“When children stick their hand down a narrow goody jar they can’t get their full fist out and start crying. Drop a few treats and you will get it out! Curb your desire—don’t set your heart on so many things and you will get what you need.” — Epictetus, Discourses, 3.9.22
People desire a great number of things, but they often end up with nothing at all and then spend their lives complaining about it. If they'd just let go of some of their wants, they could focus on what really matters to them. The truth is that you can't have everything, but you can have a few things if you pay proper attention to them.
A majority of people are just busy being busy. In their daily lives, they start focusing their priceless focus and attention on trivial things, and as a result, get addicted to interruptions and distractions that keep them away from living exceptional lives.
Unfortunately, these modern times have made it incredibly easier for us to fall in the trap of chasing perfection. We constantly try to keep up with the Joneses and in the process keep our own priorities and happiness on the back burner.
It’s time we start practicing minimalism and close our escape routes so that we empower ourselves to get off the “busy” train and distance ourselves away from superfluous activities.
We must redirect our focus toward things that matter. If we look at all the great artists, scientists, entrepreneurs, and change-makers in our current world today, they have all built mechanisms that filter out any distractions and temptations in order to protect their essence and cognitive bandwidth.
Identify what you really want, not what you think you should want, and just go after it. There’s nothing selfish about pursuing things that make you truly happy, in fact, it’s one of the most selfless acts you’ll ever perform in your life.
Focus on quality, not quantity. The more things we try to accomplish, the more rushed and stressed we end up feeling. Instead, it’s best to focus on fewer things and do them exceptionally well. The key to living a superior life is to clean out all complexity and embrace simplicity.
Life is not too different from a cookie jar. It has its limits too. If you push yourself to take on or do too many things, there's a risk you won't achieve anything at all. It's important not to stretch yourself too thin or spend your valuable time on less important things that don't contribute to your overall well-being. These less significant things make your fist too big to pull out of the jar, and we often waste time holding onto them, believing there's a way to get everything out.
Therefore, the best strategy, as Epictetus instructs, is to “drop a few treats” and make do with less than what you were able to grab in the first place. Prioritize the treats that will genuinely improve your life, whether they relate to your work, leisure activities, or personal life, and leave the others behind in the jar. It's more beneficial to have a few cookies than to end up with none at all.
Here’s the thing: Our attention ends up defining what kind of life we live. It’s crucial that we focus all our energy on building a vision for ourselves and the ideal lifestyle we want to live. We have to be on our own team and we need to start working for ourselves.
We have to stop living according to society’s standards and get into unnecessary peer pressure. It’s up to us to educate ourselves and do a deep introspection about what brings true joy and value to our lives. We need to look ourselves in the mirror and ask ourselves some important questions. As we start addressing these questions and seeking their answers, a shift of paradigm will take place within us. We will start paying attention to constructing a life for us that reflects meaning, truth, and intentionality — a life that is worth living.