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Epictetus on How to Live and the Ability to Choose

Epictetus1

The Enchiridion (“The Manual”) is a short read on stoic advice for living. Epictetus’ practical precepts might change your life.

What’s in our control and what’s not

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.

Work, therefore to be able to say to every harsh appearance, “You are but an appearance, and not absolutely the thing you appear to be.” And then examine it by those rules which you have, and first, and chiefly, by this: whether it concerns the things which are in our own control, or those which are not; and, if it concerns anything not in our control, be prepared to say that it is nothing to you.

What disturbs us

Men are disturbed, not by things, but by the principles and notions which they form concerning things. … When therefore we are hindered, or disturbed, or grieved, let us never attribute it to others, but to ourselves; that is, to our own principles. An uninstructed person will lay the fault of his own bad condition upon others.

How to be happy

Don’t demand that things happen as you wish, but wish that they happen as they do happen, and you will go on well.

Epictetus, like Holocaust-survivor Viktor Frankl, believed in the fundamental ability to choose how you respond.

Sickness is a hindrance to the body, but not to your ability to choose, unless that is your choice. Lameness is a hindrance to the leg, but not to your ability to choose. Say this to yourself with regard to everything that happens, then you will see such obstacles as hindrances to something else, but not to yourself.

What to do when someone provokes you

Remember, that not he who gives ill language or a blow insults, but the principle which represents these things as insulting. When, therefore, anyone provokes you, be assured that it is your own opinion which provokes you.

If a person gave your body to any stranger he met on his way, you would certainly be angry. And do you feel no shame in handing over your own mind to be confused and mystified by anyone who happens to verbally attack you?

When you become familiar with something…

Like an ape, you mimic all you see, and one thing after another is sure to please you, but is out of favor as soon as it becomes familiar. For you have never entered upon anything considerately, nor after having viewed the whole matter on all sides, or made any scrutiny into it, but rashly, and with a cold inclination.

Silence is golden

Be for the most part silent, or speak merely what is necessary, and in few words.

When you hear of someone speaking ill of you

If anyone tells you that such a person speaks ill of you, don’t make excuses about what is said of you, but answer: “He does not know my other faults, else he would not have mentioned only these.”

On decision making:

Deliberate much before saying or doing anything, for you will not have the power of recalling what has been said or done.

On Speaking:

Attempt on every occasion to provide for nothing so much as that which is safe: for silence is safer than speaking. And omit speaking whatever is without sense and reason.

How to live free from sorrow:

If you wish to live a life free from sorrow, think of what is going to happen as if it had already happened.

Before deciding if someone is acting ill

… unless you perfectly understand the principle from which anyone acts, how should you know if he acts ill?

The Enchiridion is well worth a read.