“Who then is invincible? The one who cannot be upset by anything outside their reasoned choice.” –Epictetus, Discourses 1.18.21
(I came across this while catching up on my reading of The Daily Stoic, which has become a delightfully bracing start to most of my mornings.)
I had an interpersonal communication class in college where I first encountered this principle. The professor pointed out that most of us regularly say something like “You make me mad!”
No other person or external event, she said, can make you have a certain emotion. You generate that emotion on your own.
As Victor Frankl made clear in Man’s Search for Meaning (which is a powerful little book overdue to be reread), there is a gap between stimulus and response. And it’s in that gap that we can choose how to respond.
It may be a tiny gap and we may be conditioned to forfeit our range of choices in that gap, but we have the power to choose our response.
This is hard and it puts us on the spot and removes our claims to victimhood.
It takes practice—catching yourself at the moment of choice repeatedly, seeing the gap and owning the choice.
With concentrated effort and mindfulness, though, the gap between stimulus and response will seem to grow and your range of reasoned choices will offer clarity and a reassuring power over your actions. You will feel invincible.