Updated: Mar 27, 2021
Since my operation, I have been suffering from some heinous headaches. They seem to be abating a bit now, but for the last few days, they were almost at the intensity of migraines. I was trying to carry on and help out my wife and kids, but frankly, I was not very pleasant to be around. I allowed myself to be annoyed with my wife, I was impatient, and on one day, I was beyond frustrated with my kids. In short, I failed to live up to my own standards. Now, it’s tempting to blame the pain but that is a cop-out. I was frustrated and in pain and I alone gave in to the impulse. I chose to act as I did.
Now, so far in this blog, I have spilt a fair bit of ink talking about how we should act and live. I have talked often about how each day could be our last and how this should motivate us to live each day better. But, what about when we stuff up? What should we do on those days when we act in a way that does not align with who we aim to be? What about if months have gone by and you have found yourself falling back into old (negative) habits? That is what this post will explore.
The first thing to do when you stuff up is to focus on the purpose and begin to practice the virtues again. Ask yourself, is this the person I want to be? In my case, do I want to be irritable and impatient with my family? Does this contribute to the welfare of my family? If not, then get hold of yourself and work to be better.
For myself, after losing it at the kids, I took a ten-minute timeout to gather my wits, and despite my thumping headache, I took them for a bike ride to a local park. They enjoyed themselves a hell of a lot and my headache even abated somewhat. When we got home, I was then in a better frame of mind and was able to talk to the kids about how their behaviour had been unacceptable previously. They were (unsurprisingly) more willing to listen to what I had to say and change their behaviour. Next, I apologised to my wife, I admitted that I had failed, that I had unfairly let my pain override my judgment and I had been unpleasant to her.
The next day, when I woke up, I was determined to work harder. Do you know what happened? Just by focusing on the purpose and virtues, I became more patient, and my wife and kids responded to how I was acting by acting in a friendlier way and were more willing to help me out. Unlike the previous days when getting the kids to tidy up was like pulling nails, they vacuumed and did a pickup as soon as I asked.
While it is never easy and feels counter-intuitive in the moment, if we take time and effort to impose restraint on our passions (impulses) and follow the path of virtue, we will achieve our aims more effectively than if we give in to our frustration or anger. I could have continued to be angry and frustrated with my kids (as I felt like being), but the outcome would have been less positive. Instead, by refocusing on how I should act, not on how others were acting, I was able to get others to act more as I wished they would and to be happier doing it.
We all stuff up; we all get angry when we shouldn’t. However, we should be courageous and honest enough with ourselves to admit our dishonourable conduct. Wisdom is not natural to mankind, it is learnt. As Seneca said in his famous letters to Lucilius, “No man becomes wise by chance, but only through hard work.” Therefore, do not delay, seek after it immediately. Do not allow yourself to put off for another day the work that must be done today.
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