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As adults we have the option to choose to stay within the ethical/moral system into which we were born, to retain the parts which suit us or to leave them entirely. I appreciate how the wisdom of Stoicism provides a secular way of dealing with emotions which is inline with current psychological models. Thank you Massimo for this post. It mirrors Viktor Frankel, the originator of one of the main Existential Therapies, who said "Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom."

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Vivian, today you’re putting out my favorite quotes one after another!

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I also find that the impression-assent-impulse chain can be habitual. Some repeated situations set off unfortunate impulses and we fall into automatic reactions that are to our detriment. Recognizing those in calmer moments helps build an assent-impulse muscle to deal with them more effectively.

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Jeff, the analogy with muscle memory is a good one. In both cases we can "learn" the wrong response, but we can recognize it and train ourselves to respond in the correct way.

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Really practical and helpful- thanks!

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Glad you liked it!

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Great essay, as always- thank you. I would like to add an example from my own practice: the impression of being hungry. I have found this impression is misleading, and therefore I drink a glass of cold water when I feel hungry. I have found that often the water makes the feeling go away. So I wasn’t actually hungry. If the feeling persists I will then have a snack, such as peanuts or dried fruit. But not until I am sure I haven’t confused hunger with thirst again

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Bob, good example! I noticed the same. My favorite choice, if available, is San Pellegrino water.

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Jun 26, 2023Liked by Massimo Pigliucci

Mine too, if available. In a moment of epicurean indulgence, I will have Aranciata Rossa if I can get it. Merely a highly preferred indifferent, mind you

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"Impressions simply come to us, by way of sensorial inputs (from the outside) or thoughts floating by (from the inside)." I'm glad you made this point about thoughts floating by from the inside. When the impression comes from outside (e.g. you get cut off in traffic), it seems easier to detect and to back away from it. But we have to remember that impressions also come from the inside, and seemingly from out of nowhere (e.g. we think that we're a failure to our family or suffer "imposter syndrome"). As the Zen folk remind us, don't believe everything you think!

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Nick, I like the zen reminder! The Stoics were already aware that not all our mental life is up to us. Modern research that the portion up to us is pretty small. But crucial!

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I would be interested in learning your views on just how much free will we actually have, considering the small but crucial portion we control. But that's probably a discussion for a later time, sir.

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Nick, a very good question, but as you say, a discussion for another time. I will address the issue, since it's a major component of Stoic metaphysics.

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Jun 27, 2023Liked by Massimo Pigliucci

I look forward to it.

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I forget who said it this but the little seconds we spend in “assent” mode can make a difference in the quality of your life. Just one or two extra seconds...

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Indeed! Take a couple of deep breadths before reacting.

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Hi Massimo,

The model of impression-assent- impulse is very helpful for me to understand our ability to 'choose' our actions and emotions. Any advice on how to highlight this dynamic to others, specifically family members that could benefit from the pause associated with assent but yet do not understand or acknowledge that step.

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Bill, my suggestion is to explain the approach without reference to Stoicism at all, but rather to modern understanding of human psychology. The two views are not substantially different, but the latter may be more palatable to a non Stoic audience.

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