February 5, 2017 – Steady Your Impulses


“Don’t be bounced around, but submit every impulse to the claims of justice, and protect your clear conviction in every appearance.” – Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 4.22

When I read this my first thought was to review what a Stoic means when he uses the word “justice”. For the Stoic, being just meant focusing on piety, honesty, equity, and fair dealing. Justice is one of the four main virtues within Stoicism that also includes courage, moderation, and wisdom. What Marcus is asking us to do is filter our impulses through the virtue of justice.

  • Is this impulse consistent with my belief system? (piety)
  • If I act upon this impulse am I being true to my convictions? (honesty)
  • Have I considered the fairness of acting on this impulse? (equity)
  • Would acting on this impulse require one to ignore standards? (fair dealing)

But this meditation isn’t about justice. Rather it is reminding us that we have a standard to ensure we stay on course. Something that affords us the consistency that calms us from the distractions. When we think before we act we spend less time worrying about the impact of and correcting the mistakes of yesterday.

American author Og Mandino, writer of The Greatest Salesman in the World, almost never was. After serving in WW2, Og found himself in an unsatisfying sales job that facilitated a fall into alcoholism. His wife would leave him, taking their daughter. On a November day in Cleveland, Og was considering suicide but instead found himself at a library pouring over motivational books. This not only saved him from taking his own life but it also helped him overcome alcoholism, and it gave the world a great motivational speaker. He was eventually inducted into the National Speakers Association Speaker Hall of Fame.

In his book, Og wrote about ten scrolls to be followed over a 10 month period. Following these scrolls would change a person’s bad habits, allowing them to elevate their existence. He wrote:

“I will form good habits and become their slave. And how will I accomplish this difficult feat? Through these scrolls it will be done, for each scroll contains a principle which will drive a bad habit from my life and replace it with one which will bring me closer to success. For it is another of nature’s laws that only a habit can subdue another habit.”

Og replaced his bad habits with successful ones. He overcame the impulse to drink, and to commit suicide, thanks to new-found convictions and would go on to write 22 top-selling books.

Our impulses can lead to any emotional state. Why allow that? With the strength of mind, we can keep or focus on those things which lead us to eudaimonia. Consider again the words of Og Mandino.

“If I feel depressed, I will sing. If I feel sad, I will laugh. If I feel ill, I will double my labor. If I feel fear, I will plunge ahead. If I feel inferior, I will wear new garments. If I feel uncertain, I will raise my voice. If I feel poverty, I will think of wealth to come. If I feel incompetent, I will think of past success. If I feel insignificant, I will remember my goals. Today I will be the master of my emotions.”

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