When the Ancient Greek philosopher Epictetus died in AD 135, he probably had little idea that his thinking, and that of other philosophers from around his time, would inspire two psychologists to formulate the idea of cognitive behavioural therapy over 1,800 years later.
Thanks to an excellent book by the British philosopher Jules Evans (Philosophy for Life and Other Dangerous Situations) I was fascinated to learn that Albert Ellis – one of the two CBT-inventing psychologists (Aaron Beck was the other) – acknowledged that the ancient Greeks knew a thing or two about the way our minds work.
Epictetus, for example, said: ‘What disturbs men’s minds is not events but their judgements on events.’
So true. When something happens, whether good or bad, we probably have more choice over how we react to it than we’re prepared to admit.
When we’re faced with a negative event, we might get angry, scared or despondent. We might instead choose to ignore it – or to face it, but refuse to be affected by it.
Our ‘judgements on events’ tend to be pretty ingrained processes – they’re learned behaviours which, left to their own devices, make us automatically react to situations in habitual ways.
But habits can be unlearned. We’re never too old to acquire new ways of judging the world.
It’s probably fair to say that neither you or I are going to mend our ways overnight, but simply becoming more aware of how we form our judgements is a great place to start.
Epictetus, we salute you. You were a wise old Greek.