Valued Living & Activity Scheduling

Clarifying your values is ultimately pretty pointless unless you’re acting in accord with them, and that often means changing your behaviour, which can take courage and self-discipline.

Try to think of specific ways in which you can live more consistently in accord with your core values.  Most people find that they need to identify quite specific activities in order to actually change anything.  However, you may find it helpful to brainstorm a list of both general strategies or categories of things you can do, such as spending more time with your children, and veryspecific activities that would fall under those headings, such as preparing lunch together, etc.

You may also want to consider two ways of living in accord with values or virtues:

  1. Acting consistently with a virtue, such as ways of exhibiting wisdom or fairness in your actions, etc.
  2. Cultivating a virtue within yourself, such as spending time reading about good role-models or meditating on what it means to be a good friend or parent, etc.

It may be that you’re already acting in ways that are very consistent with your core values but nevertheless failing to make the connection in your mind.  Being conscious of the link between your actions and values can be very important for some people, otherwise we can easily lose sight of the ultimate reason for our actions: why we’re doing the things we do each day.  Regaining the connection between our actions and values can make subtle but important differences to the way we go about doing things.  For example, you may work on a computer all day because your circumstances make this a prudent way to support your family and you consider that part of being a good spouse or parent.  It may be easy to lose sight of that core value, though, and allow the task and its external goals, such as finishing work on time, to predominate.

Each morning plan at least one specific activity that you can engage in that will allow you to live more consistently in accord with your core values, and be the person you want to be in life.  This week’s audio recording will help you to do that.  At the end of the day, you’ll be reviewing how well you’ve done by rating yourself in terms of your core values or virtues.  Remember that this usually consists in making very small steps to begin with – a small practical change can often have a big significance in life.

The Stoics employed an important psychological strategy called the “reserve clause”, which consisted of undertaking every action with the implicit caveat: “if nothing prevents me.”  That’s because we can’t guarantee that we’ll succeed and our future actions and their outcomes are therefore viewed with detached indifference, as merely “preferred”.  (Sometimes, in more theological language the Stoics would say “Fate permitting” or “God willing”, much as followers of Islam say “Inshallah” and Christians would once write “Deo Volente“.)  In practice, this means we should be prepared in advance to accept failure with equanimity. As the Stoics liked to point out, obstacles or setbacks to virtuous action merely provide another opportunity to exercise a different sort of virtue, such as patience, perseverance, or Stoic acceptance.  Notice that this is yet another form of the basic Stoic distinction we met in Week One, between things “up to us” and things not.  Our intention and commitment to act in a certain way is up to us, but whether not we succeed may be partly down to external circumstances.

How else might you help yourself to live each day more consistently in accord with your conception of virtue?  You can share your ideas with others in the Comments section.

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  1. “. …Being conscious of the link between your actions and values can be very important for some people…” I just lOVE this idea! To say daily, “I am on this phone at my desk because…” What a brain boost! Thank you.

  2. I work a lot with therapeutic writing including reflective writing, journalling and poetry therapy and I find simply writing things down – eg keeping a day book, noting what I’m doing at different times, is a good way of aligning behaviour to values. Also at the end of the day, reflecting on how that day has gone, whether I’ve lived it fully.

  3. I am actively trying to build (similar to TV in the U.S.) a 5 second delay between what I think and what I say/do. This is proving helpful to give me time and space for my higher goals (virtue) to have a chance at helping me to live in accord with my concept of virtue.

  4. just to make one more example following “inshallah” and “Deo Volene”, the jewish say “בעזרת השם” (pronounced be’ezrat ha’shem), translated to “with the help of God”.

  5. Please bear with me as I have a short “current events” anecdote to share, and a question to pose for your weekend consideration.
    In our small locality, we have a County commission of sorts and on it are two women who have served long terms of varying lengths. One, Mrs. White, is a socialite, very well connected, politically (her husband is county Mayor, but that has nothing to do with her place on this particular commission) and she is very emotionally detached and reserved (and noticeably always described that way by others). The other, Mrs. Brown, can be described as more of a country type, and very outgoing, (what American Southerners might call a female “good-ol’boy” as I have heard her called). Both are in their mid-to-late fifties. Both are eminently qualified to serve on this commission. Apparently, both have been at odds for some time and the other day, after a clear misunderstanding, Mrs. Brown lost her emotional cool and verbally assaulted Mrs. White during a meeting. Another member had to physically restrain Mrs. Brown and, when that wasn’t enough, a security officer had to be called in to remove Mrs. Brown. At a subsequent meeting, it was agreed that Mrs. Brown should be asked to resign from the commission.
    We can agree that Mrs. Brown is responsible for this result, no matter what pressures may have been brought to bear (use your own imaginations). However, I would like to focus on an alternate question, having knowledge of both parties. One assumes that control over the emotions, as we learn from the Stoics, is given as a positive. But what happens when control over the emotions is learned as a negative? What happens when emotional control is used as a weapon for control over others and not as a tool for self-mastery? And is that type of emotional control anything at all like the type of emotional control taught to us by the Stoic philosophers?

    1. I think emotional control to the point of manipulation has very little to do with Stoic values. Underlying a reserved demeanor that’s being used with malicious intent has to be something other than indifference. That seems much more like having a good poker face and less like a real internalized belief system. Certainly I don’t think that being emotionally withholding with the goal of instigating a negative response in another person would align with virtues like honesty, modesty or real wisdom.

      1. Precisely, yet I have found that so many people see this sort of detachment or coolness–from a distance–as precisely the model for rational emotional control, when in fact it may be driven by some very irrational motive. And, no matter what they may learn subsequently, no matter what they may read further, this “learning” colors everything for them, gives them a perspective they find difficult to break. Even as Marcus, for example, teaches humility, compassion and philanthropy, they read right past it, almost as if it weren’t there.

  6. Looking deeper into the clash between my desired values and my lived values, the two points that stick out exclusively are the continuing dishonesty and anger in my life. Every time I stray from the truth, because I feel a need to out of some personal or social obligation that pushes me towards a rationalization, I end up drained, as if my whole character had taken the force of a hurricane. Yet the lessons for this have been hammered into me from childhood, and are daily reinforced by messages like “don’t be too honest.” I suppose there are ways, like saying nothing in some instances, of avoiding rationalizations. And I have been told one can learn “new languages,” never my strong suit. I always turned to humor, but that only works in limited circumstances, and with a limited audience.
    Then the anger, also drilled into me since childhood, essentially as it should become my basic approach to the world. No matter how much effort I put into fighting this from a very early age, and even though I have conquered the majority of its effects over time through very hard work, it still crops up, unanticipated (although it should be prepared for in many common instances, as if I were wearing a life-jacket). I can step back from it faster than ever, and avoid it more often than ever, handle it better than ever. But I have not yet fully eliminated it from my life, except by avoiding those instances where it might occur. And that amounts to withdrawing from life, which is not a good thing. Although I don’t use that strategy often, or haven’t, yet, it is a symptom I need to watch, a pattern, perhaps of something growing wrong. Rather, I should continue to work on developing more sensitivity to the signs of my anger.

  7. This course is really helping to clarify what’s important to me and where I’m struggling. By identifying my values and seeing where I’m falling short of them, I’m really understanding that I chose to take on employment that creates a lot of difficulty for me to meet own my standards.

    In a leadership position at work I find it very challenging to employ patience, gentleness and good humour in the face of deadlines, pressure from above, and performance issues from employees. While each day is an opportunity to practice these traits, I’ve also come to the conclusion that supervising isn’t a position that suits my temperament or goals in life. More than anything I want to be excellent at what I do–and I’d rather be the employee actively doing the work than the one managing production. I love striving for personal excellence and not trying to get other people’s work to a place we can squeeze it out the door.

    Until then, I have to face each day knowing that work is going to be difficult and that I have the ability within me to choose how I respond to my frustrated impulses. I’ve already seen a little improvement based on last week’s lesson and have found thinking about what I value very enlightening so far.

    1. Of course, someday you may have to leave your employment. But there is an old, classic work on the study of management, “The Peter Principle,” which deals with your situation (and the situation of so many others) and the external forces working on you, that might add some insight in the meantime. No matter how much control we do have, there are external forces at work.

      1. Hey, thanks! The Peter Principle definitely seems relevant to my situation and I’m going to read about it further. While the problems I’m having are certainly external, I do have to own up to my responses to them. I think reflecting more on what I value is giving me a hand figuring out to what degree I can do the best I am capable while helping others achieve more, and to what degree I need to accept that this is just my job and not the sum total of my life.

        I appreciate the insight a lot, thanks again!

        1. A few days ago a writer, Kenneth Posner, posted an article on the Stoicism Today site, “Askesis in the Catskills.” In it he describes his attempt to walk, barefoot, across nine summits in the Catskill Mountains of New York, as a mimic of the ancient Greek rite of a “rigorous training discipline that was undertaken for both athletic and spiritual development. Especially favored were practices that entailed endurance, resistance to the elements, or going without food and water. The ultimate goal was to achieve a state of mind characterized by tranquility and equanimity, facilitating the operation of the will according to reason rather than driven by fear or unruly emotions.” A noble and Stoic endeavor. But one that, obviously, could not be endured by someone already suffering from physical disability of some extreme sort, particularly in ancient times and probably not today. Epictetus himself would have stumbled at the first step of Bear Mountain.
          Even with our advanced medical science, even with prosthetics and drugs, much of what Posner describes in his account would be impossible for the infirm, the elderly, those in pain, those who are disabled. In the end, in the prime of his physical ability, Posner could not complete the task.
          Yet he still proves an important point about askesis, about striving, about endurance, and he does this for us all, as the ancient example of askesis does for us all. That despite the task, despite the level of endurance the task asks of us, and despite how many times we have to try, we can continue to return to those nine summits—indeed, we must, we have no choice, as Posner seems to admit he has no choice. Whatever the task—whatever problem we have to solve, whatever difficulty we have to overcome, whatever issue we have to endure—we can and we will continue to make the attempt with tranquility and equanimity, with reason and not with fear.

    2. Years ago I was in a very similar situation. Eventually I left that job to try to start my own firm, and that was probably the hardest decision of my life. Also the best one, as it turned out. I struggled with working on my own for a year, eventually realizing that it entailed even more management although of a different sort. But during that year I stumbled into a position, working for others, where I am responsible only for the excellence of my own work. And for the last 20 years it has been far more rewarding and more profitable than my previous path. I’ve often been grateful that I’m no longer a manager. I also think that my experience has made me more valuable to managers that I work with as I have an understanding of what they’re up against and I’m not competing with them.

  8. I find lately that I cannot act in accordance with my values because of illness. The stress of age has worn my body down and I find myself more and more facing aches and pains of all sorts, which prevent me from acting in accordance with my values and often in accordance with reason itself. Before this week, in fact, I had begun to act more and more in keeping with my values but illness struck again. I feel like I can’t get a moment’s break to concentrate on any task beyond a week.

    1. That’s a difficulty the Stoics anticipated. What advice do you think they might give you?

    2. thanks for expressing for some of us that “sometimes the things beyond our control are our physical pains” For this course, i am using “this is not under my control as a mantra” when the pain is particularly intense (distracting enough to make it harder to focus on the present moment… cause the present moment is so uncomfortable). Thanks again. Just saying… you probably have used quite a number of Stoic techniques just to get this far. 🙂