To have whatever one wants is in no man’s power. But it is within one’s power to not want what one does not have. – Seneca
What does that mean?
This is an quote from a passage where the discussion is about waiting to eat something nice, but only having unappetizing bread.
Specifically, in the letter he mentions waiting until he was hungry enough to eat what he had, rather than wishing for better food. That’s where the first part of the quote, about not being able to get what you want, comes from.
But what of the stale bread? You might be thinking of a fancy roll, but if you can’t have one, don’t waste your time wanting what you can’t have. And when you’re hungry enough, the stale bread will begin to look good.
To me, that is what the quote is about. We can’t have much of we want. So what good does it do to keep wanting it? You can use it for motivation, to put forth effort to get it, but otherwise, let it go.
Why is self-discipline important?
To me, that is the primary point of this quote. It takes a little discipline to stop wanting something you wish you had, but cannot have. That’s the kind of discipline that a young child does not have, and often leads to temper tantrums. Sadly, sometimes adults do the same thing.
The principle of self-discipline is an old one. Lack of it has been seen to ruin people in some of our oldest stories. Whether the ancient Greeks or ancient Chinese, and all the other people of the world, lessons are taught through the embarrassment or punishment of people with no self-discipline.
Ancient and modern peoples recognize that some form of self-discipline is required for a society to function. And when self-discipline fails, there is always discipline available from outside forces. Whether it is the parents or the police, there will be a force for discipline.
Learning this skill early makes for a smoother life. However, we are all human, and we will fail from time to time. The question is what have you learned, and how will you change things so that you don’t keep doing the same thing. Self-discipline is what is required to make the change.
Where can I apply this in my life?
Nearly all of us need a little tune-up from time to time. Especially when chocolate is involved. I might not be able to get some right now, but I’m really craving some chocolate. I need to apply some self-discipline and remind myself that I can do that later, and after I work the calories off first.
Isn’t that the trick? Self-discipline tends to fail when you do the pleasurable first and put of the unpleasant until later. If you have to exercise off the calories first, the chocolate isn’t anywhere near as appealing. If you have to have the cash in hand (not plastic) before you buy the shiny new toy, the shine quickly fades.
We all have weaknesses, and we all have both triumphs and failures in our past. But what have we learned, and how have we changed in our attempt to not fail the same way again? It takes some self-discipline to consider what went wrong, to identify our weakness, or even plan how to improve things.
The big issue is actually doing something about it. That’s where the real test of our self-discipline comes. What do we do. Do we still want what is not available, or do we tell ourselves that we will get to that later, after we put together a plan and gather what we need to get what we want?
Take a moment and consider some of your more spectacular failures to control your desires. What did you learn from each experience? What did you do poorly? What could you have done better? What could you have done to avoid the situation?
Most importantly, what changes have you made to your life to help you not fall prey to that desire again? Take a few moments and consider these questions for each of several of your less successful attempts to not want what you didn’t, couldn’t, or shouldn’t have had. Take your time, I’ll wait.
Now turn it around and consider some of your better days, when you were quite successful in ignoring or not wanting what you didn’t, couldn’t, or shouldn’t have had. What did you learn from the experience? What did you do to help make it turn out so well? What can you do to help it happen again?
We are all human, and we fail from time to time. The question is whether we learn from those experiences. How do we apply the lessons we learn, and how do we improve our self-discipline? How do we implement our plans in a way which makes it easier to be successful next time?
It is your life, and it is up to you to determine how you will live it. Make it worthwhile and fun.
From: Twitter, @quotesofseneca
confirmed at : http://www.stoics.com/seneca_epistles_book_3.html#‘CXXIII1 near the end of the paragraph
Photo by Robert Neff