Enchiridion of Epictetus – Chapter 4

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

Whenever planning an action, mentally rehearse what the plan entails. If you are heading out to bathe, picture to yourself the typical scene at the bathhouse – people splashing, pushing, yelling and pinching your clothes. You will complete the act with more composure if you say at the outset, “I want a bath, but at the same time I want to keep my will aligned with nature.” Do it with every act. That way if something occurs to spoil your bath, you will have ready the thought, “Well, this was not my only intention, I also meant to keep my will in line with nature – which is impossible if I go all to pieces whenever anything bad happens.”

In my daily life, I often notice that people easily lose their tranquility over small things. What I find absurd about this is that it’s often not a good bargain.

If you order a mango juice at a coffee shop and it takes fifteen minutes to arrive, is it really such a bad thing? Is it worth trading your inner tranquility for such an insignificant event? Considering how much money, time and effort we expend in attempting to relax this is clearly not a good deal. An alternative is to simply accept the fact that the ideal situation will happen only rarely, and just get on with things.

I am often surprised at what other people are surprised at. Granted, life does have a habit of throwing at one completely unforeseeable opportunities and problems but that is foreseeable. Also, the day to day noise of life is generally foreseeable. You will have something stolen, things will not go to plan and one waiter, somewhere, will get your order wrong. We need to learn to put these things into perspective.

You will only get upset or angry about your delayed mango juice if you believe you life in a world where mango juices are never delayed or forgotten about.

Epictetus gives us an easy way to keep our composure. Every morning when you wake up tell yourself:

I want to do x, but at the same time I want to focus on the things I can control.

If you can actually follow this, you will never be upset about your delayed mango juice because you will remind yourself that the mango juice and the lazy/forgetful waiter are not under your control. What is under your control is how you decide to act when the lazy, forgetful waiter doesn’t bring you your mango juice.

Think about that one.

If we want to live the good life, one thing is clear. We cannot “go to pieces” each time something “bad” happens. So that’s what this boils down to, becoming immune to all these stupid things in life which happen whether we like them or not.