The Daily Stoic for today, January the 27th: “The Three Areas Of Training”.
“There are three areas in which the person who would be wise and good must be trained. The first has to do with desires and aversions—that a person may never miss the mark in desires nor fall into what repels them. The second has to do with impulses to act and not to act—and more broadly, with duty—that a person may act deliberately for good reasons and not carelessly. The third has to do with freedom from deception and composure and the whole area of judgment, the assent our mind gives to its perceptions. Of these areas, the chief and most urgent is the first which has to do with the passions, for strong emotions arise only when we fail in our desires and aversions.”
—EPICTETUS, DISCOURSES, 3.2.1–3a
Stoicism implies a constant evaluation of the reasons behind our actions, down to our most primal emotions.
Ultimately, the goal is acting in a more rational way, understanding our feelings and emotions, so we control them, instead of the other way around.
There’s actually a sequence that determines how we react to everyday events. In my view, not every step is perfectly controlable at a conscious level. However, we can improve the way we see and react to the world around us.
The Three Areas Of Training
First, there’s our inner impulses. In my view, these are the hardest to control. They are our fears, our desires, what we love and hate at a subconscious level.
While it’s true that controlling them is difficult, we can get to understand them.
I have talked before about how buying my house was one of the biggest mistakes of my life. While I have rationalized the overall social pressure to buy a property instead of renting back then, I still don’t know why I was so obsessed with buying the house.
Maybe I just needed a place to call my own. Perhaps I wanted to prove myself that I could live on my own. Or maybe I just needed to leave my house and start life anew, without judgements.
Whatever the reason, there I was, at the estate office, pen in hand, ready to sign the mortgage.
I think I had a moment of doubt when I was just about to sign. Perhaps an instant of clarity. Was I doing the right thing?
However, I had just made the down payment, and I didn’t want to lose it. Everybody was there, eyes set on me, adding even more pressure.
I should have stopped to ask myself why I wanted a house so badly, why renting was not enough.
While we can’t probably prevent our knee-jerk reactions and impulses, our motivations are there to help us identify what we really need or want.
had I just considered my motivations at that very moment, I might have realized that having a home is not the same as belonging, and that you don’t need to buy a place to start your own life there.
This is where our judgement comes into the fore, to let us know what’s the most rational decision, even when it might not seem like that (i.e: losing the down payment).
When I bought my house, I was 27. While I was no teenager, I was definitely a completely different person back then. As I wrote exactly one week ago, I am committed to letting go the past to embrace my future.
Thus, I won’t punish myself for it anymore. I have learned my lesson. And I hope some day that mistake will be part of the past forever.
Today’s Daily Stoic discusses about the three areas of training for stoics: our desires and aversions, then our motivations or impulses to act, and finally our judgements.
The three are deeply intertwined and, while we cannot control everything, we can learn and understand how it all works to make it better next time.