How To Stop Playing Mind-Games With Yourself | Seneca
A short reflection on how to suffer less | Temperance | Stoicism
We suffer more often in imagination than in reality.
- Quote by Seneca
Have you ever thought about how hard a certain thing is?
Have you ever procrastinated so hard and put something off so long that you could watch some menial task grow to something unsurmountable in your own head?
And I also thought about all the What-Ifs and Buts, afraid to actually take action. Frozen. Not moving forward or back or anywhere.
Once you stop moving you are losing. You might be able to recover from a temporary stupor through the momentum that you built up before, but at some point, you come to a halt, the world moves on, and you can watch the opportunities that just presented themselves vanish before your eyes.
Real-life example any student might relate to:
You got this exam coming up at the end of the semester.
You have no real clue what exactly the subject is about and there is so much of this stuff involved that’s so hard for you to understand!
OMG, you are never going to get this, you are already only understanding half of the words. What does all of this even mean?
You had enough for today, you will come back tomorrow.
But tomorrow you think about how terrible it was to deal with this yesterday and everyone else seems to understand it better than you.
Ask them for help and shamefully expose yourself? Are you kidding?! No way!
Let's calm down by playing this highly addictive video game. insert any other BS distraction
Oh, look! It’s just two weeks until the exam anymore. Time to cram!
What was the subject of the course again? Oh yeah …
Damn this is even harder now than you thought 😬 fffffff…
Stop imagining what could go wrong, stop pre-suffering in your own head. You will have suffered more in total than if you’d just tackled the objective.
Hold on! In Stoicism there actually is this principle of Premeditatio Malorum — you should imagine what could go wrong, no? Absolutely, but you should do something about the bad that is coming your way if it is in your power. So, sitting on your ass while there are actually things to do is basically unacceptable 🤷♂️
There is also the principle of Amor Fati — embrace what happens and is outside of your control to fix or avoid. If you choose to do something difficult, it is unavoidable that you will struggle (and accomplishing it will usually serve the greater good btw → Summum Bonum).
And if everything becomes too much, take some time to relax and step back. Enjoy the tranquility of your personal inner sanctuary, your fortress against adversity, what the Stoics call The Inner Citadel (we are going full circle on the principles today) 😏
So, to help yourself succeed: Envision (literally) how you will come up on top, how you will win, how you will cross that finish line.
This is an actual technique used by athletes (as you probably know). But there is also another psychological effect at play here that you can leverage: the Pygmalion Effect. It describes “a psychological phenomenon wherein high expectations lead to improved performance in a given area.”
This applies to coaches' and teachers' expectations towards their athletes and students, but it can also apply to you.
What are you expecting from yourself?
Are you letting yourself off the hook easily? Will you do it tomorrow? Somewhere some time, when the stars align?
As always, don’t beat yourself up — but if you are not your harshest critic, who is? Who even matters, other than you?
It is your life and your goals and ambitions.
No opinion about you is worth anything except your own. Everyone else is merely judging but they are not You! They don’t live in your shoes, and they will not be content in your stead. You must fight for your personal happiness.
Stop strangling yourself by creating more negativity and hardship that you’d actually need to endure. That would be quite pointless too, no?
Instead, gain a clear sight of the things that are actually happening. Then act in your best interest.
Pay now or pay later.
Paying up now will usually reduce suffering overall, since you can bite-size your way through it and get used to the pain while also getting better or just getting it done in one go.
Paying later means it will remain unfinished, untackled, and nag your sub-conscience continuously. Then you will have to cram it into a smaller time slot.
Embrace the suffering now & imagine how much more you will suffer if you don’t do it now.
Amor Fati & Premeditatio Malorum
Now we'd love to hear from you.
What situation have you dealt with where you paralyzed yourself unnecessarily?
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Want more? Check out last week’s reflection