“The proper work of the mind is the exercise of choice, refusal, yearning, repulsion, preparation, purpose, and assent. What then can pollute and clog the mind’s proper functioning? Nothing but its own corrupt decisions.” — Epictetus, Discourses, 4.11.6–7
Life is difficult and complicated. And every day we encounter more difficulties and complications that pile up on top of the previous day’s difficulties and complications. These become a never-ending to-do list. And every day, looking at this mountain of problems that we need to solve, we really do feel overwhelmed. There are always so many decisions that our mind needs to make and so many things it needs to think about every minute of every day. No wonder we invented aspirin to keep us going. But the stoics have an answer for our overwhelmed mind, one that doesn’t involve drugging it with mind-numbing (quite literally) chemicals. And the answer is simple: Our mind only needs to work on these 7 things:
- We need to think about the choice of thinking and doing what is right.
- We need to practice the refusal of non-essential thoughts and temptations.
- We need to keep yearning for a better version of ourselves and move toward the ideal version of us.
- We need to work on the repulsion of all negative thoughts, things, and people in our life.
- We need to be in constant preparation of the future because as Ryan Holiday would say, life comes at us fast so we need to be prepared.
- We need to think about why we are doing what we are doing and find the purpose of it all.
- We need to assent the reality of control and accept what is in our control and what is outside our control.
According to the stoics, these are the only things our mind needs to focus on, and failing to do so is the recipe for bad and corrupt decisions.
This article is a part of my Stoic Musings challenge, inspired by the book “The Daily Stoic” by Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman, where I take a quote from the book and reflect on it, every day.