How to Discipline Your Thinking
Hello! My name is Marcus Aurelius. I am an emperor from the Golden Age of Rome.
During my time as Roman Emperor, I fought many wars for our empire’s glory and peace and faced many hardships. But I found that people’s inner peace doesn’t depend on neither external stability nor fortunate events.
For us Stoics, the key to inner peace and discipline lies in our judgment. What is judgment, you'd ask? It's our ability to master our perception of the world.
The wrong judgment will lead to disturbance and suffering even in the most fortunate circumstances. While the right one will preserve our inner calmness against all of life’s hardships.
So the goal for this first lesson is to teach you how judgments affect our inner peace. We will also learn how to change our judgment so that you can keep your stoic calm under harsh circumstances.
Stoics believe that our mind’s balanced state is disturbed by intense emotions, especially by negative ones, such as anger, despair, fear, or envy.
Moreover, an obsessive passion might disturb our inner peace.
Our emotions are not caused by things or events themselves but by our judgment about them.
Think of a perfectly straight stick. When you put it underwater, it will appear as bent or broken to the onlooker.
While external things and events may not be under our control, we certainly control our judgment. Therefore, we have the key to our inner peace always at our disposal.
Let me give you an example. Imagine you are insulted by two different people. Both are calling you “a failure.” Now, if the first person appeared to be a mad man who randomly insulted you in the street, you most likely wouldn’t care too much. Buf if a beloved one, like your father or your sister, would call you “a failure,” it would probably hurt you.
But why is that? In both cases, the insult was the same. The reason lies in our value judgments and expectations. The person on the street doesn’t know you, and you might not even care what he thinks of you. Also, the fact that he appears to be mentally ill makes his behavior expectable.
On the other hand, we usually want our beloved ones to have a positive picture of us. We expect them not to insult and hurt us. Even though it’s ultimately not under our control.
But often our beloved ones know us better and there might be a lot of truth to their words. If it's true, then instead of focusing on insult, we should use this situation as an opportunity to become a better person, to correct our flaws.
Now, let's do the first quick exercise.
Try to recall the last time when you were insulted. How did it happen? How did it make you feel? Try to identify the underlying judgment and expectation towards the other person.
This exercise is supposed to emphasize the role that our judgments play in forming our emotions.
So far, so good. But in which way should we change our judgments to preserve our inner calmness when we face adversity and hardship?
We should change them in a way so that they reflect the level of control we have over a particular object, person, or event.
Think of it like that — we don’t control external things, such as the weather, illness, and other people’s behavior.
So the reason we get hurt by other peoples’ insults is that we assume them to act according to our expectations about how they ought to behave towards us. And since we cannot ultimately control behaviors or opinions of others, such unrealistic expectations might provoke frustration and anger when those expectations are not met.
I firmly believe that we should focus and care more about the things within our power, about our character and judgments, and less about external things.
It just so happens that we as humans are naturally drawn to them.
Let’s leave it here for now. We will discuss internal and external things and how we should deal with them in the next lesson. I hope you will join me!
And now, I would like to introduce you to a Role Model exercise that will help you control your emotions through exercising your judgment.
Imagine that an ideal Stoic person observes what you are doing. Whenever you are about to lose your inner peace, you should ask him or her how you could reframe your perspective, accounting for things within and without your control.
This ideal person might be your favorite teacher, grandfather, priest, or favorite author. Just think of them as Stoics in this exercise.
Remember, if you are distressed by anything external, the negative emotion is not due to the thing itself. It's our estimate of the thing that makes us feel bad. And have the power to revoke it at any moment.
See you in the next lesson!