Practical Philosophy

Things I Learned This Week #2

#1 – It is not what a person said, it is why they said it at that moment

I’m hunting for a flat to rent in London. The market is tough. Apparently it’s never been tougher.

Last week, one estate agent told me they had only 50 enquiries for a flat in Aldgate East. 50! Looks like I had no chance. However, the day after my viewing, the estate agent called me again and asked if I was still interested. Did she really have 50 bookings? Or was it a scarcity tactic?

In Never Split the Difference, Chris Voss says that it is not what a person says that you should pay attention to in a negotiation, but why they said it at that moment.

#2 – Focus on what is controllable, everything else is a distraction

I have started to notice how people often get effected by events entirely out of their control – like getting annoyed by badly parked cars, or by Boris Johnson, or the Tennis, etc.

One of the key doctrines of Stoicism is that of Perception. Essentially, we need to perceive what truly matters to protect our minds. The first thing we should do is to filter out what is entirely out of our control. Like getting pissed off by a parked car. That will never end and you will end up getting entirely derailed because you cannot control your emotions.

In Meditations, Marcus Aurelius advised himself “Not to be overwhelmed by what you imagine, but just do what you can and should.”

Ignore the external – and focus inwards – on your thoughts which you can control.

#3 – Appreciate the moment

When you see a cat in the street, pet it. That’s one of the lessons from 12 Rules for Life by Jordan Peterson.

I remembered the lesson when I was walking with my parents in the park. I had a moment where I thought that in 20 years we may not be able to do this together as a family again. It really made me appreciate the present moment.

Then, we started talking about laundry and other worries of the future (where am I going to stay in London etc). It reminded me that oftentimes we forget to enjoy the moment and think about the past and future.

#4 – Agreeing to your emotions is a choice

Previously I had known that we had to control our emotions and always act with dignity, but when push comes to shove, it’s hard to know exactly how. It can feel like fighting your natural instincts.

Recently, I did a post on the stoic concept of Assent. The idea is that we should protect our minds by not always agreeing (assenting) to our first impressions.

The reason for this is that our impressions of events tend to combine (1) the objective event with (2) our subjective value judgement of it. For example, the waiter doesn’t smile it me is an objective event. My subjective value judgement may be that they don’t like me. That’s entirely in my head.

“What is outside my mind means nothing to it. Absorb that lesson and your feet stand firm.”

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

So when the combined impression comes to our evaluation. There is a moment where we can consciously say yes or no to it. Do we let it assent to our inner citadel? (our soul, so to speak). An interesting remark is that we are a collection of our assents.

“The things you think about determine the quality of your mind. Your soul takes on the color of your thoughts.”

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

My friend told me this is similar to what Buddha said. I guess it really is true that wise men throughout history tend to reach the same conclusions.

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