A time-tested and scientifically vetted 3-step process to help you be the curator of your experience, the steward of your perception, and an agent of your destiny.
Stillness in the Storm
Life in the ancient world was full of adversity. If you lived to adulthood, you likely endured war, famine, plague, natural disaster, or some combination of these.
In antiquity, there was a flowering of approaches to the art of living well and even flourishing while embracing uncertainty and navigating these difficulties. One of the most enduring of those traditions is Stoicism. Within this tradition is pragmatic wisdom and a practical, straightforward approach to stave off anxiety, cultivate resilience, build identity, and find meaning in any challenge you face.
The Three Disciplines of Stoicism
Stoicism established three core practices or disciplines.
- “The Discipline of Perception” cultivates objectivity and acknowledgment of your situation as it actually is so you can frame better choices.
- “The Discipline of Action” encourages making rational decisions that align with your values and serve others.
- “The Discipline of Will” promotes acceptance, joy in the journey, and an attitude of gratitude and growth.
These disciplines provide an easy-to-understand template for executing the art of living well. For the Stoics, this included cultivating equanimity in any circumstance.
Modern psychology has adopted and adapted these disciplines and other Stoic ideas to help people overcome trials and trauma.
Marcus Aurelius, a Roman emperor who employed Stoic exercises to help him navigate the challenges in executing his duties, summed up the three disciplines in his journal this way.
Objective judgment, now, at this very moment.
Unselfish action, now, at this very moment.
Willing acceptance—now, at this very moment—of all external events.
That’s all you need.
Ancient Wisdom for Navigating Modern Challenges
Work that matters is challenging. Stepping into possibility in endeavors that make a difference is fulfilling and fraught. Almost everything is beyond your control. Fortunately, you already possess everything you need to thrive while you strive.
As mentioned above, the process shared below is inspired and influenced by time-tested ancient wisdom and vetted by modern psychology. It’s an approach that’s easy to understand, execute, and weave into the life you’re already living. When you feel like life is happening to you, these disciplines remind you that life is happening through you and empower you to live your legacy.
Let’s employ a modern reframe of the three disciplines to lean into a challenge you’re currently experiencing with clarity, compassion, and character.
Practicing the Disciplines
Below the three disciplines of Stoicism are reframed as three questions with space to respond and help you practice. Although the questions are presented as three steps, understand that the process performs as a coherent whole.
To practice the three disciplines, bring to mind an obstacle or challenge. Although this process can help you navigate a tragedy or trauma, I don’t recommend starting your practice with this type of event.
Choose a trial you can call to mind or speak out loud without too much agitation or anxiety. This will help you optimize the principles and practices. Don’t overthink your answer. Write down responses that immediately leap to mind.
A few short reads to help you unpack the questions are included to help you go further. You’re also invited to review excerpts from my handbook that inspired this process, Onward: Where Certainty Ends, Possibility Begins.
The Discipline of Perception – “What’s now?”
To navigate through a challenge, you must first zoom out to acknowledge and accept what is actually happening now. This helps you avoid acting upon unhealthy emotional reactions or unhelpful expectations.
The Discipline of Action – “What’s next?”
Zooming out staves off anxiety as you unpack your choices. Then you can zoom in to formulate a reasoned response. Decisions are not outcomes, yet they can influence them. Decide and act with intention and integrity.
The Discipline of Will – “What matters?”
The outcomes and results of your decisions are beyond your control. Yet, you possess everything you need to thrive. You control how you perceive yourself and your situation and what you decide to do next. Identity and meaning are forged and reflected through the quality of your day-to-day thoughts and actions.
Engaging your agency and will over your perception and actions develops excellence of character and cultivates the virtues of gratitude, generosity, humility, patience, and resilience. This is how you build identity, forge meaning, and find fulfillment through life’s ups and downs.
The quality of your thinking and effort, not recognition and results, are the real rewards in life. Serve from the inside out.