The Manual by Epictetus [Actionable Summary]

This is a comprehensive summary of the book The Manual: A Philosopher’s Guide to Life by Epictetus. Covering the key ideas and proposing practical ways for achieving what’s mentioned in the text. Written by book fanatic and online librarian Ivaylo Durmonski. Supporting Members get full access.

The Book In Three Or More Sentences:

The Manual: A Philosopher’s Guide to Life by Epictetus is one of the shortest and most famous books on Stoicism – it’s just 66 pages long. Yet, you are bombarded by life-changing ideas on every page that, if applied, can radically transform the way you live, make decisions, and handle your emotions. The book itself does not intents to give all the answers, rather, it aims to provoke thoughts about how to overcome life’s challenges.

The Core Idea:

To me, at its core, this ancient manuscript by Epictetus is all about the following two things: 1) Accepting the fact that some things fall outside your power; 2) Understanding that how you handle and react to those external events is all up to you and also crucial for your well-being.


  • Focus only on what’s within your reach and let go of everything you can’t control.
  • Train your mind to not be bothered by things outside of your control.
  • Be prepared to pay the price if you want to make a positive change in your life.

5 Key Lessons from The Manual:

Lesson #1: Outline What’s Within Your Power

According to Epictetus, all the misery of mankind comes from our inability to understand what is within our power and what is not.

When we relentlessly try to change things that we can’t fully control, we naturally fall into despair. In contrast, if we take the time to pinpoint the things we have no control over, we’ll live a lot better life.

Unfortunately, few people realize this. We’re constantly trying to bend reality and make it work for us. Instead of focusing on improving our work, skills, mentality – things we can control – we spend time trying to change stuff we have little control over – other people, outside events, nature, physical laws.

And when things don’t go as we anticipated, guess what happens? We feel betrayed and we blame others. Only if we could see things differently – understand that a lot of things are simply outside of our scope.

If we learn to approach our day to day tasks with clarity and have the right expectations, we’ll no longer feel bad when we didn’t win the lottery because we’ll know that this thing is outside of our control.

“Whenever distress or displeasure arises in your mind, remind yourself, “This is only my interpretation, not reality itself.” Then ask whether it falls within or outside your sphere of power. And, if it is beyond your power to control, let it go.” Epictetus

Lesson #2: You Are Responsible For Your State of Mind

How would you feel if, while driving to work, another driver hits you? No one is injured, but this unfortunate event is obviously making you late for work. Well? Most probably pissed, right?

But Epictetus will argue that not the event itself is the thing that disturbs you and makes you fanatically crazy. No! It’s your interpretation of the even.

Stoicism is all about accepting life as it is. To realize that there are things you can change and such that you can’t – as said above. Once the distinguishing is made, it’s up to you to train your mind to know the difference between the two. To act cool even when tragic events like the death of a loved one occur. This sounds brutal and emotionless, but what else can you do? After all, death is part of the journey and on a lot of occasions, there’s nothing we can do to prevent it.

And how do we reach this state of internal nirvana?

Start by observing your interpretations. Think about: “Why this is upsetting me so much?”

The problem is not the driver who forgot to hit the brake, it’s probably something else in your life that is making you feel unease with yourself and that accident simply unlocked it – cruel boss, a job you don’t like, teammates you don’t get along with, careless spouse. Once you figure it out, you can make the needed adjustments. Eventually, you will feel a lot better even if unexpected situations arise.

“People who are ignorant of philosophy blame others for their own misfortunes. Those who are beginning to learn philosophy blame themselves. Those who have mastered philosophy blame no one.” Epictetus

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