Launch of Stoicism Today: The Book

I’m delighted to announce the launch of Stoicism Today: Selected Writings. The book is available as both paperback (£6.49/$9.99) and Kindle E-Book (£3.08/$4.99).

Stoicism Today: Selected Writings

More about the book:

“From Stoic ethics to emotions, from Stoic mayors and mindfulness to practical philosophy, parenting, psychotherapy and prisons, from Star Trek and Socrates to Stoic lawyers, literature and living in general, this book brings together a wide-ranging collection of reflections on living the Stoic life today. You’ll read advice on coping with adversity, reflections on happiness and the good life and powerful personal testimonies of putting Stoicism into practise. But you’ll also read about the links between Stoicism and psychotherapy, Stoicism and mindfulness meditation and the unexpected places Stoicism can pop up in modern culture. This book will be of interest to both academics and non-academics alike and is about the varied ways in which the 2,300 year old philosophy as a way of life remains relevant to the concerns and needs of the present day.”

By purchasing this book, you are contributing to a Stoicism Today fund which will support future Stoicism Today projects.

'Seneca's Simple Reminder'

Unlike this image of a bygone age, modern life is fast-paced. Aditya Nain, who teaches philosophy in Pune, India, considers how Stoicism, in particular one simple idea from Seneca, can provide a powerful and much needed antidote to the headlong rush of living today….

Seneca’s Simple Reminder

One of the defining characteristics of modern life is the pace at which it is lived. There is no lack of hard work these days and in fact, the modern human being probably works more hours than ever before. A fast paced life, like a fast train, does not have too many stops along the way. The faster we move, the more difficult it is slow down, let alone stop. When applied to mental life, this translates into an ever decreasing awareness of why we’re headed to our destination and whether the route we’re on actually leads to where we’re hoping to reach.

We’re all acutely aware of our destination. In fact, the frenzied pace of modern life is geared towards attaining its goals very well. It is only when you know where you’re headed that you can move towards it with increasing pace. We however are not as acutely aware of why we’re headed there. The ‘where to’ does not answer the ‘why..to’ question. It is assumed that the why is obvious and takes care of itself. In fact, the why question is seldom asked with any seriousness.

There are rare moments of clarity though. Moments in which time stops, movement stops, travel stops and we wonder why we’re headed where we are. At these moments, i.e. at these stops along the way, the where gets replaced with the why and therefore speed takes a back seat to caution. If you’re speeding towards an oncoming vehicle, an increase in pace will not help you in anyway avoid a collision. Only a change of direction will. This simple truth is voiced by Seneca in ‘On the Happy Life’,

‘S measure of the difficulty of achieving the happy life is that the greater a man’s energy in striving for it, the further he goes away from it if he has taken a wrong turning on the road; once this starts leading him in the opposite direction, his very swiftness separates him increasingly from his goal’

Seneca’s idea is simple, yet one that we actively shy away from. The enormity of realising one is on the wrong path is frightening and we’d rather not bother most of the time. Seneca reminds us of it, in one beautiful sentence, and asks that we recognise its importance. We have grown accustomed to doubling our pace of work in times of doubt. It seems, when in doubt, work harder. Working harder however does not equate to working right. It’s as though we wish to believe that we will eventually reach our destination, irrespective of which direction we set out in. No driver, when on the road and having realised he’s moving in the wrong direction, will resolve the situation by increasing the speed of the vehicle without a change in direction.

Seneca’s point isn’t that we aren’t helping ourselves. It’s that we’re harming ourselves. He’s asking us to stop and check where we are on the map and in which direction we’re heading. In other words, taking the slow train may not always be a bad idea. The more stops along the way, the more opportunities to check our progress.

To emphasise on working hard is to miss an important component of travelling towards happiness. While hard work is of course essential, of equal importance is the monitoring of the means used and the route taken. The first condition seems to be easier to fulfil and once we’ve gathered momentum, we seem to keep keepin’ on. It is way harder to stop and question why. This is especially true for us today, when the chain of means, which is supposed to lead us towards happiness, has become longer than ever. In the whirl of the present, we often forget the perceived future which gave rise to it.

Seneca’s point is simple, but often forgotten and we thank him for the reminder!

More about the author: 

Aditya Nain has donned the hat of a philosopher, a lecturer, an entrepreneur, a journalist and a musician in a very short span. He completed his MA in Philosophy from the University of Pune and holds a Diploma in Finance from the University of London (International Programmes). He is a lecturer at the Symbiosis School for Liberal Arts in Pune, India. You can read his blog here.

Other than his academic pursuits, Mr. Nain has a serious interest in investments and publishes an independent e-newsletter on the subject, called ‘Pragma Cash’.

'Stoic Living for the Modern Soul' by Dmitri Mandaliev

There are many attributes of a Stoic that could be discussed, but the primary point is that Stoicism may not be what we may have supposed. It is not an ivory tower into which one disappears to turn away from life. On the contrary, it is embracing life in a manner more fully than one had before. To face the anxieties, pain, and suffering in such a way as to no longer be controlled by them is truly liberating. To engage in eating, sex, exercise, and work in more meaningful and straightforward ways is empowering and removes extraneous psychological clutter from one’s existence. I put it to you that to live a Stoic life is to embrace a clear ray of sunshine in what was once a dark pit. This pit was one we created ourselves, fueled by our endless yearnings to appease a fragile ego.

From Book One: Introduction (pg. 6). 

***

 Like the body, the mind must be exercised and kept fit. You must look at yourself each day and hold yourself to a high standard. As you develop habits in this you will be better able to stay true and keep yourself honest. And yet, again, we all change throughout time. We may not know today what tools we will need tomorrow in order to keep ourselves humble and true. This is why we embrace principles. To develop particular routines only would be a failure. Our principles adapt and can be extrapolated to our changing life circumstances. Through our principles we are able to remain true to ourselves and thus true to the universal in us as well as our fellow man.

From Book Three: Regarding the mind (pg. 19) 

***

The mind is the most flexible and useful tool we have. Adaptable to any situation, any problem, any grief. The greatest quality our mind may have is honesty. To see ourselves clearly, to see others clearly, and to see our reality clearly, these are our goals. It is in seeing ourselves clearly that we become aware of what we are able to achieve, what our faults are, and what our strengths are. To see others clearly is to see them as human beings, including their faults and weaknesses. In doing so we no longer consider them evil, nor do we consider them objects. In this way we may deal with other men fairly. And finally, in seeing our reality clearly we may understand what we may change and what we may not. This awareness is chief in our goals. The clarity of mind which makes this possible is our goal. By daily asking ourselves honest questions and not settling until we find honest answers is the way in which we achieve it. Learning from and then moving past our many failures is our duty.

From Book Three: Regarding the mind (pg. 28) 

***

Today there are many distractions pushing us and pulling us. We focus on tiny screens more than we do our fellow humans. We check our tiny accounts and leave the larger accounts in front of us untended. This is foolish. Our lives are around us and in front of us. They do not, on the whole, exist on these screens yet we often behave as if it were so. Though these devices may serve some purpose to us we should be careful how much energy we put to them. Make effort to rid yourself of the distractions which you do not truly need. Some may benefit you more than others and it is your task to understand which are beneficial and which are not. You may be surprised when you see how hollow a thing is, after truly looking at it.

From Book Five: Regarding the living of life (pg. 31)

***

Consider that it behooves some to convince you to behave one way rather than another. Yet, is that way in your own best interest? Is it in the best interest of your family, or your country? You must prepare your mind daily to be aware of what is being thrown at you. Like a shield your mind must remain vigilant to guard against unwelcome messages. If you wish to remain chaste, understand that there are many images put in front of you encouraging you to end your chastity. And so on. Hold onto your center and your ideal of what you most value and consider at all moments if you are behaving according to your virtue or according to some conditioning.

From Book Five: Regarding the living of life (pg. 52)

About the Book: Stoic Living for the Modern Soul is a guidebook of philosophy and inspiration for living a better life in the modern age through stoic living. Written primarily as a collection of reminders for the author, its aim is to provide food for reflection, inspiration, and improvement.

Biography: Dmitri Mandaliev is an author and modern stoic whose primary interests are Confucianism, Stoicism, and Taoism. His most current work, Stoic Living for the Modern Soul, is a reflection on his way of life and stoic mindset. His “Letters to a Young Man” series is inspired primarily by the works of Seneca. He is married and spends his time between Hong Kong, Taiwan, and the United States.

Audio: An Overview of Stoic Ethics by John Sellars

An excellent talk, especially for those new to Stoic philosophy, in which John Sellars, lecturer of philosophy at Birkbeck College London, gives an overview of the key claims of Stoic philosophy.

Starting from the widespread consideration in antiquity of philosophy as ‘medicine for the soul’, John goes on to explain Stoic psychology (how what we value or consider important in life leads to the kind of emotions we have) and ethics (how things external to us are ‘indifferent’, but that it is up to us to make ‘good use’ of these indifferents, and how some indifferents, such as health, are preferable to others). He then discusses how Stoicism leads to strength of character, with a focus on preparing well for difficult future events and for dealing with difficult events in the present (‘disaster is virtue’s opportunity’ as Seneca puts it). He also explores objections to Stoic ethics, as well as the relationship between Stoic ethics and modern psychotherapy.

A Q&A follows the session, and you can read the texts John refers to here.

With thanks to Cristóbal Zarzar at KCL for recording this talk last November as part of Stoic Week.

Mindful Virtue by Ben Butina

Mindful Virtue

Ben Butina

Seriously, guys.

With the flood of books and articles coming out every day on gracklene, it’s really about time that we hash this thing out from a stoic perspective. Can gracklene really help a person become more virtuous? If so, how? And how does gracklene fit with ancient stoic practices? Are we just pulling out the parts of gracklene that we like and throwing out the rest because we find them inconvenient?

At this point, you’re probably asking, “What the hell is gracklene*, anyway?” Good question. Before we get into that, though, re-read the previous paragraph, replacing the word gracklenewith the word mindfulness.

Gracklene is a completely unfamiliar word, so it sends up a red flag–you probably wouldn’t try to have a conversation about gracklene without first clarifying its definition. Mindfulness, on the other hand, is becoming a very familiar word, and we tend to have conversations about it as if we shared a common understanding of what it means. That’s where we run into trouble.

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According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the English word mindfulness has been around at least since 1530 A.D. and was used several times in the King James Bible (1611 A.D.):

“He is the Lord our God; his judgments are in all the earth. Be ye mindful always of his covenant; the word which he commanded to a thousand generations; Even of the covenant which he made with Abraham, and of his oath unto Isaac;” – 1 Chronicles 16:14-16

Needless to say, it didn’t have any Buddhist connotations at the time, but simply referred to being aware of something–remembering it and paying attention to it. The Buddhist connotation of the word didn’t kick in until 1910, when Rhys Davids appropriatedmindfulness to stand in for the Pali word sati in his hugely influential English translation of theMahasatipatthana Sutta. Although sati originally meant memory, its use in early Buddhist writings is subtle, complex, and varied. (Bhante Sujato, a Theravadan Buddhist monk and scholar of early Buddhism, provides an excellent short history of sati in the Pali canon here for those who are interested in going further down this path.)

The definition of mindfulness that we use most frequently now in Western countries bears little resemblance to the earlier English-language definition of mindfulness and is not a direct translation of any single Pali word. It is, in fact, some variation of the definition offered by pioneering secular mindfulness teacher Jon Kabat-Zinn.

 “Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.”

Sounds familiar, right? But you’ll find that the Kabat-Zinn definition gets mutilated quite a bit in the press. Here’s how mindfulness was described in the five most recent popular articles about mindfulness I could find on Google News.

“The most basic definition of mindfulness? It’s simply paying attention.” – Melanie Harth, Ph.D., LMHC (Mindfulness for Success: Top 3 Management TipsHuffington Post)

“Simply put, mindfulness is the act of focusing on the present moment in a nonjudgmental way.” – Janet Singer (OCD and MindfulnessPsychCentral)

“I practise mindfulness, which involves letting my garbage go through my brain but always bringing my focus to my breathing.” – Ruby Wax (Ruby Wax On Depression, Mindfulness and Prada HandbagsThe Telegraph )

“…a practiced nonjudgmental in-the-moment awareness rooted in meditation, Buddhism and yoga…” – Todd Essig (Google’s Gopi Kallayil on the Business Value of Mindfulness, Forbes Magazine)

“Mindfulness is a way to ‘detach from the literal junk that comes through your mind’ by observing thoughts in a non-judgmental, non-emotional way…” – Eden Kozlowski (CEO on a Mission to Spread Mindfulness, Akron Beacon Journal)

Are these five people all talking about the same thing? Maybe. But they sure aren’t speaking the same language. Two of the definitions above suggest that our thoughts are bad (“garbage,” “literal junk”), which is problematic. One of them (“…simply paying attention”) simplifies the concept to the point of meaninglessness. None of them–including the respected Kabat-Zinn version–gives us much of a clue as to what we’re supposed to be paying attention to.

If we’re going to talk about mindfulness in a stoic context, clearly, we need to settle on a shared understanding of what the word means. The definitions discussed above are simple and accessible, but ultimately vague and unsatisfying. I propose that we adopt the definition ofmindful awareness offered by American meditation teacher Shinzen Young:

“three attentional skills working together: Concentration Power, Sensory Clarity, and Equanimity.”

Right off the bat, you can tell that it’s not as simple as the definitions we looked at above. It’s going to require a little unpacking, but stay with me. It will pay off.

“You can think of Concentration Power as the ability to focus on what you consider to be relevant at a given time. You can think of Sensory Clarity as the ability to keep track of what you’re actually experiencing in the moment. You can think of Equanimity as the ability to allow sensory experience to come and go without push and pull.”

So Concentration means exactly what you think it means: the ability to pay attention. Sensory Clarity is the ability to keep track of all the components of your experience with high magnification and high resolution; it allows you to track all the external and internal “bits” that make up your sensory experience of the world. Equanimity allows you to experience those “bits” without trying to push them away, grasp onto them, or spin them into a story.

And Young doesn’t define concentration, clarity, and equanimity as states or traits, but as skills. And like all skills, you can improve them with practice. But why would a stoic want to?

Because mindful awareness increases our ability to live virtuously.

Mindful awareness is not itself a virtue, but it is a powerful enabler of virtue. It improves our ability to act according to our intentions by clearing away the obstacles that prevent us from acting rationally. Here are a few examples to give you an idea of how it works.

  • You’re sitting at the dinner table with your family, but you’re only vaguely aware that anyone is talking to you. Your mind is awash in memories of your day at work, worries about the next day, and fantasies about your upcoming vacation. You want to pay attention to the people you love, but you lack concentration.
  • You hear a crash coming from the next room. Your immediate reaction is to fly off in a rage. You storm into the room screaming, “What the hell is going on in here?!?” You know you should  act calmly to make sure no one was hurt, but you are overwhelmed by emotion (i.e., “passion”) because you lack the sensory clarity necessary to break your reaction down into its component parts where they are easier to deal with. Instead, everything just sort of comes at you in a big tangled, ball of overwhelm.
  • You ask a question of someone at work and they answer in a hurried fashion. You immediately begin telling yourself a story about their reaction. Soon you’ve invented an entire drama in which you’ve assumed that they’re angry with you about something you’ve done…but what? You lack the equanimity necessary to simply experience the situation for what it is without inventing a mental story to go with it.

In all three cases, your intentions were good. You wanted to act with virtue, but you got overwhelmed and reacted instead of responding reasonably. Now let’s look at the same three situations with a higher level of mindful awareness.

  • You’re sitting at the dinner table with your family and your mind is awash with memories, planning, and fantasy. You hear someone say your name and you’re able to set aside your thoughts and focus your attention entirely on the person speaking to you.
  • You hear a crash coming from the next room. You become aware of mental images (a shattered television screen), mental talk (“What they hell are they doing in there?!”) and physical body sensations (a tightening of the stomach muscles, a racing heartbeat), and you’re able to deal with them without being overwhelmed. You move swiftly but calmly into the next room to make sure no one is hurt.
  • You ask a question of someone at work and get a brusque response. You become aware of your reactions (mental image, mental talk, physical body sensation) and allow them to come and go without attaching to them and spinning them into a troubling story.

Here again, your intentions are good, but now you have the skills necessary to act virtuously without getting swept away by passion or distraction. The software (stoicism) is the same, but the upgraded hardware (mindful awareness) has allowed you to act according to your intentions. In short, mindful awareness gives you the ability to respond rather than simplyreact.

There is much, much more to say about mindful awareness and stoicism, of course, and I’ve already said some of it in a series of blog posts called Mindful Virtue over on my blog. You can also get a short-short summary of mindfulness by viewing this video I created. If you’d like to start developing your mindful awareness skills, however, I highly recommend downloading and reading Five Ways to Know Yourself: An Introduction to Basic Mindfulness by Shinzen Young. He provides a complete system of explanation and practical exercises that is secular, clear,  and comprehensive.

*Gracklene is just a word I made up by combining the brand names of things I found in my kitchen.

Ben Butina blogs at approximatelyforever.com.

'Does Stoicism Work? Stoicism & Positive Psychology' by Tim LeBon

Does Stoicism Work? Stoicism & Positive Psychology

Tim LeBon

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Introduction: Stoicism isn’t just a theory, it is also a set of practices aimed at helping people to lead better lives. A key question is whether Stoic practices work – does practising Stoicism actually help people? Psychology and its scientific methods is the obvious place to turn to help answer this question. In this article, I will describe the work of the Stoicism Today team to use the methods of psychology to begin to answer the “Does Stoicism work?” question and suggest directions for future research. The last fifteen years have seen the growth of positive psychology, a branch of psychology aimed at providing a scientific understanding of what goes well in life and how to enhance it. I will argue that Positive Psychology can become more complete and wiser if it incorporates ideas from Stoicism.

Positive Psychology 

Since its inception in 1998, Positive Psychology has spawned many experiments, articles, books and conferences. Whilst philosophers and self-help authors have long theorised about what we should do, Positive Psychology now proposes planned activities (“interventions”) and tests them scientifically. One way is to ask people to carry out an intervention, measuring their well-being before and after to see its effect. Positive Psychology has already delivered substantial findings, including the following:

  • Happiness and positive emotions such as joy, pride, love and awe don’t just feel good, they also have positive consequences such as improved health and increased longevity, creativity and altruism.
  • An important component of well-being is flow, which means being totally absorbed in what you are doing. Flow is distinct from pleasure because when you are absorbed in an activity you don’t really feel anything.
  • It is possible to cultivate a number of beneficial positive attitudes. These include hope, optimism, gratitude and a “growth mindset” (i.e. a belief that one’s abilities are not fixed). These attitudes have been shown to lead to improved health, better work and academic performance, better self-esteem and greater resilience.
  • A number of beneficial positive behaviours have been identified, including identifying and using your strengths and performing acts of kindness.
  • A number of simple interventions have been shown to bring about increases in well-being in both the short term and at six-month follow up. Conversely some plausible interventions have been shown not to bring about lasting positive change.

There is now good evidence that studying Positive Psychology and applying its findings to oneself, to organisations and in education can lead to increased well-being. For a fuller review of Positive Psychology, the interested reader is referred to my new book, Achieve Your Potential with Positive Psychology (Hodder, 2014).

Philosophy and Positive Psychology

Whilst these developments are very much to be welcomed, there are some important philosophical questions to ask Positive Psychology, including:

  • What precisely is well-being and what is the difference between well-being and related terms such as subjective well-being, flourishing, pleasure, enjoyment and happiness?
  • Positive Psychology emphasises feeling good and doing good. What is the place in Positive Psychology for virtue (i.e. being good)?
  • Can positive attitudes and behaviours actually cause harm if they are carried out by someone who lacks virtue? For example, would you want a terrorist to use their strengths?
  • Is, as many ancients thought, wisdom a particularly important virtue?Isn’t it important not just to be hopeful and optimistic but to use these qualities wisely?
  • Can practical ideas proposed by philosophers – such as the Stoics and Epicureans – be tested?
  • Could empirically tested philosophical strategies help individuals be virtuous and wiser as well as feeling better and so strengthen Positive Psychology?

The remainder of this article will focus on the last two questions.

Stoicism Today and Putting Stoicism to the Test

Stoicism is a good candidate for inclusion in Positive Psychology both because of its broadly therapeutic intent and the plethora of specific, testable strategies to be found in the writings of Marcus Aurelius, Seneca and, particularly, Epictetus. Under the leadership of Professor Christopher Gill based at the University of Exeter, the Stoicism Today team, including the current author, has made a start at putting Stoicism to the test. In this section, I will briefly summarise our findings. For a more detailed account, see LeBon (2014a)

In the latest 2013 study, participants, recruited from the general public as well as Stoic interest groups, were provided with a free downloadable booklet featuring Stoic readings and exercises, many of which were available as audio recordings. In addition a blog was maintained and participants were encouraged to communicate with each other using social media. Central to the empirical study was the suggested programme of meditations and exercises for “Stoic week”. Each day had a specific Stoic theme, and an early morning and late evening meditation connected the daily theme with more general Stoic ideas.

Amongst the suggested exercises were:

  • An early morning meditation, focussing on a Stoic principle such as “focussing only on things under our control”, or “rehearsing dealing with possible challenges in the day ahead in a Stoic way”.
  • A late evening meditation, reviewing the day in terms of how well one has dealt with challenges in a Stoic way, learning what one has done well but also cultivating the intention to do better the next day.
  • Daily exercises on the following themes: What is in our power?; Stoic self-discipline and simplicity; the Stoic reserve clause; Stoic mindfulness; Emotions and adversity; philanthropy and the View from Above.
  • A Stoic monitoring sheet, helping to cultivate an awareness of what is and what is not in our power.

Participants were asked to take various questionnaires assessing well-being and their levels of Stoicism both before and after taking part in Stoic week.

Stoicism Today’s Testing of Stoicism: The Results

Our findings supported the view that Stoicism is helpful – Stoicism passed its initial test. Participants reported a 14% improvement in life satisfaction, a 9% increase in positive emotions and an 11% decrease in negative emotions.

These findings suggest a significant positive effect of practising Stoicism, and also go some way to dispelling some of the more frequent criticisms of Stoicism, such as that it is a joyless philosophy (joy increased the most of all emotions) or that it is too pessimistic (optimism increased by 18%). In addition the study confirmed some positive expectations of Stoicism. Stoicism does indeed seem to increase contentment and reduce anger. The findings also supported the view that Stoicism not only increases well-being but also enhances virtue – 56% of participants gave themselves a mark of 80% or more when asked whether it had made them a better person and made them wiser.

As well as measuring changes in well-being, the Stoicism Today project has also attempted to measure the relationship between well-being and Stoic attitudes and behaviours. In order to do this, a scale, The Stoic Attitudes and Behaviours Scales (SABS) has been developed and piloted. By giving participants the SABS questionnaire along with other well-being scales, it is possible to determine the relationship between elements of Stoicism and well-being, and thereby, potentially to identify Stoicism’s “active ingredients”.   Most Stoic behaviours have proved to be positively associated with well-being. Many Stoic attitudes are also positively associated with well-being, but less so than behaviours. Some non-Stoic behaviours attitudes, such as doing what is enjoyable and comfortable rather than the right thing, proved to be negatively associated with well-being.

The elements of Stoicism that proved the most beneficial were:

  • Stoic mindfulness – making an effort to pay continual attention to the nature of my judgments and actions.
  • Stoic disputation of thoughts – reminding oneself that an upsetting thought is just an impression in my mind and not the thing it claims to represent.
  • Affinity with others – thinking of oneself as part of the human race, in the same way that a limb is a part of the human body.
  • Stoic Premeditation   – trying to anticipate future misfortunes and rehearse rising above them.

Future Directions

Whilst these findings are certainly encouraging, more research is required for it to reach the most rigorous scientific standards. Priorities include:

  • Performing more rigorous controlled experiments. The findings would be strengthened if follow-ups were performed (e.g. at 3 or 6 months) and if control groups were established.
  • Further Development of the Stoic attitudes and behaviours scale (SABS). The SABS scale is a promising instrument both to measure adherence to Stoicism and its association with well-being. The scale would benefit from refinement, including simplification of the language used and a further round of feedback from those who identify themselves as Stoic.
  • Longitudinal testing of SABS findings. The SABS findings are correlational i.e., they show a relationship between well-being and Stoicism. They do not prove that being more Stoic brings about the changes in well-being. One way to address this would be to compare changes in well-being between participants instructed to develop very specific Stoic attitudes and behaviours. For instance it could compare instructing one set of participants to engage in Stoic mindfulness with another instructed to do just a Stoic premeditation.
  • Further refinement of materials and programmes. There is a close analogy between the idea of developing Stoic-inspired programmes from Stoicism with developing mindfulness programmes from Buddhism. Mindfulness-based programmes have been shown to reduce the recurrence of depression and are now very popular; they are even available in the NHS. Researchers have based these programmes on a subset of Buddhist practices, and geared them to specific groups. In the same way programmes could be refined for particular problems most likely to benefit from Stoicism e.g. anger management and those suffering long-term conditions such as diabetes and coronary heart disease.

Stoicism as a part of Positive Psychology

Whilst further research is desirable, I believe enough evidence has been collected to justify including Stoic exercises in the arsenal of evidence-based techniques to enhance well-being. In this final section I will make some brief remarks to suggest that Stoicism may have particular value in helping Positive Psychology address helping people to be virtuous and wise as well as feeling good and doing good.

Positive Psychologists engaged in a literature search on virtues and came up with six virtues including the four cardinal virtues of ancient Greece (wisdom, courage, self-control and justice). However, whilst Stoics and other Greek and Roman thinkers mostly thought that all of these virtues were required to lead the good life, positive psychologists instead encourage people to identify their strengths and use their top strengths more. Strengths are more specific, operationalised versions of virtues – for instance the virtue of wisdom has been broken down into strengths of creativity, curiosity, judgement, love of learning and perspective. There is good evidence that using one’s strengths in new ways increases one’s own sense of well-being. It is not clear though whether it is the best way of making one more virtuous. There is a strong argument to suggest that virtue may require the opposite – focussing more on the moral qualities one lacks. For example, if a man is courageous but lacks self-control, should he perform more acts of courage or try to develop his self-control? More questionable still is whether they can perform true acts of courage or self-control without possessing wisdom. As Socrates argued in the Laches, retreating can show more courage than attacking, depending on the circumstances. Wisdom is required to decide which acts are virtuous.

Being a virtue-based philosophy, Stoicism is well-placed to fill in this gap in Positive Psychology. Stoics require individuals to develop virtues, even if they are not their strengths and provides exercises to enable them to do so. In encouraging people to control only what they can control and consider the welfare of others, Stoicism can also help people develop wisdom. Stoicism offers Positive Psychology and the individual the opportunity to develop their character as well as increase their well-being.

References:

LeBon, T., Report on Exeter University “Stoic week” 2013:

http://blogs.exeter.ac.uk/stoicismtoday/files/2014/02/Stoic-Week-Report-2013-Final.pdf. 2014a.

LeBon, T., Achieve Your Potential with Positive Psychology. Hodder: 2014b.

The Stoicism Today Team. Stoic Week Booklet:

http://blogs.exeter.ac.uk/stoicismtoday/files/2013/11/Stoic_Week_2013_Handbook.pdf. 2013

NB. The Stoic Attitudes and Behaviours Scale, and other questionnaires mentioned, can be found in Tim LeBon’s Report on Exeter University “Stoic Week” 2013.

Tim LeBon is a UKCP (UK Council for Psychotherapy) registered therapist and works in the NHS in IAPT (the Improving Access to Psychological Therapies scheme) using Cognitive Behavioural Therapy which he combines with a private practice as a counsellor and life coach in Central London. He is the founding editor of the journal Practical Philosophy and author of Wise Therapy (Sage, 2001), and Achieve Your Potential with Positive Psychology (Hodder, 2014). His website is www.timlebon.com.

The Stoic Doctor

Stoicism in Medical Practice

Roberto Sans-Boza

I recently developed an interest in Stoic philosophy as a very practical, logical and principled way of life. It has become important to me, both in my personal life, and, more importantly, in my professional life. I work in a largely diagnostic speciality, and every day I have to confront severe diagnostic dilemmas. In this article, I reflect on how Stoicism has helped inform how I go about medical practice.

As I started using Stoic philosophy in my life, I tried to find some time each morning to plan my day and to reflect on certain philosophical principles. As I did this on the bus to work, I started to reflect on how little value I had put on my job as a way of becoming a better person. In particular, I asked myself this question: “What judgement would I pass on my medical career as a whole if today were the last day of my job?” In doing this, I realized that, rather than taking a big-picture view of how to be a ‘good doctor’, I had focussed too much on the day-to-day experience of life, on the ‘immediate’ as it were. The overall purpose of what I was doing had got lost, obscured by all the details. From this, I also came to appreciate that one is not necessarily a good judge of oneself. Even though, through the last 20 years of my work, there was a clear pattern of professional expertise and dedication, my focus had nevertheless remained one of ‘surviving’ each day’s challenges. In contrast, Stoicism led me to the realisation that I needed to find a more profound sense of inner satisfaction in my job instead of considering it just one of life’s “necessary evils” in order to enjoy things that the pay-check can buy: material goods, holidays, books, and leisure time with family and friends.

There are four Stoic principles which have helped me especially in finding this inner satisfaction and purpose.

The first is that of ‘mindfulness’, the process of paying attention to the kind of thoughts I was having from an ethical point of view. One of the ways I developed this was to imagine having a teacher or senior colleague, someone to whom I would aspire to be like myself, watching me over my shoulder when performing my duties. This approach led me to improve in all aspects of my professional life, starting with my competence and willingness to learn new techniques or to become updated in new procedures or treatments. I devoted a lot more time to study. Similarly, this approach has resulted in a strong sense of motivation to develop my teaching skills so I can be a more effective teacher.

Continue reading “The Stoic Doctor”

Stoic Week 2014 & Stoicism Today Event in London

Stoic Week 2014 will take place starting November 24th. Please visit the site for details.

Zeno CalendarStoic Week 2014 will be happening from November 24th-30th – save the dates!

N.B. During Stoic Week, the blog will feature personal stories and testimonies about how Stoicism has been useful in people’s lives. If you would like to write on how Stoicism has helped you (the account can be written under a pseudonym, if you like), then please get in touch.

If you are planning on organising an event during Stoic Week, whether a talk or a meet-up group, for example, please also get in touch. I’ll be putting together a page with all the different events going on.

More details about Stoic Week 2014, which was followed by over 2,200 people last year, will be announced in due course, but for the moment here are details of a Stoicism Today Event in London, to be held on Saturday, November 29th, at Queen Mary, University of London. You can book your place at the event here.

You can join the Facebook group for Stoic Week 2014 here.

You can see a video, giving an overview of last year’s London event here:

And the roundtable discussion from last year:

More about the 2014 event:

“This is the second annual Stoicism Today event, and the biggest global event on Stoic philosophy in 2014. It brings together leading experts on Stoicism and its modern relevance.

We will explore:

  • Practical advice for Stoic resilience and flourishing
  • Ancient techniques for transforming the self, changing habits and facing adversity – and the scientific evidence for them
  • How modern psychotherapy draws on Stoic wisdom
  • How people use Stoicism at work, in professional sports, in prison and elsewhere
  • How Stoicism is related to other wisdom traditions like Buddhism and Taoism
  • We also want to hear from you about how you find Stoicism helpful

The morning will have key-note talks and a plenary panel, then the afternoon will offer five different workshops for attendees to take part in. The event also sees the launch of a new book, ‘Stoicism Today: Selected Writings’, which includes contributions by many of the event’s speakers.

Speakers include:

  1. Professor Christopher Gill, emeritus professor at Exeter University
  2. Professor Angie Hobbs, professor of the public understanding of philosophy at Sheffield University
  3. Dr John Sellars, author of Stoicism
  4. Gill Garratt, author of CBT for Work
  5. Tim LeBon, psychotherapist and author of Achieve Your Potential with Positive Psychology
  6. Donald Robertson, author of Stoicism and the Art of Happiness and The Philosophy of Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy: Stoicism as Rational and Cognitive Psychotherapy.
  7. Patrick Ussher, editor of Stoicism Today
  8. and Jules Evans, author of Philosophy for Life and Other Dangerous Situations

Other speakers will be announced in the next two months.

The pre-event fee is £15, which includes coffee, tea and lunch. The event will cost £20 on the door. We’re not making a profit from this event and none of the speakers are being paid – the ticket price is entirely to cover the overhead costs of the event. 

You can book your place at the event here.

This is a great event for any fans of Stoicism, or anyone interested in learning about this highly practical and therapeutic ancient philosophy, whose modern devotees include Arianna Huffington, Tom Wolfe, Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Elle MacPherson and Adrian Edmondson.”

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