More Accomplishment, Less Worry: Follow the Epictetus Square

Epictetus was a Greco-Roman moralist who shared practical advice and wisdom with his countrymen.  Once a slave, Epictetus was freed and then went on to influence his followers, who captured his teachings and passed them down to us. One piece of wisdom that comes to us in the Enchiridion (here), is the following:

Some things are in our control and others not. Things in our control are opinion, pursuit, desire, aversion, and, in a word, whatever are our own actions. Things not in our control are body, property, reputation, command, and, in one word, whatever are not our own actions. 

We can visualize this advice and take it a step further on what I’ve called the Epictetus Square in the poster. On the y-axis, we have activities and whether we control them or not, and on the x-axis we have our internal state of mind and whether we are concerned with the particular activity or not.

In the West, a particular quadrant of concern is the quadrant of accomplishment.  In this quadrant, we can control an outcome, we do, and we achieve something we desire.  A lot of self help is focused here.

In the East, a particular quadrant of concern is the quadrant of peace of mind. With activities we cannot control, we are not concerned with them, and we achieve a peaceful inner state.  Buddhist notions of attachment as the root of all suffering are relevant to this quadrant.

The other two quadrants arise when there is a mismatch between the degree of control we can exercise effectively in a particular situation and whether or not we exercise concern for that activity.  In the upper left quadrant, we could have controlled events and don’t .  In other words, we forego an opportunity, which may lead to regret.  In the lower right quadrant we do not have control over events but exercise concern for them nonetheless.  In other words, we suffer needless worry, which may lead to wasting energy that might have been better spent in the upper right quadrant.

Good coaching helps clients focus toward the upper right and lower left and away from the other two quadrants.  Write to deg@threejoy.com to learn more on how this is accomplished.