Learnings from The Daily Stoic — 02–2017
I think “The Daily Stoic” is a great resource for our busy everyday-life. I read in it every morning to get my mind in the right setting. The following are my thoughts and learnings from February 2017; I hope you can find some value in them. If all they do is make in interested in the subject and pick up the book, then my mission is accomplished. See Part 1 here.
My road to a more peaceful mind
On the mistake of being angry
I gave up getting angry a long time ago. It is hard for me to become angry nowadays. I came to terms with the wisdom of the Stoics that the world outside of my head is not mine. My brain constructs my reality. Therefore I must be responsible for how I see things.
Marcus Aurelius gives great advice on that:
“When you lose your temper, or even feel irritated: that human life is very short. Before long all of us will be laid out side by side. That it’s not what they do that bothers us: that’s a problem for their minds, not ours. It’s our own misperceptions. Discard them. Be willing to give up thinking of this as a catastrophe…and your anger is gone. How do you do that? Be recognizing that you’ve suffered no disgrace.”
When you ask me that is our superpower!
Whether I agree or disagree with someone or something, I am making a decision in that very moment. Our power to make a fruitful decision will decrease during the day. Exercise, nutrition, sleep…all that has to be taken into account when we want to increase our decision-making process and willpower.
I found that there is a framework in place for us to make a better decision. In “The Daily Stoic” Holiday talks about the fact that we think we have to eat the cookie on the plate that is in front of us just because it is there.
I also find this to be tough because our level of awareness has to be spot on! I try to practice this by talking to myself. When I think I want some chocolate, I start telling me that this can’t be because I am hungry. If I were hungry, I would cook a meal. Is it appetite then? Very likely. Well, I don’t need it because desire comes from boredom or out of habit.
I try to discard these desires for anything I don’t need.
“When I see an anxious person, I ask myself, what do they want? For if a person didn’t want something outside of their own control, why would they be stricken by anxiety?” — Epictetus
This is another great Stoic exercise to practice every day:
“Why are my insides twisted into knots? Is my anxiety doing me any good?”
I can take control of my thoughts and feelings at any time all I need is to be aware of the situation that’s going on in my head.
“Choosing to be at peace, rather than at war,” said Seneca.
I am overloading myself with ideas and projects, and it takes multiple Trello boards just to keep track of them. I am choosing a big arena but am I standing in this arena for the right reasons?
Can’t I focus instead on the most important items on that list? Fight each battle after another and not at the same time?
“Be reasonable,” I have to tell myself more often.
“You don’t have to turn this into something. It doesn’t have to upset you. Things can’t shape our decision by themselves.” — Marcus Aurelius
It very interesting to me that we are the ones who turn a fly into an elephant. There might be endless reasons for doing that, but it all comes down to the ego. Am I afraid of something? Do past experiences play a role here? Is my mind adding something to this that doesn’t belong?
I am getting very good at this, and most of the time it happens so fast I don’t have the time to ask myself these questions. Whether that is right or not, I stay away from making things worse most of the time. I am still very new to the Stoic philosophy, so I allow myself time and room to practice. It is a good start, though.
“There is no more stupefying thing than anger, nothing more bent on its own strength. If successful, none more arrogant, it foiled, none more insane — since it’s not driven back by weariness even in defeat, when fortune removes its adversary it turns its teeth on itself.” — Seneca
What do I have to do then, when I feel angry?
Recognize why these emotions generate in the first place. Dissect the problem until you get to the bottom of it, then ask yourself what it is that you revealed. Is it fear? It often is. But now I know, and I can choose to react in a proper manner because it’s not about the other person or the principle anymore. I look at me first.
And here’s something to throw you completely off: “Every time you get upset, a little bit of life leaves the body.”
When I think about that, I get the chills. Every time!
Don’t you feel the same? You have an intense argument with your partner. The level of anger rises, and you can feel the tension in the room. Maybe you don’t speak to each other for a couple of hours. What happens during that time to you? Have you thought about this being fully aware? Doesn’t it devour you from the inside?!
I am pretty good at not getting angry anymore. Everybody has the initial reaction of resentment, frustration, and so on, but when I learned that this is a poison, and it is running through my body, I had to get rid of it.
Are you a Hero or Nero?
Nero was a cruel Roman emperor. Probably one of the cruelest who ever reigned Rome. He was also Seneca’s pupil and later sentenced him to exile and death by suicide.
In short: Nero’s personality was that of a tyrant.
Seneca asks us to decide what soul we want to embody:
“Our soul is sometimes a kind, and sometimes a tyrant. A king, by attending to what I honorable, protects the good health of the body in its care and gives it no base or sordid command. But an uncontrolled, desire-fueled, over-indulged soul is turned from a king into that most feared and detested thing — a tyrant.”
The way I treat myself and others, how I behave, what I say and do, everything comes from the one place the Stoics called the soul. Whether you believe in something like the soul or not, we have to admit that something inside us rules over us by directing (unconsciously) every move we make.
A couple of years ago I decided you believe in it and since then I feel like I can do something about the things that bother me by looking at what’s going on inside of me. I’d like to be a hero, very much so.
In the past pleasure and desire were what literally drove me to the supermarket and let me buy that delicious ice-cream. Deep down I knew it’s bad for my health, but I did it anyway.
The temptation was greater than my intelligence. Every time I heard my two brain-parts battling it out: reason would say I shouldn’t go for it while temptation bombarded every defense mechanism once built by the other side. It didn’t stand a chance.
Through the implementation of a solid framework consisting of Stoicism, paleo, and training I can resist that inner voice a lot better. In fact, I might have lined up an even stronger defense that before. Antifragility in practice.
Learning about how the pursuit of temptation, pleasure, and desire can do me more harm than good is what guides my thinking now. … At least most of the time. It’s still hard to always resist it, but the fact that I notice what’s happening in my head is what will get me there on a long enough timeline. It’s all practice!
Here’s a little nugget that will bring back you down to earth:
“It is the privilege of the gods to want nothing, and of godlike men to want little.” — Diogenes
“Remember to conduct yourself in life as if at a banquet. As something being passed around comes to you, reach out your hand and take a moderate helping. Does it pass you by? Don’t stop it. It hasn’t yet come? Don’t burn in desire for it, but wait until it arrives in front of you. Act this way with children, a spouse, toward position, with wealth — one day it will make you worthy of a banquet with the gods.” — Epictetus.
This is one the most powerful teachings I’ve come across so far.
I experienced some moments of “when the student is ready the master appears,” but I still need to build up more patience and awareness for opportunities. I am practicing gratitude and mindfulness daily, but there is still a long road ahead of me. It is my goal though to dine with the gods one day. (Whoever they might be)
“To accept it without arrogance, to let it go with indifference.” — Marcus Aurelius
Marcus is right of course because he learned that things outside his control are in fact indifferent to him. So, I had to learn this as well: There are no feedback loops with my feelings, the world does not care whether I feel miserable, wrongly treated, or hurt.
I wrote to myself on February 23rd, the day I read the lesson from The Daily Stoic:
“Consider all outside events. They won’t even notice your existence. So they won’t flinch when you get all emotional about them.
1. It is in my power to choose not to blame things you can’t control.
2. If you were to blame somebody, there wasn’t anybody else but you to blame.
3. You chose to react this way. Now realize is and
4. turn it around by looking for solutions inside yourself.”
Photo credit: Nils Huber, unsplash.com
You can find Part 1 here.
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