As someone who has always admired the teachings of Stoicism, I’ve seen firsthand how philosophy can help you find the balance between reason and emotion. Stoicism teaches us that the rational mind should always precede feelings when making decisions. In this article, I’ll share practical strategies to help you better control your emotions and make rational decisions.
1. Become aware of your emotions as they arise
The first step to mastering your emotions is recognizing them as they occur. By practicing mindfulness, you can become more attuned to your feelings and better understand the triggers that cause them. For instance, if someone criticizes you and you feel anger, take a moment to recognize that feeling and analyze why it’s happening. This awareness can help you respond more rationally and measuredly rather than letting your emotions dictate your actions.
Mindfulness and Stoicism may appear to be different philosophies, but they share some common ground in their self-awareness and emotional regulation approaches. Mindfulness, a concept rooted in Buddhist teachings, emphasizes the importance of being present at the moment and paying attention to one’s thoughts and emotions without judgment. Stoicism, a philosophy founded in ancient Greece, encourages rational thinking and emotional control in pursuing a virtuous life. Integrating mindfulness into Stoic practice can enhance self-awareness and help individuals manage their emotions more effectively.
Here’s how you can apply mindfulness through the Stoic philosophy:
- Focusing on the present moment: Stoicism and mindfulness teach the importance of living in the present. Stoics believe that we should focus on things within our control, primarily our thoughts, beliefs, and actions in the present moment. Mindfulness techniques, such as meditation and conscious breathing, can help cultivate this presence of mind and direct our attention to the here and now.
- Observing thoughts and emotions non-judgmentally: Mindfulness encourages us to observe our thoughts and emotions without attaching judgment or engaging with them. Stoicism also promotes self-awareness and introspection, guiding us to recognize the difference between our internal reactions and external events. By incorporating mindfulness into your Stoic practice, you can observe your emotions as they arise, identify their triggers, and refrain from reacting impulsively.
- Practicing cognitive distancing: Stoicism teaches that it’s not the events that cause distress but our interpretation of those events. Mindfulness can help with cognitive distancing, allowing you to step back and examine your thoughts and emotions from a detached perspective. This detachment enables you to reassess the situation objectively and challenge any negative thoughts or beliefs that might fuel emotional distress.
- Cultivating virtues: Stoicism and mindfulness emphasize the importance of cultivating virtues such as wisdom, courage, justice, and self-discipline. Mindfulness can help you become more aware of your thoughts, emotions, and actions, making it easier to identify areas where you need to develop these virtues. By practicing mindfulness, you can work towards embodying Stoic virtues in your daily life.
Integrating mindfulness into your Stoic practice can provide valuable tools for self-awareness, emotional regulation, and personal growth. By focusing on the present moment, observing thoughts and emotions non-judgmentally, practicing cognitive distancing, and cultivating virtues, you can enhance your Stoic practice and lead a more balanced, rational life.
2. Being irrational versus being rational
It’s important to differentiate between irrational and rational behaviors. When you’re irrational, you let your emotions take control, doing whatever you feel like doing with no filter or thoughts about consequences, often leading to impulsive decisions and reactions. On the other hand, being rational means using logic and reason to make decisions, even when emotions are running high.
Let’s say you’re in a heated debate with a friend. If you’re being irrational, you might let your anger cloud your judgment and say hurtful things. However, if you’re being rational, you would consider the facts and present your arguments calmly, despite feeling upset. There is a tipping point when our emotions begin to take over, where we have a choice to stop or continue letting our emotional expression accelerate and get out of our rational mind’s control. Choose to stop and think while you still can.
3. Stop the patterns of runaway emotions affecting your actions
One way to prevent emotions from taking control is to pause and take a few deep breaths before reacting. This can help you regain composure and make more rational decisions. For example, if you’re feeling overwhelmed with stress at work, take a moment to step away from your desk, breathe deeply, and remind yourself that you can handle the situation. You might also consider removing yourself from emotionally charged situations, allowing you to return with a clearer mind.
4. Know yourself
Understanding your emotional triggers and egoic tendencies is crucial to mastering your feelings. By recognizing your vulnerabilities, you can work on strengthening them and reducing their impact on your decision-making process. For example, if you know you’re prone to jealousy, you can remind yourself that these feelings are not rational and work on developing self-confidence instead.
“Know Thyself” is a fundamental tenet of Stoicism that encourages self-awareness and introspection. This concept originated from the ancient Greek aphorism inscribed in the Temple of Apollo at Delphi and has been integrated into various philosophical traditions, including Stoicism. Understanding your thoughts, emotions, and reactions allows you to navigate difficult situations with reason rather than being led by emotion. Here’s how the Stoic teachings on “Know Thyself” can help you use reason over emotion in challenging circumstances:
- Understanding your emotional triggers: Knowing yourself involves identifying the specific situations or stimuli that evoke strong emotional responses within you. Recognizing these triggers allows you to anticipate and prepare for potential emotional reactions. This awareness enables you to remain rational and composed during difficult situations, allowing you to make well-reasoned decisions rather than being swayed by emotions.
- Recognizing your cognitive biases: As humans, we are prone to cognitive biases that can distort our perception of reality and cloud our judgment. By understanding your biases and tendencies, you can actively work to counteract their influence on your decision-making process. This self-awareness helps you to rely on reason and evidence rather than letting your emotions and biases dictate your actions.
- Developing emotional resilience: Knowing yourself also involves understanding your strengths and weaknesses in handling adversity. Stoic teachings emphasize the importance of cultivating emotional resilience to cope with life’s challenges. By acknowledging your vulnerabilities and working on personal growth, you can build emotional resilience and manage difficult situations with a more rational and composed mindset.
- Practicing self-reflection: Stoicism encourages regular self-reflection to gain insights into your thoughts, emotions, and actions. By self-examination, you can evaluate your progress in becoming more rational and self-aware. This ongoing practice of self-reflection helps you to remain vigilant about your emotional responses and make reasoned decisions during challenging situations.
- Aligning with your values and virtues: Stoicism places great importance on living by your values and virtues, such as wisdom, courage, justice, and temperance. When you know yourself and your guiding principles, you are better equipped to make decisions that align with those virtues, even when emotions run high. This alignment helps you navigate difficult situations with a rational and balanced perspective, ensuring that your actions are guided by reason and moral principles.
The Stoic teachings on “Know Thyself” can significantly help you use reason over emotion in challenging situations. By understanding yourself, you can make well-reasoned decisions and effectively manage life’s difficulties with a rational and composed mindset.
5. Choose reason over emotions
When faced with a difficult decision, it’s essential to weigh the facts and use reason to guide your actions. By concentrating on rationality, you can prevent emotions from clouding your judgment. For instance, don’t let fear hold you back if you’re considering a job change. Instead, carefully examine the pros and cons of the opportunity, and make a decision based on logic and reason. Choose thinking over feeling early in any decision-making process or a difficult situation.
6. The horse and the rider analogy
The horse and rider analogy is a powerful illustration of how reason can help control emotions. Imagine your emotions as a wild horse, full of energy and impulsivity. In contrast, your rational mind is the rider, responsible for guiding and controlling the horse.
To manage your emotions effectively, it’s essential to strengthen the rider’s skills. Some ways to do this include:
- Practicing mindfulness to become more aware of your emotions
- Identifying and understanding your emotional triggers and weaknesses
- Pausing and breathing before reacting in emotionally charged situations
- Relying on reason to make decisions rather than allowing emotions to take control
- Cultivate mindfulness to recognize emotions as they arise
- Distinguish between irrational and rational behaviors
- Pause and breathe during emotional situations to regain composure
- Understand your emotional triggers and egoic vulnerabilities
- Prioritize reason when making decisions rather than succumbing to emotions
- Utilize the horse and rider analogy as a mental framework for steering emotions with reason
In conclusion, the principles of Stoicism teach us to prioritize reason over emotion in our decision-making processes. By practicing mindfulness, understanding our emotional triggers, and focusing on rationality, we can better control our feelings and make more rational decisions. By applying the strategies discussed in this blog post, you can embark on a more balanced, rational mind that will positively impact your life, career, investments, and relationships. Embrace the Stoic way and harness the power of reason to master your emotions.