I’ve been playing with a thought for a while now. Or, rather, some concepts have been bubbling under the surface of my mind and bubbled over a few days ago.
Reading and learning about habits, I’ve realised that my best and worst habits are the way I think. They’re thinking reactions that just happen in a given scenario without conscious thought. And often they trigger a sense of fear or anxiety in me, completely changing my attitude for that day, and diminishing my personal effectiveness.
“The soul becomes dyed with the colour of its thoughts” ~ Marcus Aurelius
Our expectations trigger our pain and anxiety
I recently needed to make a judgement call on a project I’m fortunate enough to be working on. One of the project sponsors was unavailable, and we couldn’t wait for him. I then realised that I was spending the days afterwards expecting that sponsor to catch up with what had been done, and to chew me out for the decision I’d made.
What I realised is that I’m living (and not necessarily in a good way) a modified version of Epictetus’ quote:
“Any person capable of [frightening] you becomes your master; he can only [frighten] you when you permit yourself to be disturbed by him” ~ Epictetus
Self Belief is an Asset to be developed
Later on, after writing an early draft of this note, I realised that people who are fearful and hesitant create more work for their managers. They aren’t a true asset, but instead continue to be a drain on their leaders’ mental space. In order to be a true asset to someone, I then need to be confident and capable enough to just get on with the job, keep them informed, but try to minimise the “drag” on their mental space as far as possible.
The modified version of Epictetus’ quote (above) makes so much sense to my life. I don’t really struggle with anger. Its not a “thing” for me, but the stoics had quite a lot to say about anger. Maybe it’s because men and women experience life and things differently, or maybe it’s because life and society have changed enough in the past 2,000 years that fear and anxiety are our most destructive thoughts, where anger used to be theirs.
Quotes for Anxiety and Fear
Just because it works for me today, while I’m writing this, doesn’t make it a significant discovery. I need to test whether the stoic philosophy in general would remain relevant and useful as inspiration for me if I swopped “anger” out for “fear” or “anxiety”. This is what I found:
“You shouldn’t give circumstances the power to rouse [fear] for they don’t care at all.” ~Marcus Aurelius
Yup, stuff happens: good stuff, random stuff, bad stuff. I’ve got little to no control over most of the “stuff” that happens in life, but I do (or at least should) have control over how I respond to it. Allowing myself to fear what’s happening only damages my personal effectiveness, and dyes my soul with the colour of anxiety.
“If you do not wish to be prone to [anxiety], do not feed the habit; give it nothing which may tend to its increase.” ~Epictetus
Ooh, interesting that Epictetus saw anger as a thinking-habit, and by extension that fear and anxiety can be seen as thinking habits too. They’re just knee-jerk thoughts we have, and feelings we trigger, just because we’ve always done it that way and never upgraded our response to “stuff” happening.
So, I think this goes back to:
“You will never have to experience defeat if you avoid contests whose outcome is outside your control.” ~ Epictetus
Control your thoughts to control your life
By watching and curating how we frame and interpret life’s events around us, we focus more on that we do have control over, and less on what we don’t. I often find that if my mind is full enough of constructive or positive thoughts, it hasn’t got capacity to think about anything more. This’ll make things we don’t control feel less important to us, and hypothetically then gives them less influence or power over us. And less likely to cause fear.
So, in my businesses, I somehow make the excellent choice a long time ago not to worry about my competition. Yes, I know they exist. Yes, I know that their actions can impact on my business, but I have no control over what they do and don’t do. So worrying about them, and tracking their activities is a drain on my time and mental energy, which would achieve nothing but make me worried about something I have no control over.