Two lessons from the Stoics

Two lessons from the Stoics
Discontent stems from the gap between our expectations and reality i.e. 'what we want' and 'what we already have'.

I'm a big advocate of Stoic philosophy and the positive impact it can have on our lives. Stoicism comes down to controlling the controllables, fostering virtues of character (instead of chasing material gain) and maximising positive emotions.

Here are two Stoic lessons that have helped me strengthen my mindset and can help you strengthen yours:

I. Negative visualisation

Exercise: Imagine that you lose that which you hold most dearly. Your loved ones, your health or your home. In this way, you appreciate the things you take for granted. You close the gap between what you want and what you have.

I'm currently plotting my next career move. After a few rejections from companies I really wanted to get into, I felt despondent. Why didn't they accept me? Why couldn't I land the role that excited me? Why do other people have it all figured out with big, fulfilling careers?

When these thoughts creep up, the negative visualisation makes me realise that, despite the rejections, I already have a lot going for me. I'm in a happy relationship. My body and mind are fit and healthy. We have food on the table. I get to write and share my ideas online. The rest is just extra.

“The easiest way for us to gain happiness is to learn how to want the things we already have.” ― William B. Irvine, A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy

II. The Last Time Meditation

Exercise: For everything you do, there will be a last time. There will be a last time you can go for a run. Or the last time you will speak to your parents. Or the last time you can enjoy that taste of ice cream. Whenever you're doing something, imagine this could be the last time you're doing that thing.

Similar to the exercise above, this meditation makes you appreciate your life and the things you are able to do. It's a reminder to be grateful for your current circumstances, as good or bad as they may seem to be. Enjoy the present moment instead of dwelling on the past or dreaming about the future.

These exercises may sound depressing, but they can help us lead more positive lives.

In the same way a vaccine creates physical immunity by exposing us to a small dose of an inactive virus, these lessons develop psychological immunity (and a happier life) by exposing us to a small dose of negative thoughts.