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4 Practical Stoic Parenting Exercises
Sharpening Your Focus Skills
In today's world, the ability to maintain focus amidst a constant barrage of distractions is becoming an increasingly valuable skill. This is an especially important talent to have when you are responsible for leading the lives of others.
Stoicism, the ancient philosophy I speak of every Sunday, offers practical exercises that can help enhance our ability to concentrate and stay present. Incorporating these four exercises below into our daily lives can sharpen our focus skills, improve productivity, and help us find greater peace of mind. I know this to be true as I write from experience, not theory; I do these things every day.
Exercise 1: Negative Visualization
Negative visualization is a powerful Stoic exercise that involves contemplating the loss of the things we value and love. By envisioning life without those things, we gain a deeper appreciation for their presence. This skill is one I help men develop in my 31-Day program 31 Days to Masculinity, where I have men go as deep as they can, incorporating every sense involved into the day-dream, feeling the void, pain, loss, and grief, then bringing the lost back to life. This exercise increases our ability to focus on the present moment and cultivates gratitude. Regularly engaging in negative visualization can sharpen our focus by reminding us of what truly matters and reducing distractions.
“Every habit and capability is confirmed and grows in its corresponding actions, walking by walking, and running by running . . . therefore, if you want to do something, make a habit of it; if you don’t want to do that, don’t, but make a habit of something else instead.
The same principle is at work in our state of mind.”
Exercise 2: Mindful Breathing
Mindful breathing is a fundamental Stoic exercise aimed at enhancing focus and tranquility. I use this every day, as it helps me channel the energy into my mind and dispel any pressure built by anger, frustration, or stress. If you pay attention to me on the baseball field, in any emergency, or when struggling, you will notice I change my breathing and become much more calm than normal.
Close your eyes and bring your attention to your breath.
Observe the sensation of the breath entering and leaving your body, focusing solely on this rhythmic movement.
When your mind wanders, gently bring it back to the present moment and the sensation of breathing.
Regular practice of mindful breathing can train your mind to let go of distractions and refocus on the task at hand. This helps with a family as there are always multiple moving parts simultaneously, and it’s your job to juggle it all. Instead of thinking of 100 things, think of one thing, and get it right 10x in a row.
Exercise 3: Preemptive Reflection
Preemptive reflection involves setting aside time each day to reflect on potential challenges and how to respond to them. I call this the “What If” game, but you can call it dad-reflexes, situational awareness, operational planning, etc. It all means the same thing; you know that things may go sideways, and you’ve already devised a plan.
Going out to eat - Kids may not cooperate.
Going to the zoo or park - it may be hot, crowded, or someone might feel dizzy.
Heading to the movies - Someone may spill a drink, be cranky, or get scared.
The Stoics placed emphasis on the importance of preparing the mind for adversity to navigate difficult situations with clarity and composure. This exercise enhances focus by helping us anticipate obstacles and identify potential distractions in advance. By considering different scenarios and mentally rehearsing our responses, we develop the ability to concentrate during challenging circumstances.
One can develop muscle memory without ever having performed the movement.
“When the 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
Exercise 4: The Discipline of Desire
Stoicism teaches us to differentiate between what is within our control and what is beyond it. The exercise of the discipline of desire involves recognizing our desires and assessing whether they are in alignment with what is within our control. By cultivating a mindset that focuses on what objectively matters and letting go of desires for things beyond our control, we can sharpen our ability to concentrate on the present moment and reduce distractions.
BLUF (Bottom Line Up Front): As a parent and spouse, not every hill is the hill for you to die on. Sometimes it’s best to let it go and focus on what can be controlled over what cannot and yet is desired.
I started this series and will continue to run it because I’ve found that by incorporating practical Stoic exercises into our daily lives and not just reading then quotes and books, we can cultivate the ability to concentrate, stay present, and literally improve the experience our lives are.
From the practice of negative visualization and mindful breathing to preemptive reflection and the discipline of desire, these four Stoic exercises above offer a valuable toolkit for improving focus. I do these things daily, and thus I’ve found I can lead a more focused, fulfilling life by embracing the Stoic principles of acceptance, mindfulness, and focus on what is within our control.
I want that for you.
Sharpening your focus skills and experience the profound benefits Stoicism brings.
- Zac Small
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