When I see an anxious person, I ask myself, what do they want? For if a person wasn’t wanting something outside of their own control, why would they be stricken by anxiety?
—Epictetus, Discourses, 2.13.1
The anxious father, worried about his children. What does he want? A world that is always safe. A frenzied traveler—what does she want? For the weather to hold and for traffic to part so she can make her flight. A nervous investor? That the market will turn around and an investment will pay off.
All of these scenarios hold the same thing in common. As Epictetus says, it’s wanting something outside our control. Getting worked up, getting excited, nervously pacing—these intense, pained, and anxious moments show us at our most futile and servile. Staring at the clock, at the ticker, at the next checkout lane over, at the sky—it’s as if we all belong to a religious cult that believes the gods of fate will only give us what we want if we sacrifice our peace of mind.
Today, when you find yourself getting anxious, ask yourself: Why are my insides twisted into knots? Am I in control here or is my anxiety? And most important: Is my anxiety doing me any good?
* Source: The Daily Stoic by Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman