What is a Stoic
When Marcus Aurelius was writing his own “Meditations” and lamentations on life in the 2nd Century AC, he would never have imagined that his thoughts would become a book that is prized as one of the pillars of Stoic thought. But in doing so, he left us with an ideal of how to respond with daily events, including stress.
Being stoic is not about having no emotions, in the same way that a Vulcan or the AI cyborg “Data” in the Star Trek series would (even though both Spock in the original series and Data experienced emotions).
It is the idea that we are able to control our response to an event rather than reacting, not allowing external circumstances to push us off balance. Being stoic is about having control over our reactions and behaviours. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is, in part, based on stoicism.
Imagine walking in a shop and someone pushes in the line in front of you. You get annoyed, may even get angry at that persons arrogance and ignorance. I could say to you to “put yourself in that person’s shoes” because we don’t know why they did what they did. You could run many different situations through your mind to why they would do what they did, but none may be justified.
Stoic thought is simple on this – it’s happened, so let it be. If you are in a rush then you should have planned better. If circumstances out of your control put you in that position, make a decision and either stay or leave the queue.
But at no point allow the event to control your outcome. Still voice your thoughts, if you feel you must, but do it objectively.
I’m writing this as Christmas approaches, one of the most stressful times of the year. It’s not that it’s Christmas, its what it has come to imply for most people – spending money that for some they don’t have, family reunions that they don’t want to go to, travelling because they feel they must rather than what they want.
Stress is literally a killer. It puts our body and mind out of its natural sync. Just type “Christmas stress” in any browser and you’ll get everything from medical sites to newspapers explaining the stresses of Christmas.
In a past article I covered how emotions can impact our life and our body – stress is one of the darkest emotions we can harbour. It’s like putting poison into our own body voluntarily. The causes for stress are many, but the solution is always the same.
It’s also the time of year when relationships will undergo their own trials, one of the two times of the year that break-ups are likely to happen.
My dad had two bits of advice on this – count to ten and/or go for a walk. The same actions go for anger. But these are not the only methods to regain control.
Be Stoic – Embrace
When things get out of hand or are about to, look at things objectively. Can anything be changed through getting stressed about the situation? In almost every occasion the answer is “No”. Stress can help us in certain situations to heighten our senses but on a day-to-day basis that’s not the case.
Don’t let stress get the better of you. Instead accept it as part of life and deal with it as you would anything else – respond. Don’t allow the situation to overcome you and cause you to react.
When you begin to feel the pressure of stress weighing down on you, regain control by deciding that you are the boss of your emotions and feelings. This comes with an awareness of what you feel rather than what you think.
Focussing on how you feel rather than what you think is part of the process. Then, rather than repress the emotion, accept it and choose to deal with it later, but at that moment in time you are choosing to remain in control. You choose calmness and pose.
Decide to remain in control. Whatever you feel at that moment in time you will deal with later when you are alone.
Start to learn to do this by mentally going through past events and recreating the outcome by remaining calm and in control. Respond appropriately.
The ego will get in the way, so push it aside. Don’t do something because you want to be right. Do what ought to be done.
I found that counting up meant I could count to a hundred. So I tried something different, I counted down. Counting down means that there is a limitation and a goal to reach – by the time you reach zero your mind knows that it has to be in a certain state.
That state is the one you have decided upon and, going back to stoicism, it is to be in control of your mind and emotions regardless of the event.
Being stoic is not being unemotional – it’s being in control of your emotions and this will affect your thoughts. You must decide to gain control.
I’m not talking about barging out of the house, not saying a word and just walking off to avoid the situation.
It’s a precaution, of sorts. Getting out into nature provides us with the space and peace of mind to take things in a wider perspective. The realisation that all the “problems” we have are the same ones that people have had in the past and dealt with. The same problems that people will have in the future and also deal with.
It’s about getting more oxygen into your body and brain, giving you the ability to think clearer.
If, like me, you’ve had quite a few Christmases, then you know what’s to come. You know what will stress you out and what you would rather avoid.
So why not prepare your responses in advance? Decide in advance how you will respond in those situations and run them through your mind. Above all, decide that you will remain composed and calm.
Make it an affirmation that whatever the world throws at you will remain calm and composed. The stress of life will flow past you like a cloud in the sky and you are in control.
A last word
Is this the perfect answer to stress in your life?
No. Far from it. The solution is different for each of us but those above, are ones I have found useful. All of it takes effort and a choice. The choice is to change ourselves for the better.
To be better than we were yesterday. To be better with others.
It does take effort, make no mistake. But better the effort than the regret of something that should not have been said or done. It also doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t voice your thoughts or opinions. You should and it is a requirement of letting go of penned-up emotion to maintain a healthy balance. It’s how you do it that we are talking about here. Anger and shouting do not help you, although both of these have their place and time to effect action.
Having a stoic approach to life is a choice and a decision to maintain control for our own benefit. The consequence is that others benefit as well, especially our family. And in this season, when things will build up, decide and choose that this year will be different to the rest – it will be better for you and others.
Make it a season truly to be jolly!
It’s normal to feel pain in your hands and feet, if you’re using your feet as feet and your hands as hands. And for a human being to feel stress is normal — if he’s living a normal human life. And if it’s normal, how can it be bad?
And a reminder when it comes to forgiveness from last weeks article:
The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.