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On Things You Can Control (Nothing’s Really Changed)

The case for getting back to basics in unpredictable times...or not.

on things you can control
Drew Sullivan / Unsplash

Nothing used to grind my gears more than these two things in particular: unannounced power outages and sudden drops in internet speeds.

Yeah, you might be thinking they’re too trivial to break someone but, hey, that’s how I roll.

Whenever any of these occurred, I became the oh-so-deep philosopher that would once again dive into the rabbit hole of questioning everything.

“Why am I here…in this neighborhood?” “What did I do to deserve this?” “Why does [insert lovely name of person or company] do this to good citizens like me?”

We could only agree on the definition of “petty,” but now we’re facing an unprecedented phenomenon already leaving its mark in the history of mankind: the COVID-19 pandemic.

This pandemic already took more than 190,000 lives and infected more than two and a half million. It has been threatening economies with another recession. It also became a catalyst for nations to put their governments under the spotlight.

However, amid the chaos, you have to stop for a moment and ask, what really did change?

On Things You Can Control

A couple of years ago I stumbled upon one of the most practical kinds of life philosophy: Stoicism.

Since then I’ve been reminding myself about its core principle: Only control the things over which I have complete control, which, all things considered, boils down to myself.

That is, I can only control the way I think and feel, which then guides actions over which I also have absolute control—no matter where I am, whom I’m with, or the weather—or even diving deeper, no matter how I’ve been raised, what troubled circumstances I’m in, or how I’ve been handicapped because of others’ doings.

See the constant here? In any sorts of complications you find yourself trapped in, huge or not, there’s always that one thing you can control—yourself, and more specifically, how you deal with the outside world you utterly have no control over, anyway.

What Better Time than Now?

Perhaps if, unlike me, you’re pretty extroverted, you would also rather be electrically shocked than be left alone with your thoughts.

No, I don’t advocate being alone with your thoughts all the time, but during tumultuous times like this—especially when you’re home following social distancing protocols—take advantage of this alone time to think about, or better yet, write down, all the things you could be and do observing the principle that you have nothing and no one else to control but yourself.

On a good day, it should spark a few realizations you’ve never even had before.

It could be anything like discovering you can genuinely talk calmly in an okay-turned-toxic conversation. Or identifying “fun” stuff that are unfortunately just distractions. Or improving your work ethic, while managing said distractions.

Embrace your ability for self-reflection, even if you don’t like doing it. (If you do it once a month, it shouldn’t hurt, anyway.) You sure don’t need to be a philosopher, but you can try coming up with questions (they’re not bad questions, trust me) in an attempt to honestly know yourself.

It’s Not about Time

The term “time management” should already sink into oblivion at this point. Time isn’t what we manage.

We’re not in the age in which we need to painfully seek things we should commit our attention to anymore—we’re in the age in which we must cautiously choose what ruthlessly exploits it.

You must then manage the finite amounts of energy you have for the day (or week).

I feel good upon waking up, for example, but that feel-goodness makes me consume—almost subconsciously—forms of entertainment that only leave me just that, entertained, instead of straightaway doing something productive that would give me a sense of meaning. Opting for the former does not put my renewed energy to good use.

Look at the habits of people you admire, but use them only as a guide. Ultimately only you can figure out how to manage yourself.

Nothing’s Really Changed

It’s quite sad to think it takes a pandemic to force us to stay home and, without much of a choice, realize that only a few things in life can genuinely make us content.

Think about it: Most of your frustrations and disappointments are likely caused by something or someone you can’t control.

Investing in those you have control over would then make sense. Of course it’s easier said than done, especially if you’re not used to it yet.

However, over time, you’ll become stronger and most importantly, you’ll know yourself more, becoming wiser in the face of all the cacophony attention-grabbers are perpetually trying to overwhelm you with.

Perhaps try honing a skill you’ve long been meaning to. It’s probably going to be tough, but for sure you’ll have control over different aspects about yourself. It could be your patience, focus, or even your temper. Don’t think perfecting only one skill means nothing—it could be the complete personal package you’ll ever need.

Nothing much has changed these days. Whether it’s a power outage or internet suckage or a pandemic, how you react to such things is mainly what matters. This enables you to ensure that all the activities you’ll henceforth be committing to are worthwhile.

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