The Art of Self-Control

woman meditating as the sun rises

Writing today’s post has been a struggle. As far as struggles go, it’s really nothing, but it’s real to me.

I have a half-dozen blog posts sitting in drafts that were each at one time, ready to publish here today. One vilifies – deservedly – a major bank. Another has the word Asshole in the title. (As in, how to tell if you are one!) But none of them seemed right. When I set them aside and read them later, each one had a whiff of frustration and anger I didn’t want to put out into the world. There’s quite enough out there already.

In our conversations, my friend, journalist Dan Brown, often mentions the ancient philosophy of stoicism. I thought being stoic meant pretending nothing bothered you and going on with your day. Even the dictionary definition makes it seem that way.

of or relating to the school of philosophy founded by Zeno, who taught that people should be free from passion, unmoved by joy or grief, and submit without complaint to unavoidable necessity.

I had a glancing blow with stoicism a couple of years ago, and wrote about it, when Derek narrated a book written by one of its early proponents. A bit of it seeped in but I didn’t absorb it well.

However, I signed up for the Daily Stoic newsletter and I’m learning that it goes much deeper than than the official definition. You don’t simply suppress genuine feelings. That’s a road toward ruin.

Stoicism builds your resilience and ends the useless habit of giving situations and people more of your energy than they deserve. The four virtues of stoicism are courage, temperance, justice, and wisdom. I’d been practicing a part of stoicism without even knowing it. When I used to get nervous before appearing in front of a huge crowd, to introduce a speaker or a band, let’s say, I’d imagine tripping and falling in front of them, for example. It took away my focus on perfection, allowed me to ease up on myself, and made me grateful for the way the event actually went.

I’m not here to peddle stoicism on you. You’ll either be drawn to it or you won’t, and that’s your deal. But I’m finding it helps me stay centred and stronger when it comes to dealing with the insanity of our world today. Maybe you’ve found something that works for you: meditation, exercise, day drinking! More than ever, we need to find a way to ease the stress of this crazy life we’re living.

I could list a thousand things this week that made me want to rant. They ranged from dealing with Mom’s estate to Trump’s pending pardon-palooza to a store that doesn’t open until noon on a weekday to anti-maskers to people I personally know who still don’t think Covid-19 is a thing. But I didn’t rant and I didn’t want to share such a rant with you. And this was a happily stoic decision, without even trying.

I put the phone aside more and read the news less. When a headline creates that hot reaction we all know, instead of clicking, I move on. If someone shares a video only to spark outrage, I won’t watch it.

This isn’t to say I won’t rant again in the future. Believing that would be silly! Inviting a little stoic thinking into my life doesn’t change everything and heal me as a flawed human. But reading about the great stoic philosophers and getting a gentle, daily reminder about what I can and can’t control, and what’s worth spending my limited energy on, is a little balm for this irritated soul.

3 thoughts on “The Art of Self-Control”

  1. I learned a new word today from you just now. Didn’t realize it applies to me too. I am happier for it too Lisa. Putting that phone down and staying away from the noise has been a thing of mine for quite some time now, but even more so during this Pandemic. Have a chill day and weekend too. 🙂

  2. You’ve had a lot on your plate, recently. Hang in there, Lisa. Letting go of what we can’t control is healthy. This time next year none of it will matter as much as it seems to now. That’s my philosophy and I’m sticking with it. And that includes the orange blowhard/sore loser south of the border. His world is imploding. Just sit back and watch. The view is perfect from here.

  3. Thank you for the mention! I am so happy you have found something of worth in stoicism that helps you.

    Stoicism teaches me to set aside what I can’t control and focus on what you I can. Instead of just passively accepting things, I have found it is an empowering philosophy.

    Dumb example: If I’m stuck in traffic, I can’t control the flow of the cars. But I can control what’s on my mind, I can make the moment productive for myself by shifting my focus.

    I think of stoicism as a process, not an end goal. I know I may never be 100 per cent stoic in my life, but I am always trying. To know I am doing my best makes me happy.

    Pearl Jam put it this way:

    I know I was born and I know that I’ll die
    The in-between is mine

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