Stoicism is a way of approaching and coping with the world, society and the vagaries of life that brings peace, calm and even joy. It’s a method of being both effective and contented no matter what life throws at us. There’s an awful lot of wisdom in some of those old books, you know. Why not take a lesson or two from ancient stoics like Epictetus or Marcus Aurelius. You’ll be glad you did.
If you think Stoics are boring, you’re not doing it right!
There’s nothing boring about Stoicism.
There’s nothing boring about embracing change, about opposing injustice or about developing self reliance.
There’s nothing boring about experiencing life and all it has to offer whilst still maintaining control of your emotions and judgement so you can savour the experience all the more.
Soap operas and small-talk are boring. Trashy novels and superficial documentaries are boring. Endless consumerism is boring.
Stoic joy and the wonder of a life well lived is far from boring.
Stoicism isn’t boring – it’s liberating.
Here we build upon two earlier principles. Epictetus made it clear that we can only control our own thoughts, feelings and behaviours – not those of other people.
Marcus Aurelius taught us the 2 point maxim for dealing with abusive people…
1. Be the best me that I can be;
2. Be grateful that I’m not them.
Here we add another perspective from Seneca. Anger is only possible when the world doesn’t meet our expectations. If we adjust our expectations to reality the petty insults of others won’t hurt us at all.
In this, fourth Stoicism video we begin to show how it’s possible to layer Stoic wisdom, one point upon another to create a robust system of thought and attitude that really does defend us against those who seek to hurt, upset, anger or distress us.
Stoic philosophers Marcus Aurelius and Epictetus help us to cope with abusive, contemptuous, disrespectful and mean-spirited people by remembering the distinction between what is ours to control and what is theirs. When others treat us badly their actions say more about them and their lack of understanding than about us. In truth, their behaviour has no bearing at all upon us. It’s entirely about them.
Marcus Aurelius’ 2 point maxim helps us to deal graciously with these people without becoming upset or being tempted to sink to their level. They take responsibility for their poor actions – we have a different standard of behaviour to maintain.
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We all know about sleep, diet and exercise. That’s not what this post is about. They’re just the basics – the essentials of life as a biological organism. Everyone knows that stuff. This is about the less obvious but really important strategies that most people don’t know – and never will. This is about attitude and behaviour.
Develop a philosophical approach
Too many people take things personally. If someone disagrees with them they think it’s an insult and they come out fighting. Another driver cuts them up at a junction and they act like an angry bear all day long. They leave their mood, their happiness and their quality of life to be decided by other people. Their emotions are driven by chance in a world so full of mishap and rudeness that it’s inevitable they’ll get angry or upset as a result.
Understand that the world is full of ingratitude, unpleasantness and downright hostility. That’s just how it is. If you go around acting as though you can only be happy if everything works just to your liking you’re not going to be happy very much.
Instead use life’s mishaps as opportunities to show the world just how much better you can be. You control your mood – not the inattentive shop assistant or the impatient driver who thinks their time is more important than yours. Make up your mind to stop pretending that anyone else is in charge of your emotions. They may be angry or offensive but you don’t have to join in.
Lose the positive mental attitude (or at least temper it)
There’s nothing positive about positive thinking. At least not when it becomes so blinkered that you can’t see past it. The glass is neither half full nor half empty. It’s just a glass with some water in it.
Make it a habit to think about every situation as it really is without needing to put a spin on it. Pessimism leads to cynicism and hopelessness. Optimism leads to blind faith in a world that can never be as helpful as we want it to be.
Realism means seeing the world for what it really is, honestly assessing our own strengths and weaknesses and coming up with realistic plans to face whatever life throws at us. That’s far more useful than blindly running over the cliff with the insanely positive opinion that we can fly.
Cut out the small talk with the small people
Do you work with others? Do you meet other people regularly? Are you a part of a club or organisation? The chances are that you answered yes to at least two of these (probably all three).
Look around you and listen to the conversations your friends and colleagues have most often. How many of them are inspiring, uplifting conversations about potential and about challenges to be overcome or rewards to be earned? How many are long, drawn out moans and gripes about how badly the boss treats us all or why there’s never enough time to do the work expected of us? I think that last one is particularly ironic, given the amount of time people spend moaning about their lack of time.
Make it a habit not to join in with these unhelpful conversations. It’s OK to take part for a minute or two to get a sense of what’s going on but then go and get on with whatever you have to do. Your colleagues may well continue the conversation for another hour or more but they won’t be saying anything new and they certainly won’t feel any better at the end of it.
Get involved in something meaningful
We all like to feel as though we’re of value. Nobody likes to feel useless and yet so many people ignore the potential they have to really contribute.
Develop an interest that lets you contribute to something of importance. Ideally get involved in something that you define as important. As Albert Ellis put it..
Humans are happiest when they are involved in some project or activity that they define as more important than themselves.
Do something that you can be proud of.
Give yourself permission to be wrong
Nobody’s perfect. Everybody makes mistakes. That’s part of being human and try as we might we can never change that. So don’t act as though you’re somehow different from the rest of the species.
When we get things wrong we have two basic choices…
- We can learn from our mistakes and grow
- We can get angry at our failures and shrink
Give yourself permission to get stuff wrong – that’s an important route to learning and personal growth. Be prepared to admit it and seek advice from others when you mess up and make a habit of encouraging others to do the same.
Interestingly enough if you start admitting your own mistakes to others they very quickly notice and start being honest about their own mistakes with you in return. You start having honest conversations. You get to solve problems and put stuff right. Everybody wins.
What have you got to lose?
Try these five ways in your life and do, please let me know how you get on.
Go on – you know you want to.