Changing Your Perception
Are you struggling to find ways to cope with the current crisis? It is touching everyone’s lives across the world in one way or another, turning what was considered normal, upside down. Many people are losing their livelihoods, and across the globe, we have changed our daily routines to limit the spread. The subsequent effects on our economies and livelihoods mean it is a stressful and anxious time.
Stoic philosophy is a tool which many people find to be useful in navigating life, particularly in our current circumstances. I’ve been fortunate to have been studying and practising Stoicism for several years. I am looking at these times as an opportunity to find out how prepared I am.
Here are some ways you can incorporate Stoic thinking into your daily life. They aim to help you not only cope, but thrive and live a good life regardless of the situation.
(The original article was becoming rather long, so I have broken it up into bite-sized chunks, and will publish them over the next few weeks. This will have the added benefit of allowing you to read, digest and give you time to try one practice at a time.)
Shifting your mindset
One of the core disciplines of Stoicism is perception. It centres on seeing things clearly, without letting emotion cloud your judgement. You will find many references to this idea throughout the Stoic texts. The essential idea is as simple as:
_Train yourself without hesitation to say in response to every harsh appearance that “you are merely an appearance and in no way, the thing appearing.” — Epictetus, Enchiridion
In other words, events and things are neither good or bad (they are indifferent). It is your judgement that decides whether it was good or bad. Often this choice is automatic through our conditioning, but as humans, we have the unique capability to shape our reality. And through that, we have the power to change our viewpoint. Victor Frankl describes this as the gap between the stimulus and response.
Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom — Viktor Frankl
Right now, every day presents us with many opportunities to practice this. Unless you live on your own, living near others and nowhere to go, means tensions are running high. We get angry or frustrated over the smallest of slights. Practice taking a moment before you respond; remembering that everyone else is also trying to cope in the best way they know how. Adding more fuel will only make things worse. It is easy to say, I know, and much harder to do in practice. It is a mindset shift, and to change your default actions you first have to be aware of it, then train yourself to actively change it by choosing to act differently.
Since this is such a foundational principle of Stoic philosophy, you’ll find every Stoic has expressed this in their own way:
If you are pained by any external thing, it is not this thing that disturbs you, but your own judgement about it. And it is in your power to wipe out this judgement now. — Marcus Aurelius
You have the power to change your mind
Remember that it is only your judgement of the events that make it good or bad. Usually, this takes the form of a whinge or moan about the event that’s taken place. It is essential to realise that since only you have access to your mind, then it is true that only you have the power to decide if you are hurt by the situation.
Your challenge over the next few days, starting now, is to take a breath the moment you realise you may be getting angry or frustrated. Whether it’s over something or someone, recall Epictetus’ mantra ” you are merely an appearance and in no way, the thing appearing” and try to react more calmly with reason. Don’t get upset when you fail, and you will. I still do, even now. Remember, there will soon enough be another opportunity to practice. And through constant practice will come improvement and a little more serenity to your day.
If you have found the idea in this article useful or helpful, then please share it with your friends and family so they too can see if they would find it beneficial in their own lives.