Burn the Boats Behind You

As you may have read elsewhere here, I am participating in a 14 Day Stoic Challenge, and Day 1 was about letting go of your frustration and anger, and there’s a lot of great research and writing on that topic I won’t try to go into here since you can find it elsewhere. The point of the exercise, from the point of view of Stoicism, is that frustration and anger are external events that you have no control over, rather they are a manifestation of our own lack of discipline. And that is something we can train ourselves out of. The Stoics teach that we should see the world as it is, and then focus on doing the right things where we are able to effect a difference. Nothing is more true of the emotion anger, as if seen in the clear light of day, it is not an intrinsic part of the event or person that we are angry about. Rather, it is our own choice to impact (negative) meaning into that event or person that is the cause of our anger.

Which is actually great news, because that means we decide, we determine if we are going to be negatively affected. We therefore have to work to create a pause in our mind, before our primitive brain is allowed to react, we must assert our executive function, our will, to decide how we must best react. Or, better said:

Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.

Victor Frankl

And of course this is not a uniquely Stoic insight, we’ve all heard “take a deep breath”, “count to 10 in your head”, etc. But this is where the work is, and this is why perhaps Stoicism appeals to me, because it is not meant to be read and preached, but practiced, drilled, trained into our behaviour so that we don’t have to work so hard to to face forward, maintain our composure and step forward into the unknown. So that it becomes how we are in the world. And it takes work, deliberate practice, and daily reflection, which is all something I am still working on, but we are all a work in progress after all.

Which brings me to the title of this post, one sentence in the material for today’s challenge, but one that really speaks to me. Though not in the traditional sense of that phrase of the commander who burns the boats on the beach so the troops know that there is no choice but to fight forward. For me, it about consciously leaving all our baggage behind, and being unburdened by it, so that we can move forward. Not always easy, but alway worth it.

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