The Power of a Free Mindset
“We suffer not from the events in our lives, but from our judgment about them.” -Epictetus
You do not always have control over the events that surround you. But you can always control how you react to them.
Stoics react to the outside influences in their lives with poise and self-control. They stay level-headed in the worst situations, keeping emotion from dictating their behavior.
Instead, they use four main tenets that inform how they can meaningfully interact with the world.
But stoicism does not encourage passivity. “The idea is that only people who have cultivated virtue and self-control in themselves can bring positive change in others.”
Sometimes you have to make a choice: win in the moment or win the long game. Can you choose patience in the face of conflicts and challenges? Are you able to prioritize your goals even when you are feeling drained or just want to go out instead? How well can you resist the temptations of the ‘normal’ life?
This is where brutal self-assessment comes into play. You have to be honest with yourself. Are you doing everything you can to reach your goals? What do you need to change? Which behaviors and attitudes are holding you back?
Your goals aren’t going to accomplish themselves. It’s going to take your consistent and resilient effort to follow through.
Stoicism is a mindset of freedom. You can only live free in the external world if you first align your inner thoughts to be free from external control.
Avoid the Traps
Once you make the decision to control how you react to a restrictive world, you will start seeing your situation from a new perspective.
For example, conflicts might not matter as much as they did before. What is the point of winning an argument with words? Let your actions speak.
You will recognize impulses to buy stuff you don’t really need, and realize this runs contrary to your goals. Going out just to impress people, or even continuing to deal with toxic personalities will seem silly.
Harry Browne defines “traps” we place ourselves in by conforming to other people’s arbitrary standard.
You’re in the Identity Trap when you let others determine what’s right or wrong for you–when you live by the unquestioned rules that define how you should act and think.
You’re in the Identity Trap when you try to be interested in something because it is expected of you, or when you try to do things that others have said you should do, or when you try to live up to an image that others say is the only legitimate, valid image you’re allowed to have.
It takes stoicism to resist the traps that others will try to place you in. This is because society will try to bring you under its control, and you have to have the mental fortitude to resist.
Creating a Space for Yourself Amidst the Chaos of Others
If the people in your life are just causing you chaos or unnecessary stress it is okay to consider cutting them out. You are not obligated to entertain other people’s negativity or destructive attitudes.
If you are looking to make the best of a bad situation, you can create your own space to help you do that. Your own space could be the mindset you carry around with you. Practice your stoic mindset, and it will be impossible for others to break into your space with their negativity.
The space can also be physical; a corner you can meditate or think in, a wall with inspiring pictures and symbols, or a quiet rock down a side path in the park. You can use these spaces to reset and ground your mindset again.
There will be times when you cannot immediately separate yourself from a toxic situation. Again, you cannot always control external factors. But you can always control how you react to them.
Benefits of Living in the Moment
This does not mean sacrificing future success for momentary pleasure. This means enjoying even mundane moments instead of always looking forward to something better.
Living in the moment is a skill that takes some people a lot of practice. It is easy to get so caught up in your goals and navigating the stresses of the world that you forget to be present.
Don’t try convincing yourself that you’ll just put ‘the moment’ on hold until it is a more ideal time. There will never be an ultimate destination for your success, so you must enjoy the checkpoints along the way. Otherwise, you end up working for an unattainable ideal.
What you do as you are building is just as important as what you do when you enjoy the rewards of your success. Yes, you will often make sacrifices, choosing to work instead of play.
The stoic is able to take pleasure in work because they know what they are working for. And at the same time, they know when to pause and enjoy the moment. This is temperance. Pleasure is not a bad thing in moderation. And working hard must also be tempered with enjoying the fruits of that labor.
Get Inspired and Act.
Often your circumstances are not ideal. There are things you can do now to make it more bearable while working towards a better future.
The best time to work hard is when the external situation is at its worst. Why waste time brooding when you can dive into preparing for a better future?
Prisoners have used stoicism during their incarceration to learn entire professions, write a book, or become physically fit. Even in solitary confinement prisoners still have their mind, and can practice controlling their thoughts.
If you feel imprisoned by circumstances, there is always something you can do that benefits you mentally in the present, and will benefit you physically later. Use the worst situations as an opportunity to practice stoicism, and your time will not be wasted.
Whatever it is, just do something! Don’t sit idle on your hands waiting for someone to hand you an opportunity, or prescribe your future. Have the courage to make the changes so that you choose your future situation, instead of letting external forces dictate it.
Ultimately, however long you have to endure negative environments, this is the best method of controlling your situation, by first controlling your mental situation.
Putting Your Freedom First
A stoic mindset is about accepting the things you cannot change and focusing on the things you can do.
Freedom is the opportunity to live your life as you want to live it. And that is possible, even if others remain as they are…
Our culture is saturated with philosophical “truths” that are commonly accepted and acted upon–and are rarely challenged. I think of these truisms as traps.
A typical example of a trap is, “It would be selfish to be concerned with your own freedom–you must think of others first.” Or “The kind of freedom you want is immoral,” or “The government is more powerful than you are,” or “You have to accept the will of the majority.” …
Traps are assumptions that are accepted without challenge. As long as they go unchallenged, they can keep you enslaved. –How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World, Harry Browne