As much as I’m really anxious to get through the rest of this chapter, we do need to spend some time applying Epictetus’ dichotomy of control to our personal lives. Stoicism is fascinating to study, but the catch always lies in practice. It’s hard to remember to change our entire outlook on life!
Before we get to our assignment, here’s a funny little clip by a Stoic comedian, Michael Connell, originally shared in the Facebook Group “Stoicism Group (Stoic Philosophy)” by Massimo Pigliucci of How to Be a Stoic.
Our assignment is simple:
- Each day, write down your daily activities you were involved in.
- For each of the activities that you log, identify aspects that were in your power and aspects that were not in your power.
Activity: Went shopping.
In My Power: The decision to do this.
Not in My Power: Getting to the store. (I did—but the car could have broken down); Finding the shop open. (it was open—but there could have been a fire);
- When things do go wrong, write down your reaction to the setback/disappointment. Remember that even though external circumstances might urge a particular negative reaction within you, it is entirely within your own control as to whether you allow yourself to react negatively.
Not in My Power: Finding the groceries that I needed. (was not able to—store was out of cheese)
Reaction: “In my power: getting annoyed at this, so decided not to.”
- Maintain a record like this for a minimum of 7 days. (Don’t be worried that your daily logs might seem to be full of everyday, trivial events.)
I’ll go ahead and share what my “Power Log” from yesterday would have looked like.
Wednesday – 04/01/2015
Activity: Ate cereal for breakfast.
In My Power: Intending to eat cereal.
Not In My Power: The milk being fresh—(it was, but it could have spoiled overnight); The cereal being fresh—(it was, but weevils could have invaded the box);
Activity: Wrote blog post.
In My Power: Deciding to dedicate time to write the post.
Not in My Power: Actually finishing the post—(I did, but there could have been a power outage);
Activity: Spent evening with “ex-significant other” (long story)
In My Power: Intending to open the door when I heard someone knocking.
Not In My Power: Him showing up completely unannounced and unexpected.—(He did.)
Reaction: “In my power: welcoming him inside and in general trying to have a good time.”
Activity: Went to the movie theater.
In My Power: Assenting to go along to the movie theater.
Not in My Power: No movies were starting until two hours later.
Reaction: “In my power: decided that going to the theater wasn’t really important at all.”
Activity: Went to the grocery store.
In My Power: Assenting to go to the grocery store.
Not in My Power: Received huge carton of strawberries from my “ex-significant other.”
Reaction: “In my power: conceive of this as a nice gesture and move on.”
Activity: Watched “The Da Vinci Code”
In My Power: Intending to watch the movie.
Not in My Power: Internet stopped working halfway through the movie.
Reaction: “In my power: be patient and aim to get the internet working again.”
Activity: Went to sleep.
In My Power: Intending to go to sleep.
Not in My Power: (or is this in my power? I’m not sure): couldn’t fall asleep until 5:30am
Reaction: Got discouraged and worried about the increasing insomnia. Read about ways to cure insomnia until I finally fell asleep.
How I could have reacted: Refuse to assent to discouragement and worry over insomnia. Direct my intent back towards going to sleep. Utilize Virtue (self-control and wisdom) to focus my efforts on improving my sleep.
Well that’s the gist of it. As stated, keep a record similar to this for at least one week. We’ll keep going with our lessons, but you should continue your log in the background. Eventually our goal will be to go through this thought-process proactively when we are able. We should anticipate what might go wrong and then think through our potential reactions. This will help us react in better ways when we are faced with setbacks in reality.