Stepping Into PossibilityJul 08, 2021
Embrace Uncertainty • Navigate Adversity • Make Things Better
Stillness in the Storm
Life in the ancient world was full of adversity. If you lived to adulthood, you likely endured war, famine, plague, natural disaster, or some combination of these.
In antiquity, there was a flowering of approaches to the art of living well and even flourishing while embracing uncertainty and navigating these difficulties.
One of the most enduring of those traditions is Stoicism. Within this tradition is pragmatic wisdom and a practical, straightforward approach to stave off anxiety, cultivate resilience, build identity, and find meaning in any challenge you face.
The Three Disciplines of Stoicism
Stoicism established three core practices or disciplines.
- “The Discipline of Perception” cultivates awareness and helps you acknowledge your situation as it actually is.
- “The Discipline of Action” encourages altruism and helps you act as an agent of your destiny.
- “The Discipline of Will” cultivates acceptance and helps you cultivate an attitude of gratitude and growth.
These disciplines provide an easy-to-understand template for executing the art of living well. For the Stoics, this included cultivating equanimity in any circumstance.
Modern psychology has adopted and adapted these disciplines and other Stoic ideas to help people overcome trials and trauma.
Marcus Aurelius, a Roman emperor who employed Stoic exercises to help him navigate the challenges of executing his duties, summed up the three disciplines in his journal this way.
“Objective judgment, now, at this very moment.
Unselfish action, now, at this very moment.
Willing acceptance—now, at this very moment—of all external events.
That’s all you need.”
Let’s employ the three disciplines to lean into a challenge you’re currently experiencing with clarity, compassion, and character. What’s a situation you’re in now that you’d like to step into with greater consideration and courage?
Ancient Wisdom for Navigating Modern Challenges
Work that matters is challenging. Stepping into possibility in endeavors that make a difference is fulfilling and fraught. Almost everything is beyond your control. Fortunately, you possess everything you need to thrive while you strive.
The process shared below is based on time-tested ancient wisdom and vetted by modern psychology, as mentioned above. It’s an approach that’s easy to understand, execute, and weave into the life you’re already living.
When you feel like life is happening to you, these disciplines remind you that life is happening through you and empower you to live your legacy.
Practicing the Disciplines
Step 1 - “What’s now?”
To navigate through a challenge, you must first acknowledge and accept what is happening now. This helps you avoid acting on unhealthy and unhelpful emotional reactions. State what’s going on without value judgment or strong emotive language to de-catastrophize situations.
Step 2 - “What’s next?”
Stepping together into possibility with intention and integrity helps stave off anxiety while navigating uncertainty. Decisions are not outcomes, but they can influence them. Unpack your choices. Define which is the most likely to move you into the possibility you’re aiming for and take the next smallest possible step into potential.
Step 3 - “What’s it for?”
You can find meaning in any moment and significance in any situation. We are inherently social and creative creatures born to work together to creatively solve challenging problems. Align who you are with what you do and work with and for others who share your values and need your talents to enhance their lives.
Engaging your agency over your perception and actions develops excellence of character and cultivates the virtues of humility, patience, and resilience. This is how you build identity, forge meaning, and find fulfillment. Serve from the inside out.
This is a distilled process unpacked more fully in the Stepping Into Possibility Workshop and Onward: Where Certainty Ends Possibility Begins.
Scott Perry, Chief Difference-Maker at Creative on Purpose.
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