Have you ever wondered what is the single most important factor that determines ALL your outcomes in life?
What’s the one thing that determines whether you’ll get to the end of your life happy and fulfilled OR unhappy and depressed?
What determines whether you’ll get to live where you want to live, drive the car that you want to drive, do what you want to do and when you want to do it?
What determines whether you’ll get to send your children to the greatest universities in the world OR no matter what it is that they qualified for, they can’t go, because you can’t afford it?
What’s the one thing that determines whether you’ll end up healthy, joyous, and prosperous OR unhealthy, broke and depressed?
What’s the one thing that determines whether you’ll get to donate to your favorite charities and have total freedom to travel the world whenever you want it OR have barely enough money to pay the bills and survive?
Do you know what’s this ONE thing?
Well, you’ll be surprised to learn that it is NOT luck, money, time, opportunities at work, the economy or your upbringing.
This one thing is represented by your…
Choices — The Control Factor to ALL Your Outcomes
The Greek Stoic philosopher Epictetus said:
Happiness and freedom begin with a clear understanding of one principle. Some things are within your control. And some things are not.
In Stoic philosophy, this is considered the cornerstone principle.
And in case you’re not familiar with Stoicism, this is an ancient philosophy that encourages us to live a virtuous life, in accordance with nature. Among the promoters of this philosophy were Seneca, Epictetus, and the great Roman Emperor – Marcus Aurelius.
As to which things are within our control and which things are not, Epictetus said:
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.
In simple terms, the only things that are within your control are your choices.
You can’t control the outside circumstances in your life. You can’t control the economy, you can’t control other people’s behavior, you can’t control the weather, you can’t control your future, or change the past; you can’t control your reputation, your upbringing, your genetics, your health, your life or your death.
Yes, you can influence them, but you cannot control them perfectly, because they are outside of your control, and focusing on these things will only end in disappointment, anger, and frustration.
The only things that are within your control are the choices you make in response to the circumstances and the events in your life.
E + R = O: The Formula for Success (and Failure)
E (Event) + R (Response) = O (Outcome).
This is such a fundamental concept, because the level of success, health, wealth, joy, happiness and fulfillment you’ll experience in life, is intrinsically linked to your understanding of this principle.
The fundamental idea is that it’s not what happens that determines how your life works out, because what happens is the same for everybody. It’s how you choose to respond to what happens that determines your future.
Let me explain…
Many of us make the mistake of blaming the event for our results in life or lack thereof. We believe the cause for our failure lies somewhere outside of us. But that’s not where success lies in. Success lies within you.
According to the formula mentioned above, if you want to change the outcome, you have to change your response to the events in your life until you get the outcome you want. Because ultimately, where you are right now is a result of how you chose to respond to an earlier event in your life.
Does that make sense?
For example, your health today is a result of the choices you’ve made up until this point.
Your bank account today is the result of the choices you’ve made up until this point.
Your relationship with your spouse, your level of happiness, your income, your well-being today – these are all a result of the choices you’ve made up until this point.
For a better understanding of this principle, let’s consider the following examples:
- She spent the first six years of her life living with her grandmother wearing dresses made out of potato sacks. After being sexually abused by two members of her family and a family friend, she ran away from home at age 13. At 14, her newborn child died shortly after he was born. She is the media mogul and richest woman in the world – Oprah Winfrey.
- He grew up on a farm in Oklahoma during the Great Depression. He worked slavish hours as a kid – milking cows, delivering papers, and selling magazine subscriptions to help his parents survive. He is Sam Walton, the founder of the billion dollar empire, Wal-Mart.
- After marrying a Portugal TV Journalist, she became pregnant, and gave birth to a daughter. But her marriage didn’t last long, and only after 13 months she divorced him and moved to Edinburgh, with her daughter. She was a single parent of a newborn baby living in a cramped apartment, penniless and she had no permanent work.She went through depression and admitted that she even considered suicide. More so, twelve of the best publishers turned down her book. She is J. K. Rowling, author of the “Harry Potter” series, who has since sold more than 450 million copies around the world.
And the list can go on and on.
What all these examples suggest is one important fact: The deciding factor in your success and happiness doesn’t lie in the external conditions or circumstances. It lies in how you choose to respond to them.
In other words, it’s not what happens; it’s what you do about it that matters.
It’s the same idea the notorious psychotherapist Viktor Frankl stated:
Between stimulus and response there’s a space. In that space lies our power to choose our response.
So if you’re not happy with any of your outcomes, change your responses. And as you do so, focus on the things you can control.
Don’t blame the economy. Don’t blame the weather. Don’t blame your past or your upbringing. Don’t blame the government, your spouse, your boss, your coworkers etc.
Yes, it’s true that these factors exist and they influence you, but that’s not the deciding factor in how your life works out. It’s what you do about it that determines your future. Remember that for the rest of your life.
You’re Not a Victim of Your Circumstances
Stop obsessing about regrets in your past or anxieties of your future. Let go of these thoughts. These are things you have no control over, and focusing on them is useless.
Focus on what’s within your control, and give up the results, because the right thing will happen. As Epictetus said, “Make the best of what is in your power, and take the rest as it naturally happens.”
Ultimately, you are the sum total of all the choices you’ve made up until now. Once you realize that, you can say “I choose otherwise.”
Life is a choice and every single waking moment offers you the opportunity to choose otherwise. Choose consciously and choose wisely, because your life depends on it.