I was thinking about a 2nd speech for Toastmaster and I decided to talk about Stocism.
In my darkest days, when it seemed everything in my life was going wrong.
I was going through a huge messy divorce and I needed some guidance. There are definitely worse things in life, but at time it is always hard to figure out. I remember at the time, there was 1 thing that helped me a lot. It might sound silly now, but I watching "Stalingrad" gave me some comfort.
For those who don't know, Stalingrad was one of the worse, most sanguine battle of WWII. It basically sucked for everyone involved. More than 1 million people died and being there couldn't have been harder. Only thinking I could have been there (if I was born 70 years earlier) gave me some comfort.
What is Stocism?
But as time passed, I ended up stumbling on Stocism. Stocism is a greek way of thinking. The main idea is to think about the worse case and then imagine you're already at the worse case. Try to visualize yourself and see how the world would be. Then realize that it's not happening and feel happy about what you have.
Let me give you a concrete example. Imagine you lose your sight. Now close your eyes. Try to feel how you life would be. Imagine you wake up and eat breakfast. Need to get dressed to go work, etc...
Now, yes it is not that great, but if you really live it, you get use to it.
Now open your eyes... and voila! You've hit the jackpot! You have a vision, and wow this is so beautiful. Everything is so beautiful, the colors, the women, etc...
This idea is called negative visualization and it can help relieving anxiety about worse case scenario.
Who thought about this idea?
Basically, the main idea is to use reason to control your emotions and therefore your happiness.
Stoicism was invented in Athens. In fact, it really took off during a time of crisis. The Greek world was about to collapse and it didn't promise any material security or peace in any after life. But it showed you a way to have a unshakable happiness in this current life.
Humans have a tendency to extrapolate and think for the worse case. We often let our emotions control our most important decisions.
Fear and Anxiety:
There is a famous saying from Seneca:
"We suffer more in imagination than in real life"
Stoicism is just another tool.
Define your fears.
Now let me give you a concrete example. Let's say you start a business and you're afraid of going broke. Then try to think about what does going broke means? Driving a 10 years old car instead of a brand new one? Moving to a small condo instead of a big house in the hills? How about losing your house?
Well let's say your biggest fear is losing your house. Then perhaps you can try it out, either renting a place for 1 week (on Airbnb) or even going camping.
So finding what you are trying to accomplish, try to list all your fears. Then one by one, visualize them and of course find a solution.
Also it is extremely popular with leaders of today, either with politicians, Fortune 100 CEOs and successful entrepreneurs. Marcus Aurelius’s Meditation is a favorite book for Bill Clinton and Warren Buffet.
It is also the un-official philosophy of the military. You can ask any Navy Seals about it.
There are also less obvious use cases. One such is for personal finance and the idea of luxury. We can practice voluntary discomfort to really enjoy our current life.
Like go swimming in the ocean without a wet suit or go for a hike barefoot. Although this might sound absurd in modern life, this makes you enjoy more our current life. But by actually experiencing it, you become immune to fear of it. And it can't be as absurd as a lot of the most common patterns in consumerism.
Our society and economy runs on us consuming ever and better product. We are bombarded by marketing everyday about why we need to get a better car, better clothes, the latest gadgets or more luxurious vacations. And there is a cost for this.
The marketing is trying to convince you that you'll be happier if you use their product. Maybe it would... or maybe not. This is where a Stoic would be thinking twice before mindless consumption.
Finally if you think that stoicism kills ambition, then I would say that you need to learn more about it.
Stoicism is a way to control your inputs but has nothing to do with your output (or ambition). It's just a tool to keep your sanity especially if you are ambitious about something and life keeps throwing at you different challenges.
It's not just someone sitting around feeling happy. They actually want to have a fulfilling life and they are not afraid of hard work. Hard work and uncomfortable life is something they aren't afraid of, toward a certain goal.
The alternative Greek philosophy to Stocism is Hedonism. It is the idea of to have the best life, you need to maximize the pleasures. It sure is cool to be a rock star, but I would dare to say their average happiness is not greater than a poor kid living in Africa.
Sure eating cupcakes all day is fun. As is having sex, drinking wine, eating in Michelin stars restaurants. So is driving your brand new Tesla or getting a Million likes on your Instagram. But this pleasure quickly wears off and you're off scrambling to find your next pleasure. That is until you run out of money or health.
To me, it seems a better proposition to focus on happiness and how to achieve with reason like Stocism is suggesting.
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