What, Why, and How

The three areas of training

“There are three areas in which the person who would be wise and good must be trained.  The first has to do with desires and aversions – that a person may never miss the mark in desires nor fall into what repels them.  The second has to do with the impulses to act and not to act – and more broadly, with duty – that a person may act deliberately for good reasons and not carelessly.  The third has to do with freedom from deception and composure and the whole area of judgement, the assent our mind gives to its perceptions.  Of these areas, the chief and most urgent is the first which has to do with the passions, for strong emotions arise only when we fail in our desires and aversions.”
– Epictetus, Discourses, 3.2.1-3a

To recap, the three areas are: 

  1. Our desires, what we want and what we want to abstain from.
  2. Our impulses and motivations, revisiting the why in the things we do.
  3. Train our judgement, and the choices we make.

It is also important to note, that our desires drive our passions, which is in turn tied very closely to our emotional state.  If we obtain our desires, we are excited – but when we do not we are often left dejected and depressed.  While if we fall prey to those things we otherwise try to avoid, we get upset and self deprecating – which can intern also lead to depression and anger.

Together they represent the What, the Why, and the How for handling each of life missions.  While discussed independently, it is hard to handle any task without working all three.  You will hear people talk about “finding your why”, but the why is meaningless with you first determining your what – and once those are discovered you are left with working the how.  

Work on them together by being mindful to their individual impacts throughout your day, train them as you focus on a muscle group in the gym by reflecting and analyzing them independently.  However, viewing them as a whole would be like not understanding the different aspects of the body.

Train your mind.

On a side note, I really enjoy the way The Daily Stoic presented the transactions of this quote from Epictetus.  The phrase, “…that a person may never miss the mark in desires nor fall into what repels them,” just feels so elegantly stated.

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