Growing Happy on stoicism.
It's certainly in vogue, so what is it and are there some useful life hacks we can incorporate into our daily lives? in vogue.
It's a philosophy and a training method which promotes quiet, persistent resoluteness in the face of adversity. The red thread running through Stoicism includes three fundamental principles:
# Live a virtuous life (it’s big on social duty and helping others)
# The world is an unpredictable place (so roll with the punches)
# Life is brief (realise this and don’t waste it)
Cleanthes, Ancient Greek philosopher, boxer and successor to Zeno the acknowledged founder of Stoicism, was once asked why he submitted to the blows of fate. He paused, rubbed his glass eye, looked into the blue Aegean and said:
“It’s not a pessimistic or passive attitude. Do what you can to make things better but in the end you’re like a dog tied to a cart, compelled to go wherever it goes. Far better to realise you’re on a short leash. Accept this and you’ll suffer less.’’
So how can Stoicism help you today?
I’ve chosen 3 techniques for you to road test. Try them out for 21 days and find out if they work for you.
ONE: THE STOIC FORK
“It’s not things that upset us, but our judgment about things” EPICTETUS.
Very simple, but I think, an enormously powerful tool. The fork makes a clear distinction between what you can affect and everything else. We can’t rely on external events or be sure our actions will have the desired results. Therefore, ultimately only you and your responses are within your control. Sounds trite but the implications for your mental health and effectiveness can be profound.
There’s a visualisation technique to accompany this insight. Adopt the HELICOPTER PERSPECTIVE 🚁. Imagine you are rising in the air, above the problem, putting distance between you and the object generating stress. From a great height you gain perspective and reason can replace panic or catastrophic thinking (BTW - Powers of Ten is an astonishing video transporting you from atom size to cosmic scale - check it out here).
It’s liberating to realise you are only responsible and in control of yourself your reactions and doings. Focus your mind on that and let the other stuff fall away. Treat life like a game of tennis. Do your best and leave the result to take care of itself.
TWO: THE PREMORTEM
At the start of a brand new spanking day:
Imagine all the things that could go wrong and devise strategies on how to cope. This is similar to Richard Branson’s 360 degree total preparation plan for every eventuality. Then, you can relax, knowing you’ve got most angles covered. Fear and anxiety often have their roots in uncertainty not experience.
Become familiar with worst case scenarios and learn to dance with fear.
I have a slight tweak to the full technique. Being of a sunny disposition I don’t like dwelling unnecessarily on painful events, so I will carry out the practice but rather than regular reviews and rumination I will limit consideration of threats and solutions to a fixed daily time slot. Otherwise there’s too much scope for the Inner Critic to endlessly chatter on. Also check out Tim Ferriss' Fear-Setting Exercise and Ted Talk, which should help.
THREE: THE SCALPEL OF REASON
When in doubt or despair, take three deep breaths and think. The Stoics were über rationalists. They pictured Reason as a skilled rider astride the bucking bronco that is our unruly emotions.
Use logic and reason to dismantle emotional overheating and meltdowns. Emotions are like the weather. Accept and don’t be surprised if it’s raining, but there’ll be some blue skies along soon. I’m feeling blue now-it’s happened before. This too will pass.
Finding a new level of perspective and calm
A reality check can help reset the day. There’s always a solution; it’s just a question of finding it. Coolheadedness comes with practice. Use these three techniques and you’ll feel more in control of your mind and ultimately your emotions. Give them a whirl.
“We do not rise to the level of our expectations. Rather we fall to the level of our training.” ARCHILOCHUS