“There are three areas in which the person who would be wise and good must be trained. The first has to do with desires and aversions — that a person may never miss the mark in desires nor fall into what repels them. The second has to do with impulses to act and not to act — and more broadly, with duty — that a person may act deliberately for good reasons and not carelessly. The third has to do with freedom from deception and composure and the whole area of judgment, the assent our mind gives to its perceptions. Of these areas, the chief and most urgent is the first which has to do with the passions, for strong emotions arise only when we fail in our desires and aversions.”EPICTETUS, DISCOURSES, 3.2.1-3a
The quote in today’s chapter was a little hard for me to understand, so I was thankful this morning for The Daily Stoic book which helped me tease out the meanings.
There are three areas of training that Epictetus calls out above, and to me the key point here is that we need to actually train ourselves — these skills don’t just come automatically and naturally. We have to give conscious and deliberate effort to the improvement of our minds, and this training will take patience.
The first area is about desires and aversions. We must train our minds to seek out and desire the right things, because if left to our own devices we are likely to seek out the wrong things — things which are shiny and attractive but which are bad for us. Again, it’s a conscious decision to improve the mind.
The second area of training is about looking at our impulses and our motivations. It must always be a carefully considered and intentional decision to do things for “the right reasons” and “with duty”. Notice a theme here with the intentionality?
The final area is about our judgment and reason. This helps us determine the validity and accuracy of our perceptions, and strips away deception and falsehood. We have to practice shining a light upon the truth.
The common theme across all three areas of training is that it takes effort, it takes practice, and it takes patience because these things take time and don’t happen overnight. You’ll need determination to keep going, but the payoff is “clarity and success”!