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The Stoics would define regret as when past events consume our present lives. When we dwell over things we have no control over. When we resist our fate. Marcus Aurelius argued that we must be “satisfied with what [we] have, and accept the present–all of it.” Regret is the contrary–when we’re unsatisfied with what we have and reject what we’ve been given.
Two elements must therefore be rooted out once and for all, – the fear of future suffering, and the recollection of past suffering; since the latter no longer concerns me, and the former concerns me not yet.
The power of regret is not to be understated. Bestselling author and founder of the American Regret Project Daniel Pink found that 82 percent of Americans experience regret at least occasionally. Pink describes regret as “an indispensable emotion,” yet also claims it can be “a positive instrument for improving your life.”
One of the most important practices in Stoic philosophy, which was introduced by Epictetus, is determining what we control and what we don’t. What we have power over and what we don’t. What we can change and what we can’t.
There are two ways in which we can look at the past–two handles we can grab, to use Epictetus’ quote. The first handle forces us to perceive the past as an inevitable experience, destined to wrong and hurt us from the beginning. The opposite handle, however, allows us to extract the good parts, and use our experiences to benefit ourselves.
Though the term was first coined by German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, the practice of amor fati–loving your fate–dates back to Epictetus and the Stoics. Often by means of reflection and meditation, the Stoics would use this practice to settle past trauma and help them achieve a greater sense of inner peace. “The Fates guide the person who accepts them,” Cleanthes said, “and hinder the person who resists them.”
Amor fati is more than just understanding what happens to us. It’s understanding that our perception doesn’t always have to be negative.
Before Ryan Holiday gets on stage for a big speech, he runs through everything that could go wrong: trouble with the microphone, the clicker not advancing a slide, and the audience not reacting as anticipated. He is able to see potential problems before they arise and come up with solutions before anything actually happens. He is able to prevent himself from being overwhelmed if a problem arises by being prepared.
This practice, called Premeditatio Malorum, is one of the oldest and most common practices in Stoic philosophy. It literally means the “premeditation of evils.”
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This post aims to help you understand your emotions, use the past to your advantage, and conquer your biggest regrets.
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