I’d like to share a metaphor with you today. Metaphors describe something by creating an image in the mind, and are such an effective way of explaining ideas that I routinely jot down any that may prove helpful to my coaching clients.
The metaphor of the stoic archer is about focusing on what you can control.
(and, by default, NOT focusing on what you can’t control! Which leads down a rabbit hole of frustration, disappointment, and anxiety).
Imagine that you are the archer, and life is the target. The archer represents your thoughts, emotions, and actions, while the target symbolizes the circumstances and events you encounter in life.
The archer does everything they can to shoot accurately. They control how well they string the bow, how carefully they calibrate the arrows, how much they practice, and they take into account the wind and other variables.
But… the archer doesn’t control where the arrow ultimately lands.
They can optimize everything up until the arrow is released. Even so, the arrow may not hit the bullseye, or even the target. Once released, the arrow is no longer within the control of the archer, but subject to outside forces such as a sudden change in wind speed or direction.
Since success is ultimately subject to unpredictable and uncontrollable external factors, the stoic archer bases their self-worth and happiness not on the success of their actions but on their correctness.
So, what can we learn from this?
1. Focus on what you can control. Don’t waste your energy on external factors beyond your influence, such as other people’s actions or unexpected events. By directing your attention to your thoughts, choices, and responses, you gain a sense of agency and reduce anxiety caused by things you cannot change.
2. Accept external outcomes. Once the archer releases the arrow, its trajectory is beyond their control. Similarly, in life, you cannot control every outcome or circumstance, but you can control how you respond to them. Acceptance that external events are often beyond your influence cultivates a mindset that enables you to focus on your efforts and attitude, rather than becoming consumed by outcomes that are out of your hands.
3. Practice discipline and deliberate action: The archer must practice discipline to improve their aim and skill. Likewise, by setting goals, making consistent efforts, and practicing self-discipline, you will experience personal growth and a greater sense of control in life. Being proactive is empowering.
4. Embrace setbacks as opportunities: In archery, even the best archers miss their targets. View setbacks and failures as learning opportunities. Embrace a growth mindset. Use setbacks to refine your approach, learn lessons, and improve your future aim.
Next time you are stuck in a rut and find yourself focusing on what you can’t control, think of this metaphor. If you do your best, you will not fret over the outcome.
For example, seek to be lovable, not to be loved, because the one is within our control whereas the other is not. Seek to write well, not to become a bestselling author, because the one is within our control whereas the other is not.
Focus on the things within your control, and you will be calm and happy.
Be the stoic archer!