“Remember that it’s not only the desire for wealth and position that debases and subjugates us, but also the desire for peace, leisure, travel, and learning. It doesn’t matter what the external thing is, the value we place on it subjugates us to another . . . where our heart is set, there our impediment lies.” — EPICTETUS
Surely, Epictetus isn’t saying that peace, leisure, travel, and learning are bad, is he? Thankfully, no. But ceaseless, ardent desire if not bad in and of itself is fraught with potential complications. What we desire makes us vulnerable. Whether it’s an opportunity to travel the world or to be the president or for five minutes of peace and quiet, when we pine for something, when we hope against hope, we set ourselves up for disappointment. Because fate can always intervene and then we’ll likely lose our self-control in response.
As Diogenes, the famous Cynic, once said, “It is the privilege of the gods to want nothing, and of godlike men to want little.” To want nothing makes one invincible because nothing lies outside your control. This doesn’t just go for not wanting the easy-to-criticize things like wealth or fame the kinds of folly that we see illustrated in some of our most classic plays and fables.
That green light that Gatsby strove for can represent seemingly good things too, like love or a noble cause. But it can wreck someone all the same. When it comes to your goals and the things you strive for, ask yourself: Am I in control of them or they in control of me?
Look at the Big Picture
Maintaining a sense of self-control in life has a lot to do with taking a step back and considering what will make you feel better in the long-run, instead of in the next five minutes. In a financial sense, giving yourself that critical space between stimulus and response has been dubbed “the 72-hour rule,” which simply means waiting a full three days before deciding to purchase something. But according to Roy F. Baumeister, author of Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength, the same rules apply to daily life. “People who tell themselves, ‘not now, but later,’ are generally less tormented by the temptation of something they are trying to avoid,” writes Baumeister.3 Keep this in mind when enjoying your weekend downtime — while we’re all about relaxing and living in the moment, you’ll thank yourself for thinking long-term come Monday morning.
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