Stoic Week 2017 Report Part 3: The Impact of Stoic Week and SMRT by Tim Lebon

Previous reports have summarised the demographics of Stoic Week and the relationship (measured at the start of Stoic Week) between Stoicism, well-being and character traits.  This report addresses the effects of  doing Stoic Week, and in particular  attempts to answer whether the impact of doing Stoic Week was as positive as in previous years. In addition, for the first time,  the results of a 3 month follow up study performed on the SMRT course run by Donald Robertson in 2017 will provide the first empirically-founded answer to the question “do the effects of Stoicism last, even 3 months after taking part in a Stoic course?”

If you’d like to read the full 14-page version of the Stoic Week 2017 report (part 3), you can click here to download the report.

SMRT 2017 Follow-Up Study

 SMRT (Stoic Mindfulness and Resilience Training) is a four-week intensive training course in core Stoic psychological skills.  It requires about twenty minutes of commitment daily for 28 days.  SMRT was designed in 2014 by Donald Robertson.  Previous  analysis of a SMRT course run in 2014 showed significant improvements in well-being

This year, for the first time, we asked participants to complete the questionnaires three months after the end of the course, as well as at the start and end of SMRT.

Of the 907 participants who began the SMRT course, 254 completed  the course and  88 completed the 3 month follow-up questionnaires.

The results were as follows :-

Measure Start End % improvement 3 months follow-up % improvement
SABS 173.0 194.9 12.7 194.6 12.5
Flourish 40.8 47.0 15.0 47.0 15.1
SPANE+ 20.1 24.0 18.9 22.4 11.3
SPANE- -16.1 -12.9 -20.1 -13.3 -17.6
SWL 23.2 27.0 16.3 26.8 15.3

Table 1: SMRT 2017: Impact at end of  28 day course and 3 month follow-up

Participants were found to have significant improvements in all measures at the end of the course. Particularly of note is the 20% reduction in negative emotions (SPANE-).  The key  question we were looking to answer was “how much would these improvements melt away in the 3 months after SMRT finishe?” It was found that there was very little reduction in benefit even after 3 months. For SABS (measuring degree of Stoicism) and Flourish (measuring flourishing) there was barely any change. In terms of emotions and satisfaction with life there was a small reduction compared to the end of the course. This result suggests that practising Stoicism for as little as a month has a lasting impact.

Impact of Stoic Week 2017: Overall Findings

 In terms of improvements in well-being over Stoic Week, the results were consistent with those of Stoic Week 2016, 2015 and  2014 confirming a significant positive benefit.

Increases in well-being ranged from 10-16% in the week depending on the scale being used. This replication of previous findings gives us further increased confidence in the reliability of the findings.

Table 2 below shows the overall outcome results.[i]

  Stoic Week

2017

Stoic Week

2016

Stoic Week

2015

Stoic Week 2014
No of participants 2870 1803 2503 1953
Increase in Flourishing 10% 10% 10% 10%
Increase in Satisfaction with Life 16% 15% 15% 16%
Increase in Positive Emotions 11% 10% 10% 11%
Reduction in Negative Emotions 14% 14% 14% 16%
Increase In Stoic Attitudes and Behaviours 9% 11% 13% 12%
Completion Rate 24% 15% 29% 29%

Table 2: Impact of Stoic Week 2017

Impact on Flourishing

Participants reported on average a 10% overall increase in  flourishing. The average score for those who completed Stoic Week was 41 at the start of Stoic Week and 45.5 at the end, an increase in over 10%.

Table 3 below shows the impact of Stoicism which on each Flourishing theme.

Flourishing Scale Item 2017

%

2016

%

2015

%

2014

%

2013

%

Theme
1. I lead a purposeful and meaningful life. 15 15 16 14 10 Purpose and meaning
2. My social relationships are supportive and rewarding. 13 13 11 11 10 Relationships
3.  I am engaged and interested in my daily activities. 12 8 10 10 10 Engagement in activities
4. I actively contribute to the happiness and well-being of others. 10 10 10 8 8 Benevolent
5.  I am competent and capable in the activities that are important to me 8 6 7 8 5 Competent
6. I am a good person and live a good life. 8 8 8 9 8 Ethically Good
7. I am optimistic about my future. 11 10 12 11 18 Optimism
8. People respect me. 7 9 7 7 5 Respected

 Table 3: Impact on Flourishing

 As in previous years, results suggest Stoicism has a particularly large positive impact on purpose and meaning (item 1), with social relationships (item 2) also showing particularly  significant improvement.  Table 2 again refutes suggests that Stoicism is a pessimistic philosophy. Stoicism actually lead to a significant increase in optimism.

Impact on Satisfaction with Life

Participants reported an  average 14% increase in satisfaction with life overall as measured by the Satisfaction with Life Scale. Participants  who completed Stoic Week’s average score was 23  at the start and 26 after Stoic Week for Satisfaction with Life.

Table 4 below shows which aspects of Satisfaction with Life increased the most. As one might anticipate given Stoicism’s teachings, the theme of acceptance (question 5) showed by the biggest increase – 19%.

Percentage change by each question 2017% increase 2016  % increase 2015 % increase

 

2014 %

increase

2013 % increase Theme
1. In most ways my life is close to my ideal 16 10 20 15 18 Life is ideal
2.The conditions of my life are excellent 11 13 13 15 11 Externals met
3. So far I have got the important things I want in life. 10 10 13 13 11 Needs met
4. I am satisfied with my life 14 13 14 15 17 Satisfaction
5. If I could live my life over, I would change almost nothing 19 24 20 17 17 Acceptance

Table 4: Impact on  Satisfaction with Life

Impact on Emotions

There was a substantial increase in positive emotions and decrease in negative emotions as reported by participants who took part in Stoic Week.

  • Participants in Stoic Week’s average Positive Emotions score was 20 at the start and 22 after Stoic Week an improvement of  11%.
  • Participants in Stoic Week’s average Negative Emotions score was -16.5 at the start and -14 after Stoic Week an improvement of 16%
  • Participants in Stoic Week’s average overall SPANE score was 3.5 at the start and 8.5 after Stoic

There was a greater shift in negative emotions than positive emotions (16% as opposed to 11%) as measured by the SPANE. The positive emotions that showed the biggest changes in 2017 were “contented“ and  “joyful” (both up 14%). All the negative emotions  showed a significant reduction of between 12% and 16%.

Tables 5 and 6 below give all the details about the impact of Stoic Week on positive and negative emotions.

Positive Emotions 2017 % change 2016 % change 2015 % comparison 2014 % comparison 2013 % comparison
Average positive 11 10 10 11  

9

Contented 14 15 14 14 12
Joyful 14 12 13 13 12
Happy 11 7 11 9 9
Good 9 8 9 10 7
 Pleasant 9 9 9 10 8
Positive 9 10 8 13 8

Table 5: Impact on Positive Emotions

 

Negative  Emotions 2017 %

Change

2016 %

change

2015 % comparison 2014 %

comparison

2013 %

comparison

Average negative -16 -14 -14 -16 -11
Unpleasant -15 -17 -16 -17 -8
Bad -16 -12 -15 -17 -11
Negative -15 -16 -14 -17 -12
Angry -12 -13 -14 -15 -13
Afraid -14 -13 -12 -14 -10
Sad -13 -14 -12 -14 -10

Table 6:  Impact on Negative Emotions

Impact on Character Traits and Virtues

For the first time, we asked participants to complete the CIVIC questionnaire, which allowed us to measure changes in  positive character traits and what the CIVIC terms “character cores” (similar to virtues).  This finding should be treated with a certain amount of caution. One would not necessarily expect these features to be very sensitive to change, and only a small number of participants (37) completed the CIVIC both at the start and end of Stoic Week. With these caveats in mind, tables 7 and 8 give changes to character traits and character cores ordered by the percentage improvement during Stoic Week.

CIVIC Trait BEFORE AFTER % improvement
Zest 2.43 2.73 12.0 11.98
Hope 2.64 2.91 10.3 10.26
Meaning/Purpose 2.07 2.23 7.5 7.49
Persistence 2.89 3.05 5.7 5.72
Leadership 2.50 2.64 5.6 5.57
Self-Control 3.03 3.20 5.6 5.56
Emotional Awareness 2.72 2.86 5.1 5.07
Humor 2.73 2.86 4.6 4.58
Social Perceptiveness 2.53 2.64 4.2 4.16
Perspective-Taking 3.17 3.30 4.2 4.16
Humility 3.29 3.42 3.9 3.90
Gratitude 3.08 3.20 3.8 3.78
Perspective 2.94 3.03 3.2 3.25
Creativity 2.87 2.95 3.0 2.98
Authenticity 3.32 3.41 2.9 2.91
Kindness 2.79 2.87 2.8 2.83
Teamwork 3.15 3.24 2.7 2.74
Bravery 2.96 3.04 2.7 2.67
Spirituality 2.44 2.51 2.6 2.63
Forethought 3.08 3.16 2.6 2.56
Forgiveness 3.19 3.26 2.4 2.39
Love 3.26 3.33 2.2 2.22
Love of Learning 3.59 3.66 2.1 2.13
Trustworthiness 3.32 3.38 1.8 1.85
Curiosity 3.63 3.69 1.8 1.81
Fairness 3.40 3.44 1.1 1.12
Carefulness 3.23 3.26 0.8 0.81
Openness to Evidence 3.37 3.40 0.8 0.78
Appreciation Of Beauty 3.17 3.19 0.5 0.50

Table 7:  Impact of Stoic Week on CIVIC Character Traits

Zest and hope improved significantly during Stoic Week, as did meaning and purpose, to a lesser extent. The finding regarding zest is particularly intriguing given that zest was also found to be the trait most associated with Stoicism at the start of Stoic Week.

Character core Before After Improvement (%)
FORTITUDE 2.7 2.9 9.1
TRANSCENDENCE 2.3 2.4 4.9
INTERPERSONAL CONSIDERATION 2.8 2.9 4.0
TEMPERANCE 3.0 3.1 3.4
APPRECIATION 3.2 3.3 3.0
SINCERITY 3.2 3.3 2.8
EMPATHY 3.2 3.3 2.2
INTELLECTUAL ENGAGMENT 3.3 3.4 1.8

Table 8:  Impact of Stoic Week on CIVIC Character Cores

Fortitude (which is closely related to the virtue of courage) improved by over 9%, with transcendence and interpersonal consideration also displaying quite large improvements.

Impact on Stoic Attitudes and Behaviours (SABS)

Comparisons in SABS scores before and after Stoic Week allow us to assess whether participants changed with respect to being Stoic taking part in Stoic Week. It also enables us to see in which ways they became more Stoic. Overall there was an 9% increase in assenting to Stoic attitudes and behaviour (SABS) scores from an average of 168 to 182.5.

Table 9 below gives the changes in average scores for those items that change most between the beginning and end of Stoic Week for 2017.

Item number      
SABS item  

Those items in italics have been reversed scored, so  a high score still indicates a more Stoic attitude or behaviour.

% Change Average Score at start of Stoic week (completers only) Average score at end of Stoic Week
2 It doesn’t really matter what other people think about me as long as I do the right thing 30 3.5 4.5
22 I spend quite a lot of time dwelling on what’s gone wrong the past or worrying about the future 29 4 5.2
24 When an upsetting thought enters my mind the first thing I do is remind myself it’s just an impression in my mind and not the thing it claims to represent 21 3.9 4.7
6 If bad things happen to you, you are bound to feel upset 19 4.6 5.5
26 Recognising that only virtue matters enables me to face life’s transience and my approaching death 18 3.8 4.4
29 Happiness depends on things going well for me and my family 16 4.8 5.6
25 Viewing other people as fellow-members of the brotherhood of humankind helps me to avoid feeling anger and resentment 16 3.7 4.3
35 My good name and what other people think about me matters a lot. 15 4.4 5.1
18 I am good at controlling my urges and impulses when that’s better for me in the long run [this item is excluded from SABS total as items 32 and 33 better measure a specifically Stoic concept of self-control] 15 4.9 5.7
31 When making a significant decision I ask myself “What really matters here?” and then look for the option that a good and wise person would choose. 14 5 5.7
12 To flourish as a human being all you need is rationality and a good character; things like money, status, health and good luck are not essential 14 4.8 5.4
15 I  try to anticipate future misfortunes and  rehearse rising above them 14 3.4 3.9
17 If I was honest I’d have to admit that I  often do what is enjoyable and comfortable rather than doing what I believe to be the right thing 14 4.8 5.4
19 I try to contemplate what the ideal wise and good person would do when faced with various misfortunes in life. 13 4.2 4.8
3 It can sometimes be a good thing to get angry when people are really rude, selfish or inconsiderate 13 5.2 5.8
23 I make an effort to pay continual attention to the nature of my judgments and actions. 12 4.8 5.4
27 I do the right thing even when I feel afraid. 11 2.9 3.2

Table 8:  Impact of Stoic Week on  Stoic Attitudes and Behaviours (items with most change)

The SABS items that showed the biggest increases are  strongly related to improved mental health.

  •   Doing the right think regardless of what others think((item 2)
    • This will not only help people be virtuous, it could also be expected to reduce social anxiety.
  • Cognitive Distancing & Stoic Mindfulness (item 24).
    • This is important because it allows people to take a step back, not automatically assenting to unhelpful judgements.
  • Reducing rumination (item 22)
    • Dwelling on negative thoughts for a long time is strongly associated with depression.

All SABS items moved in the expected direction with the exception item 34, an item  added in SABS v3.0 which measures a utilitarian concept of practical wisdom. Perhaps the reason for this item not changing in the expected direction is that the utilitarian concept of practical wisdom incorporates some ideals to  which Stoics would assent   – such as reflection and benevolence.

The 9%  change in Stoic Attitudes and Behaviours overall is significant in that it supports the view that it is changes in level of Stoicism that is mediating the change in well-being rather than other variables, such as the placebo effect.

Completion Rate

The completion rate in 2017  was 24%[ii] , more than only 15%  in 2016.  This may have been due to improvements in the materials or more attempts to encourage participants to complete the questionnaires at the end of Stoic week, or possibly other factors.

[i] These are calculated using only those people who completed Stoic Week. If the averages for the beginning of Stoic Week were to include those who dropped out, the improvement would be slightly greater, since those who dropped out tend to start with slightly lower scores on well-being.

[ii] The completion rate figure includes a number of completers whose data was excluded from the analysis for various reasons, such as incomplete data.

 

Tim LeBon is the author of Wise Therapy and Activate Your Potential With Positive Psychology.  He can be contacted via email at  tim@timlebon.com.  His website is  http://www.timlebon.com

Author: Gregory Sadler

Editor of Stoicism Today

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