“Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.” – Rumi
“Why do *some* people get great results while others experience disappointment after disappointment? […] It’s actually something you can control. And when you realize this, it starts feeling like you’ve taken your destiny into your own hands.” – Jacob Sokol
“Some things are in our control, while others are not. We control our opinion, choice, desire, aversion, and, in a word, everything of our own doing. We don’t control our body, property, reputation, position, and, in a word, everything not of our own doing.” – Epictetus
When you take a shared-car service, do you tend to talk to the driver, or keep to yourself? For me, it depends on how I’m feeling and the general vibes coming from others in the vehicle.
Recently, the stars aligned to create a conversation that’s stuck with me. It started when the driver asked where I was coming from and what I did for a living. I told him I was on my way home from moderating a sales team management mastermind session, and that I worked with executives and other leaders to help them to overcome challenges and realize opportunities.
He started opening up, as many do, saying, “I would feel silly to have you in my car and not ask some questions.” I was in a good mood, and he seemed cheerful – even though we were stuck in traffic – so I tossed out a fun opener: “If I gave you a magic wand, with the power to fix or change one thing in your life, what would it be?”
For the next few minutes, he thought through several options out loud, dismissing some and seeming interested by others. He finally decided, with no prompting from me, that he would use the power of the wand on his mind: to resolve the wounds he’d picked up as a child, to gain greater self-confidence, and to have a better relationship with himself.
I’ve asked a fair amount of people that question, but his response is one of my favorites. And the best part is, as I told him: “That’s awesome, because you can do that, and you don’t even need a magic wand!”
Focus On What You Can Control
It’s easy to accept our lack of influence on the winning lottery numbers or the outcome of our favorite team’s big game, but it can be harder to remember that we can’t control how our work is received or how much love we get from others. Harder still is to keep those things that are outside of our control from affecting our emotions or our decisions. But we must if we are to be and to do all that we desire and are capable of.
One of the biggest lessons I learned from derivatives trading was that if I focused on things outside of my control – the direction of the market, unexpected changes, or frustration over past decisions – not only was the outcome less favorable, but so was my mood, experiences, and well-being. If, instead, I focused on what I could control – the decisions currently in front of me, along with my energy, attitude, and preparedness – I both felt better and achieved better outcomes. It’s a lesson that was also one of my biggest takeaways from publishing the first 100 posts on this site.
Fortunately, we only ever have one real thing to worry about. “A wise person knows what’s inside their circle of control and what is outside of it,” writes Ryan Holiday in the Daily Stoic.* “The good news is that it’s pretty easy to remember what is inside our control. According to the Stoics, the circle of control contains just one thing: YOUR MIND. […] While everyone else is running around with a list of responsibilities a mile long—things they’re not actually responsible for—you’ve got just that one-item list. You’ve got just one thing to manage: your choices, your will, your mind. So mind it.”
As Stoicism teaches, Holiday shares, and all of our experiences reinforce (if we’re honest), the only thing we have any control over is our mind. It’s the inner game, and while it’s not an easy game to master, once we start playing in that arena, everything else transforms.
For me, the inner game was behind almost everything that happened last year. It helped me gain greater self-confidence, self-worth, and self-love. It also created more clarity and tranquility, better relationships, a growing business, better health, and more fun.
*The Daily Stoic is my current mini-chapter-a-day source for inspiration. In years past, those books have included Leo Tolstoy’s Calendar of Wisdom and Mark Nepo’s Book of Awakening.
Mastering The Inner Game
One of the reasons I strive to provide practical and actionable takeaways in my writing is that knowledge doesn’t do any good unless we put it into practice. It’s one thing to know the importance of the inner game; it’s another to take steps to master our own.
My driver was excited at the idea of using a wand to solve his problems, but he doesn’t need magic to do so, and neither do we.
With that in mind, here are a few ways to get started. Any one of them is great, but together they build on each other, a case of one plus one equalling more than two. The last one can especially unlock a new level of transformation.
- Meditate. There’s a reason I’ve repeated this so often and am committed to helping support 5% of the world’s population in developing a mindfulness practice. It’s incredibly important. And ridiculously powerful. Still haven’t started? Tomorrow morning, set a timer for one minute, close your eyes, and try to focus on your breath. Better yet, do so now. Inhale for six, hold for two, exhale for seven, repeat four times. Increase the time as quickly as you want, but commit to not missing a day!
- Journal. When we allow the thoughts, words, and ideas that are bouncing around our heads to flow onto the page instead (or keyboard), we can see them for what they are. Like meditation, it’s more important to get started than to do any particular method. Pick up a copy of The Five Minute Journal, go morning pages style and free-form, or check-out this article for more tips.
- Surround yourself with support. As Jim Rohn famously quipped, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” And, as Scott Dinsmore added, “Environment. Is. Everything. The fastest way to do the things you don’t think can be done, is to hang around people already doing them.” If you want to make improvements in the one place that matters, start hanging around other people who are doing the same.
- Play The Inner Game Immersion. I went through this program early last year and am so excited that they’re opening up round two. Created by my great friend Jacob Sokol, it’s an incredibly powerful experience that I hope some of you get the opportunity to explore. For more info, including the near-death experience that inspired Jacob to combine over ten years of experience into one transformational program, head on over to Sensophy, here. (Update: the program is closed for 2017. Check back next year!)
What Are You Going To Do With The Power Of Your Mind?
“The single most important practice in Stoic philosophy is differentiating between what we can change and what we can’t. What we have influence over and what we do not. A flight is delayed because of weather—no amount of yelling at an airline representative will end a storm. No amount of wishing will make you taller or shorter or born in a different country. No matter how hard you try, you can’t make someone like you. And on top of that, time spent hurling yourself at these immovable objects is time not spent on the things we can change. We cannot undo the choices we have made or the hurt we have caused. But we can change the future—through the power we have in the present moment. As Epictetus said, we can control the choices we make right now. […] If we can focus on making clear what parts of our day are within our control and what parts are not, we will not only be happier, we will have a distinct advantage over other people who fail to realize they are fighting an unwinnable battle.” – after Ryan Holiday