The mind is an absolutely crazy place.
One moment you’re thinking about donuts, the next your thinking about you and the girl that just passed by, and the next thing you’re thinking about why you chose to be a programmer instead of a painter.
Other times, the contents of the mind are not so pretty though, like when it tells you that you’re such a loser and that you’ll never amount to anything big in your life (especially on hangovers). Ouch.
“You have power over your mind — not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.”
― Marcus Aurelius
Power over your mind. But not everything on it, right? I mean, I cannot control most of the thoughts that arise in it. They just come and go like clouds.
Power over your mind? how can I have power over something I cannot control, like my thoughts?
And here is where you get Stoicism wrong.
You cannot control what you think, what you can control is how and what you think about what you think. Put in a word, your judgments.
It is not events that disturb us, but our opinions of them — Epictetus
Count what goes inside your head as events as well. It is not your mind’s contents that disturb you, but what you believe, opine, conclude, suppose, about those contents.
Thinking about things right
Beliefs. They run your world and you don’t even realize it. Your core belief system defines how you behave.
Do you know what beliefs are? Judgments. You came about them earlier in your life, realized that they worked to get you by, and then appropriated them as part of your identity.
So much so, that, most likely, you don’t even realize that you are entirely made up of beliefs, that may or may not be true and accurate, but that you nevertheless take for granted as truths about the world.
There’s this thing, let’s call it ‘state’. Your state is the way you carry and feel yourself at any given moment in time. Think of it like your weather.
Your state can change depending on what you’re doing.
Say, if you’re being praised, your state changes, and you feel good. If you’re being mocked, your state changes, and you feel bad. If you’re alone, you feel lonely. Your state (weather) changes as you come and go.
But what about controlling it? Is that even possible? Can you carry your own weather around with you?
“If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.”
― Marcus Aurelius
Ask yourself. Could it be, maybe, more important to carry your own state (weather) with you? Instead of letting it be defined by all the things that could go and most likely will go in some degree wrong or not as you want them to?
How can you do this?
By changing your beliefs (judgments) about things.
Don’t expect things to go as you plan them, for example, and you won’t feel so distressed about them.
Always ask yourself, what is my expectation about this thing or the other? And realize that you have the power over that expectation, in fact, destroy it. Stop expecting and worry about living.
Stop trying to find value on the external and realize that the ‘state’ you’re looking for, is really just an attitude that you can put on and off like a hat at any moment.
The problem arises when you believe (falsely) that you’ll only be able to achieve the desired state by external things (being praised, admired, money etc.) happening.
You control that attitude, might be the right word, towards the world.
You cannot control the contents of your mind, you can only influence them, and you do that by taking the reins of your judgments, that’s it.
Choose how you think about the world, and you’ll find power.
Thanks for reading,
Subscribe and become part of the Stoic Answers community. Courage, Wisdom, Justice, Temperance.