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09 Sep 2014
Trichotomy of Control

I have recently been turned on to learning about Stoicism, the ancient art of living a good life. Stoicism has various famous proponents today, two of whom have been main influences on my thinking, Ryan Holiday and Tim Ferriss.

Stoic philosophy is as relevant today as it was in the second and third century. As an informal introduction to stoicism I picked up the A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy, that distils the learnings into a group of coherent chapters. The most insightful part of the reading for me was a chapter on the Trichotomy of Control. Stoics believe that in this world there are controllables and uncontrollables. Stuff that you can influence and stuff that happens to you. To save oneself of anxiety, fear, depression, our life approach should be based on focusing on stuff you can control.


This advice is not new, but what I found interesting about the stoic version was the actionable step to stick with this philosophy in day to day life. Stoics suggest dividing every dealing in life into three categories. The first category is stuff over which you have full control. The second category is stuff over which we have partial control. The third category is all the stuff you have no control over whatsoever. It is not tough to realise which category of things to devote time and energy for maximal impact. One must realise that partial control, requires only enough attention to fulfill the personal duty of having tried hard enough. There is no use losing sleep over uncontrollables. The only power we have over uncontrollables is the way we react. Stoics believe that a person with the ability to perform this automatic segregation will learn how to interanlize all goals in life.

This advice sounds simple but boy is it hard to adopt. No doubt stoics believed that someone who fully understands the Trichotomy of Control, is the rarest of rare being, a stoic “sage”.

I have fallen upon stoic philosophy at the right stage in my life. At this crucial juncture where I transition from a curriculum based workflow to where I am empowered to sketch my career path. I am a long way away from calling myself a practicing stoic but there is no doubt that stoicism has become my life philosophy of choice. I look forward to keep rewiring my thinking, internalizing my goals, in the hopes for a controllable future.

Til next time,

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