“How does a Stoic think?”
I take to heart, Ryan Holiday’s first commentary on Daily Stoic, with regards to how a Stoic should see the literature of the ancient stoics, in that their works must not really be treated as a bible of its followers, but as view-finders to how the stoics live. (At least, that’s how I understood it)
I am mentioning this, because some modern days stoics may like to throw around Stoic Quotes, as if reciting what Seneca said is enough to rid one self of the passions that we aim to rid ourselves of. A Stoic does not dedicate his life preaching, but training his mind to be free from the passions of daily life. From the emotions that keep us from seeing reason in the natural order. A Stoic thinks, and thus he must seldom speak, because his energy should be directed towards being ever vigilant from the impulses that keep him from living by nature.
“Frame your thoughts like this—you are an old person, you won’t let yourself be enslaved by this any longer, no longer pulled like a puppet by every impulse, and you’ll stop complaining about your present fortune or dreading the future.”
— MARCUS AURELIUS, MEDITATIONS , 2.2
So do I think like a Stoic?
By the standards I have mentioned above, I have to be honest, I have moments where I let my emotions drive me, because I am thinking about none-sense or worst: thoughts that allow me to be overwhelmed by passion.
But I am still a student of the philosophy, and my training is still at it’s infant stage. So vigilance must be trained so that I could achieve this state of mind that Marcus describes. Have I been thinking like a Stoic today? Well, I try.
For example yesterday, I was extremely anxious and was deluded by instances that couldn’t possibly be true. I was dreading that some people were deliberately performing forensic internet searches about me, and this irrational fear was still related to that incident I mention a few days ago.
Was it likely that people are stalking me? Of course not. I’m too insignificant to be even a target of a larger conspiracy. And according to reason, it didn’t make sense, thus my anxiety was unwarranted.
And funny enough, when I decided that it didn’t matter, the following day (today), a strange calm came over me and wasn’t anxious anymore.
So today, I tried to breakdown my thinking and I think it follows the same steps when I’m angry, but a little bit more refined:
- When something triggers an emotion, I recognize it immediately and distance myself from it and assess the situation
- Does the something affect me personally?
- Will my emotion negatively affect myself and those around me?
- Is there a more appropriate response that I could take?
- Does dwelling on the emotion resolve the situation?
- Can I get caught up on the trigger and be passionate?
- Is the trigger avoidable?
- Once I understood the situation, I act accordingly.
- I choose the most appropriate response.
- I attempt to resolve the situation.
- I remove myself from the situation completely.
I guess examples are in order, but basically, the things above are the questions and actions I take as a Stoic in times of being overwhelmed by emotions. Is this HOW ALL STOICS THINK? I can’t really say for certain, but as a student of the philosophy, this is how I think.