We all suffer setbacks in life. According to Irvine, however, it’s not the setback itself that makes us suffer. Instead, it’s our emotional reactions to setbacks that increase or decrease our pain. He likens this to a pipe bursting in our home: It’s not the pipe breaking that’s the problem but the flooding water that will cause long-term damage. Therefore, we must learn to control our emotional reactions to mitigate our own suffering in the same way that we must shut off the water at the main to mitigate damage.
Irvine invents an interesting psychological device to help facilitate such “shutoffs”: Imagine a set of Stoic gods who are playing a game with you. They create setbacks that you have to overcome in the same way that coaches use exercise drills to train athletes both mentally and physically. Whenever a setback occurs, see how quickly you can get to your emotional shutoff valve, and then either turn it off or redirect your emotions into a new frame. Every time you can do this, you “pass” the challenge.
This psychological device doesn’t ask us to be perfect, but that’s not our goal. We simply want to keep practicing and increasing the number of times we “pass.” Our ultimate mission is to develop a robust character that will allow us to weather any storm, no matter how battered we emerge.
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