“Who then is invincible? The one who cannot be upset by anything outside of their reasoned choice.”
– Epictetus, Discourses, 1.18.21
When I first read this passage during my morning reading I found it to be so simplistic that it was almost meaningless, but the more I think about it the more I realize that this sentence may be the foundation of Stoicism. Invincibility is what the Stoic life philosophy (as well as most religious practices) attempts to give all humanity.
A peaceful, happy life comes from control of your emotions and understanding that most things are not within our control, which means they are generally a waste of time to worry about. Unfortunately, like all ethical standards, it is an ideal that we all can aim for but never really achieve. It is a secular version of being Christ-like or attaining Nirvana. It is a noble pursuit, but the path never ends.
So, if this invincibility is impossible to attain, why should we try? And, maybe more importantly, how do we do it?
I can’t speak for anyone else, but I think having a peaceful mind allows me to have a better life, as well as improve the lives of others. I have a finite amount of mental energy and if I waste it on things outside of my control then I can’t use it on the things within my control. If I use my time and energy to read Facebook articles or worry about Trump as President then I have less time and energy to create art, take my dog for a walk, call my best friend, or volunteer at a homeless shelter. Trump and virtually everything produced by the media is completely outside of my control, but my dog, my writing, my friendships, and my community are within my control.
The mind is a physical organ with limited energy reserves, just like the rest of my body, and my mind can be improved. The strength of my mind is a mixture of genetics and my history, both of which I can’t do anything about. I am not helpless, though, because I can implement practices that will improve my mind and bring me closer to invincibility. So, here are the practices that seem to be working for me:
Cut Out Negative Stimulation: This is primarily directed at Facebook, but also other media sources. The vast majority of what I read on Facebook does not make me happy and it doesn’t improve my life, so I’ve reduced my Facebook time to 10 minutes per day and removed the app from my phone. I have kept the Facebook Messenger app so that I can communicate with friends, and I still use positive social networks like Instagram, UnTapped, and Goodreads. “Staying Informed” is overrated and I can do that by reading a few headlines a day, at most. For example, I don’t think it is necessarily harmful to know that a major world event happened, but I can gain that knowledge in just a few seconds. I don’t need minute-to-minute updates or to read every opinion in every newspaper or blog about the event The additional value I receive for every extra minute I spend on the same piece of news drops quickly.
Minimize Decisions: Reducing the amount of decisions I make during the day helps free up mental energy for the things I care about. This includes eating the same meals daily and only owning plain t-shirts and jeans. I also use the app “5×5” to plan my workouts for me and I only check my emails twice a day. The more things that I can automate or turn into mindless habits, the better.
Exercise: The mind is a muscle and exercise is good for it. This includes physical exercise through daily weight-lifting, jogging, and/or yoga, but also includes mental exercises to wake up my logical facilities. Learning is good for me and helps me be more productive, so each morning after a cup of coffee I get on Khan Academy and spend 30 minutes or so learning new math skills. Reading, as well as creating art (whether that’s writing, painting, playing a musical instrument), also help exercise the mind. I try and write daily, as well as spend some time in the morning reflecting on a stoic passage (compliments of “The Daily Stoic”) and read each day. My daily readings vary wildly depending on my interest at the time and I’m currently reading two pieces of non-fiction, one piece of fiction, and a graphic novel.
Mindfulness Meditation: I guess this is technically an exercise, but I feel like it deserves a special mention. Spending just ten minutes a day trying to meditate can really strengthen the mind and bring clarity, as well as enhance creativity and peace. I use the “Headspace” app for this.
Nutrition and Sleep: Eating a balanced diet with minimally processed food is absolutely essential for my mental health. A diet that is heavy in vegetables, fruits, and legumes gets me all the micronutrients I need and makes me feel energized throughout the day. I also try to drink only water, coffee, and tea, which is nice. I think sleep is underappreciated. I used to say I could never be a “morning person”, but that really wasn’t true, I never tried. Now, I am in bed by 10 pm and up at 6 am, and I try not to watch movies or get on the internet after 9 pm. I only use my phone to listen to an Audiobook to help me fall asleep, and I use the “Twilight” app to keep my screen red. I get way more done now that I’m on a sleep schedule that maximizes my time awake with daylight.
Better Living Through Chemistry: Most of the stuff I do is pretty cliche… eat right, drink water, get sleep, exercise, etc. I think those things are the foundation for my pursuit of invincibility and a good life, but I don’t think we should neglect modern science. I am a big fan of nootropics and take L-Theanine in the morning with my coffee, as well as Choline/Inositol, Gingko Biloba, and DHEA twice a day.
I’m very happy with my current practices, but I don’t want to remain stagnant. I want to keep pushing my mind and body and improve my inner peace. There are certainly more toxic things that I can cut out of my life and ways in which I can refine my current systems, as well as change them as my life changes. Habits are important, but they all should be evaluated from time to time to make sure they don’t become something I do just “because that is how it has always been done”.