1,800 years ago, the Roman Empire was ruled by a man named Marcus Aurelius – scholars call him one of the five good Roman emperors. While he reigned, he kept a private journal, latered published as “Meditations.” It’s become the modern foundation for understanding stoicism.
Now, they don’t mean stoic the way we use it today. You might be picturing a stern and silent father, or a stark principal of an all-girls’ academy in the early 20th century.
Stoicism is actually a school of philosophy rooted in the belief that faith in knowledge and reason is the path to being a better person, to living with inner peace and harmony…
And we could all use a little more peace and harmony these days.
The primary difference between the way we think of stoics today and the stoics of ancient Rome (Alexander the Great included) is that ancient stoics didn’t believe in avoiding problems and appearing calm…
They believed in appearing calm because they turned their problems into opportunities for advancement.
It’s a system built on proaction.
And it may just be an avenue worth exploring while we’re all floundering for direction in an uncertain time.
Stoicism is meant to provide a framework for the way you live: from how you deal with unpleasantness, to your work ethic, to the way you spend your time. It is a conscious, deliberate, thoughtful approach to organize your desires and prioritize your needs, narrowing your field of vision to exclude the trivial, the base, and the petty.
The result of practicing should be a happier, healthier, less agitated YOU – the you that knows and accepts what you cannot control in this world.
Let’s look at how you can apply several tenets of stoicism to your post-coronavirus life…
Challenge Yourself to Live without Luxuries
All of our situations are different.
But realistically, we have luxuries our grandparents never had, and their grandparents couldn’t conceive of.
Try to live without some of them – hot showers, streaming services, microwaved food, anything automated.
Not forever! But as a practice in demystifying the fear of “losing everything”. We might think we need to check social media right when we wake up…
But we can absolutely live without it, and it won’t be so bad.
Train Yourself to Distinguish between What you Can, Can’t, or Shouldn’t Control
This is especially relevant right now… because so much of our lives is out of control.
We can’t control how politicians handle the coronavirus (beyond voting and writing our senators). We can’t control when the world will reopen, when a vaccine will be developed, or who in our neighborhoods is wearing masks and social distancing.
And if we can’t control it…
Then we can’t waste energy on it.
Channel your energy instead into what you can control – your environment, your reactions, your time spent.
Practice Negative Visualization, or Premeditatio Malorum
There is plenty to be said for keeping our spirits up with positivity…
But it’s worthwhile to train ourselves that what we think is the “worst case scenario” is actually bearable.
Think about it like this: If you’re reading this, you’ve survived every bad day you’ve ever had, every situation you thought you’d never come through, and events that you thought were your worst fear (until they happened and you learned to imagine something much worse).
Dispense with “Good” and “Bad” Judgments
Good and bad aren’t real.
They’re discernments that our meaning-making brains create and assign to various events, feelings, objects, thoughts, etc., based on our experiences and learned values.
Nothing is inherently “good” or “bad”, and once we make those decisions about things, we rarely change them.
Try to detach your “good”ness and “bad”ness from things – ice cream isn’t “bad” and checking the financial markets every morning isn’t “good”.
Keep a Daily Log of Your Experiences
There are a million ways to do this – gratitude journal? Goals log? Stream of consciousness writing?
“Meditations” was simply how Aurelius tracked the journey of his mental state as he consciously practiced stoicism and reflected every day.
Take note of the changes you’re trying to make, and write down daily how you took to them – did you let a news headline throw you into a bad mood? Did you realize what you were doing and come out of it?
Remind Yourself as Often as Possible You Are NOT the World
How often do you find yourself saying “they made me feel…”?
Hot take: no one can make you feel anything, ever. Your reactions are your own.
Now, sometimes those reactions are incredibly useful. If a person was trying to cause you to feel fear, and you indeed felt frightened, your body did you a favor.
But your kids didn’t “annoy” you. YOU felt annoyed in response to their behavior.
And maybe most importantly of all…
You are the time you spend.
You’re the amalgamation of every person you award with your attention, every TV show you watch to unwind at the end of the day, every novel you pick up to read on the back porch.
Are those things making you the person you want to be? Where can you make an adjustment?
No one has to adopt stoicism as their new platform. In the wrong hands, it can do as much harm as it can aid.
See what applying some of those principles to your life does… and keep them, if they fit!
Very little is needed to make a happy life; it is all within yourself, in your way of thinking. – Marcus Aurelius