The most important lesson stoicism can teach us and why we should remind ourselves of it daily
Our Wellness Expert, author of Owning It: Your Bullsh*t-Free Guide to Living with Anxiety and The Confidence Kit, Caroline Foran explains what stoicism actually is and why implementing it in your daily life will help your stress levels in the long run.
If you're big into self-care, chances are you've heard only good things about stoicism; a helpful branch of ancient Greek philosophy made popular in recent years by notable contemporary advocates. At first, reading about stoicism can seem a bit airy-fairy – there's a lot of hyperbolic definitions and plenty of talk of higher powers and cardinal virtues and other such things that may cause your eyes to roll.
While there are countless pearls of wisdom to be gleaned from the writings of stoicism's three primary leaders (Seneca, Marcus Aurelius and Epictetus), there's one very simple rule by which all stoics live. This is a rule - or a principle - that if we can manage to take on board, and remind ourselves of daily, will make life a whole lot easier. By practising this every day, we'll experience a lot less unnecessary stress, and best of all, our confidence will enjoy a turbo boost.
The principle? Accept what you can't control, and focus your energy only on that which you can control. That's it.
Sounds simple, sure, but once you tease apart the things in life that you actually have control over and that which you do not, you'll start to see how much energy goes into the latter on a daily basis. This is particularly hard for people who, like me, really prefer the idea of being in control of everything around them, which of course is never possible and almost always a source of stress.
This stoic principle is about distinguishing between what is up to you and what is not and then acting accordingly. One of my favourite stoics was Epictetus, and he had it sussed:
Make the best use of what is in your power, and take the rest as it happens. Some things are up to us and some things are not up to us.
Unsure of what is and isn't up to you? Or what is in your control and what is not? Unnerving as it sounds, everything that happens outside of you - which stoics would refer to as external events - is not in your control, and therefore not worthy of all of that energy. And as far as I'm concerned, it's always external events - such as being overlooked for a promotion at work – that really challenge our self-confidence.
External events are unpredictable. What is in your control, and this is where life can really change for the better, is your reaction to all of these things that happen outside of you. You can't control someone being a dick in the office, but you can control your reaction to that behaviour so that it doesn't negatively affect you. This requires a calm rationality that I struggle to achieve myself (especially when you are worn down or emotions run amok), and that's why it's something you need to remind yourself of daily and practice. It's not what happens to you or around you that's the problem, it's your reaction to it. It bears repeating.
Practice Makes Perfect
With practice, we observe our habits of doing this (we don't berate ourselves when we notice how much we're focusing on what's outside of our control) and we then learn to control our reactions to external events. We rely on ourselves (for example setting up a good morning routine) to dictate our mood on a daily basis, rather than relying on external events, outside of our control. For example, we cannot control how a performance will go, but we can control the level to which we prepare ourselves for that performance, which is a healthy use of our energy. When we act upon that which can be acted upon, and let go of the rest, self-confidence will come a lot easier.
Every time you feel your confidence dip or your stress levels rise, gently ask yourself: what about this situation is in my control and what is not? You will never be out of control because you can always control your reaction.
For more tips on how to turn this mental roadblock into a building block for confidence, read The Confidence Kit, out now.