Have you ever had an important event to go to and you were running late? If you were taking a car, you were probably frustrated about the traffic. If you were taking public transit, you were perhaps upset if it was even two minutes late. If you were walking, you were probably upset about the traffic lights not changing fast enough. All this may have resulted in you being late for the crucial meetings you had, a valuable presentation or networking event.
But in your mind, there wasn’t a doubt that the reason for your delay was the bus, traffic, or signals. You always have an excuse ready. It is easy to blame other people or things that aren’t even in our control. It is an easy way out. Don’t feel guilty; we all try to shift the blame off of ourselves. However, to learn from our mistakes and grow as an individual, we must face reality and face the hard path. The path of the philosopher is indeed a tough one.
Recently, I got exposed to the ancient Greek philosophy of Stoicism founded in the early 3rd century BC in Athens, Greece. The philosophy has been widely popularized by the Greek philosopher named Epictetus Through his work, Discourses and Enchiridion.
Stoicism is the endurance of pain or hardship without the display of feelings and without complaint.
After having some time to reflect upon the philosophy and its various facets, I learnt that despite the philosophy being ancient, it is very much applicable today. So, I decided to compile my thoughts and ideas into three practical exercises of Stoicism.
1. Examine Your Initial Reaction
As mentioned earlier, it is easy to blame others or external factors for just about anything. You got late to work; it was probably because of downtown traffic. You were unable to finish work on time; it was because you were super busy with family matters. You couldn’t exercise in the morning because you went to sleep because of excessive homework from your teacher.
And sure, these seemingly unfortunate things legitimately do happen once in a while. But, if any of the above things are happening more than twice a month, you may need to look somewhere else for answers — inside.
While it is true that you cannot control things beyond a particular point, in reality, most of the situations in this world are beyond your control. The only thing you control is your reaction towards external things (i.e. global issues, politics, the buses running late, etc.). To approach this process optimally, you must ask yourself: Is this under my control?
- If YES, this is under my control: Act NOW. Do not wait around. Try and take effective action as soon as possible. If you wait around, your stress levels will only rise.
- If NO, it is beyond my control: if possible, ignore it. However, I understand you can’t just ignore everything. At the very least, don’t let it have a negative impact on you. Being sad isn’t going to change anything.
What you can do: examine whether you the control is or is beyond your control. At the very least, DO NOT let any external situation affect you negatively.
2. Use & Exercise Every Virtue
We must acknowledge that life is multi-faceted. We have a social life, a familial life, academic life, work-life and more. So to expect yourself to be good at everything is unrealistic and will just cause additional stress. This means that you will face multiple challenges along your journey in the various aspects of life.
Instead of having mental panic alarms ringing off in your mind, try and imagine each challenge as a learning opportunity. And I know, that has got to be one of the most cliche pieces of advice in history. But that is because it is accurate and stood the test of time. A failure or a challenge helps you objectively look upon your self, without ego coming into the mix.
When someone thinks of the word failure, nothing pleasant comes to mind. However, we all have coping mechanisms that we must rely upon in the face of adversity. We need to remain calm, collected and take in everything before bursting out with emotion. It may feel like you have bad luck, lack of opportunity or additional obstacles in your road to success. But all these adversities are an excellent opportunity to strengthen and will make success that much more satisfying. Whenever you feel down, consider this:
“It’s not about the cards you’re dealt, but how you play the hand.” — Randy Pausch
One of the more recent challenges for me was in regards to school. When I received a much lower mark than one I was comfortable with on a quiz, I was able to carry out an honest reflection and realize how bad my study habits had become. I knew that I was behind on course material and with the unit test coming up, it looked like a tough road ahead. However, working hard and achieving a good mark made that mark more satisfying for me compared to my peers.
What you can do: stop complaining about your hardships NOW! Conduct a daily or weekly reflection to better identify challenges and strengths within your life.
3. Remember The Impermanence of Things
We all get too caught up in our day to day errands and activities that we don’t take a moment to realize one of the most important aspects of life: mortality. While I don’t mean to depress you by telling us that we are all going to die tomorrow, we will die at some point in the future. This will happen regardless of anything that we can do. However, despite thinking negatively about the overall short time of life, we can use it to be better.
As a species, we are too caught up being remorseful about the past and worrying about the future that we do not savour every moment. Since life is so limited, we should aim to be in the moment and cherish every moment and memory possible. Once we realize how short our lives indeed are, would you want it being angry or upset at something that won’t even matter in the long run? Likely not. If it was your last day, would you waste it being upset at traffic and blaming others? Or would you want to cherish every moment?
It is important not to feel entitled to anything as it may not even be there tomorrow. You can think of important people, places, things in your life that could be gone the very next day. If you know, it was your last day with someone, would you argue with them about the $10 they owe you or be grateful for all the memories and moments you have shared with them. While we all can somewhat comprehend the limited nature of our lives, we rarely take time out of our days to show gratitude and appreciation to others.
What you can do: write a daily gratitude note to someone telling how much you appreciate their support, their work, or anything else.