Stoicism and how to take control

Columnist Dan Donohue, of Fitness Formation, writes about the philosophies behind Stoicism.
Dan DonohueDan Donohue
Dan Donohue

There are feats of human athleticism that are just simply staggering.

It’s incredible to watch someone run 100m in under 10 seconds, to break marathon records year on year and to scale the peaks of some of the world’s most hospitable terrain.

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All incredible accomplishments and in recent years, we’ve seen Alex Honnold scale El Capitan in Yosemite National Park with no rope.

Over 3,000 metres.

But, in recent weeks we’ve witnessed something, in my opinion, equally as staggering and something that should be far more widely recognised for the incredible accomplishment that it is.

Jasmin Paris (pictured) completed and won, by some distance, The Spine Race. A 268-mile self-sufficient race the full length of the Pennine Way.

In 83 hours, whilst stopping to express milk for her daughter along the way and obliterating the record by over two hours.

Quite simply, a stunning achievement.

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But what compels individuals to go to these exceptional lengths to achieve their goal? In this week’s column, we’ll have a little gander at their (possible) mindset to achieve the unachievable.

I’ve recently taken a big interest in Stoicism and the philosophies behind it.

Within Stoicism, they talk about the control we have over many things in our lives.

In reality, Stoic philosophy teaches us that we have control of one thing only, our minds. Highly successful people realise that they have control of how they react to life obstacles, whilst they don’t hold control of how those obstacles come at them.

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They can, however, control the outcome of how to negotiate these things that can derail us. Learn that you have control only over your mind, and not your surroundings, and you’ll learn to control your trajectory when life gets in the way.

Those who strive for the top, accept that it’s going to be an immense struggle to get there.

Jasmin Paris spoke of how the elements threw everything at her, including 50mph winds, but in the end, she prevailed. She had control of what we spoke about above. She knew it would be tough, but she controlled the thoughts in her mind, pushed through the struggles, and came out as a record breaker on the other side.

Premeditatio Malorum is an exercise used by Stoics to visualise setbacks. Again, this is going back to the realisation that we control only our mind.

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Before the race, match or event, athletes will rehearse their plans in their mind, including failure. This way, they can best prepare their mind for any disruption for either loss or victory. Visualising failure builds strength and resilience.

Life will forever throw mud at us and we have to learn that in order to achieve what we want to achieve, we need to learn that we can only control what we have in our heads, our mind. Believe in your mission, embrace the struggle and control your thoughts. Maybe one day, you’ll be the one filling column inches in the press with your accomplishments.