Jun 25, 2020

A Stoic’s guide to Controlling your emotions

The philosophy of Stoicism holds several tricks to apply to your mindset when objectivity is required, says Massimo Pigliucci, author of 'How to Be a Stoic.' 
Don’t focus on outcomes

‘The first thing to keep in mind is the dichotomy of control – the notion that certain things are up to you and other things are not. It turns out (and I would recommend writing out a list), what’s up to you is fairly limited. There are all sorts of things you can influence, but that’s not the same as controlling them. Internalise your goals: move from a focus on outcomes to an emphasis on your intentions. Your intentions and the outcomes tend to be correlated – if you make an effort in the right direction, you’re more likely to succeed. But part of that approach is to accept from the get-go that you might not, so any failure doesn’t crush you psychologically.’

Redirect emotions

‘Suppressing emotions doesn’t work physiologically. Instead, engage in constructive thinking with yourself – essentially, redirect your emotions. Modern psychologists call it the framing effect – when value judgments are not inherent in things or events themselves, but are human constructions. Keeping a distinct and objective description of what’s happening and your value judgment of it is important. You cannot change a pandemic but you can change the way you think about things. Catastrophising engages negative emotions: fear, panic, anxiety. Look at the same thing and say, “That’s an interesting challenge, let’s see how I do.” Literally score yourself and keep notes – then look at your notes and see how you did. This engages your positive emotions: imagination, constructive thinking and ability to solve problems. It calms you down because it gives you agency.’

Accept sacrifice

‘Epictetus, a second-century Greek philosopher, said life is theatre, we all play certain roles and sometimes the roles we play may require self-sacrifice. His analogy involves imagining yourself as a foot that has to step into the mud in order for the entire body to cross the street. If you just think of yourself as a foot, this is unpleasant. But if you remind yourself that what you’re doing is for a greater benefit and helping the whole organism, then it makes more sense. It might mean immediate and unpleasant sacrifice, but it’s the right thing to do in the long term, for yourself and everybody else connected to that organism – in this case your colleagues or employees.’

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