The Equanimity Game
“When force of circumstance upsets your equanimity, lose no time in recovering your self-control, and do not remain out of tune longer than you can help. Habitual recurrence to the harmony will increase your mastery of it.” – Marcus Aurelius
We all get caught off guard from time to time. Not just by major events, but also by minor, often unexpected, occurrences. The train doesn’t arrive on time, your bike gets stolen, your friend cancels the date at last minute.
Such insignificant situations can knock us out in weak moments. We lose balance and become irritable and grouchy. It’s totally ok to get thrown out of balance sometimes, it happens to the best of us. What matters is to get back on track as soon as possible.
Don’t be knocked out any longer than necessary. Get a hold on yourself and get back up! Return to balance.
Modern philosopher Brian Johnson calls this the “equanimity game.” The rules are simple: (1.) notice when you’re off-balance, for example, when you start to lose your patience with the traffic, your spouse, or a colleague, then (2.) see how fast you can catch yourself and correct yourself—bringing yourself back to equanimity.
He says equanimity is one of the greatest words ever. From the Latin: aequus (even) and animus (mind), the word means “balanced mind.”
So we should catch ourselves whenever we get thrown off-balance by some event, and then get back to a balanced mind as quickly as possible. Setbacks happen, we won’t always be our best. The wise person knows this and their main goal is to recover as quickly as possible. Like a punching ball that rebounds whenever you hit it.
We want to live with areté and express our highest self at all times. So when we catch ourselves lagging behind, let’s try to recover and get back on track. We can collect turn-arounds in this game. And we’ll get better the more often we catch ourselves and get back in balance.
“Habitual recurrence to the harmony will increase your mastery of it.” – Marcus Aurelius
Always remember: Obstacles and challenging situations make us stronger, they’re an opportunity for growth. We want to be warriors of the mind who don’t retreat but try to be fully present in the face of life’s challenges—well aware that these challenges will make us stronger.
A strong fire uses obstacles as fuel. They only make the fire stronger. Now, let’s look at another fire metaphor: The wind fuels a fire and extinguishes a candle. The wind is the obstacle; it extinguishes you if your commitment and perseverance are weak, but it fuels you when you accept the challenge and don’t give up with the first difficulties.
If you blow at a candle, it extinguishes. If you blow into a campfire, it might seem to extinguish at first but it comes back stronger. You want to be the fire that always comes back stronger.
So whenever life hits you, notice what knocks you down, and then see how long it takes you to get back up. Observe yourself and find out what helps you find your balance. You can play that game all day, every day.
What helps me most are the Stoic ideas to focus on what you control, to accept reality as it is, and to take responsibility for my life as it’s always within my power to choose to respond with virtue.
This is an excerpt from my upcoming book The Little Book of Stoicism.