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.