Why Stoic Psychology Matters

What is up to you

Welcome to The Stoa Letter, the newsletter on Stoic theory and practice.

Today’s letter is an excerpt from Michael Tremblay’s Stoic Psychology course on Stoa.

🏛️ Theory

Imagine you are at work in your office. It is a normal day, and then, suddenly, there is smoke. Someone screams “Fire!”, and everyone starts to panic. Some of your coworkers scream, and others rush for the exits. What do you do? Do you leave? Do you look for others? Do you wait to learn more? If you do leave, do you take the door on the right or the left? How do you know it is the right one?

Consider another example. You are happy, you like your job. But you receive an offer to travel and work in another country. The pay is better and this is a professional opportunity, but you won’t know anyone there, you will be leaving your family and friends behind. You have a few weeks to either accept or decline. If you decline, you likely won’t get this chance again. What do you do?

Both of these examples are life-changing decisions.

Sometimes we make decisions very quickly because the situation demands it. Other times we have time to think about it. Either way, For Stoics, a good life is just a series of good choices; moments when, faced with multiple options, you make the right choice and do the right thing with conviction.

But Stoicism is a practical philosophy. It doesn’t just tell us to choose well, it trains us to make good choices.

Sometimes, Stoic philosophy is like a fire drill. It is something we practice beforehand so we are ready to make quick decisions in the future.

Other times, Stoicism is like a friend or mentor. Something we can turn to in moments of deliberation when we have time to decide carefully between multiple options.

In either case, the Stoics know we act well when we think well. And we think well by understanding and training our minds.

It’s essential to learn what the ancient Stoics think goes behind a good action. Namely, how do the Stoics think our minds work, and how does an excellent mind, one that leads us to good decisions, look different than a normal mind? You can then use their framework, just as they did, to make better decisions and manage your emotions.

The Stoics see every choice as being made up of 4 critical stages: Impression, Reflection, Assent, and Impulse.

First, there is the impression, the initial stimulus. That’s the smell of smoke or the job offer phone call.

Then there is a period of reflection, even if it is short. This is where you weigh up the options available to you.

Then there is what the stoics call ‘assent’ the moment of choice when you commit to an option.

Finally, there is ‘impulse’ The psychological pull towards the action you have chosen with your assent. The motivation you feel to act out your plan.

This psychology provides a model for how to make better decisions, and manage your emotions, and a method for transforming yourself into the kind of person who can make confident choices - just like Marcus Aurelius or Epictetus.

🎯 Action

Today, mindfully pause. Take stock of your impressions, reflect on them carefully, and decide how to respond with purpose.

🏛️ Check out the new Stoic psychology course in the Stoa App. Find it by going to “Theory” then “Stoic Psychology.”

If you’d like to use the Stoa app, but truly cannot afford it, reach out to us and we’ll set you up with a free account.

Check out this conversation between Michael and I on the topic too:

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