The Anti-Puppet Mindset
“If a person gave away your body to some passersby, you’d be furious. Yet you hand over your mind to anyone who comes along, so they may abuse you, leaving it disturbed and troubled—have you no shame in that?” – Epictetus
We get jerked around by external things and unquestioned impulses all the time. Like puppets, we let someone else pull the strings and dance to their liking.
The ambiguous remark of a colleague, the boyfriend who didn’t call, or the comment of a stranger—we get spun around by things beyond our control. We let others push our buttons.
Even worse, it’s not just other people, we also let the weather, social media, news, and sports results pull our strings. We dance to sunshine and stomp to rain. We cheer the goal of our favorite team, and bemoan the late equalizer.
This is madness. The mind shall be our own.
Not our body, our possessions, our friends, but only our mind. But we’re unaware and oops, it’s in the hand of the weatherman or the ref.
“Understand at last that you have something in you more powerful and divine than what causes the bodily passions and pulls you like a mere puppet.” – Marcus Aurelius
What Marcus means is our mind. We can decide what external events mean to us. We don’t have to get jerked around by what happens around us. We can actually remain calm without getting hurt and irritated.
Just cut the strings that pull your mind. Take back what’s meant to be yours. Stop the madness. Don’t get pulled by what’s not under your control.
Yes, says Marcus, others can impede our actions, but they can’t impede our intentions and our attitudes. Our mind is adaptable. If things seem to turn against us, we can adapt and see the opportunity for growth. We can convert obstacles into opportunities.
Instead of getting jerked around by what happens in the uncontrollable world outside, we should be guided by deep values. No matter what happens, we stick to our values of tranquility, patience, kindness, acceptance, justice, grit, and self-discipline.
Our values and mindfulness of the present moment prevent us from being puppets. These things won’t come automatically but require hard work. As aspiring Stoics, we choose to work hard and become our own masters rather than getting jerked around by every inconvenience.
“Frame your thoughts like this—you are an old person, you won’t let yourself be enslaved by this any longer, no longer pulled like a puppet by every impulse, and you’ll stop complaining about your present fortune or dreading the future.” – Marcus Aurelius
Marcus sets a great frame here. Let’s use this one: We’re a mature human being and won’t be enslaved by outside events and other people any longer. We won’t be pulled like a puppet by every impulse. We won’t complain about the present moment or dread the future.
It’s time to take back control.
Let’s protect our peace of mind.
“The first thing to do—don’t get worked up.” Marcus reminds himself to stay calm. Once you have a hold on yourself, consider the task at hand for what it is, while keeping your values in mind. Then take appropriate action with kindness, modesty, and sincerity.
First, don’t get upset. Second, do the right thing. That’s it.
If we bring awareness into the situation, this is always available to us. We try not to get upset at first. And then look at it objectively while keeping our values in mind. And act accordingly.
This process requires us to notice our impulses, impressions, and judgments so that we can step back from them rather than allowing them to sweep us away. We must avoid rashness in our reactions. That’s all.
Avoid rashness, stay calm, and you won't get jerked around like a puppet.
This is one of 55 Stoic practices from the second part in my upcoming book The Little Book of Stoicism.