Stoic Week: Day 5

I felt really confident about today’s theme because it’s about Emotions and I’m actually a very calm person. I was very happy to share my “insert dragon” technique with someone. The conversation went like this:

Other Participant: I’m an extremely emotional and empathic person (I cry for everything! even sad TV ads) and I tend to let my emotions control me although I am trying to change this…When something triggers my anxiety, my emotions take a hold, and I start to spiral in this negative mindset thinking to myself “why do I feel this way? Why me? This is all my fault I should have stopped stressing in the first place that was the cause of all this anxiety to begin with!”…I was wondering if anyone has advice on this? How to train yourself to not react so negatively towards situations. How to take control of your emotions? Thank you so much, I really love this course and love reading everyone’s comments and wisdom. It is very inspiring to me.
Me: I have a weird technique I use for snapping myself out of negative thoughts. I don’t know if it’ll work for anxiety, but I use it for minor negative thoughts like replaying past conversations in my head or imagining future scenarios that stress me out. I call it the “insert dragon technique”.
Basically I realized that since replaying conversations and thinking about the future are just made up of thoughts and I can control my thoughts (I have an active imagination so I have lots of practice), I can just “insert” a dragon and it’ll snap me out of it.
Example: Say my boss calls me into his office and the whole way there I’m thinking “Crap, what did I do? Did I mess up? Did a customer complain about me?” So I’ll immediately start imagining about how I think the conversation is going to go and with each step I’m getting more and more freaked out. But the thing is it’s just my imagined scenario that’s making me nervous because the actually event of talking to my boss in his office hasn’t even happened yet. So once I realize I’m imagining the scenario, which means it’s only in my head at this point, I can take the reins back and I just imagine a dragon crash landing in the office, because what’s to say after that? (And I picked a dragon because I like dragons). The mental image that creates is so *bizarre and outlandish* that it’ll snap me back to the present.
It feels a lot like waking up from a weird dream when I do it. I’ll use the same technique if I catch myself replaying a past conversation I feel really stressed about or embarrassed about. The point of the exercise is to get back to the present where I have the most power. I can’t do anything about the past and I can’t predict the future.
Once I’m back in the present I can do a more accurate check in of what I’m actually feeling instead of what I imagined I was feeling. I also think it’s important to let myself feel my feelings. If I try to suppress what I’m feeling then I can’t get an accurate picture, or rather an accurate bio-feedback, of what I’m feeling. If I don’t know what I’m actually feeling then I won’t be able to figure out the cause and if I can’t figure out the cause then I can’t do anything about it in the present where it counts. I’m not sure how feasible it is to completely control some emotions.
Maybe the first step isn’t to try and stop feeling emotions or trying to control your emotions. Maybe the first step is not letting the emotions control you. Once that happens it at the very least levels the playing field.
Morning Meditation

It isn’t the things themselves that disturb people, but the judgements that they form about them. Death, for instance, is nothing terrible, or else it would have seemed so to Socrates too; no, it is in the judgement that death is terrible that the terror lies. Accordingly, whenever we are impeded, disturbed or distressed, we should never blame anyone else but only ourselves, that is, our judgements. It is an act of a poorly educated person to blame others when things are going badly for him; one who has taken the first step towards being properly educated blames himself, while one who is fully educated blames neither anyone else nor himself. – Epictetus, Handbook, 5

I really like this quote actually. Epictetus was referring to how people become trapped by their thoughts and anxieties not realizing that we can control our thoughts. There’s a difference between a reflex emotion (like fear) and a “judgement” emotion like dread. In the example I used earlier, if I got called into my boss’s office on my way there I would probably be feeling worried or anxious, but that’s because of my own thoughts not because of any real threat. However, if I see a spider crawling one me all bets are off and I’m going to scream and brush myself off. That fear reaction is a biological reflex and I would need several months of exposure therapy to even try to gain some control over that (and it’s not going to happen).

Midday Reflection

The task for the midday meditation/reflection was to recall a time when I acted badly based on my emotional judgments and try to recall a time I acted correctly based on Stoic values. The first one is easy because I tend to get really annoyed when people ask for extra food like they’re entitled to it. Oh, the joys of food service. Some crazy lady wanted “extra jalapenos” and wanted to make sure I gave her “lots of onions” because she “always” gets extra jalapenos. Fuck that. I have a bar-code on my register that says “add jalapenos and onions”. It’s 75 cents. Her attitude about it really, really rubbed me the wrong way. And this other crazy lady who was not happy with the chicken we had on display so she point blank asks me “if it were your mother, what would you do?” the implication, of course, being that I would give my mom the best piece of chicken possible and I point blank responded “mom is vegan”. It wasn’t my most Stoic moment.

This week I’ve actually been really good about not getting irritated at my coworkers and just focused on enjoying their company and the sense of camaraderie.

Evening Meditation

So reflect on this: the result of wisdom is stability of joy. The wise person’s mind is like the superlunary heaven: always peaceful. So you have this reason to want to be wise, if wisdom is always accompanied by joy. This joy has only one source: an awareness of the virtues. A person is not capable of joy unless he is brave, unless he is just, unless he has self-control. – Seneca, Letters, 59.16

I am very, very tired right now. Friday nights in food service are sucky, suck suck. Like it was an hour wait for some folks before they got their food. They could have gone home and just cooked dinner in the same amount of time.

I’m going to trust Seneca on this one, but I need to work on my self control (the proof being the ice cream in my freezer right now). On a side note, my emotions are a little off balance (and I was doing so well) because a dude asked me out. Again. I said no before. My coworkers told him I was asexual (I’m so happy they accept it) and that I would say no. I understand he’s coming from a place of ignorance and he can’t put himself in my shoes. I did the whole “you know when you’re not attracted to someone?” and I pointed so somebody random I knew he wasn’t attracted to. “Apply that to the whole human race”. I could tell he was disappointed, but it’s not my fault that I don’t feel love that way.

The sad thing for me is I when I was filling out the “self-monitoring” sheet this week I would get flashes of loneliness and I realized I was actually feeling jealous. It was weird to realize that jealousy had a colder form and not just the passionate green that always gets portrayed in media. It literally feels like a ball of ice is sitting in my chest. I feel like I’m “missing out” even though I can logically reason that I’m not actually missing out on anything by not having romantic attachments. I don’t actually want a romantic relationship. It’s against my very nature to be romantic, but the jealousy is still there. It’s irrational and it hurts and it’s probably going to take more than a week to deal with it.

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