14 Stoic Self-Analysis Exercise

Assignment: Write a 250-500 word paper in which you analyze your experiences and outcomes in performing the activity described below (see part 9 for the paper specifics).

Before performing this exercise read the provided selection from the Enchiridion by Epictetus.

Steps

  1. Take a quiet moment with yourself to be calm and reflective.
  2. Think of a situation, object, or person which when you encounter it is accompanied by anxiety, anger, fear, or disgust.
  3. Form an image or picture in your mind of the situation, object, or person. Note any change in your feelings, thoughts, or body states as your form that picture.
  4. Perform an analysis of your reactions to that situation, object, or thing.
    1. What feelings do you have when encountering it?
    2. What thoughts do you have when encountering it?
    3. What physical sensations do you have when encountering it?
    4. What desires or urges do you have when encountering it?
    5. What actions may you take when encountering it?
    6. Write out your analysis in detail.
  5. Perform an assessment of your relations to that situation, object, or thing.
    1. What aspects of that situation, person, or thing do you control or have power to change?
    2. Be very specific in explaining your control/power.
    3. What aspects of that situation, person, or thing do you not control or not have power to change?
    4. Be very specific in explaining your absence of control/power.
    5. Write out your analysis in detail.
  6. Perform an assessment of your reactions to that situation, object, or thing.
    1. What aspects of your reactions to that situation, person, or thing do you control or have power to change?
    2. Be specific in explaining your control/power.
    3. What aspects of your reactions to situation, person, or thing do you not control or not have power to change?
    4. Be specific in explaining your absence of control/power.
    5. Write out your analysis in detail.
  7. Take another quiet moment with yourself to be calm and reflective.
  8. Again form an image or picture in your mind of the situation, object, or person. Attribute to it all of the reactions that you can control and have power to change. You can do thing by imagining those aspects of it or by saying aloud statements of what you can change in it.
  9. In your imagination willfully change each of the reactions that you can change. Do this by affirmative assertions such as; I will feel X instead of Y; I will think P instead of Q; I will do A instead of B; and so on (where Y, Q, B are the reactions that you noted in part 3 and X, P, A are alternate reactions that you put in their place).

For example, suppose that you are frightened by bees such that if a bee flies near you jump up and yell and feel threatened.  In this case, after you perform the analysis and assessment steps listed above, you will vividly imagine a bee and in your imagination make the following changes: Instead of jumping I will calmly walk away; instead of yelling I will calmly tell the bee that I am not a threat; instead of feeling threatened I will feel strong enough that the bee will leave me alone.

I imagine someone at this point saying “I’d just swat the bee and kill it” or “I’d shoo it away.” Those are possibilities, but please note that these are powers that you would have put in part 4 above. If you have that power, then being afraid and jumpy makes little sense. Be careful not to change the case with a fantasy. If the thing you are thinking of really makes you angry, afraid, anxious or disgusted, then you cannot affect it by imagining powers over it. Focus on your reactions in this part of the exercise.

Keep working on changing that image. You may find it effective to redo this part of the activity several times over some days. Pay attention to the thing in your image to discern whether any of its qualities and any of your immediate responses to it change.

The next time that you encounter that situation, object, or person – recall your revised image of it.

Note whether any of your feelings, thoughts, urges, desires, or actions concerning it have changed.

  1. Perform this exercise over several days or a week. Write a 250-500 word analysis of your experience in this exercise. You may disclose the personal specifics (i.e. the thing and your reactions) or not as you please. Either way the purpose is to explain how you conducted the exercise with an emphasis as to whether you experienced any changes. Close the piece with your thoughts about the value of the Stoic theory of human agency and your thoughts about the value that theory and this method may have in your life.

Send part 9 to your futureself (via futureme.com) 10 years, 20 years, and 30 years in the future (or if your are 50 years or older – 10, 15, and 20 years).  You may want to include these exercise directions in case your futureself wants to use them again.

Postscipt

Now, in the example with the bee I chose more or less positive reactions as alternatives.  You do not have to copy me. You may choose whatever alternative reactions seem appropriate. Herein lies the major point that I think that Epictetus is making. You are free to choose your reactions. Don’t let that which your cannot control choose your reactions for you. Please read that those last sentence again carefully (and aloud, really). Write it out on a blank sheet of paper. Many of us live our lives (or parts of them) allowing that which we cannot control choosing for us that which we can control. In our relationships, for instance, we spend more effort trying to change the other person than improving ourselves.

The Stoics teach us to focus our attention and energy on that which we do have power over. It seems to me that even if we do have power over parts of the external world, it still makes sense to primarily focus on improving our inner lives. Imagine that you had one magical wish to obtain anything that you desire. That would be temporary power over the entire world! What then would matter most? I say what would matter most is what it is that you desire. But do you have power over your own desires or do they have power over you? Epictetus says that you do have the power to change your desires and also your thoughts, feelings, emotions, fears, anxieties, among other reactions. Therein lies the key to all power. How much investment do you make to improve them? You are working hard as a student to improve your knowledge and skill. How much effort are you willing to put into improving your inner life?

License

Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License

_InterQuest - Current Master by Jon Dorbolo is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

Share This Book