“It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.” 
― Epictetus

Say you are a graduate student, you’ve just come out of the hardest test you’ve done in your entire life. You are sure you are going to fail the exam for the simple reason that the night before you were not able to sleep due to your roommates having a big party which was so loud you couldn’t close your eyes in the entire night.

Now that you’ve come out of the exam you are ready to get home and release your mighty fury on your hungover roommates. As you get into the car you curse and curse and curse the other drivers and yourself and everything.

Then your phone starts ringing. It’s your professor.

Naturally, your answer with your best voice. -Hello Professor!

He goes on and tells you that your exam was a success, he just wanted to let you know.

What? Success? Oh great, well, thanks a lot professor.

Now, where did your anger go? It suddenly vanished away.

You are no longer angry, but you feel quite good about yourself actually, in fact, you might as well buy some beers for your roommate’s hangover!

What just happened here?

I’m sure it has happened to you sometime before. We can change our ways really quick when we need to do so, but, why do we only do it when it’s needed, and not whenever we wish? Cannot we do it whenever we want to? Just change our stance towards life and basically everything?

The answer is a blatant and obvious yes. You know this is true because you’ve experienced it before.

Why aren’t we always using that power? The power to have a cool head, to feel good or whatever?

A cool head and reason

The reason you let everything affect you is because you think that your old familiar ways of acting will get you what you want.

You are always choosing how to act and how to respond to any situation.

Another example.

You are driving through a rush hour in Mexico City’s traffic. You are mad, it’s been three hours since you left work and its now 11 pm. You are still stuck in traffic. Lights turn green, you start moving forward and Bang! A reckless asshole passed the red light and crashed straight into your car. Luckily you are good but now you have to call the insurance and spend at least three more hours stuck in there. You are furious and so you yell at him.

Then you might tell me, but it’s obvious that I’m going to yell at him! He is an asshole!

True, but think about this for a second. Would you say that due to you being angry, it’s just as obvious that you are going to stab him. I mean you were angry and you couldn’t help it!

That’s too extreme! you might say, but no, if we follow the same line of logic, it is basically the same thing. It’s just a matter of degree.

Same is true with everything, you are always choosing how to react and how to respond to anything in your life all the time. You might just no be aware of it.

But what happens when you are aware?

Etiology and Teleology

Everyone operates in one of these two:

Etiology.– the investigation or attribution of the cause or reason for something.

I yelled because he crashed into my car.

That’s etiology, simply put. Everything you do is because of something, you are not really the cause of anything but rather the effect. You can blame your parents or your upbringing or whatever.

Teleology .- the explanation of phenomena in terms of the purpose they serve rather than of the cause by which they arise.

I yelled at him, but I didn’t stab him, of course, I can control myself that’s why I did not.

Simply put, that’s teleology, your capacity to decide how to respond to any given situation.

Stoicism is a teleological philosophy.

The problem is that you can live in either of these two realities, on your own choosing, the difference is the personal power that differentiates teleology from etiology of course.

Becoming aware

Becoming aware of this simple truth is that you are always choosing and you always have the capacity to do so.

The past does not really matter in the decisions you are taking right now. It’s on you if you keep letting the past make decisions for yourself in every moment.

In the past, you’ve lived your life in certain ways. Some things worked and some others simply not. When you do anything enough times, they become habitual and familiar and that is why you keep being the way you are, unconsciously, you are doing it because you are thinking it is good for you. But is it? Is it good to continue driving a beat up car just because you are too familiar with it?

Where in your life are you hanging to the past? Are you able to make a simple choice to be/do act however you want right now?

Try it now, just make a choice on anything. It’s your choice, it’s always been.

Want to read some more: Humility

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