It’s a sunny day, you’re enjoying your drive, listening to great tunes. You start merging onto the freeway… but the muscle car in your lane ain’t slowin’ down for NO ONE – even though your on-ramp is short and the guard rail looms into view. You scream a few Hail Mary’s* and yank the steering wheel into your lane at the last second.
*(mixed with a few other 4-letter words)
Muscle Car REVS UP and aggressively tails you. You’re terrified. And oh, are you ever p’ed off: “What an A-HOLE!” you scream, gesticulating madly, face flushed.
Your blood pressure is going through the roof.
You return home after an exhausting day.
As you park, you notice the garbage can is still where it was this morning – that is, NOT set out on the curb. Today was garbage pick-up day.
“Not AGAIN!” you scream, stomping into the house, searching for your teenager like a crazed hunter. “How could she forget AGAIN?! How many times do I have to TELL her?!”
Again – your blood pressure is going through the roof.
While each of these situations aren’t serious in and of themselves, they are the type of everyday stressors that ADD UP in a body and mind that is already stretched to the breaking point with tension at work, in primary relationships, with health issues, money issues, Covid issues, and people dealing with loneliness, anxiety, depression, and negative Mind Loops.
Even a small stressor can be the drop that makes the stress-cup overfloweth. And we don’t want that cup to spill.
Thankfully I have two favorite concepts to deal with stress and anger of all types – including serious stressors, like discovering a spouse is having an affair, or getting laid off.
For these two concepts, we turn to my champions of philosophy: The Stoics.
(WAIT! Don’t stop reading just because I used 2 words that turned your hair limp – “philosophy” and “Stoicism”! Keep reading. You won’t be disappointed).
Who Were the Stoics?
When people hear the word “Stoicism,” they think: “emotionless.”
Nothing could be farther from the truth.
Stoicism is a vibrant, actionable philosophy that can help ANYONE dealing with negative Mind Loops stress, and anger, to become more resilient, happier, and better human beings.
The philosophy of Stoicism began in Greece in the 3rd century BC, and spread to Rome, with one of the most famous Roman Stoics being the wise emperor, Marcus Aurelius (who is the handsome fella in the 2 photos above).
Modern Stoics include George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and John Adams… Teddy Roosevelt and Bill Clinton… Arnold Schwarzenegger, Tom Brady, and Pete Carroll… Ralph Waldo Emerson, Tim Ferris, and JK Rowling… to name a few.
(ok. history lesson over. let’s get on to the fixes!)
2 Stoic Concepts To Deal With Stress:
BEWARE OF EXPECTATIONS.
“Anger is just proof of how unrealistic your expectations were.” – Stoic wisdom
People reveal their character in CLEAR ways: They do the same behaviors again and again and again. And yet we fool ourselves into thinking: “THIS time will be different.”
Reflect on how hard it is for YOU to change ingrained patterns of behavior. It’s not only hard, but sometimes we dang well don’t WANT to.
So why do we expect THEY will change – just because we want them to?
You can HOPE your discussion got through to them. You can HOPE the “I’m sorry’s” and “I’ll never do it again’s” are real.
But don’t hold your breath. And don’t be so surprised when your expectations are dashed.
Instead: Lower your expectations. Be real. It isn’t easy to change, and most people despise the idea. Human nature is what it is. We are feeble in that way.
While this may seem like a dumb piece of advice – or a too-bitter pill to swallow – think about how it lessens your stress. “Oh. Garbage didn’t go out again. Surprise surprise.”
Yes, you may still feel some anger. But it will be less.
And not being surprised gives you CHOICES:
How else could you set up this chore? Maybe someone else could do it, and your teenager can do a different chore. Or maybe it’s time to create stronger boundaries with higher consequences for NOT doing it.*
*(like moving the garbage can into their bedroom for the week. I bet they wouldn’t need another reminder to take it out next time).
When I remember: “Oh YEAH, that’s right: There are jerk-tailgaters on the freeway”, I’m no longer shocked and offended when they appear. Instead, I maintain my same speed AND composure, and turn up the music. Or calmly move to the next lane.
I feel more RELAXED – because the occasional obnoxious driver is EXPECTED.
Most importantly, you’ll see the situation MORE CLEARLY. That person is displaying WHO THEY ARE. You will begin to let go of the illusion you carry about them – and about people in general:
That kindness will change them.
(sometimes it has an effect, but don’t count on it).
Or your thoughtful discussion will change them.
(sometimes they’ll hear you, other times defensiveness or rebellion takes over).
Or your threats will change them.
(good luck, unless those threats are backed up with clear boundaries and consequences).
Usually though, nothing will change them – until THEY CHOOSE to change.
Time to make different choices of your own. It can be strangely freeing.
And finally… before deciding if someone is acting ill:
“Unless you perfectly understand the principle from which anyone acts, how should you know if he acts ill?” – Epictetus (one of the Stoic greats)
In Mind Loops lingo, this is: “Watch out for the STORIES you create in your mind.”
The tailgater may not be an A-Hole after all. Maybe he’s racing to the hospital because his girlfriend was just in a car crash with a muscle car tailgater. Might as well give him the benefit of the doubt and save your energy, serenity, and blood pressure.
WHAT’S IN YOUR CONTROL & WHAT’S NOT.
Some things are in our control and others not.
Things in our control are:
Opinion, pursuit, desire, aversion, and, in a word,
whatever are our own actions.
Things NOT in our control are:
Body, property, reputation, command, and in one word,
whatever are not our own actions.” – Epictetus
The single most important practice the Stoics focus on, is getting clear on what is IN our control, and what is NOT.
We can do nothing about the bad weather, our childhood history, and whether our computer “blows up” out of the blue. We have no power over a troll posting a nasty comment, whether someone like us or not – nor whether a muscle car tailgates us on the freeway.
When we continue to fight against what is out of our control, resisting and ranting and raving and complaining about it – even though we can’t CHANGE it – we are fighting a battle we can’t win.
When we focus on what is in OUR control, life suddenly becomes calmer, easier, and happier.
Take a look at the list of things Epictetus says are IN and OUT of your control (in the quote above).
You have better things to do with your time and energy than fighting against things out of your control.
(like creating beautiful things, laughing, moving your body, figuring out what you love to – and then doing them).
Your Mantra this week – and hopefully for life:
“If it’s out of my control, let it go.”
USE these two Stoic ideas.
Make a note on your calendar to check in with yourself at the end of the week to see how you feel.
Let me know your result.
Author of the #1 Amazon Kindle Bestseller, How To Stop Negative Thoughts
Contributing author of the #1 Amazon Bestseller, The Transformative Power of Near-Death Experiences