In these turbulent times, several of my clients and friends talk about looking for a little tranquillity in their lives.
I have been reading about the Stoics lately and was struck by this quotation from Seneca:
‘Tranquillity can’t be grasped except by those who have reached an unwavering and firm power of judgement – the rest constantly fall and rise in their decisions, wavering in the state of alternately rejecting and accepting things. What is the cause of this back and forth? It’s because nothing is clear and they rely on the most uncertain guide – common opinion.’
It’s easy to picture a modern-day version of this. You’re having a meal with friends, or chatting whilst waiting for the kettle to boil at work. Someone asks how everyone’s feeling about the forthcoming General Election. You don’t really like talking about politics but you know how you are going to vote. You listen to the conversation.
‘I’m not voting. They’re all a waste of space,’ declares one person.
I’m not sure I agree with that, you think to yourself.
‘I’m not voting either. The candidate I want to win hasn’t a hope in our constituency. My vote’s pointless,’ sighs a second person.
Hmm, maybe she’s got a point. Flip.
‘I can’t believe you saying that,’ chimes in a third person. ‘We have to vote. It’s a privilege to live in a democracy. Especially you, Claire: women died so that other women could have the right to vote.’
Yes! He’s right. We have to vote. Flop.
‘There’s no point voting until we have a different voting system where every vote actually counts,’ comments the second person.
Oh yeah, proportional representation would be better, wouldn’t it? Is it actually worth me voting? Oh, I’m really stressed about this now. Flip.
The conversation moves on but you’ve lost all your certainty and tranquillity due to all that flip-flopping between opinions.
Seneca puts his finger on the cause of this problem: ‘nothing is clear’. One of the ways in which I help my coaching clients find clarity is to help them understand their values. Once our values are clear, we have our own defined standard against which we can measure our decisions, our activities and our choices. This can help us stay true to our path and not be distracted by comparison with the path of others around us, or by their opinions.
Another Stoic, Marcus Aurelius, reminds us that whilst we cannot control outside events, we can choose how we react to those events. Gaining clarity and a technique to assess the level of control we have over a situation can help my coaching clients feel more tranquil and focussed on their goals.
Today’s pebble for your thoughts: Does relying on the opinions of others take away your peace of mind? What steps could you take this week to regain tranquillity?
Turning over pebbles is the blog of Thinking Space Coaching.
If you want to gain clarity about your work and life, email me and let’s have a conversation about how we can work together.