Is Stoicism Working?

Last month I did the Stoicism Mindfulness and Resilience Training (SMRT) created by the folks at Modern Stoicism, a multidisciplinary group of dedicated people committed to providing accurate and informative information about Stoic Philosophy. This is the second course I’ve done by them (I did Stoic Week back in October). So, did this four week guided practice actually do anything? Sort of.

Here’s a comparison of my before and after survey results:
-Satisfaction with Life:
Before: 21 “Slightly satisfied”
After: 19 “Slightly Dissatisfied”

-Scale of Positive and Negative Experience where -24 is least positive feelings and 24 is most positive feelings:
Before: -3
After: 13

-Flourishing Scale (score is obtained by adding up the scores for the all eight items giving a range from 8 to 56)
Before: 43
After: 46

After doing the SMRT course the most obvious improvement is the Positive vs. Negative emotions which makes sense since that was a major component of the course and the thing I was focusing on the most. The scoring system for that is actually very easy so I’ll probably track my progress on that as I go along.

Now to the main question: Has Stoicism actually been beneficial to me?

Hmmm, overall I would say “yes” because the biggest positive impact Stoicism has had on me is self acceptance. I mentioned in a previous post that reading Epictetus’s quote about power was actually very helpful because he specifically mentions that our bodies are not within out control. That helped me accept my asexuality and I finally clicked that it wasn’t “my fault” that I hadn’t done anything “wrong”. Obviously Epictetus didn’t have any knowledge of DNA or environmental triggers, but I needed it spelled out.

Another thing I gained was Stoic compassion. It’s a lot easier to…not accept, per say, but be more mindful of idiots. Stoicism likes to point out that it’s only by chance that I was born into a nice, moderate family that values education. Both my parents were the first in their families to go to college. My dad literally told me growing up that our family mission was to fight against ignorance. That had a major impact on me and how I interact with the world, but it all comes down to chance. I could have been born into a family that didn’t value formal education, that was afraid of immigrants, and watches Fox & Friends. Now instead of dismissing people as “just idiots” I ask them, “Why do you think that?” My end goal changed from trying to convince people they were wrong (which, let’s be honest never works anyway) to asking them through polite questioning to think critically about their beliefs.

I think that being able to accept my asexuality and have constructive interactions with people I disagree with are worth taking the time to study Stoicism and I’ve become better at my customer service job and have been able to just deal better with people in general overall.

There is one thing Stoicism isn’t though. It’s not a magic wand that magically fixes all my problems and, oh boy, do I have problems. This past week if I had taken the survey again my results would have tanked. This has, for all intents and purposes, been a shitty week. The biggest problem is I’m not getting enough sleep.

Last Friday (my day off) my manager calls me an hour before my alarm goes off to ask if I can pick up a shift. Saturday my brother wakes me up an hour before my alarm goes off to give me some bullshit excuse of why there’s no gas in the car. Sunday/Monday are the first morning shifts I’ve worked in months so I’m waking up at 5am instead of my usual 9am. I make it to Tuesday thinking it’ll be okay because I get an easy closing shift with time and a half because of the holiday, but then my dad wakes me up two hours before my alarm goes off so we can take the dogs to the park. I keep telling myself, “It’ll be fine, I’m off on Wednesday.” Except Wednesday rolls around and bright and early my mom is yelling at us to high hell because we’re missing three car keys and it’s 200 dollars to make new spares.

Frankly, I’m just exhausted and there’s no Philosophy in the world that’s going to fix that. What I can credit Stoicism with is instead of thinking, “I’m so damn tired, I just want to die,” my thought process was actually very rational. My actual thought was, “I’m so damn tired I’m either going to a) use my work provided mental health benefits to see a counselor and kick them out of their office for an hour and take a god-damned nap; b) tell my family to ‘fuck-off’ and cash my holiday pay check to check into a motel six for two nights so I can finally sleep undisturbed; or I could c) pass out from exhaustion at work so I get workers comp, an overnight stay in a hospital, and a week’s worth of sleeping meds and a doctor’s note telling my family to ‘fuck-off and let me sleep.” Basically, I have options. I still have some control. Option b is looking very sexy right now. There’s like three hotels within walking distance to my choice movie theater. Dinner, movie, hotel, it’s like a date only it’s just me and Mr. Sandman. I could totally talk one of my coworkers into dropping me off or I could walk from work. Totally do-able. Oh, or I can just ask to crash at a coworker’s place for a few hours. See? Options.

Carefully examining what is within my power is an amazing tool. I haven’t perfected it yet, but I see it as a worthy practice. So, overall, I would say Stoicism is working out for me. I’m less miserable than I would be without it and it’s given me clarity over my real priorities, which it’s safe to say includes a well deserved nap.

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