I’m a regular reader of Ryan Holiday’s Daily Stoic newsletter and every now and again he sends what I believe to be the most important reminders about relieving stress in our lives.
Stress has caused me many issues (which is why I care), so if you’ve ever been stressed out about anything, the following piece of advice will I think prove useful.
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Like a lot of us, you wake up each day a little frustrated and dismayed. Or sometimes really frustrated and dismayed. Did someone really tweet that? Why can’t these people get their act together? What’s happening to this country? Why are my kids acting like that? What the hell is wrong with my neighbor?
Things may be baffling and there may be real consequences to what’s happening in the world right now, but it should not surprise you that you’re upset. Your attitude is largely responsible.
Or, according to Marcus Aurelius, totally responsible. “You take things you don’t control and define them as ‘good’ or ‘bad,’” he said. “And so of course when the ‘bad’ things happen, or the ‘good’ ones don’t, you blame the gods and feel hatred for the people responsible—or those you decide to make responsible.”
We have to remember: What happens is objective. Most of it has nothing to do with us. Most of it is not anyone’s fault and most of it does not actually harm us. We just tell ourselves it does. We insist on having an opinion. We insist on assigning blame.
No wonder we’re angry. No wonder we’re upset. We inserted ourselves into this. We’re projecting. We’re demanding things we don’t control to be a certain way…and are surprised when they aren’t. This is madness.
We have to remember what Marcus said, that we must limit assigning ‘good’ and ‘bad’—or rather positive and negative—to “our own actions.” Then we’ll have no reason to curse anyone or anything…except, of course, ourselves.
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If you’ve never heard of stoicism before, another phrase for it might be “common sense”. The Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius is often quoted in this context, not least because he wrote about it in his private diaries known as – The Meditations by Marcus Aurelius (the mit.edu version is free and easily findable).
Whenever I’m stuck for any reason (and being angry is a perfect example), I resort to first principles. If you want to find out more about that, read my series on how to get round being stuck here: