Here at MSCo, one of our favorite Latin phrases is vincit qui se vincit, which translates to “he conquers who conquers himself.” It’s clearly become one of your favorite Latin phrases as well - our necklace version is one of our longest-running bestsellers. We feel that this motto speaks to the core of our ideology because it talks about the importance of mastering yourself before being able to vanquish obstacles within the world - completing the inner work before starting on the outer work.
Since this phrase is always paired with the same imagery of a sailor fighting off a giant octopus on our products, it may seem as if we’re skipping straight to the external battle. But that’s not true - the internal confrontation is even more important, even though it’s invisible. The sailor has to know that he is capable of winning the battle even before he encounters the octopus and be confident in his role as the hero of his story.
A different iteration of the Latin phrase is “bis vincit qui se vincit,” which translates to “he (she) who prevails over himself (herself) is twice victorious.” This could be taken to mean that if you have successfully trained yourself to reject a fearful nature or other negative response, then that is one battle already won. If you are then able to also go forward with goodwill, courage, and intention, then that is a second major victory. By successfully completing the challenges of rejecting a reflex reaction and retraining your responses, you are much more likely to succeed in the next external conflict you face.
Discover more wisdom from Dr. Frankl
The challenges we often face throughout life are usually rooted in internal turmoil. Situations are out of our control, but the way that we react to certain types of situations time and time again stem from our learned responses - sometimes the responses are helpful, sometimes they are warped from past unpleasant experiences. We are not able to avoid certain scenarios forever, and so it is wise to alter our perspective and our reactions to the situations preemptively so that we can navigate more skillfully through future encounters with those factors. Think of it as parallel to physical training: the more you’ve worked a specific muscle group or practiced for a marathon, the better prepared you are for utilizing your strength or completing your race.
Be inspired by another Epictetus quote here.
It may seem daunting to tackle your lifelong learned responses and attempt to conquer them, and with good reason. That is an ongoing struggle, and we want to break the process down into smaller battles. The more you’re able to work through these internal exercises, the easier they will translate to solving external problems.
Consider daily scenarios that make you frustrated, anxious, or impatient. Maybe you’re frustrated with other drivers on your daily commute, or anxious about collaborating with a coworker, or impatient with your child seeking attention in a disruptive manner. Remind yourself that you don’t have any control over these situations: traffic will be constant in life, your job requires collaboration with colleagues, and your child will want your immediate attention for their entire childhood. Per Epictetus, these are “externals” - while these factors affect us, there is little we can do to prevent or change them.
Think about your reflex reactions to these scenarios. What would you like to change about these responses? Maybe you want to be able to relax during your commute instead of walking into your home at the end of the day in a bad mood. Perhaps you’d like to feel more confident in your meetings with your coworkers. It’s likely that you would rather respond to your child’s outreach with patience and kindness than with annoyance.
Run through these situations mentally, with your reflex reaction replaced with your intentional response. For example, imagine how the next meeting with your coworker might go and remind yourself of your own skills and the value of having a collaborator on a project. Picture yourself responding with confidence and consideration to your coworker’s suggestions. This way, the next time you go into a meeting, you have already trained your mind to produce the responses you want to enact as opposed to your old negative reaction.
While it will take time to habitually respond with intention instead of reflexive reaction, count every time you respond with the qualities you admire (patience, courage, compassion) as a victory! You’re already well on your way to becoming the person you want to be.