Happiness. Sadness. Love. Lust. Anger.
As humans, we all feel a broad spectrum of emotions. Our bodies love experiencing pleasure and loathe the idea of pain.
A majority of our life struggle isn’t composed of the external circumstances and the events happening around us. They are minor twitches in comparison to the life that’s churning inside us.
It’s the mark of a smart individual to recognize the importance of nurturing the inner life and learning to manage their emotions. That’s where Stoicism chips in.
An ancient Greek school of philosophy, it lists practical ways to thrive. A stoic cultivates mental resilience so that they can treat pleasure and pain equally.
In this article, let us look at four stoic principles that will help you prosper in life. They might seem unreasonable and surprising at first, but most cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is based on these principles. Needless to say that they work like a charm.
Here’s principle #1.
#1 Your Emotions and the Events Happening Around You Are Separate Entities
There are two modes of living: active and passive.
In the active approach, you consciously control your life. You take steps with an intended objective in mind.
But the hyper-connected world forces you to play the reaction game. The media and businesses at large infuse subtle emotional triggers that evoke responses from you.
It leads to an outburst of disgust/surprise. Occasionally, you make a more significant mistake—like purchasing something you don’t need.
Stoic doctrines call forth, separating your emotions from worldly events.
Let me elaborate using three specific cases.
- You get a raise at work and feel elated.
- You’re stuck in a traffic jam on your way to work and get frustrated.
- You lose a client, and that evokes a somber mood.
First, you need to acknowledge the event and your emotional response as separate entities. Then, you move on to the next step: accepting that you’re solely in control of your reactions.
You understand that an external event is neither good nor bad in itself. It’s your perception of it that creates your thoughts and feelings.
Once you’ve internalized the difference, you should beware not to let your mind delve into the reactionary state. Maybe, take a deep breath and journal how you feel about it. By the time you’re done writing, the feeling won’t retain its big stature.
#2 Premeditatio Malorum: Visualize the Worst
“Think positive and guard your mind against negativity.”
This advice has been tossed around to death in personal development circles. Because the Law of Attraction dictates universal powers to support your positive thoughts and plans.
See, the world isn’t a linear straight line. And you, my friend, are an emotional being.
Stoic literature addresses both of the above anomalies. You consciously visualize the worst and write down what could go wrong in your plan of action.
If you prepare optimistically, you’ll naively miss the loopholes in your plan. It’s not uncommon for optimistic people to overestimate their abilities.
So you realize that fear of failure is ultimately a fear: merely another emotion. Proceed to do an objective analysis of how you’ll tackle the possible obstacles along the way if you fail to execute your plan.
#3 Hupexhairesis: Let Go of Power
Setting a lofty goal like, “I’ll make a billion dollar empire,” makes little sense in today’s world. There’s no guarantee that it’s going to happen.
But today, our individualistic culture leads you to credit yourself for all your successes and blame yourself for the failures.
Practically, even when you put your best foot forward, there’s no guarantee that you’ll succeed in achieving your goals. There are a gazillion random factors besides your effort that determine your fate.
You’re only in control of committing sincerely to the process.
Since everything is ephemeral, a Stoic doesn’t get affected by success or failure. Stoicism calls for recognizing the role of external factors in the outcome.
It’s termed as “Hupexhairesis” or the “reserve clause.”
In the words of Marcus Aurelius:
“…we must abstain wholly from inordinate desire and shew avoidance in none of the things that are not in our control.”
Example—When you say ‘God Willing,’ then you recognize that the outcome of your action is not entirely in your control.
If you take the pressure off that comes from achieving a certain outcome, then you can focus on working your ass off. That’s the only aspect under your control anyway, aye?
Even if you fail, you’re mentally prepared because you swear by reserved action.
#4 Measure Yourself Against a Person You Admire
Okay, time to lift the veil off of another wise practice extensively promoted in personal development circles—whenever you feel down.
See, the comfort zone can make you a slave to complacency.
Inflated views of yourself and your ‘uniqueness’ aren’t serving you.
In the face of adversity, you can’t afford to fall back to a quick self-love break. Instead, live through the resistance.
Even if you shower excessive love and treat yourself with strawberries, you won’t turn pink.
Accept your urges and weaknesses. Don’t let emotions cloud your judgment.
The stoic way of doing it is by assuming a person you admire—for their values and beliefs—is watching you. When the going gets tough, you recall the ideologies and behaviors they live by.
Ask yourself, will they cave in under your situation?
That’s how you’ll gain fortitude.
Here is how Epicurus describes it:
“We need to set our affections on some good man and keep him constantly before our eyes, so that we may live as if he were watching us and do everything as if he saw what we were doing.”
You have to bother enough to improve yourself. Put in the work and remind yourself that your ‘ideal’ is observing you. It will save you a lot of misdeeds.
Personal development extensively promotes a feel-good culture. While self-love, positive thinking, and goals have a place, Stoic principles will cultivate mental resilience and facilitate you to thrive in today’s uncertain world.
Are you merely going to feel a rush from reading this article? Or do you plan to implement any of the principles in your life? Let me know in the comments.