7 - Equanimity and DOC

"Equanimity" is a term that means mental calmness, a quality that many seek to achieve (or more aptly, a quality many wish to have, without working to achieve it). It implies calmness, focus, and the ability to persevere in stressful conditions.

Stirner suggests that equanimity can be achieved by avoiding judgment. People tend to evaluate everything - they cannot merely dream or eat but must judge that they have experienced a "bad dream" or a "good breakfast." The same is done for the present (I am having a good lunch) and the future (I hope to have a good supper).

Assessment requires a fairly complex mental process, which is often quite pointless and a drain of our energy. To judge something as good or bad requires developing a preconceived notion of the way it ought to be and comparing it to the way it was, or is, or is expected to be. Even when the outcome is a good judgment, we has still invested mental resources in making that evaluation.

There is also the problem of the progression of ideals. Once we have had a good meal, the next one must match or exceed it to be considered to have been good. Each new experience must top all of the old, and what was once satisfactory then becomes disappointing.

Judgments are important in life because they for the basis of goals: nobody sets out to have a miserable time or do poor work, which can occur if you are overly idealistic in what you intend to achieve. However, when this is taken to extremes it becomes harmful: everything doesn't have to be perfect all the time, and it cannot be.

Stirner seems to take a bit of a turn, discussing practicing emergency landing procedures for aircraft: the notion is that practice enables a pilot to develop a procedure to follow, to overcome his panic and do as he is trained. And it works. The point is that when following emergency procedures, you are not making judgments, but simply doing what needs to be done. You don't second-guess yourself in a situation where it would be disastrous to do so.

Back to evaluation: each judgment is based on the sense that there is something that is right/good and something that is wrong/bad - and this occurs in a very binary manner. There are many things that are not perfectly right/good but will achieve the results we need in undertaking a task.

(EN: I immediately notice this as being at odds with the cultural imperative to strive for perfection every time, with the notion that people who aim low accomplish less than they could have if they had kept their sights higher. So its likely that some balance is necessary: our goal cannot be mediocrity or perfection.)

There's some mention that our ideas change over time. What would be ideal at age five is different to age ten, to twenty, to thirty, and so on. The notion that we will do something perfectly and never have to do it over again is nonsensical. There is nothing we can do that will make us happy forever, just for a time.

The author's suggestion for overcoming judgment is to attempt to become an observer - to witness what is happening and delay making judgment, as if attempting to listen objectively to one person's account, knowing that you will later hear the accounts of others and will need to be fair in your assessment.

This works because even when you are thinking on something, you are only hearing one person's account - your own internal monologue. And moreover you may be listening to someone who is upset, in a bad mood, or thinking of things in a subjective and distorted manner. When you think about them later, you often realize how wrong you were in the heat of the moment.

Judging things as you experience them adds a layer of mental processing to the task of observation, and requires more mental work later to untangle your own perceptions. It also applies your mental filters and causes you to miss important details. You were so busy judging what you saw in one second that you failed to notice what happened in the next.

It is important to remain calm when listening to your inner voice, just as you would when allowing someone who is upset rant and rave - knowing that if you listen quietly and unaffected they will eventually come to their senses.

You are not merely a passive listener to your inner voice, but you are also the speaker. In that sense most people have some experience calming themselves in a stressful situation. Gearing up for a job interview or an unpleasant discussion is a process of taking hold of your emotions in order to be calm. In those situations, we are meditating - whether we realize it or not. We are taking ourselves out of the situation to think about the situation, quiet our minds, and prepare to proceed in a calm and steady manner.

This is something that can be practiced more often, on a daily basis - and through practice it will become our nature. Just as the pilot learns to practice emergency procedures to regain control of his craft, a person learns the procedures to regain control of his own mind.

Do, Observe, Correct

Here, the author comes to his acronym of DOC - do, observe, and correct. This is the basic method of practice for any activity, such as learning a sport, but also applies to mental processes.

Switch to a story about a coach for the Olympic archery team. His biggest problem was that the archers were fixated on their scores or the outcome of their shots, and were not paying attention to what they were doing. He mentions that the Asian teams were exactly the opposite, focused on their posture and motions to the point that they seemed not to care whether they hit the target - and they were much better as a result.

Archery is very close to the "throwing balls into a can" task Stirner mentioned before: you take a shot and adjust the next one to be closer to the target. If you do not pay attention to what you are doing while taking the shot, you will not know how the outcome was achieved or the specific adjustments you need to make.

Applying the DOC model to mental processes requires you to be aware of your patterns of thought, considering whether they are effective, and adjusting them to be more effective. It does not mean interfering with your patterns right away, and it is not an instant correction. Just as with archery, your goal is to get your thinking closer to the target than the previous time. And just as with practicing, it's hardest at the onset and becomes better over time, until the habit becomes ingrained.

Here, Stirner tells a personal story of blocking several weeks for a major project that was cancelled at the last minute - and as a self-employed specialists, this was a significant disappointment, and using the do-observe-correct method he was able to get himself into a more positive and proactive state of mind rather than merely fretting about the problem. (EN: The details of the example seem a bit odd, and could muddle more than clarify the concept.)

The end bit compares the process of training your mind to that of training for a marathon: you don't go out the first day and try to run a three-hour race. Instead you work in shorter practice sessions at slower paces and gradually build up ... and as in all things, appreciate your progress along the way.