How can I set realistic goals?

Tamarac, Florida
© Dave DuBay.

Have you ever tried to accomplish something, only to get totally depressed when it all falls to shit?

What’s a fella to do? Most of us want to grow as individuals, but we need a plan.

And Epictetus has one.

Life is like a banquet

A onetime slave turned Stoic philosopher, Epictetus said life is like a banquet:

  • If something you want is offered to you, accept it—but don’t be greedy.
  • If it isn’t offered, then let it go.
  • If you don’t want it, then decline it.

But what if you really, really want it and don’t get it?

Circumstances are not up to you, Epictetus would reply, but your choices are. Or as Mick Jagger put it, “you can’t always get what you want.”

Gimme three steps, mister

Epictetus put forward a three-point plan:

  • The first step is to be honest about what we truly desire, and what we wish to avoid. Otherwise, we’ll go about things in a backhanded way and end up where we don’t want to be.
  • The second step is to understand what’s up to us and what’s not up to us. Wanting things that aren’t up to us leads to misery. Sometimes we just need to let go.
  • The third step is mindfulness—take note of moments when we’re not at our best and what lead to it. Then we can be on guard in the future.

A clear action plan follows from this:

  • Make a list of what you want.
    • If it’s up to you (your deliberate choices), then go for it. But be realistic. If you know you won’t go to the gym three times a week, then set a more achievable goal like going for a walk once a week. Then work your way up.
    • If it’s not up to you (like a job promotion), then focus on what you can do (like working harder), but…
  • Stay detached—”God willin’ and the creek don’t rise.” Or, “amor fati,” if you’re into the Latin thing. You’ll be okay if it doesn’t come your way.
  • Record your daily progress. You could even tell friends and family about your goals, and update them on your status. But remember that success isn’t guaranteed.

Published by Dave DuBay

Dave is a Florida man. He blogs at He's also at

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