What is Stoicism?
Stoicism philosophy dates back to 3rd century BC, when it was founded by Zeno of Citium in Athens. Stoicism is the art of not being phased by situations that are not under our control. It is a basic human tendency to try and control our surroundings. When this control is lost emotional turmoil and depression grips our mind. Stoicism enables us to let go.
Example of Stoicism-
Joe– Someone stole my shoes. I feel terrible. I curse that the thief will get sore foot. I miss my shoes.
Stoic– Ok. I lost shoes. I will get new shoes.
Joe– I lost my job. I am a stupid jobless person now. I will never find another job. I want to get drunk and cry like a baby.
Stoic– Ok. I need new job, let’s prepare a CV and look for new career opportunities.
Stoicism is all about looking forward in life and controlling what you can. It prevents your brain from overthinking. Stoicism is closely related to teachings of Lord Buddha and also forms building blocks of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). Nothing can help fight depression and anxiety better than stoicism.
Stoicism is especially relevant in modern times. We constantly get bombarded with a lot of information through news channels, facebook, twitter, snapchat and online forums. A selfie of your ex standing with her husband in Hawaii or a pic of your colleague next to his new SUV on facebook can spin your emotions faster than a fidget spinner. Free yourself from the unnecessary pain and anxiety by practicing simple stoicism techniques
The three of the most effective and practical stoicism methods are listed below-
Method One: A view from above
A view from above is the method advised by Marcus Aurelius. It is the most effective way to put our problems into perspective. Envision yourself from the third person view. Keep yourself in the center and slowly start to zoom out. Your first view can be of you sitting in your room. Then, zoom out to your house. Increase the magnitude to see your street, state, country and continent. At the end you can picture a view of the earth from stars. Now contemplate the hurdles you are facing in your life.
Is your problem the biggest crises on earth? Earth has faced five mass extinctions. The truck size dinosaurs went in dust, the pharaohs of Egypt are lying mummified in the museums and British Empire has collapsed. A woman ghosting you after your first date is not the end of Universe.
Is your problem real or imaginary? Living in present is not easy. Sometimes we create Babadook from our own imagination. Haven’t heard from your friend in a while? Is she not picking up the phone? She might be busy, or her phone might have malfunctioned. Don’t stress over imagining the worst possible scenarios in your head. Give it some time and relax.
Is your current situation permanent? Can your problem be solved with time? Getting stuck in a horrible job or worse being jobless can get anyone stressed out. Remember, nothing is permanent. Don’t procrastinate. Work hard for your goals and situation will change. Nothing is permanent except for change.
Visualizing from a third person view and seeing things from a bigger scale can give you a better perspective on the insignificance and worth of your problems. When compared to the size and overall scheme of our universe whatever problems you might be facing might appear incredibly trivial. When things are put into perspective it become far easier to understand the actual issue at hand which helps overcome the emotional stress we experience in our day to day life.
'You can rid yourself of many useless things among those that disturb you, for they lie entirely in your imagination; and you will then gain for yourself ample space by comprehending the whole universe in your mind, and by contemplating the eternity of time, and observing the rapid change of every part of everything, how short is the time from birth to dissolution, and the illimitable time before birth as well as the equally boundless time after dissolution' – Marcus Aurelius
Method Two: Negative visualization
Negative visualization might sound dark or morbid but that’s not the case. The exercise advised by Seneca is meant to increase our default level of happiness and enable us to put things into perspective. It prepares us to face the worst case scenarios. We don’t realize how lucky we are to be alive and what an incredible gift life is. The Negative Visualization exercise makes us realize the value of happiness and importance of things we take for granted. Envision yourself losing some of the things from your life. For example-
- How it would feel if you suddenly got fired from your job?
- How it would feel if your spouse left you for someone else?
- How it would feel if you are discriminated for your race?
- How it would feel if you are abandoned by your friends?
- How it would feel to lose your limb in a car accident?
- How it would feel if you lose a loved one?
Consider these questions without fixating or stressing over them. When you visualize these things removed from your life, you begin to feel a sense of gratitude. You realize how lucky you are to have your job, your family, your social status and a healthy body. The keyword here is Gratitude. Humans tend to revert back to their default level of happiness after an initial rush of hormones like oxytocin and dopamine.
Imagine you got the promotion you were anticipating from a long time or your childhood friend came to visit you after 10 years. You will be happy but for sometime. After a while you will get accustomed to the lifestyle and tend to revert back to your base level of happiness. Practicing negative visualization helps you maintain the level of happiness by being grateful to each of your accomplishment without taking your efforts for granted.
'Remember that all we have is “on loan” from Fortune, which can reclaim it without our permission—indeed, without even advance notice. Thus, we should love all our dear ones, but always with the thought that we have no promise that we may keep them forever—nay, no promise even that we may keep them for long.' - Seneca
Method Three: Voluntary Discomfort
Voluntary discomfort advised by Epictetus is most relatable to story of Lord Buddha. This exercise forces us to get out of our comfort zone and train ourself to do things that put us in challenging and uncomfortable situations. This exercise is highly relevant in 21st century. We hold onto comfort with such a high regard that a minor discomfort or inconvenience can trigger emotional stress. Voluntary or deliberate discomfort can be performed in a number of ways:
- Walking or cycling instead of travelling by car
- Fasting or being on a liquid diet for a day
- Waking up at 5 a.m in the morning for exercise or yoga
- Sleeping on the floor
- Spending a day without mobile or internet
- Taking stairs instead of elevator
- Cold Showers
Once you overcome the need to be in a comfortable life all the time, you will find yourself capable of setting up your goals and sticking to your plans much easier. When you will hear someone complain about the discomfort of walking long distance, you won’t be able to relate. If and when the life gets hard, you will be well equipped to deal with the challenges. The hardened up lifestyle will also enable you to cherish the comfort of living in a 21st century.
'But neither a bull nor a noble-spirited man comes to be what he is all at once; he must undertake hard winter training, and prepare himself, and not propel himself rashly into what is not appropriate to him' - Epictetus
So these are the three stoic exercises which you must note down and incorporate into your to-do list. The best part about the time tested practical philosophy of Stoicism is it’s universal applications. Stoicism is relevant in all aspects of your life be it physical, emotional or financial. It will help you become a better version of yourself.