What do you do next?

I am a big fan of Stoic philosophy. It is often misunderstood, but lessons from ancient Stoics like Marcus Aurelius and Epictetus or more modern ones like Admiral James Stockdale and Tim Ferriss demonstrate that Stoicism offers a set of practical rules and principles in how to deal effectively with the challenges that life throws up.

A simple example of this is the way people handle stressful situations.

The Stress Process

Stoics view stressful situations as a process like this:

Something happens. We get bad news; we witness something unpleasant; we are threatened.

We create an immediate (and involuntary) impression of what's going on.

A reaction occurs. Heart rate increases, attention narrows, enzymes are released. Our emotions go on a rollercoaster ride. We get angry or scared, or we freeze.

These are not good reactions, but Stoics are sympathetic to them. They realise that they are natural instincts and not under our immediate control. Stoics understand human nature. If you hide from someone and then jump up and scream when they pass you, they will get a shock. That's human nature.

Stoicism does not offer you ways to try to stop those kinds of reactions because they are too fast, powerful, and instinctive. Stoicism instead gets you to focus on what you are going to do next after the initial impression and reactions have taken place.

Responding not Reacting

Donald Robertson, a leading authority on Stoicism details this well in his book, How To Think Like a Roman Emperor,

"The Stoic tells himself that although the situation may appear frightening, the truly important thing in life is how he chooses to respond."

It's perfectly understandable for someone to be fearful in the face of adversity and challenging situations because it is natural and instinctive. What really matters is what they do next.

They hold their ground, control their focus, and push through their initial impressions and reactions to do what's necessary and what's right. The touchpaper may have been lit, but they can pull out the fuse to stop the fireworks going off.

This is something we all have the power to do.

If you'd like to know how to use Stoic Philosophy and practices, then please get in touch and let's talk.

All the best,

Stuart.

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