Brief Mindfulness Exercise

The daily exercise we’re going to recommend is the one below.  However, by this stage in the training you may have your own ideas about a brief strategy that you’d rather employ, perhaps drawing on material from previous weeks.  You may also find that you can adapt previous meditation or psychotherapy strategies to support your Stoic training, and that should be fine.

Here’s the standard “default” strategy we’re recommending, though, in case you need something more specific as a guide:

  1. Stop what you’re doing for at least one minute, or more if you want.
  2. Turn your attention inward and focus on observing your own mental activity, from moment to moment, keeping your attention firmly grounded in the “here and now”.
  3. Don’t try to change anything, or stop anything from changing.  Just notice the difference between what’s “up to you” and what isn’t.
  4. If it helps, just repeat a word in your mind each time you exhale and notice the way you’re doing this voluntarily, and how other thoughts and feelings cross your mind involuntarily.
  5. Observe your automatic thoughts and feelings from an “indifferent” and detached perspective, without “buying into them; as if you were studying the thoughts of another person.

Essentially, you’re being asked to ground your attention in the present moment, become more attuned to your own actions and judgements, and to recall two key Stoic maxims:

  • Some things are “up to us” and some things are not; only our own voluntary actions and judgements are under our direct control.
  • It’s not things that upset us, but our judgement about things; remember that troubling impressions are just thoughts and not the things they claim to represent.

Similar brief exercise methods have proven very effective in behavioural psychology and in modern research on mindfulness-based cognitive therapy.  It’s really just a way for you to squeeze more benefit out of your Stoic training by making it into something that’s more familiar and habitual, and also applying it across a wider range of situations each day.  The broader the range of settings in which you become adept at practising your strategies, the more robust the benefits will become, and the greater your emotional resilience will be in the face of unexpected future adversities.

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