiday. I highly recommend his books on stoicism.