The Reserve Clause

If you’ve read my other article What’s the Worst that Could Happen? you may be starting to feel a little more able to cope with the life’s inevitable ups and downs. So why would you need a ‘reserve clause’?

So you’ve thought about the worst and you’re prepared. Great. But now that big challenge is looming. Should you optimistically say, “I’m going to win!”? Absolutely not…

The Stoic philosopher Epictetus called it hupexhairesis. But I think we’ll just stick with calling it a ‘reserve clause’ shall we?

When someone says, “God willing…” or “Fate permitting…” that’s a reserve clause. They’re acknowledging that at least part of the outcome is not under their control — and you know how the Stoics felt about control.

When you use a reserve clause, if things don’t work out, you don’t crater your self-esteem and give up on your goals. You know it’s not 100% in your control and therefore it can’t be 100% your fault.

This isn’t an excuse to be lazy. It’s recognizing that you have control over process, not outcome. Saying, “I am definitely going to get an A+ on that exam” is a lie. It’s outside your control. But saying, “I am going to study my ass off” is within your control.

And by focusing on what you can control, you also give yourself a plan of action. If you’re just Pollyanna optimistic about getting that A+, you can be lazy. By recognizing all you have power over is studying, then boom: you know what you need to do next.

If you think you can control outcomes, reality is eventually going to punch you in the face and let you know who’s boss. And that will make you angry with yourself or angry with the world. And you’ll want to give up.

Instead, focus on what you can control: process. Plain and simple, do all that you can. Fate permitting, you’ll do well. And if you don’t, then that wasn’t under your control. So don’t sweat it. In the words of the great Stoic, Seneca:

In short, the wise man looks to the purpose of all actions, not their consequences; beginnings are in our power but Fortune judges the outcome, and I do not grant her a verdict upon me.

 

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