One of the reasons that Stoic philosophy has had a comeback in recent years is because of the revolutionary effect it can have on your life to understand what you have control over and what you don't have control over. According to the countless Stoic quotes on control available, the recipe for a happy life involves correctly identifying what you have control over and focusing your energy there while learning to accept what you don't have the power to change.
The Greek philosopher Epictetus taught extensively about understanding what you have control over and accepting those things that are outside of your control.
Typically, people exist somewhere on a spectrum when it comes to their relationship to themselves and the rest of the world. Some people might try to have way too much control over things that are simply out of their hands. On the flip side, others might assume that they have no agency in the parts of life that they truly could take control of.
To help us tap into what the Stoics are talking about when they discuss the topic of control, we've compiled a giant list of quotes from our favorite Stoic philosophers and other thinkers, writers, athletes, and more.
What's in your control? As we'll learn from Epictetus, only a small handful of things. In his view, we have control over "whatever is of our own doing." Whatever is not of our own doing, however, is outside of our power.
"The chief task in life is simply this: to identify and separate matters so that I can say clearly to myself which are externals not under my control, and which have to do with the choices I actually control. Where then do I look for good and evil? Not to uncontrollable externals, but within myself to the choices that are my own…" – Epictetus
Here we have a succinct description of an essential part of Stoic philosophy. Distinguishing between what is in your control and what isn't in your control is the first step on the road to a virtuous and happy life, according to this school of thought.
“We should always be asking ourselves: “Is this something that is, or is not, in my control?” ― Epictetus
Mad about a traffic jam? Furious that you forgot to pay your credit card bill on time? Take a moment to think about whether the situation is within your control. If it is, fix it. If it isn't, find a way to accept it and perhaps how to avoid the negative outcome in the future.
"Some things are within our power, while others are not. Within our power are opinion, motivation, desire, aversion, and, in a word, whatever is of our own doing; not within our power are our body, our property, reputation, office, and, in a word, whatever is not of our own doing." ― Epictetus
Here Epictetus lets us know what exactly we're talking about when we talk about what is within our control. Basically, it's your mindset, your thoughts, and your actions. In his view, even your body and your property is not within your control.
"In our control is the most beautiful and important thing, the thing because of which even the god himself is happy— namely, the proper use of our impressions. We must concern ourselves absolutely with the things that are under our control and entrust the things not in our control to the universe." ― Musonius Rufus
Musonius Rufus chimes in to remind us that our concerns should be largely about the things that we can change. When something is out of your control, you must learn to have a faith in the workings of the universe, God, nature, or whatever term best fits your worldview.
"The content of your character is your choice. Day by day, what you choose, what you think and what you do is who you become." ― Heraclitus
Why is it important to understand what you have control over? Because when you do, you can control your mind and your actions. This is the recipe to becoming the person you want to be.
"Control what you can control. I can control my emotions, my attitude, my effort every day." – Mitchell Trubisky
The quarterback of the Pittsburgh Steelers has used his Stoic attitude to his advantage. On the field, a lot of things aren't in your control, but you can control what you bring to the table.
“While we may not be able to control all that happens to us, we can control what happens inside us.”― Benjamin Franklin
Ben Franklin is always a good fellow to turn to when you're looking for advice. You might not be able to control the weather or the stock market, but you can control how you react to them.
"You only have control over three things in your life – the thoughts you think, the images you visualize, and the actions your take.” ― Jack Canfield
If you take the time to dig into the world of self-improvement literature, you'll find that there are some pretty Stoic ideas in there.
“No one saves us but ourselves. No one can and no one may. We ourselves must walk the path.” ― Buddha
Do you find yourself blaming others for your problems or hoping someone will show up to save the day? Believe it or not, miraculous things can happen when you realize that you have control over your attitude, mindset, and actions, and not a whole lot else. Determining where your responsibility lies and where it doesn't can change (and save) your life.
“Success at anything will always come down to this: focus and effort. And we control both.” – Dwayne Johnson
The Rock is cooking up some seriously Stoic notions here. You can control where you put your attention and how hard you work at the things you focus on. He posits that, luckily, this is the path to success.
"You want to change your life? Control the only thing you can control: the meaning you give something." – Tony Robbins
Tony Robbins stops by with a new way of saying what Epictetus said thousands of years ago. Not only do you control your attitude, but you can choose the meaning you give to events that occur.
"Control the things you can control. As for the rest - God bless it all." – Chuck Palahniuk
Is the author of Fight Club a nihilist? If you ask us, he's sounding pretty Stoic here.
"You can control two things: your work ethic and your attitude about anything."― Ali Krieger
Why is it that so many athletes seem to have Stoic leanings? Whatever the answer is, it certainly seems that the notion of controlling what you can control has led many to great success.
"Really, at the end of the day, the only thing you can control is yourself; the only person you can truly educate is yourself. You have to redefine what beauty is to you so you can't be affected by what people are saying." ― Rupi Kaur
It's easy to walk around thinking about others, judging them, worrying about what they think about you, and so on. What if you turned your focus towards improving yourself and letting go of something that's out of your control-- your reputation?
"Life comes with many challenges. The ones that should not scare us are the ones we can take on and take control of." – Angelina Jolie
Rather than running from responsibility, we should leap at the opportunity to take control of what we can. If we continuously improve ourselves day by day, we'll find that we can have an increasing amount of trust in our ability to handle what the world throws at us.
A big part of Stoicism is taking control of your mindset. Let's see what Epictetus, Marcus Aurelius, and more have to say about taking the reins of your outlook.
“If a person gave away your body to some passer-by, you’d be furious. Yet you hand over your mind to anyone who comes along, so they may abuse you, leaving it disturbed and troubled — have you no shame in that?” ― Epictetus
Ain't it the truth? We let others get in our heads, define who we are, and ultimately leave us frazzled and confused. Take control of your mind-- it's one of the only things you do have control over according to Epictetus.
"You have power over your mind - not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength." ― Marcus Aurelius
This beautiful quote is worthy of hanging on your bedroom wall. If you can access the truth of this statement, you can feel a major shift in perspective nearly instantaneously.
"No person has the power to have everything they want, but it is in their power not to want what they don’t have, and to cheerfully put to good use what they do have." ― Seneca
When you realize what is in your control rather than worrying about things outside of your control, you're on the path to happiness, according to Seneca.
"Make the best use of what is in your power, and take the rest as it happens." ― Epictetus
It can be so hard to let go of things that are out of our control. There's a hair to split here: you don't want to feel defeated about "the rest," but it is good to learn to find a space of acceptance, order, and faith in the part of the universe that isn't you.
"There are two things a person should never be angry at, what they can help, and what they cannot." ― Plato
You shouldn't suppress your anger (or any emotions, for that matter,) but you can learn to realize that it isn't particularly useful. If you can fix a situation, don't be mad-- fix it. If you can't fix it, you will want to find a way to accept it.
"When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves." ― Viktor Frankl
Have you ever been in a situation that you didn't have any power to change? If you're human, then probably. When you run out of other people to blame, something beautiful happens. You realize you can change yourself.
"Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way." ― Viktor Frankl
Viktor Frankl knows a few things about what it means to have everything taken away from you. When you are truly in a situation where you have no control, you have access to the reality that no one can ever take your ability to control your own mindset.
“You learned to run from what you feel, and that's why you have nightmares. To deny is to invite madness. To accept is to control.” – Megan Chance
One thing that is a little dangerous about modern Stoicism is the idea that you simply shouldn't experience emotions, that you should be, well, stoic. Megan Chance describes here a way that you can be Stoic and still allow yourself to feel your emotions-- through finding acceptance.
“It is not he who reviles or strikes you who insults you, but your opinion that these things are insulting.” ― Epictetus
What if you didn't let other people's words, opinions, or even actions affect you? What if you could change your mindset and not allow them to impact you negatively?
"To enjoy good health, to bring true happiness to one's family, to bring peace to all, one must first discipline and control one's own mind. If a man can control his mind he can find the way to Enlightenment, and all wisdom and virtue will naturally come to him." ― Buddha
Just as the Stoics saw the path to eudaimonia was through understanding that you have control over your mindset, so does Buddha, in his own way.
“Take control of your consistent emotions and begin to consciously and deliberately reshape your daily experience of life.” ― Tony Robbins
It can be so tempting to blame the problems in our lives on other factors, whether it be our family, our finances, our politicians, etc. What if you took control of your mindset and changed what it felt like and what it consisted of to be alive?
We've talked about what's in our control, but what simply isn't? Let's see what the Stoics (and others) have to say on the topic.
"If you want your children and wife and friends to live forever, you’re a fool, because you’re wanting things that aren’t within your power to be within your power, and the things that aren’t your own to be your own." ― Epictetus
Maybe number one on the things that aren't in your control: death. It might sound harsh, but Epictetus isn't wrong here. If you refuse to accept that the people that you love will die, you have your sense of what is and isn't in your control all messed up.
“The Fates guide the person who accepts them and hinder the person who resists them.” ― Cleanthes
There is something so poetic about this line from Cleanthes. Have you ever felt like you were in tune with life and everything was chugging along swimmingly? And other times you felt like you were going against your gut and it seemed like the sky was totally falling?
"You cannot always control what goes on outside. But you can always control what goes on inside." ― Wayne Dyer
Things are happening outside of your mind, your body, your house, your neighborhood, and your country all the time. Heck, things are happening outside of your solar system all the time. Focusing your attention on where it has the most impact can be a game-changer.
"At the end of the day, you can't control the results; you can only control your effort level and your focus." – Ben Zobrist
Another Stoically minded athlete helps us remember that even the results of our actions are out of our control. But we have complete control over how much focus and effort we put towards the things we're working towards.
“If you focus on what you can’t control, you’re a little crazy inside, angry and depressed. If you focus most of the time on what you don’t have instead of what you do have, you’re going to be extremely unhappy.” – Tony Robbins
It's easy to drive yourself mad when you are concerning yourself with things you can't control. Experiment with shifting your focus, and you'll likely feel some incredible results.
“Don’t worry about what you can’t control. Our focus and energy needs to be on the things we can control. Attitude, effort, focus- these are the things we can control…” – Tim Tebow
Tim Tebow also seems to ascribe to a very Epictetian perspective, which appears to have one him numerous accolades including first-round NFL draft pick and two-time national champion.
"Your reputation is in the hands of others. That's what the reputation is. You can't control that. The only thing you can control is your character." – Wayne Dyer
This is one of the hardest things to swallow when it comes to the Stoic understanding of control. You are not in control of your reputation. No matter how hard you try, how good you are, or how kind you treat others, people are simply going to think what they think. So instead of doing what you think others think is good, maybe tap into yourself and determine what you think is good.
"You can't control how other people see you or think of you. But you have to be comfortable with that." – Helen Mirren
Overcoming a fixation on what other people think of you is one of the most powerful things you can do in your life.
"I’m not in control of my muse. My muse does all the work." – Ray Bradbury
Where does inspiration come from? Does it come from a one-hour block of time you make on your calendar? Do you ask it to show up and it does?
No, not really. So if you're keeping a list of things out of your control, maybe add your muse, too.
"You can't control the world, but when you control your thoughts, you bring order." – Bernie Siegel
Ah, chaos and order. The word these days does certainly seem pretty chaotic. However, you can bring order to your life by controlling your thoughts just as you can bring order to your house by cleaning your room.
"It’s only when caterpillarness is done that one becomes a butterfly. That again is part of this paradox. You cannot rip away caterpillarness. The whole trip occurs in an unfolding process of which we have no control." – Ram Dass
Ram Dass takes the question of control to a trippy place, but he's not wrong. We are all on a journey whether we like it or not. While we can control our thoughts and actions, there are a lot of things that contribute to who we become that are completely out of our power.
Why should the Stoic's view on control matter to you? Couldn't you just happily go about your life without ever thinking twice about what Epictetus or Marcus Aurelius thinks?
Well, not exactly, at least not according to the great Stoic philosophers. In their view, an absolutely essential ingredient in obtaining happiness is understanding what is and isn't in your control.
"There is only one way to happiness and that is to cease worrying about things which are beyond the power or our will." ― Epictetus
Are you happy with your life? It's a loaded question, but it's an important one. If you sit quietly with yourself and think about the ways that you are unhappy, you just might find that Epictetus is on to something here. If you can determine what is out of your control and stop worrying about those things, you might just find you have a lot more joy in your day-to-day life.
"Just keep in mind: the more we value things outside our control, the less control we have." ― Epictetus
Everything you do in life has an opportunity cost. If you go to the grocery store, that means you didn't file your taxes using that time. If you spend your bonus on a luxurious vacation, that means you can't use that money to fix your leaky roof.
Epictetus lets us in on a little secret here: if most of what you value are things that you don't have control over, you are removing control from the things you can control. You only have so much focus and attention. Consider pointing them in a direction where you can really affect real change in your life.
“The happiness of your life depends upon the quality of your thoughts.” ― Marcus Aurelius
Is happiness something that happens to you, or something you make? Marcus Aurelius is here to tell us, nobly as always, that you control how happy you are by controlling the quality of your thoughts.
When we think of control, it tends to conjure images that don't necessarily coincide with our notions of freedom. However, the Stoics argue that the more control you have over the things you can control, the freer you really are.
“No man is free who is not master of himself.” ― Epictetus
Epictetus knows a think about what it means to be free, having spent much of his early life as a slave. Being free isn't about not having any responsibilities, as a large segment of our culture might argue. Instead, it's about taking responsibility where you can and becoming the person you want to be through your thoughts and actions.
"Concern should drive us into action and not into a depression. No man is free who cannot control himself." ― Pythagoras
Worried about something? Instead of stewing about it, consider taking action.
“Freedom is the only worthy goal in life. It is won by disregarding things that lie beyond our control.” ― Epictetus
When we worry about things outside of our control, we are letting those things be our master. If you want to be free, you have to be able to make the distinction between the things that you have power over and the things that you don't.
“Freedom is control in your own life.” ― Willie Nelson
What if you felt like you had control over your mind, your actions, and your day? To Willie Nelson, that's what it means to be free. Whether he picked up some Stoic philosophy along the way or found that truth on his own, it's pretty hard to argue with.
"To enjoy freedom we have to control ourselves."― Virginia Woolf
You've probably known someone (or know someone who knew someone) that had every material thing in their lives handed to them on a silver platter. They don't have to worry about money, they don't seem to have to work, and their parents never once told them "no."
One would think that would be the definition of freedom. In reality, though, how happy and free did those people really seem? Typically, that's a recipe for all kinds of personality problems or other disastrous outcomes.
The paradox of freedom is that you need to have a good head on your shoulders in order to enjoy it. Otherwise, it will take control of your life, and you won't actually be free at all.
My fault, my failure, is not in the passions I have, but in my lack of control of them. Jack Kerouac
One of the important aspects of Stoic philosophy is the idea that philosophy should actually be applied to one's life. Rather than just being a fun logic puzzle, Stoicism is intended to be something that is actually useful in your day-to-day experience.
It can be easy to see philosophical quotes and think "oh, how nice." Maybe you even print them out and pin them on your bulletin board, but they don't actually impact how you think and act.
When it comes to these Stoic quotes on control, though, take a leap and consider what it would mean to really apply this to your life. The next time you're in a traffic jam and you're going to be late, you might wonder to yourself "am I in control of this?"
Maybe you left later than you should have knowing what you know about your city's rush hour. If that's the case, you've learned a valuable lesson that you can use in the future. It's simple: next time you'll leave earlier.
Or, maybe you left plenty of time to accommodate traffic and the delay was pretty much entirely unforeseeable.
In either case, getting angry and honking your horn isn't going to change the fact that you're idling on the interstate. If you can learn how to accept that you aren't in control of certain things, you can spend your time with a higher quality of thoughts and avoid the exhausting rage of pointless anger.
Maybe you actually realize while you're waiting in traffic that it doesn't matter that much if you're five minutes late to your meeting. Or, maybe you're able to appreciate some scenery out the window since you aren't hurling forward at 70 mph. These types of instances are an opportunity to check in with your thoughts and control your mindset. Over time, you might find that doing so helps you become the person you want to be.
Are you looking for more inspirational quotes to help you lead a happy, virtuous life? If so, check out StoicQuotes.com for an ever-expanding library of resources.