March 28, 2018 - Ancient Stoicism in Plain English
Tag(s): Book Excerpts ||

Train to Achieve Your Goal

Key ideas of this discourse

  1. We are involved in the greatest contest. The goal is to achieve happiness and good fortune.
  2. Even if you fail, nothing will stop you from coming back to enter the contest again.
  3. But do not make it a habit of failing. It will only breed more failure.

The following is an excerpt from the book Stoic Training, Book 3 of Epictetus’ Discourses in Plain English. The complete book is available in online and print editions from Amazon and other online bookstores.  http://amzn.to/2sfVvJ

We are involved in the greatest of contests

Consider the things you set out to achieve. You achieved some of these and didn’t achieve others. Some of these are pleasant to remember and others are painful to remember. If possible, try also to recover things that have slipped from your grasp.

If you are involved in the greatest of contests, you must not pull back but be prepared to take blows. The contest we are involved in is not like wrestling or a sport with no rules. For, in those contests, winning or losing does not decide whether you are a person of the highest worth or little and, by God, whether you are happy or miserable. No, this is a contest for good fortune and happiness itself.

Even if you are beaten, you can re-enter the game

Even if you are beaten, you can re-enter the game when you’re ready again

What follows then? In this contest, even if we give in for the time being, no one can stop us from coming back to fight again. It is not necessary to wait for another four years as you do for the Olympics either. As soon as you recover your strength, and show the same enthusiasm, you can re-enter the contest. If you fail again, you can re-enter again. Once you win the contest one day, it will be as though you never gave in.

But don’t make failure a habit

But, don’t make it a habit of being happy to repeat the process over and over again. You might end up like a bad athlete, to be beaten again and again in the whole cycle, just like quails that run away.

“I’m overcome by the impression of a pretty girl.”

“What of it? Didn’t you overcome something like that just the other day?”

“I feel like disparaging someone. Didn’t I have a go at someone the other day?”

“You are talking as though it had no cost to you. It is like a patient, when asked not to take a bath by a doctor, responding, ‘But, didn’t I take a bath just the other day?’ Then the doctor may respond, ‘How did you feel after the bath – did you suffer a fever or a headache?’ So, when you disparaged someone the other day, did you not feel like an ill-natured person? Weren’t you talking nonsense? Didn’t you feed this habit by citing the examples of your own previous actions?”

Why do you then talk about what you did recently? You should have remembered them in the same way slaves remember the blows they’ve received – to avoid repeating the same mistakes. But these two cases are not the same. With slaves’ memory it is the pain that brings back the memory. What pain, what punishment followed your faults? And when did you ever develop the habit of avoiding bad actions?

Think about this

The contest that lies before us is not in wrestling or the pankration … no, this is a contest for good fortune and happiness itself. Discourses III.25. Epictetus [CG.RH]