Imagine going for a pleasant walk in the countryside, when suddenly it starts raining – just a drizzle at first, but then a heavy downpour. Perhaps you start walking faster to get back to the car. Perhaps you were clever enough to bring an umbrella, and you get it out. Perhaps you start shouting at the sky as loudly as possibly to stop raining and to stop it right now.
You can do anything you like. None of it will make the slightest bit of difference to what the rain decides it’s going to do.
What is power?
According to Robert Greene, power is the ability to shape circumstances to your will – to wield influence over yourself, over others, and over events. We feel powerful to the degree we feel able to do this, and powerless to the degree we feel unable to.
The feeling of being powerless, as Greene explains in the introduction to “The 48 Laws of Power”, is generally unbearable – we cannot stand it. Under the influence of such an unpleasant feeling, we inevitably look for something that will give us the pleasing feeling of having power. And we generally find something.
The problem is that we, as a species, have an almost comically terrible grasp over what is and what isn’t susceptible to our charms. We vastly overestimate the amount of things we can directly control – most things are utterly impervious to our influence. And each time we misjudge our ability to control something, we feel a little bit more powerless.
Whilst attempting to control things that we cannot might not make a difference to the thing itself – like in the case of the rain – it does makes a difference to us, sometimes massively so.
Wasting your time is not a neutral activity
You only have a limited amount of time left on this Earth, and this time can either be directed towards things that are open to your influence, or towards things that are not.
Directing them towards things that are not might seem innocent and entirely neutral – sure, you might not be changing the thing you’re trying to change, but you’re not doing anything harm either, right?
Wrong. Because every second used on what you can’t control is a second you now can’t spend on something you can. And you don’t have an unlimited supply of seconds.
Expand your power by exercising it
As I said earlier, the more time you spend attempting to influence things that were never open to your influence in the first place, the more powerless you feel. But fortunately, the reverse is also true.
The list of things you have the potential to control might be short, but it’s exactly as long as it needs to be – long enough that at any given moment you can shamelessly give yourself to something worthy of your attention without worrying about what you’re not giving your attention to. It wouldn’t have made a difference anyway!
And when you do this, something wonderful happens – the list grows. When you use your power to go to work on the things that are open to your influence, your power expands, and suddenly more and more things are open to your influence.
Don’t waste another second on things you can’t do anything about anyway – there are more than enough things you can do something about to keep you busy for the rest of your life. And it’ll be a much happier life, too.