Failing at Stoicism

What do you do when you fall off the Stoic bandwagon? With its focus on things which are completely in our control, failing at Stoicism leaves nowhere to hide - every failure is completely on your own head.

To put it mildly, this weekend I did not act in a way congruent with personal improvement through self control. And although I've been practicing and studying Stoicism for a while, it has taken me a few days of wallowing in disappointment to work out how to deal with this failure. Which is a little surprising, given one of my favourite things about Stoicism is its inbuilt antifragility to failure.

Seneca, Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius all talk about reviewing your actions to see how your practice is falling short. Futher than that though, Stoicism uses unpleasent events as a basis for honing your practice. Here's Epictetus (discussed further in part 10):

On the occasion of every event that befalls you, remember to turn to yourself and inquire what power you have for turning it to use.

There's an assumed level of failure here, I think. In general the Stoics underplayed their own mastery and readily admitted falling short. Seneca goes into detail about his own unsavoury behaviour and how he could have done better.

Part of wishing things to be as they are is to know that I am flawed and that my Stoic practice will never be perfect.

So the proper Stoic response to falling off the bandwagon, is, I think, to use it as an opportunity to get better. Despite the emotion-denying stereotype, this requires a significant amount of self-relflection and honesty. And of course the best time to start is right now. Epictetus again:

Immediately, then, think it right to live as a full-grown man, and one who is making proficiency, and let everything which appears to you to be the best be to you a law which must not be transgressed. And if anything laborious, or pleasant or glorious or inglorious be presented to you, remember that now is the contest, now are the Olympic games, and they cannot be deferred; and that it depends on one defeat and one giving way that progress is either lost or maintained.

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