Grit… Resilience… Mental toughness… We hear a lot about them these days. But maybe we shouldn’t. Why not?
Because there have been good solutions to the underlying problem for about, oh, around 2,000 years? The ancient Stoic philosophers really knew what they were doing when it came to building mental toughness. In fact…
What’s the most effective psychological tool we have today? Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. What’s it based on? Stoicism.
From Stoicism and the Art of Happiness – Ancient Tips For Modern Challenges:
Stoicism provides a rich armamentarium of strategies and techniques for developing psychological resilience… In a sense, ancient Stoicism was the granddaddy of all ‘self-help’ and its ideas and techniques have inspired many modern approaches to both personal development and psychological therapy. It’s generally accepted that the modern psychotherapy that most resembles ancient Stoic ‘remedies’ for emotional problems is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and its precursor Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT)… CBT also happens to have the strongest evidence base, the strongest scientific support, of any modern form of psychological therapy.
A lot of people who hear Stoic immediately think of Spock on Star Trek. They couldn’t be more wrong. It’s not going to turn you into a emotionless robot. Most of us get a lot of things wrong about Stoicism.
The Stoics had some great tools to help fight negative feelings. And when you’re good at dealing with the negative, you have more time for the positive. And that also helps you stay resilient when it feels like the world is out to get you.
So let’s learn the basics of what the guys-in-togas really had to say and how it can make you more mentally strong so you can get what you want out of life…
Your Stoicism Cheatsheet
First: “People are not disturbed by events, but rather by their judgments about events.” Get fired? Sounds bad. End up getting a much better job? So getting fired was good. Pain in your arm? Uh-oh. But were you just in a car accident and the doctor said you might never regain feeling in your limbs? So pain is good. Events are neither good nor bad; your interpretation of them of them is good or bad.
So when you blame events for your feelings, the toga-guys say you’re just plain wrong. The rain didn’t make you sad, your beliefs about the rain made you sad.
Second: It’s critical to know what you can control and what you can’t. And for the Stoics, the only thing you ever really have control over is your deliberate thoughts. You can’t control other people, you can’t control nature, and you can’t always control your own body. (Try wishing away your migraine and let me know how well that works for you.)
When you get frustrated over something you cannot control (which is most things) you’re pretending you’re God. You feel you should have power over something you haven’t and that’s why you get angry, frustrated or sad. Yeah, maybe people “shouldn’t” do that, but they are. Maybe it “shouldn’t” be raining, but it is.
You have to accept you do not have control over a lot of stuff — but that doesn’t mean you give up. You can influence things and you can try to affect them, but when you delude yourself that you “should” have 100% control over an outcome, you’re almost always going to find yourself emotionally upset if things don’t go your way.
Now both of these ideas — that you’re disturbed by beliefs not events and that the issue of control is at the heart of negative emotions — are central to resilience and mental toughness. So, let’s learn how to put them to work.
So a big challenge is on the horizon. What’s the first step to getting mentally stronger? Stay tuned, and you’ll find out in my next article…