Control v. Not Control
The Stoics foundational mind exercise is knowing what we control versus what we do not control.
Before attempting these Stoic mind exercises, it is best to have embarked on a serious meditation practice which allows us to direct thought with a much higher degree of competence than just trying to control the mind via sheer willpower.
The Stoic conclusion of control is that we have near zero control at first. We can simply begin to control our responses to life happenings. This feels like very little control at first because we generally are wanting/desirous of many outcomes.
Make a million dollars, meet the love of your life, 6 pack abs… We have less control of these happenings than we want to believe, near zero actually, AT FIRST.
Accepting this lack of control is step one.
Step two is Worst-Case-Scenario or Negative Thinking, a Stoic exercise that helps in taming our desirous minds. This is a Contrarian practice, I get it, probably not popular with your yoga teacher, but that also means it likely works so stick with me here.
It is also our contention that Acceptance-Of-What-Is meditation and Worst-Case-Scenario thinking comes BEFORE any positive thinking or directed thought, which we’ll get to another piece.
Worst-case-scenario thinking first asks what would happen if we do NOT get what we want ?
We think about this and eventually get to a point where we know we’d be okay without a million dollars or six pack abs.
Then it advances to thinking about all the things we fear, all the way up to and including death.
We then rehearse these things as if they really happened, and remarkably we also get to the point where we know we’d be okay, even with death. Everybody dies (smiley face emoji).
We may never get totally comfortable with our biggest fears and that’s okay. What we do begin to see clearly is that 90% of the stuff we worry about is total bullshit.
They just don’t matter.
If you’re struggling with these thought exercises, go spend some time in a hospice center, hospital or prison. Zen monks meditate in graveyards. These practices coupled with a consistent meditation practice and you’re gonna come to a very rational decision on your own.
That being you’re NOT GONNA STRESS over the bullshit.
And it’s all bullshit.
And AFTER all this, and yes, “all this” is actually more than enough personal evolution for many lifetimes…
After this, you’ll start compiling a morning list of 10–12 things you DO have control over that you’re gonna accomplish today. This will take a few minutes and is best to do after you’ve written your daily gratitude list.
First on the list are 3–4 layups, meaning you’d 90% be doing these items with or without writing them down.
The next 3–4 things are productive habits/actions that you’d do 50% of the time without writing them down.
The final 2–3 things (I’d stick with 2) are things you’d never fucking do unless you wrote them down.
And you still might not do them you pussy (smiley face crying emoji).
The HARD TRUTH is that ALL of the above are within your control, all
within your REASONED CHOICE. Real world (actual) examples are as follows:
First set (easy): These are already ingrained habits like morning meditation or the morning gym. They can be really simple like to moderate coffee intake or to respond to incoming opportunity (of course), or reminding yourself to laugh. Again, these are layups, easy stuff that you can use to build momentum.
The second set (moderate): These might be a second trip to the gym or an evening meditation, or proactive reach out for your business. They can be non-behaviors like not responding to bullshit questions or zero social media use. They can also be qualifiers like eating most wisely, or working hard at the gym. Still everything here is totally under your control.
The final set is the Resistance Set: No more than 3 per day. If you’re knocking off more than 3 of these you’re likely lying to yourself about your Resistance Set and need to go meditate some more (neutral face emoji).
For me today, this Resistance Set includes writing and practicing guitar, one of which I’m doing now, the other I’m resisting, but it’s early.
The point is I have total control of this list.
Notice there are NO outcomes nor goals listed above other than simply doing all of the above to the best of my ability.
90% compliance to the list is a Good Day. 100% compliance is a Great Day.
It’s totally up to me. All of it. My entire day is up to me.
So we started with accepting how little control we have over life, and now we end up being in control of our entire day. Life is made up of days, so you get the point.
How will you spend yours ?