Our minds like to wander and drift and we provide it with many opportunities to do so but we can also exercise a degree of control over what we choose to think about and what kind of stimulus we allow into our brains. This is so important as we can often waste valuable energy on stimulus that does nothing to help us develop, grow or flourish.
Yet we seldom exercise this control. The stoics believe that the proper work of the mind is to exercise choice. I’ve been reading about the stoics’ 7 rules of the mind. Having a better understanding of what our mind is here to do and making time and space to reflect on this helps us to make far better decisions about our lives, be happier, more productive and effective.
What are the 7 rules and how do we put them into practice?
- Choice – in how you choose to think about something, what actions to take that nurture you and boost energy, the choice to be kind over being right, the choice to ask more questions and connect with others. How easy it is to NOT do this! To resort to default actions, act on assumptions and just simply react.
- Refusal – the Stoics here mean temptation and this might refer to saying “no” to things that are not uplifting your mind, body or spirit. But it could also be simply saying no and knowing your direction. So this could be about active boundaries you set up to control the type and amount of stimulus coming in whether that is stopping your consumption of the news or choosing not to get embroiled in a debate or argument.
- Yearning – to be better. Every day we are presented with opportunities to be better, brighter and stronger versions of ourselves. Every single day. How do you want to show up? The best choice is going to be showing up with grace and kindness.
- Repulsion – of negativity, of bad influences and of what isn’t true. Repulsion is a strong word – it means not letting these things come anywhere near us! Wow – a strong boundary for sure.
- Preparation – for what lies ahead or whatever might happen but not being afraid of it either. If we make space to reflect more and if we are more present we are already so much better equipped. We need not be buffeted around by the latest breaking news or external circumstances.
- Purpose – this is about really understanding our values and being guided by them. Having a clear direction, knowing why we do the work we do or why we live the way that we live and making sure that how we live is aligned to those values.
- Assent – to be free of deception about what is inside our control and what is not and to consistently focus our attention and energy onto what we can control in any situation every single day.
Thinking out of the box — it’s one of the most cited strategies for innovation. Corporate philosopher Luc de Brabandere pondered exactly what was happening in our minds when we think creatively, and shares his own perspective on this strategy. He argues that the most incredible ideas don’t come from just thinking beyond the perimeter of our current perception, but from relocating our minds to an entirely different box where preconceived ideas don’t limit imagination.
A good way to make space to reflect on these 7 rules of the mind is to have a morning routine – journaling perhaps – or simply to go for regular walks. You’ll soon get clarity, focus and better direction.