It is no secret that life can be difficult at times. Life is full of ups and downs, and at points, it becomes rather hard to navigate, but there is an approach that allows us to keep our cool in the hardest times.
OPINION | Stoicism is often confused with the definition of being stoic – a person who can endure pain or hardship without showing their feelings or complaining. However, this is actually the exact opposite of what a Stoic (a person practicing Stoicism) would do. In fact, being stoic can be harmful. Stoicism is a subject with multiple teachings for a variety of complexities that we encounter in life. Although, for now, we will only be looking at how a true Stoic would handle difficult situations and the emotional effects that follow.
According to the book How To Think Like A Roman Emperor by Donald Robertson, the act of being Stoic in the difficult situations life presents us with would be to let yourself be at the mercy of your emotions the moment the event occurs. Simply meaning, if you are experiencing an event that makes you fearful, do not shy away from this fear. It is a natural human response that you cannot control. Therefore, trying to hide your fear is just an injury you are incurring on your mental and physical state. Rather, a proper Stoic would allow this initial wave of emotion to run its course, but then once that initial shock is over – the Stoic must think.
A Stoic must analyze their situation and decide what the best course of action would be. For example, in Robertson’s book, he recalls the story of a Stoic being caught in a storm at sea. The Stoic in this story was initially terrified that the ship he was sailing on would sink, but after analyzing the situation returned to a state of calm. This is because the Stoic realized that there was nothing that he could do. The ship would either make it through the storm or fall apart and sink with him and the crew. Knowing that ultimately he could not change the outcome of this event, the Stoic – though still afraid – remained calm and did not panic like the others on the ship.
In summation, when approached with a challenge, one should ask themselves if they can change a situation. And, if so, what actions can be taken rather than reacting on pure emotion? What sets the average individual and Stoic apart from one another is the pause between reaction and action. The moment of clarity where critical thought takes place– this action of thought allows for better action and planning to take place during times of stress. For example, a person may be on the way to an important interview and hit a traffic jam that would make them upwards of 30 minutes late to the interview. Initially, this individual may experience emotions of anger and frustration. If they allow themselves to get taken away by their emotions, they may begin to engage in aggressive driving acts or begin shouting and cursing in their car. However, if this individual allows themselves the time to think critically after that initial wave of anger, they can begin to construct a plan. They can realize that they are at the mercy of the traffic jam and cannot get out. However, they have the contact info for the interviewer. Thus, they can now contact the interviewer, explain the situation, and move the interview to another time.
This act of thinking before acting on your emotions can save you from undue amounts of stress and misfortune. To best react to this new difficulty that has crossed one’s path, one must take a moment to consider the options available to them rather than react blindly based on their feelings. Allowing one to accept their current emotion but not act irrationally based upon them, resulting in much more concise and effective decision making.