In this episode, we delve into the core tenets of Stoicism, discussing the four cardinal virtues and how they serve as pivotal tools in our life. We'll dissect what they mean, their relevance, and how to apply them in our everyday living. Moreover, we spotlight the concept of philosophical journaling—a method adopted by the Stoics and modern-day Cognitive Behavioral Therapy alike, and its transformative effects.
Why You'd Want to Listen:
You may be aware that there are four stoic cardinal virtues. Number one is justice. The idea here is that we learn to act with more fairness, speak the truth, and do to others as we would do to ourselves. The word justice Donald Robertson has said is probably not the best way of thinking about it. A better translation would be fair kindness. Next we have temperance. This is the ability to put things in balance, to practice voluntary hardship, abstinence, to moderate our indulgences. Thirdly, we have courage. Here we develop a lifestyle where we can lean into our fears, step outside of our comfort zones and do the right thing, even if we feel afraid to do so. Something I like to do to help me understand the virtues in practice is to imagine the opposite. Imagine someone getting abused or mistreated and then picture someone seeing this knowing they should do something, it is right to do something, their inner conscience or daemon, this voice or intuition tells them to speak up, call someone, report it, do something. But they just don't because they're afraid. Even though they're afraid, they don't have the discipline to overcome that fear. They don't have the courage. And so they don't do what's just. But there's a fourth cardinal virtue. It is argued that if you want to practice Stoicism, it's not really about the techniques. There are many techniques. I love talking about all of the different techniques and how I apply them to my life. But if you do nothing other than remember fair kindness, temperance, and courage, and try to live according to those virtues each day, you'll be a practicing Stoic, you'll be moving closer to virtue. As a quick side note, you may be wondering why are the cardinal virtues called the cardinal virtues? Well, the term cardinal has its roots in the Latin cardinalis, signifying principal or pivotal. It can be traced back to cardo, denoting a hinge. So this suggests the metaphor of everything else hinging on or being determined by what is deemed cardinal. So a way to think about this is that your happiness, your contentment, your wisdom hinges on your ability to embody these cardinal virtues. But there is a fourth cardinal virtue, one that doesn't get discussed as much because it's kind of slippery to get a grasp over. And that is practical wisdom. The knowledge of what is truly good or bad for you. I was recently listening to an interview on the Trigonometry podcast featuring Massimo Pigliucci and he said the question about practical wisdom is a good one. There is a fundamental technique in Stoicism that is also adopted by modern cognitive behavioral therapists, and the Stoics refer to it as philosophical journaling. The CBT practitioners probably used some other term for it, but it's the same basic idea. So this is a notion that goes back at least 2000 years. A good example of this is Marcus Aurelius' Meditations. Marcus Aurelius was a Roman Emperor and a Stoic Philosopher and he wrote this book, The Meditations, which is essentially a personal diary, a philosophical diary where he keeps track of his progress and asks himself what you should do and so on. In fact, it was not meant for publication, it was his personal thing that eventually somebody got hold of and published. So here's the basic idea. There are many ways of doing philosophical journaling, but the one that is most common, arguably, is this. Number one, find a quiet space. Number two, review your day. Number three, ask yourself, what did I do wrong? And then Massimo goes on to explain how he does his philosophical journaling, which he does every night. There are six basic steps. Step one, find a quiet space. Step two, review your day. Step three, ask yourself, what did I do wrong? Step four, ask yourself, what did I do right? Step five, ask yourself, what could I do better if something like this happens again? Step six, develop this process into a consistent habit. So what this may look like is that in the evening you go to your room, you carve out 10 minutes of your time, find somewhere that's quiet, open up your laptop or your tablet or a physical journal and then just think about what happened throughout the day. Pay particular attention to the things that didn't go so well. Did you make any mistakes? Were there any things you could have done better? Were there any tricky situations which made you squirm? Any ethically grey areas of the day or your behaviour? And now just ask yourself, what did I do wrong? The idea is not to punish yourself and fill yourself up with regret. It's not about that. You want to be thinking of yourself the same way you would think about another person. Oh, I'm going to learn from this. Oh, look at this person's behaviors and actions. What can I learn from that? So you reflect and think critically about the mistakes and you just make a note. You know, what did I do that wasn't ideal? But then we balance this by asking ourselves what did we do right? What went well? What do I feel pleased about? And now the most important part of the whole exercise, the most crucial one, is what could I do better if the same sort of thing happened tomorrow or next week or in the future? We can mentally practice this. Well, if this were to happen again, I would be sure to bring this idea or this thought or this technique to mind. The key to this whole exercise though is that it's got to be done daily. If not daily, then at least multiple times per week, consistently. You can't do this exercise tonight and then expect to be a completely different person tomorrow. Just like coaching takes time to have an effect, just like going to the gym and lifting weights takes time to have an effect, just like studying a subject takes time to have an effect, what you are doing is you're coaching yourself to be a better person. You've got to do this day in day out. You may make mistake five times, 15 times, 20 times, 50 times, but by bringing mindfulness to it, seeing it more clearly, coaching yourself through it, you're still reducing the chances of this becoming a permanent habit, a permanent way of being. The meditation teacher, Andy Putticoome, has a really nice image for this type of behavioral change. He says there's a big hole in the road further ahead. This hole represents a destructive behavioral pattern. We are going about our day and we consistently keep falling into the hole. So we bring mindfulness to the situation. We learn where the hole is placed. Some days we may walk past the hole, but there's always going to be that day when we're daydreaming or thinking about something else, we're distracted and we fall back into the hole. But over time, even though we may get frustrated, eventually we will walk past the hole every time. The philosophical journaling speeds up that process. It's like mindfulness on steroids for behavioral change. If you combine mindfulness with it I think you get a double whammy. You get a force multiplier so I recommend that. Having a meditation practice, plain old simple but profound mindfulness with a philosophical journaling exercise. Commit to doing it for three months. Make it the one habit that you don't skip every day and you may just be astounded what happens.