I’m going back to my roots to learn how to handle Melbourne’s lockdown.
I’m not sure how many of my readers across the country know this, but I’m in Melbourne.
It’s the city I call home. It’s where I grew up. It’s where we base the whole Knowledge Source operations.
And we’re in lock-down. We’re in mandatory mask town.
I’ll be honest, I’ve been having a bit of a rough time with it. It’s not just that there’s the all the inconveniences that comes with a global pandemic. It’s mostly knowing that it all could have been avoided if we hadn’t tried to skimp a few bucks an hour on hotel security by employing uber drivers and lollipop ladies.
(And I’m not trying to poke fun at the guards themselves here. I would have done the same job with the same training.)
But that one little mistake and wham – Victoria’s on a runaway pandemic train.
And given the fate of the entire state – and perhaps the entire nation – seems to have swung on that one bad decision, I’ve been doing a lot of woulda, coulda, shoulda. I’ve been doing a lot of “if only’s…”
And then I caught myself.
There’s only one place that this kind of thinking ends up: misery.
This is one of the key teaching of Stoicism.
I’m sure you’ve probably heard of Stoicism. It’s a philosophy. My people came up with it. (The Greeks).
Stoicism is funny. It has huge brand recognition, but very few people understand the actual details.
Most people think Stoicism is just a commitment to being ‘stoic’ – and by that they mean, impassive, unemotional, unmovable.
In that sense, people think it’s a bit of a grim philosophy. It’s great if you’re a Spartan warrior, staring down the full might of the Persian army.
But it’s not so great if you’re a comfortable graphic designer living in the inner city with a couple of kids.
But this is the key misunderstanding about Stoicism. It’s not about being unemotional. It’s about being consciously emotional.
That is, it’s about carefully watching your thoughts and attitudes so you don’t get pulled into misery traps.
A lot of thinking leads to misery. Many types of misery are only possible through thinking.
If we’re not engaging with our thoughts, we’re leaving a lot of our emotional experience of life up to chance.
In that sense, Stoicism is a tool kit for consciously engaging with your thoughts, and consciously engaging with your emotions.
And the ideal isn’t some numb emotional state. It’s actually a light joyfulness.
But people don’t get that. So yeah, Stoicism has some branding work to do.
Anyway, one of the key insights (and maybe I’ll share a few over the next few weeks – it’s certainly a challenging time for a lot of people) – one of the key insights is that we shouldn’t get too caught up on the things we can’t control.
The ancient Stoics drew a clear line between the things we can control and the things we can’t.
And basically, they said that if you can’t control it, then there’s just no point worrying or complaining about it.
So right now, they’d say, “Jon, stop worrying about the Pandemic. Stop worrying about what Dan Andrews should have done, or what the government should have done, or China should have done.
It’s just not useful. It doesn’t make you happier.
Focus on the things you can control. What can you do right here and right now to make your situation better.
If you focus on these things – if you put energy towards these things – then happiness will naturally follow.”
I’m simplifying this. There’s a lot more Stoicism that some simple-minded ‘Don’t worry, be happy.’ I am going to need to unpack it.
But as a general war-rule, keep your energy and attention focused on what you can control. Stop yourself dwelling on the things that are beyond your control.
If you can manage just this much, you will be a whole lot happier.