2 Things You Need to Get Good At In Turbulent Times (Lessons From Ancient Philosophers)
A good relationship with uncertainty has never been more important for your mental health
In our current exhausting, challenging and chaotic world, people are looking for the best ways to cope or thrive.
In our chaotic world, ancient philosophers have a lot to offer.
What’s the best way to live? How can I stay calm in turbulent times? What should I do to build resilience? How should I manage my emotions?
The answers to these important questions and more lie at the heart of ancient wisdom. What was the secret weapon of history’s great figures?
Ancient philosophy is not an abstract theory, but practical wisdom that resonates century after century.
Instead of panicking when times are hard, we can turn to Socrates, Seneca, Marcus Aurelius, Epictetus, Aristotle, Plato, Kant, Confucius, Nietzsche and more for answers.
Ancient wisdom can give us a better worldview about life and living it in our uncertain world. It’s a tool that can help you handle life in a broad sense no matter the obstacles.
Today is the most valuable day of your life: seize it and live immediately
“The greatest obstacle to living is expectancy, which hangs upon tomorrow, and loses today,” Seneca, a Roman Stoic philosopher said that.
Life is a mental and emotional burden if you spend all your time worrying about the unpredictable future or spend every moment preparing for the life you want tomorrow.
In his the popular book, On The Shortness Of Life (a 2,000-year-old masterpiece), Seneca, wrote:
“It is not that we have a short time to live, but that we waste a lot of it. Life is long enough, and a sufficiently generous amount has been given to us for the highest achievements if it were all well invested. But when it is wasted in heedless luxury and spent on no good activity, we are forced at last by death’s final constraint to realize that it has passed away before we knew it was passing. So it is: we are not given a short life but we make it short, and we are not ill-supplied but wasteful of it… Life is long if you know how to use it.”
Seneca argues that we shackle ourselves to our labours and professions and waste away the little time we have on earth. Every second that ticks by is a beat of your heart that you won’t get back. Think about that for a second.
In Meditations, Marcus Aurelius admonishes himself to not put off until tomorrow what he can do today.
“When you arise in the morning think of what a privilege it is to be alive, to think, to enjoy, to love …” he writes.
Life is about not knowing but still seizing the moment and making the best of it. Today, right now is the most valuable day in your life, do everything in your power to enjoy it. “The first rule is to keep an untroubled spirit,” says Aurelius.
“The greatest obstacle to living is expectancy, which hangs upon tomorrow and loses today. The whole future lies in uncertainty: live immediately,” says Seneca.
Don’t lose yourself to your thoughts on what’s next or worry about what’s happening elsewhere. Invest in the present, be proactive about what you can do tomorrow and the future will take care of itself.
The capacity to remain calm in difficult times is a psychological superpower
Socrates said, “Your mind is your predicament. It wants to be free of change. Free of pain, free of the obligations of life and death. But change is law and no amount of pretending will alter that reality.”
He also said, “We cannot live better than in seeking to become better.”
Change is a natural law — no one can stop the evolution of life. Everything around is changing. You are changing. And that change comes with some level of uncertainty, which your brain doesn’t like.
The only thing you can do about the unpredictability about the future is to develop a better relationship with uncertainty.
You can rise above challenges by shifting your perspective — change your mindset about what uncertainty can and cannot do to you.
To build a better mindset about uncertainty, evaluate what you’re consuming or what you give your energy to, and take a mental inventory. Begin to focus more on what brings you joy.
Epictetus, a Greek philosopher and an exponent of Stoicism (a form of psychological discipline) was right when he said:
“People are not disturbed by things, but by the views they take of them,”
A great relationship with uncertainty has never been more important, for we live in unusually challenging times right now.
An honest confrontation with our uncertainty as a race can prepare you for tomorrow, and make you wise enough to know the limits of our wisdom.
“If you are pained by any external thing, it is not this thing that disturbs you, but your own judgment about it. And it is in your power to wipe out this judgment now,” says Marcus Aurelius, a Roman emperor and a Stoic philosopher.
Marcus Aurelius also said, “Never let the future disturb you. You will meet it, if you have to, with the same weapons of reason which today arm you against the present.”
Nobody knows how things will turn out, but people who’ve learned to thrive despite the challenges of life still go ahead and play the game.
The less you seek constant clarity about the future you can’t control, the more you will find that amazing things start to show up in your life.
Much of human pain and suffering arises from attempting to control what is not in our control. The ancient Greeks and Roman Stoics understood this.
The future is always uncertain; it’s just that we’re currently very aware of it.
We want to know, today, right now, that things will be okay tomorrow. But the future has no guarantees for anyone.
If you are anxiously waiting every day see if things work out as you hoped, you will miss out on the many blessing of today — the joy of living immediately.
What you can do is to control what’s within your power and make the most it.
“You have power over your mind — not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength, “ say Marcus Aurelius.
Life is full of uncertainties, not just a pandemic. While many things remain outside your control, your mindset is key to coping when times are hard and difficult.
The basic idea of focusing on the actions and experiences within your control has been around for a while.
Epictetus, recommends that we continually divide our moment-to-moment concerns into parts: the things you can control, and the things you can’t.
You don’t have control over global events, but you can control your immediate environment, your physical exercise, your routines, your habits and behaviours that can prepare you to thrive despite what you see and hear. When everything feels so out of control, a structured routine can keep you in sync.
“Conquer yourself rather than the world,” says René Descartes, a French philosopher.
There will be challenges tomorrow and uncertainty is non-negotiable — it’s how you deal with it that matters. Happiness and the emotional strength to survive turbulent times doesn’t come from learning how to control everything, but from learning how not to.