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The Scipionic Circle 95: Your Sphere of Power, Embracing Short-Term Pain, and The Stockdale Paradox
"If you wish to have peace and contentment, release your attachment to all things outside your control. This is the path of freedom and happiness." — Epictetus
Welcome to another issue of The Scipionic Circle — I hope you find something of value.
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Food for Thought
I. Mastering Control: Epictetus on Navigating Your Sphere of Power
"There are things that are within our power, and things that fall outside our power. Within our power are our own opinions, aims, desires, dislikes—in sum, our own thoughts and actions. Outside our power are our physical characteristics, the class into which we were born, our reputation in the eyes of others, and honors and offices that may be bestowed on us.
"Working within our sphere of control, we are naturally free, independent, and strong. Beyond that sphere, we are weak, limited, and dependent. If you pin your hopes on things outside your control, taking upon yourself things which rightfully belong to others, you are liable to stumble, fall, suffer, and blame both gods and men. But if you focus your attention only on what is truly your own concern, and leave to others what concerns them, then you will be in charge of your interior life. No one will be able to harm or hinder you. You will blame no one, and have no enemies.
"If you wish to have peace and contentment, release your attachment to all things outside your control. This is the path of freedom and happiness. If you want not just peace and contentment, but power and wealth too, you may forfeit the former in seeking the latter, and will lose your freedom and happiness along the way.
"Whenever distress or displeasure arises in your mind, remind yourself, 'This is only my interpretation, not reality itself.' Then ask whether it falls within or outside your sphere of power. And, if it is beyond your power to control, let it go." — From The Manual: A Philosopher's Guide to Life by Epictetus and Sam Torode.
II. Embracing Short-Term Pain: A Heuristic for Long-Term Gain
"Simple heuristic: If you’re evenly split on a difficult decision, take the path more painful in the short term. If you have two choices to make, and they’re relatively equal choices, take the path more difficult and more painful in the short term. What’s actually going on is one of these paths requires short-term pain. And the other path leads to pain further out in the future. And what your brain is doing through conflict-avoidance is trying to push off the short-term pain. By definition, if the two are even and one has short-term pain, that path has long-term gain associated. With the law of compound interest, long-term gain is what you want to go toward. Your brain is overvaluing the side with the short-term happiness and trying to avoid the one with short-term pain. So you have to cancel the tendency out (it’s a powerful subconscious tendency) by leaning into the pain. As you know, most of the gains in life come from suffering in the short term so you can get paid in the long term. Working out for me is not fun; I suffer in the short term, I feel pain. But then in the long term, I’m better off because I have muscles or I’m healthier. If I am reading a book and I’m getting confused, it is just like working out and the muscle getting sore or tired, except now my brain is being overwhelmed. In the long run I’m getting smarter because I’m absorbing new concepts from working at the limit or edge of my capability. So you generally want to lean into things with short-term pain, but long-term gain." — From The Almanack of Naval Ravikant: A Guide to Wealth and Happiness by Eric Jorgenson.
III. The Stockdale Paradox: Balancing Faith and Confronting Reality
"In his book Good to Great, author Jim Collins tells the story of his interview with Admiral James Stockdale. During the Vietnam War, Stockdale was the highest-ranking US military officer at the notorious Hỏa Lò prisoner of war camp (sarcastically dubbed the 'Hanoi Hilton'). He was tortured over twenty times during an eight-year imprisonment and given no release date, no prisoner rights, and no certainty whether he would survive to see his family again.
"When Collins asked Stockdale about his fellow prisoners who didn’t survive the camp, the admiral singled out the optimists. 'Oh, they were the ones who said, ‘We’re going to be out by Christmas.’ And Christmas would come, and Christmas would go. Then they’d say, ‘We’re going to be out by Easter.’ And Easter would come, and Easter would go. And then Thanksgiving, and then it would be Christmas again. And they died of a broken heart.'
"After a long pause, he turned to Collins and said, 'This is a very important lesson. You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end—which you can never afford to lose—with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.'
"Collins called this combination of faith in prevailing with the discipline to confront brutal facts the Stockdale Paradox. He says he still carries with him the mental image of Stockdale admonishing the optimists: 'We’re not getting out by Christmas; deal with it!'" — From Clear Thinking: Turning Ordinary Moments into Extraordinary Results by Shane Parrish.
P.S. James Stockdale's (1923 - 2005) middle name was Bond.
Quotes to Ponder
I. Vizi Andrei on information management:
“When dealing with a scarcity of information, the best mental model is to keep your mind open. When dealing with an abundance of information, the best mental model is to keep your mind closed – by openable windows.”
II. Naval Ravikant on navigating the modern struggle:
“The modern struggle: Lone individuals summoning inhuman willpower, fasting, meditating, and exercising… Up against armies of scientists and statisticians weaponizing abundant food, screens, and medicine into junk food, clickbait news, infinite porn, endless games, and addictive drugs.”
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Thank you for reading,