This is the final part of my notes on How to Think Like a Roman Emperor. This part deals with many other psychological ailments that we put on ourselves, namely fear, anxiety, worry, anger and psychological fear and anxiety in anticipation of death. Many of the things learned thus far can also be applied to dealing with the above.
Dealing with Fear, Anxiety and Worry
- view "misfortunes" and "obstacles" as something good ... as opportunities. early in my career, before I knew of Stoicism, I often heard managers speak of 'change' and 'bad events' as "opportunities" and I hated that they did this! It felt like they were just being politically correct or bull-shitting us. Years later, and after many "unfortunate" events, I now see the wisdom of viewing these events as opportunities. These events are going to happen independent of my will and choice. Regardless, what I do have control over, is my attitude and perception of these events. And if I look for ways to turn these "setbacks" to my advantage, then I begin to see "obstacles as the way forward" - I used them to my advantage.
- When Marcus Aurelius goes to war at nearly the age of 50, he did not fear it, rather "he embraced his new role completely and turned it into an opportunity to deepen his Stoic resolve." p. 191
- Perhaps you suffer from "impostor syndrome" ... now think that the most powerful man in the world had to deal with something similar. "When he arrived in Carnuntum to take command of the legions, he was both physically frail and an absolute novice - an "old woman" of a philosopher, sneered the future usurper, Avidius Cassius. Everyone must have questioned Marcus's competence to lead such a massive campaign." But he persisted and became a hardened veteran. How did he deal with this?
The Stoic Reserve Clause
- "it means undertaking any action while calmly accepting that the outcome isn't entirely under our control." p. 193
- other phrases that people use to describe the reserve clause:
- fate permitting
- God willing
- if nothing prevents me
- you need to do your best, no matter what your job or duty is, while not becoming upset with the results; it's about having a learning mindset
- it's also "the action of pursuing the common good that constitutes the virtue of justice" ... act with positive, intelligent intent p. 194
- a consuming fire mindset; no matter what is thrown at it, the fire uses the material to grow ... "Whether he meets with success or failure, he makes good use of his experience" p. 196
Anticipating and Contemplating Adversity
- one of the most important Stoic practices is contemplation of adversity or "bad" events, "Seneca calls this praemeditatio malorum" p. 198
- meditate on your exile, illness, injury, death of a loved one ... this is "stress inoculation"
- this can be done in your daily morning routine ... as you gain experience, you know things go bad; failure happens and so you can prepare for it in a number of ways
- this practice helps you gain emotional resilience which is "the long-term ability to endure stressful situations without becoming overwhelmed by them" p. 199
- the time to prepare is in times of peace and leisure
Become Familiar (used to) Adversity
- "familiarity breeds not contempt but indifference. We can expect anxiety to abate naturally with repeated exposure, under normal conditions ... the feared situation must be experienced for considerably longer than normal for anxiety to properly habituate." p. 201
- set aside time (perhaps once a month or weekly) to contemplate catastrophic events; the key is to go deep - really think about how you would react, how you would feel - get into the moment and let it sink in deep
- "maintaining the image for long enough [time] requires considerable patience and concentration" p. 202
- Robertson aptly notes, "It's important to emphasize that any technique that involves imagining upsetting scenes should be approached with caution by individuals who suffer from mental health problems or those vulnerable to being emotionally overwhelmed, such as sufferers of panic attacks." p. 203
- Epictetus also notes that it takes time and patience when going through this practice and that you should start small, then proceed to bigger things, up to and including your own death (see Encheiridion 26)
The Inner Citadel [of peace]
- many people wish to escape the drudgery of daily life or the adversities and challenges we face by going on a vacation to a beautiful beach or mountain retreat, but this is not necessary; we can retreat to our inner citadels at any time
- "true inner peace comes from the nature of our thoughts rather than pleasant natural surroundings" p. 206
- the nature of our thoughts is in our control and we can choose to be content in any circumstance - things don't disturb us, rather it's our opinion of those things that disturbs us
- to retreat to this peace, reflect on two things:
- Change is perpetual and eventually everything you see today will soon be gone and forgotten
- External things cannot touch the soul, rather the disturbance actually comes from within
- in sum, Meditations 4.3.4 "The universe is change: life is judgement"
- I had never heard of the Worry Postponement technique
- Google: worry postponement and learn what it is and what resources are available
- read up more about what Robertson says of it
The Stoic Response to Anger
- "It is impossible to make men exactly as one would wish them to be; we must use them such as they are." p. 218
- "Being a Stoic clearly doesn't mean being a passive doormat. However, the wise man will not get upset about things that lie beyond his direct control, such as other people's actions." p. 228
- Marcus greatly admired the qualities of Emperor Antoninus
- mildness of temperament
- patient tolerance
- never rude, overbearing or violent to people
- never lost his temper
- every case was considered calmly, methodically and consistently
- put up with those who found fault with him
- found no fault with those who treated him unfairly
- patience with those who opposed him
- remained calm when people wanted to provoke him
- If anger swells inside you, walk away; count to 10 or 100
- Ten Responses to Anger
- Remember we are social beings; have a "fellowship" attitude; we can view others' opposition as opportunities to practice virtue / patience; at the very least, we can learn to tolerate others respectively
- Consider others as a whole; no one is perfect, this is not the "final version" of them - they are growing and learning too; try to see things from their perspective; assume positive intent on their part; forgive them
- No one does wrong willingly; tolerate or teach; people deserve love and respect
- No one is perfect (including you!); if others fail, you should use it as an opportunity for self-reflection - how many times have we been imperfect?
- You can never be certain of others' motives - give others the benefit of doubt; don't jump to negative conclusions
- Remember life is short; we all will die; nothing lasts forever
- People, things, events can't upset us, it is our opinions of those people, things and events that upset us! Mind the gap!
- Anger is counter-productive; when you are angry, you are delaying the time it takes to solve the problem at hand; it's more efficient to react to people, things, events with rational calmness and empathetic kindness ... "it often requires more effort to deal with the consequences of losing our temper that it does just to tolerate the very acts with which we're angry." p. 241 "leave the wrong with the wrongdoer"
- Nature gave us virtue; I like to view life as a card game and I evaluate my move based on the context ... and I always have a stack of cards (virtues) to play in response to what has been played. I can always play the "patience" card or the "teach them with kindness" card; I just need the discipline to play good cards every time!
- It's ridiculous to expect perfection from others! Therefore, don't be or act surprised when people do unexpected things
Death Becomes us All
- "The Stoics taught me to look death square in the eye, to tell myself with merciless honesty each day 'I am mortal,' all the while remaining in good cheer." p. 258
- "Fear of death does us more harm than death itself because it turns us into cowards, whereas death merely returns us to Nature." p. 259
- "What I spent my life learning I now see everywhere—as I turn my attention from one thing to another, all sides grant me the same vision. The universe is a single living being, with a single body and a single consciousness. Every individual mind a tiny particle of one great mind. Each living creature like a limb or organ of one great body, working together, whether they realize it or not, to bring about events in accord with one great impulse. Everything in the universe so intricately woven together, forming a single fabric and chain of events. Whereas I once saw each fragmentary part and with some effort imagined the whole, my sight is now transformed. Having let go of fear and desire forever, I can see only the whole to which every part belongs, and this appears more real to me than anything else. What I knew before, my life and opinions, seem like smoke through which I glimpsed Nature darkly." p. 264
- "The mind of the Sage is like a star or our own sun, from which purity and simplicity shine forth." p. 265 (see this tweet too)
- "Man was meant to be like this: striving his whole life with patient endurance to cultivate the pure light of wisdom within himself and allowing it to shine forth for the benefit of others." p. 266
- "Rising above indifferent things, the mind of the wise becomes a well-rounded sphere, as Empedocles used to say. It neither overreaches itself, mingling with external things, nor shrinks away from them. Its light spreads evenly over the world around it. Complete in itself, smooth and round, bring and shining. Nothing clings to its surface and no harm can touch it." p. 267 (see this tweet too)
- Get the book and read the whole last chapter!