You have power over your mind – not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.
-Marcus Aurelius, Emperor of Rome CE 161-180
Hey, there it’s been a while.
In the past few weeks, I’ve been doing a lot of learning and reading. I stumbled across and old topic that I picked up and set down years ago. Upon turning the pages, I found a fire inside of me that has been missing for quite some time. I’m going to share some of the flames of Stoic philosophy with you.
A brief introduction to Stoicism
Stoic philosophy is an operating system for maximizing life. Engineered by the ancient Greeks and Romans, Stoicism is a practice of controlling one’s emotions and appetites in order to be an effective human being. Stoicism is a practice embraced by Roman Emperors like Marcus Aurelius, entrepreneurs like John D. Rockefeller, and Thomas Edison, political powerhouses like Theodore Roosevelt and Winston Churchill, plus modern thought-leaders like Tim Ferriss and Tai Lopez.
Stoicism is not a philosophy to be thought upon from an ivory tower. It’s a philosophy that’s meant to be lived. None of the great Greco-Roman stoics purposefully left writings for us. Instead, the words of Epictetus were recited in lectures, and written down in notes by an unnamed pupil. Seneca’s lasting wisdom existed in the form of letters of advice, which were later found and published. Marcus Aurelius’ maxims live only through a personal journal he kept, reminding himself to be a person of character and logic.
Here’s a nugget of stoic thought.
The two bad things that can happen to you
There are only two bad things that can ever happen to you:
- Something bad that you can’t control the outcome of.
- Something bad that you can control the outcome of.
Isn’t it great to know that there are only two things that can ever happen to you in life? Sure they take on different flavors: death, financial loss, changes in health. However in each case, these challenges fall into one of two categories: the impressionable and the not.
Our reactions, especially our emotional reactions, to each of these scenarios is majorly important in our success or failure in life.
Out of our reach
If you can’t control the outcome of an obstacle, check again. More often than not, we mistakenly label something as impossible or defeating when it is indeed possible. We simply believe that we don’t have the skills or energy to battle the problem.
If you truly cannot change a situation, then a critical concept comes into play. While we cannot dictate our external environment, we as humans are gifted with the ability to choose our internal environment. We have control over our perceptions, our emotions, and our thoughts that can be strengthened and honed with time.
If something is out of your reach, beyond your control, and is just “happening” to you, enlist the following strategies to emerge victorious.
- Ask yourself, how can I benefit from this? How can I make this tribulation into an unfair advantage for myself? We are quick to assume that we are crushed by our circumstances, however we are only truly devastated if we allow ourselves to be. It’s not about being blindly optimistic–some things do suck. It’s about seeing the opportunity where others fail to.
- Put worry aside. If you cannot control the result of a situation , then dwelling on it serves no good. It doesn’t make sense to waste mental resources and a peaceful state of mind on something that is out of your reach. You will only prove to mentally exhaust yourself, riddling your body with anxiety and ensnaring your mind with negativity.
- Maintain your honor. “Keep your head up” sounds like a total cliche, but when everything in life is taken from you, your pride is the last thing you have left. Whether you realize it or not, you choose to be defeated. You choose to let something overcome you. You choose to be devastated and demoralized by events out of your control.
Within our grasp
If an obstacle is in our realm of control, it is our duty to put to work.
Here are the strategies for those obstacles which are in your control.
- Reverse-engineer the worst-case scenario. What would the worst possible outcome look like? In our modern world, very seldom do our consequences actually spell out long-term consequences. We might lose money, but not our lives. We might fall from our pedestals, but we won’t starve. By imagining our worst-case scenario, we often find that failing isn’t that bad. The fear that is holding us back from trying dissolves away. If there is still a high amount of risk, work at solving the problem in a way that mitigates as much risk as possible so action is less costly.
- Accept that failure is an option. Even if we can mange our risk and play our cards right, sometimes we are simply dealt a bad hand. Losses happen in promoting shows. An album launch can fail. As Marcus Aurelius wrote, “Remember that as it is a shame to be surprised if the fig-tree produces figs, so it is to be surprised if the world produces such and such things of which it is productive; and for the physician and the helmsman it is a shame to be surprised, if a man has a fever, or if the wind if unfavorable.”
- Realize that results are driven from effort, not talent. Very rarely can you think your way into achieving something. More often than not, success is granted from running your head up against the wall until you can’t see straight, and then some. In order to move obstacles out of our path, we must push them, exerting effort. If at first you don’t succeed, try smarter with increasing force.
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If you would like to read more on stoicism, check out these books.