Enchiridion of Epictetus – Chapter 10

In Education, Enchiridion of Epictetus, Essays, Philosophy, Self Improvement, Stoicism

“For every challenge, remember the resources you have within you to copy with it. Crooked by the sight of a handsome man or a beautiful woman, you will discover within you the contrary power of self-restraint. Faced with pain, you will discover the power of endurance. If you are insulted, you will discover patience. In time, you will grow to be confident that there is not a single impression that you will not have the moral means to tolerate.”

This is fantastic advice, and just goes to show how little people have changed, that something written over two thousand years ago still resonates clearly today.

Interestingly enough, this short chapter also gives us a clue on how to develop the very resources we need to overcome life’s daily challenges.

The answer is time (and practice).

If every time we hit against a challenge in life, we take the viewpoint that it’s a great way to build the corresponding skill set that will allow us to cope with the challenge.

With this attitude, no opportunity is ever lost, and we can always complete each day with the reassurance that we can “…return home a sounder man or at least more capable of becoming one.”, to quote Seneca.

As our confidence grows, because we experience more and greater challenges, our tranquility also increases, because we know that we can handle anything that can throw at us, and so there is nothing to worry about.

For fun, let’s tackle each example in this chapter..

Power of Self Restraint

This is a difficult power to build, because you are actually abstaining from something that is, to our uneducated minds, pleasurable and often immediate. I speak at length about delaying gratification in my aptly named essay “The Massive Guide to Delayed Gratification”.

The main takeaway from that is this: try and make the very act of delaying pleasure, pleasurable. So that feeling of contentment you receive when you know you manage to avoid a typical guilty pleasure, should give you pleasure in itself. Some might accuse this of being a silly mind game, and perhaps it is, but in practice it is an extremely potent weapon in the fight to keep our self restraint, especially in today’s world of near-instant gratification.

Just to be clear, this is more than just abstaining from sexual intercourse with a “handsome man or beautiful woman”, it can be applied to anything. However, I would first apply a filter of your own moral code to see what pleasures you feel are to be avoided, and which can be safely indulged. For instance, regarding sex, some people may feel that having multiple partners (sometime simultaneously!) is absolutely fine, while others may feel that one should wait until marriage before engaging in intercourse. Neither is right or wrong, these are just different approaches that work for different people.

Power of Endurance

Just like physical endurance, mental endurance is not something that can be developed overnight. This is a strange power, in that it actually crosses across many different categories of actions and thoughts. Endurance is required for almost anything that requires more than a trivial effort, and so it’s absolutely critical that we work to built it.

Again, the easiest way is to emulate a physical workout, and practice at regular intervals. Actively creating situations of hardships where we need to endure something negative is a great way to do this. I’m not advocating self harm, or anything particularly stressful, but something as simple as skipping a meal every so often, walking instead of driving or using public transport, and avoiding your favourite treats or habits for a set period of time. You’ll often find that most things are actually very easy to endure, and then this endurance that you’ve built up will spill into every facet of your daily life, including some of more serious things that will inevitably happen, like the loss of family and friends.

The Power of Patience

Patience and endurance are closely linked, and I have found that by practicing endurance, I often develop my patience towards things that I want happening more slowly than anticipated, or things that I don’t want not going away fast enough!

Conclusion

So this chapter is also a short and sweet guide on building tranquility into our lives, by using the hard parts of life to make us invincible. It’s also about making use all of the possible opportunities in life, because every challenge and “negative” event has a silver lining, which is that we can either learn from it, or simply practice our skills to overcome better next time.