road and sunlight

Stoic Foundations: Mastering the Principles of Control, Acceptance, and Change

The three fundamental principles I will talk about in this and the next two lessons are the most important .

These three principles stem from the understanding of your place in the universe that we saw in another entry.

These three principles are the structuring framework that Stoicism offers us.

They are your holy trinity.

These three principles should ring like mantras in the heads of philosophy students. Let me tell you: if you're in this course with me to change the way you think, to learn how to control what is going on up there (in your head), if you really want to take control of your thoughts, then you owe it to yourself to embed these three principles deep within you. Let them take the first place on the ladder of your thoughts, buried beneath your flesh and radiating within you like magma bursting with incomparable energy that secures the whole - your being, its unity; forged around an indestructible core. A core that nothing can shake. Like the effervescent, eternal heart of the sun, these mantras nourish your inner strength, your energy, your resilience, your peace of mind and your constancy. When you're one with them, you become invisible, nothing can touch you. Yes, you'll be sad sometimes, because you aren't made of stone, you're a rational animal and as such you feel things, and that is normal; but if you live by these principles, if you have made them your personal religion, you'll not allow these feelings to take root and ruin your life.

So, if you really want to live by these principles, you have to know them by heart, they have to become second nature to you. Each of your actions, each of your thoughts, must become an incarnation of these three principles.

These three principles are :

  1. You can't control everything that happens to you, but you can control how you react to it.
  2. Distinguish between what depends on you and what doesn't.
  3. Accept that change is a constant in life.

Principle 1: You can't control everything that happens to you, but you can control your reaction to it.

Epictetus - Enchiridion (Handbook), 5:

“It is not things that trouble us, but the judgment we make about things.” .

This sentence is certainly one of the most important and best known of Stoicism. It summarises the essence of an entire system and brings you back to a fundamental idea: it's your thoughts, your judgments, the way you perceive an event that disturb you. And even if you cannot change the course of events that we commonly refer to as "life", you can control how you react to them.


The first principle is:

You have to look at your life as a series of events over which you don't always have control, but you can control your reaction to these events.

The other way around: you have no control over the sequence of events that make up your life, but you can control your reaction to these events.

— It's quite obvious that mmmarcus. I know that when I look out the window now and see that it's raining, I've no control over it.

— Have you ever complained because it's raining because you wanted to have a barbecue in the garden with friends, for example?

— Of course I had!

And that is precisely the problem. Why mess with something you have no control over. It makes no sense. It's raining, it's raining. Maybe you'll meet up with your friends inside and you'll have a great time and maybe the atmosphere will even be conducive to confidences, to the more intimate moments of laughter that the atmosphere inside creates. Or maybe you'll call the whole thing off and spend a pleasant moment with your partner - a special time that maybe you and your partner really needed at that moment.

I know, that's a lot of "maybes".

But they're meant to tell you that all possibilities can lead to happiness. Whatever the event is.

Event: sunshine today: cool, you can barbecue as planned.
Event: rain today: too bad for the sun, you'll find a nice alternative.

Your judgment remains constant.
You aren't insensitive, but you're moderate.

Some people take this for granted, and that's a good thing, because it means they have the foundation for a stoic approach to their daily lives.

Obvious, you may say.
And yet.
How many of us want to control everything?
How many of us want to explain everything?

The circumstances in everyone's life are the **result** of what Universal Reason.

Call it fate,
cosmic law,
the Nature of the Whole,
or just don't call it at all; just find the name that fits your idea of the world.

In the face of this fate, the unique, liberating power we all possess - you or anyone else on Earth - is the control you can exercise over your thoughts, over your response to the events nature throws at you.

According to the Stoics, there are four such reactions, irrational emotions or "passions" as the ancients called them: pain, fear, craving and pleasure. We'll come back to them in more detail later.

This control is your salvation.

Your absolute weapon.

When you control your thoughts, it eases the pain of your soul. It is the only thing that truly empowers you.

Imagine you're alone on your boat,
on the open sea.
The sea is calm and enveloping.
You've just caught a fish and are enjoying it grilled on the back deck of your little boat. But you've barely had time to enjoy this moment of simple happiness when the sky darkens in the distance. You have just enough time to get ready before the storm hits. Faster than you can imagine, the sea rages, the waves crashing over you, threatening to capsize you at any moment. **You cannot** stop the fury of the water, nor can you change the nature of the elements, which mean you no harm, but are simply there, in all their power and indifference.

What can you do then?
Freeze yourself?
Prepare yourself for death?
Or decide not to panic, keep your cool, and make the decisions that could save your life.

Your life, you, your mind,
is the person on that boat.

External events,
the sea in front of you.
Sometimes gentle and pleasant, sometimes threatening.
This is the outside world.
This is the Universal Reason which manifests itself under your eyes.

In your daily life, storms of all kinds come your way, you know that, right? Little winds like hurricanes: the loss of a job, a relationship that breaks up, an illness that knocks on your door.

A wise person once told you: "Life is chaos", which isn't exactly a Stoic idea, but let's admit it for today.

It's up to you to prepare yourself as best you can for that chaos. We'll see that throughout this program, but know that you already have the power to deal with things by accepting that you cannot control everything, that not everything depends on your will, and by practicing to exercise that control.

This is the most fundamental teaching of Stoicism - Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 2, 16.

“The soul of a man does violence to itself [when it] turns against anything that comes to pass, [which] is a separation from Nature.”

When a painful event occurs, do not be overcome by despair or anger, but look beyond the circumstances you cannot control and focus on what is truly in your power: your inner reaction. In these moments, practise keeping your mind calm and collected. Take a step back, look at the situation from a broader perspective, which often helps put things in perspective, and use your intelligence to find the best way forward.

You can choose to see the challenges you face as opportunities to learn and grow, and work on them.

You can choose not to let your inner state be dictated by external circumstances, but to work on it.

You can choose to be strong, resilient and wise, and work on that.


This learning is not like a Candy Crush game or a bar of instant chocolate.

Wisdom is not innate.

It is the result of a personal investment.

Anyone who masters a specialty has had to devote long time learning it. A cabinetmaker, a mountain guide, a chef, a famous writer ... has spent years or even decades honing their skills. They experiment and update their personal body of knowledge as they learn, be it in a workshop that smells of sawdust or on a mountain trail.

Learning stoicism is also a long-term process.

It is not necessarily complex, but  d.e.m.a.n.d.s  t.i.m.e.  It takes time for your mind to gradually, and at its own pace, internalize a certain number of concepts that need to steep like a good tea before they can be savored.

Those who strive to become wise will only reap the rewards of their labor if they are truly invested in their work, driven by a deep aspiration: to become a better being.

Be the craftsman of your thoughts.

Take the time to learn, as all good craftsmen do.

you won't have to think about how to control your thoughts,
you'll do it instinctively.

Principle 2: Learn to distinguish what depends on you and what does not

The second lesson of Stoicism, which is closely related to the first lesson we saw, "You cannot control everything that happens to you, but you can control how you respond to it," is to discern what depends on you and what does not.

Life is interconnected to all things, as I told you in a previous text.

In that grand ensemble,
there are things that you have direct control over, and other things that are beyond your control.

Here are the things you can control:

  1. Your thoughts,
  2. Your actions,
  3. Your emotional reactions,
  4. Your decisions,

Your attitude toward circumstances.

These are the things you cannot control:

  1. The actions of others,
  2. The thoughts of other people,
  3. The feelings of other people,
  4. The unpredictability of the world around you.

The original text with which begins the famous Enchiridion (Handbook, 1) of Epictetus, proclaims one of the most important fundamental principles of Stoicism:

“Some things are under our control, while others are not under our control. Under our control are conception, choice, desire, aversion, and, in a word, everything that is our own doing; not under our control are our body, our property, reputation, office, and, in a word, everything that is not our own doing.

The things under our control are by nature free, unhindered, and unimpeded; while the things not under our control are weak, servile, subject to hindrance, and not our own.

Remember, therefore, that if what is naturally slavish you think to be free, and what is not your own to be your own, you will be hampered, will grieve, will be in turmoil, and will blame both gods and men; while if you think only what is your own to be your own, and what is not your own to be, as it really is, not your own, then no one will ever be able to exert compulsion upon you, no one will hinder you, you will blame no one, will find fault with no one, will do absolutely nothing against your will, you will have no personal enemy, no one will harm you, for neither is there any harm that can touch you.”

You are free to act or think as you will.

But you're subject to the whims of fate.

Learn to distinguish clearly between these two areas:

that over which **you have ** control,

and that over which **you have no** control;

what **depends** on you

and what **doesn't depend** on you.

What doesn't depend on you must be considered indifferent : neither good nor bad, for it's the will of Universal Nature /Reason (fate) that expresses itself.

Focus your energy and attention on what you can directly influence. Conversely, get rid of the thoughts that focus on what you cannot influence, so that you don't waste your reserves unnecessarily.


this means directing your thoughts to actions that belong to you

and of which you're the architect (your work, your sport, your children, your lifestyle, your thoughts, your health, your projects, the way you spend every hour of your life), and not to the outside (the bad weather that thwarts your projects, a call from someone you hope for but never receive, etc.).

If you learn to make this distinction, you'll discover a priceless inner freedom.

You'll develop your true strength. A strength that comes from your judgement, determination, and resilience in the face of adversity.


That's the most important word here.

There is an interesting theory put forward by Eckhart Tolle in his bestseller The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment.

According to Tolle, people aren't free because

they tend to identify strongly with their mind, which constantly produces negative thoughts, worries, regrets about the past or fears about the future. He argues that this identification with the mind creates a kind of compulsion to entertain negative emotions; that the human mind tends to get lost in incessant thoughts that often focus on problems, conflicts, fears, etc.; and that over time this becomes an unconscious habit; but most importantly, an **identification with a state of mind** that perpetuates the cycle of negative emotions.

In other words, Tolle explains that people often **clinge** to their negative emotions because they identify with their mind.

So you'd be complacent about your unhappiness because you've been lost in your thoughts for so long that they comfort you every time you find them?

Every theory has its counter-theory, so I'll leave you with this idea to ponder. I'm not trying to lecture you on psychology, but it seems to me that understanding what's going on in our heads can help us interpret phenomena that escape us.

The key to liberation lies in understanding.

So perhaps take some time to reflect on this point.

In any case, Tolle's and my conclusions are identical: if you free yourself from the grip of these feelings, you free yourself.

That is the goal, after all: to be free from evil,

free from pain.

You'll be free from worries, fears, doubts and anxieties because you have learned to control your soul.

You'll be free from the burden of having to control every aspect of your life, and you'll be able to face uncertainty with serenity.

You'll focus on what really matters: what you can control,

& free your mind from what you cannot control.

The last and third principle, Principle 3: Accept that change is a constant in life, will be unlocked in 24 hours.

Principle 3: Accept that change is a constant in life

The first great teaching was: "You can't control events, but you can control your reaction to them."

The second great teaching was: "Learn to distinguish between what depends on you and what does not depend on you."

The third great Stoic teaching is: “You must accept that change is a constant of existence.”

This teaching is also found in Buddhist and Taoist scriptures. An age-old wisdom taught from Europe to Asia and that we tend to forget. But accepting the fact that the world is constantly changing and integrating it deeply into your thinking means, simply put, that you need to stop asking yourself too many questions. The questions that haunt you: Why is this happening to me, why didn't I, why am I in this situation today. You know, just like I do, the lamentations that torment us all too often.

You complain about what you don't have today, but yesterday, didn't you have it?
You complain that you aren't happy today, but yesterday, weren't you happy?
And tomorrow, you will be again happy.

Cycles only repeat themselves.
Everything changes.

Heraclitus, a pre-Socratic philosopher from the 5th century B.C., would have said, “Nothing is permanent, except change.”

Change is a constant in life.
Things are constantly evolving,
and changing.
Circumstances around you never stand still.

Observe nature.

It takes 365.25 days for the earth to complete its cycle around the sun and then start all over again. In between there is winter, summer, rainy season, day and night, the northern lights, animals hibernating and moving from one land to another, comets crossing the cosmos, the body ageing.

Nature does not resist.Learn, like nature, to adapt to change instead of resisting the inevitable.

Marcus Aurelius - Meditations, 8, 7:

“Every natural thing is satisfied when it fares well when it gives its assent to nothing false or obscure in its imaginations,
directs its impulses only to social ends,
desires and avoids only what is in our power,
and welcomes all that is assigned by Universal Nature..”

Marcus Aurelius again - Meditations, 5, 8:

“[the event] was for you it came to pass, for you it was ordered and to you it was related, a thread of destiny stretching back to the most ancient causes.”

Take a moment and ask yourself:

What about your inner attitude toward these changes?

Do you have the openness and willingness to let go of what is beyond your control?

Are you ready to adjust your expectations and plans to these new realities?

Don't cling to obsolete patterns from the past.

1/notice, 2/accept, 3/adapt.

Instead, be the man or woman who walks down the street with head held high and proud, serene
because no change touches their soul,
confident because they aren’t worried about the future. They know that everything follows an order willed by a higher logic, and her best, they have done.

Don't think of the painful event that has tormented you, but put yourself in a position to greet the unknown as if you were bringing your best friend home, filled with simple, sincere joy; for what happens to you today may well be the necessary step towards the fulfilment of your destiny. The Stoics recommend that you fall in love with your destiny.

When you accept this God-given change as an inevitable part of life, you free yourself from preconceived ideals and unrealistic fantasies; you free yourself from fears and burdens that manifest in your body as resistance to change, and instead adopt an open, positive attitude that trusts in your own abilities.

You can't control what happens to you, some things depend on you, others don't, and change is permanent.