‘Our calm mind is our ultimate weapon against our challenges.’
The single most important practice in Stoic philosophy is differentiating between what we can change, and what we can’t, what we have influence over, and what we do not. In the sales-mind concepts, we refer to this as CIA Control-Influence Accept.
“The chief task in life is simply this: to identify and separate matters so that I can say clearly to myself which are externals not under my control, and which have to do with the choices I control. Where then do I look for good and evil? Not to uncontrollable externals, but within myself to the choices that are my own…” — Epictetus
The current COVID 19 outbreak offers an excellent opportunity to practice this, “chief task in life”. COVID-19 is here. If it isn’t where you live or work, there is a good chance; it is only a matter of time. No amount of yelling at the TV will make it go away. Cursing the origin of the virus, blaming the Chinese, perpetuating conspiracy theories based on hearsay and bulk buying and hoarding will not help matters.
It only distracts us from the many tasks at hand. Sticking our head in the sand and pretending it’s “not that bad.”
What we can control, as always, is how we respond. What matters is not what other people are doing or have done, but what we do. Ultimately we are all responsible for our behaviours and actions. What does this mean? Keeping up to date with the latest advice from the WHO World Health Organisation (and then actually following it!). Wash your hands often, cover your nose when you sneeze, avoid large public gatherings. Not being stupid, thinking we are the exception. Don’t do things that benefit you, at the expense of others. If we feel sick, stay at home. Do our part.
My understanding is that the strategy is too flatten the curve. To slow the spread of the virus so that our hospitals can handle the demand. They are therefore preventing unnecessary overloading of medical professionals, emergency services and other critical infrastructure so that the people who need it can access it. No one individual can accomplish this by themselves, but each of us, acting rightly, collectively, can make a big difference.
Those of us in the workplace with targets, objectives and deadlines to meet, it is easy to catastrophise and for our ‘chimp’ mind to take us down a vortex of despair. As soon as we catch ourselves, hit the ’emotional pause button’ and double down on refocusing on what, we can control and influence. All we can ever do is give the very best of ourselves to our current situation.
The real test of our character, for all of us, is how we behave in tough times.
Stoicism offers a great tool kit for moments like these. To remain calm in the face of chaos. To put aside irrational thoughts and develop a plan to keep us moving forward.
To be able to spread the only positive form of contagion, there is a calm, considered response, not a knee jerk reaction.