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  • Writer's pictureJosh Killam, LPC

How To Change Effectively: According to the Stoics

Deep thinking

I have been on a stoic kick recently and wanted to share some thoughts that seem relevant to therapy. First, a quick intro on stoic philosophy to help provide some context. Stoicism is a philosophy that emphasizes the importance of living in accordance with nature and accepting the world as it is rather than as we wish it to be. It encourages individuals to focus on what is within their control and to let go of what is not, thus enabling them to find peace, contentment, and happiness in even the most challenging circumstances.

With this in mind, Seneca's quote, "How can you wonder your travels do you no good when you carry yourself around with you? You are saddled with the very thing that drove you away" about change takes on a deeper meaning, as it speaks to the idea that true wisdom lies in our ability to embrace and adapt to the inevitable changes that life throws our way.

I will be the first to admit that some concepts in Stoicism are counterintuitive to psychotherapy. Let's take this as an opportunity to practice being in the grey, identifying nuance, and avoiding that pesky cognitive distortion, black and white thinking. Consider this a challenge to try holding two opposing thoughts in your mind simultaneously.

As human beings, we often seek change to improve our lives. We may change jobs, move to a new city, or end a relationship, hoping that this change will bring us happiness and satisfaction. However, as Seneca said, "How can you wonder your travels do you no good when you carry yourself around with you? You are saddled with the very thing that drove you away." Sometimes (read most of the time), we bring along the thing we are trying to be rid of with the changes we make.

Seneca highlights a common misconception that simply changing our external circumstances will solve all our problems. Many people see change as an opportunity to escape their problems completely. However, we can fail to realize that we cannot leave our inner selves behind. A simple change of relationship, geography, or career, or any minor change, may only momentarily conceal our problems. Nevertheless, changes often offer a minimal reprieve from what we try to escape.

However, suppose we want to make a real difference in our lives. In that case, we must face ourselves and identify "the very thing that drove you away." We cannot escape from ourselves by going somewhere else or simply changing who we are with. Another saying comes to mind here, "wherever you go, there you are." The suffering in our relationships, jobs, or homes will follow us wherever we go. Why? Because we are still there.

This idea was highlighted for me in a recent session with a client who expressed his fear of repeating past relationship mistakes in future relationships. He continuously questioned, "How can I trust myself when I continue to make the same mistakes again and again?" Initially, in his mind, the problem had been the specific relationship, and simply changing relationships should have fixed the problem. By the time he sought therapy, he had been through multiple relationships that all ended similarly. He reported feeling frustrated and confused because "I just can't seem to get away from the same issue."

Change can be an incredibly transformative experience, providing us with opportunities to gain new experiences, broaden our horizons, and challenge our perspectives. However, it should not be considered a substitute for self-reflection and personal growth. If we use change as a means to escape self-reflection, we are only delaying the inevitable. We will still carry our problems with us, and they will continue to affect us even after we have made a change.

To ensure that change is a positive experience contributing to our personal growth, we must be honest with ourselves and acknowledge our problems. We must identify the issues that are driving us to change and take steps to address them before we leave. This could involve seeking professional help, talking to friends and family, and/or reflecting on our thoughts and feelings.

Furthermore, we should approach change with an open mind and a willingness to learn. We should embrace the challenges and uncertainties of change and use them as opportunities for personal growth. Doing so can make changes a positive experience that enriches our lives and helps us grow. Change can give us unique opportunities to face our fears and challenge our beliefs. It can broaden our horizons and help us gain a new perspective on life.

We must recognize that change is not always THE solution to our problems. It can provide us with temporary relief, but we cannot escape our problems entirely with change alone. Instead, we must practice self-discovery and personal reflection and address the root causes of our problems. Only then can we truly make a positive change in our lives.

We carry ourselves wherever we go and cannot leave our problems behind. If we want to make a real difference in our lives, we must face our problems and deal with them head-on. Change can be a fantastic way to broaden our horizons and gain new experiences. Still, it should not be seen as a substitute for personal growth and self-reflection.

By acknowledging our problems, approaching travel with an open mind, and embracing the challenges and uncertainties that come with it, we can make change a fantastic way to broaden our horizons and gain new experiences. Still, it should not be considered a substitute for personal growth and self-reflection.

When we change with the intention of self-improvement, we open ourselves up to new perspectives and ways of living. We gain a deeper understanding of the world and the people in it. This can help us to develop empathy and compassion for others, as well as for ourselves. It can give us the space we need to recharge and reconnect with ourselves. We can take this opportunity to reflect on our goals and aspirations and make plans for the future.

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