We’ve covered the official material for the first chapter of Stoic Serenity. Now we come to some exercises to demonstrate our understanding.
- Write up a record of your daily activities.
- Looking at those daily activities, identify the most basic interests that your life is devoted to.
(Remember the difference between projects and interests. Projects are individual activities that further our interests [broader goals].) Some examples of interests include: being a spouse, raising children, earning an income, gaining an education, or staying healthy.
- Identify the projects you engage in to further your interests.
Examples of projects include: planning a date night, helping your child with a school project, being an employee (and any tasks you have at work), taking a foreign language class, or exercising 3x each week.
- Write how well or how poorly each of your projects are going, and write how you dealt with or responded to the situations you face.
As the days pass, try to be conscious on an hourly basis of which project you are engaged in, and try to distinguish between what you are doing and the way you are doing it.
Pay attention to how you handle setbacks. If something goes badly, remind yourself that though your project may have been harmed, you in yourself have not been harmed. Distinguish between harm to yourself and harm to your project.
So that’s the assignment. Go ahead and do it! I’ve gone ahead and written mine out below. It’s a bit monotonous and definitely not required reading. But if you’re at a loss of where to start, it might give you an idea.
I’m a very detailed, methodical, analytical person. So I often have trouble with assignments like these. I’m supposed to come up with my own interests and projects? Is what I came up with too broad or too specific? Am I confusing projects and interests? But for the sake of NOT being a perfectionist, and if I’m ever going to complete the assignment, then I need to not worry about making mistakes and just do my best. Also, my life has been uprooted in the last 6 months (lost my job, ended a significant romantic relationship, and testified as the victim of a stalking case in court, phew!). So my life looks a mess right now. But here goes.
First, a record of my daily activities today:
- Went for a midnight drive with my partner.
- Ate part of a cheeseburger but ended up throwing most of it away.
- Worked on balancing my budget.
- Ate a breakfast pastry, although it did not go down well.
- Did minor internet tasks to earn some money.
- Browsed Facebook.
- Received a call from my partner apologizing for him thinking he was rude.
- Worked on this blog post/exercise.
Ha, some life, eh? Judgements aside, I’ve completed step 1. Step 2 asks me to look at the most basic interests that my life is devoted to (in bold). And Step 3 asks me to list the projects I’m engaged in to further each of my interests (projects are indented below the bolded interests). And Step 4 asks me to evaluate how each of the projects is going and how I’ve dealt with any setbacks or frustrations.
- Being supportive of my partner.
- Last night I took him for a ride to give him someone and some time to express himself (long story). At the end, he said it was “killing him” to talk to me, since he cannot leave his family for me. So now my project in this interest is to: leave him alone. I mean, I really don’t want to make his situation more difficult with more suffering.
- Going well. I could say that this last week “prepared” me for this. I was studying lots of Stoic philosophy and trying to use rational thinking to deal with my emotions. Stoicism has helped me go from “world crashing down” to thinking rationally: “If he chooses his family over me, I can’t control it. So don’t worry about it. Yes, I do care about him and his well-being. But he’s determined that it is more painful for me to “be there for him.” So instead of supporting him by “being there for him,” I will help ease the situation and support him as he asks, by being out of sight (and perhaps out of mind, although I know him well).
- My health.
- Not going well. My sleeping habits are screwed up. I cannot fall asleep before 4:00am, although last night I actually fell asleep at 3:00, so progress is being made. But then I woke up at 2:00 this afternoon. Not ok.
- I’ve been responding to this by simply feeling like a failure in life and not actively trying to change the situation. I should instead act with self-restraint (by setting an earlier bedtime and an alarm to wake up within a reasonable amount of time) and wisdom (I know 8 hours is what I need to function, and I know I need to get my body back into that habit). Therefore, I will set my bedtime to 2:00am tonight and set an alarm to wake me up 8 hours later, at 10:00. I’ll gradually change the bedtime until it is more reasonable.
- Eating balanced diet.
- Going ok. In terms of eating the right amount of food, check. In terms of eating balanced nutrition, fail.
- I haven’t really been worrying about this one. I’m in the middle of a Fiscal Fast week. I’ll try to eat some real meals and get some veggies and fruit. I’ll address this project another day or week.
- Drinking enough water.
- Not going well. I’ve been drinking soda, alcohol, and occasionally water. Haha. Easy enough to fix.
- Seriously though, the thought process behind my habits has been “Who needs water? I can get liquid in other ways.” I honestly haven’t been (dare I say it?) valuing my health, but by doing that, I’ve been certainly acting without self-restraint and wisdom. I know fluids are important for the body, and I need to take my body seriously.
- Not going well. I go for a 2-mile walk about once a week, although it’s not a formality. And based on my current situation, I need to make a conscious effort to get physical exercise.
- Once again, not taking my health seriously. I need to start acting with some wisdom.
- Overall physical health.
- Going ok. I have spine trouble that started in my lower back 4 years ago and has crept up my spine, manifesting additionally between my shoulder blades, my neck, and the base of my skull. It’s often a daily source of pain, but all the chiropractors want $2,000 to fix it. Luckily, it hasn’t been “painful” the last week or two, so I’ve been able to stave off going to the chiropractor.
- I need to act with wisdom and engage in the other projects mentioned above. This might produce benefits in my spine.
- Earning an income.
- Applying for jobs.
- Not going well. I applied to several jobs since I lost my job back in October but was turned down. I was working at the family business for a while but preferred to be in a more “metropolitan” area. So I’m at it again. I applied for a job yesterday and I have a list of several more, but motivating myself is difficult.
- When I was turned down for the jobs I applied for, I took it hard. Despite what friends tried to convince me, I started thinking that I was useless to society. I figured that if I could be unemployed for several months, then who would ever miss me? I definitely was not acting with the Virtues here. Wisdom tells me I need a job to earn an income. Courage tells me not to give up! As Seddon says in the book, I need to recognize that while my interest was harmed by the setback, I have the ultimate choice to allow the setback to harm ME, that is, my Virtues. By ignoring wisdom and courage, I am conscientiously giving permission for the situation to harm me. But by choosing now, from this point forward, to act with the Virtues, I cannot be harmed by any future setbacks. I can proceed with wisdom and courage.
- Internet tasks to earn some change.
- Going well. I set a goal amount to earn this week, and I reached it today, one day early.
- Knitting items for my Etsy shop.
- Not going well. I haven’t even started knitting this week, and my goal was to complete a pair of mittens.
- Once again, I’ve been feeling lazy and like a failure. I need to act with the Virtues, exercise some self-restraint in my frittering useless activities, and put my time to good use. I’m going to knit that pair of mittens by the end of tomorrow!
- (Occasionally selling clutter. I recently sold some furniture on Craigslist and made some good change. Sold some things on Amazon…)
- And of course, Stoic perfection of my character.
- Daily reading / exercises from Stoic Serenity.
- Engaging in conversation in Stoicism Facebook group.
- And a new assignment from today’s exercise: Conscientiousness of my interests, projects, and the way I go about them.
- (As I complete this exercise each day, more interests will appear from my daily activities).
Phew. So there we have it. I was quite wordy–you don’t have to be. I tried to address my emotional responses to my failures/setbacks. A lot of it seems monotonous. But I can really see how useful it is to evaluate the way we engage in each and every activity. I chose only to include my responses to the setbacks, but it’s important to consider our actions even when things are going well. I might have a high-paying job, but have I earned my income virtuously? Do I act with self-restraint, justice, courage, and wisdom in each activity in which I partake to earn my income?
Now my task is to pause each hour and be conscientious of the project I’m engaged in, and evaluate whether I’m acting with the Virtues or not.
Go ahead, scroll up to the top where I provided the instructions for the activity, and give it a shot!