What is Up To Us

May 11, 2017

Categories: Stoicism

One of the key tenets in Stoic philosophy involves the following phrase: “ta eph’hemin, ta ouk eph’hemin,” which translates to “what is up to us, what is not up to us.”

The Stoics thought this was a key distinction, and the idea is often repeated in the writings of Epictetus, Seneca, and Marcus Aurelius.

I try to remember this mantra every day when I wake up in the morning. What is up to me? What is not up to me?

The Stoics had a pretty limited view of what was up to us: our own thoughts and actions. Everything else—the thoughts and actions of other people (even those closest to us), as well as the outside events that happen in our lives—is not up to us. A lot of things that people worry about—for example, what happens to our physical body, or even death—these things are not up to us.

The Stoics advocated for a sole focus on the things that were up to us. These are the only things we should be spending our time thinking about and trying to change. Thinking and worrying about things that are not up to us is a waste of precious time and energy.

Think and reflect on your own life. Maybe even conduct an experiment. Throughout your day, keep track of your thoughts and actions. Jot down what you are thinking about and doing in a notebook every hour. Then make a note about whether your thought/action is something that is up to you or not. Also note how you are feeling at the time.

You will find that the more time you spend in your own business—thinking about things that are under your control—the more effective and peaceful you will feel. However, the more time you spend on things that are not up to you—for example, worrying about your spouse, kids, co-workers, a diagnosis, whether a tornado might come through your town, etc.—the more bogged down and anxious you will feel.

The choice is yours every day. What is up to us, what is not up to us.

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13 Comments

  1. Hanson May 16, 2017 at 12:28 am - Reply

    Thanks!

  2. On Loan - Joshua Hook June 29, 2017 at 9:28 am - Reply

    […] Stoic philosopher Epictetus talked a lot about the importance of differentiating between what was inside of our control, and what was outside of our control. He had a very limited view of what was inside of our control—basically our thoughts, feelings, […]

  3. Robert July 26, 2017 at 10:44 am - Reply

    This is great stuff! Thanks.

  4. Jonas Salzgeber July 31, 2017 at 5:27 am - Reply

    Amen! Great read.

  5. […] Stoics had something to say about this issue. Epictetus, who was born a slave and ended up being one of […]

  6. […] between what is inside your control and what is outside your control. This first point is critical. If you accept things that you actually have the power to change, you […]

  7. […] you can’t control the outcome. A lot of times in life, the outcome is outside your control. I might write a great paper, but it still gets rejected. I might train hard, but still not achieve […]

  8. […] is not in his control. So, he gives it up to God. “Yet not what I will, but what you will.” There are many things in our life that are outside our control. So, after you have prayed, surrounded yourself with community, and honestly communicated what you […]

  9. […] try everything you can to improve your relationships, and your spouse may still ask for a divorce. We can’t control the outcome of every situation, but we can always do our […]

  10. […] Sure. But that isn’t my reality right now. Sometimes things happen in our lives that are outside our control. When this happens, we can complain and mope around, but it doesn’t usually do us any good. […]

  11. […] don’t understand the powerful effect of framing, or how we think about the events in our lives. We have little control over external circumstances, but we have almost complete control over how we think about or understand those […]

  12. Go For the Win - Joshua Hook April 27, 2020 at 8:16 am - Reply

    […] life, there are so many things we can’t control. So many things aren’t fair. Prefontaine and his team had what seemed like a great race strategy. […]

  13. […] In general, it’s best to hold on to the things and people in your life with an open hand. Enjoy the blessings you are given, but recognize that both things and people come and go. Don’t sabotage your happiness by holding too tightly to things you can’t control. […]

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