“Preferred Indifference” Trap

There is a well-know concept of “Preferred Indifference” in Stoicism. It's a powerful tool. Highly practical and applicable in our modern lives.

The idea is that we cannot control the outcomes of our endeavours and thus we should treat them with preferred indifference, while focusing on what we can control and doing our best. We would prefer for the outcomes to be positive, but we're still indifferent to them in a sense that our internal state doesn't depend on whether things work out or not.

For example, we're working on a product. We don't know whether customers will love it or not. We're working hard on the first version. We release it. We get feedback. And that's where “preferred indifference” kicks in. We mentally detach ourselves from the reactions of the customers, because it’s outside of our control. Of course, we would prefer for the first version to be successful, but it's not, we'll continue to iterate. Build, measure and learn.

But here is the problem. 

I see people applying the “preferred indifference” concept to the things that are within their control. Which is a recipe for disaster.

For example, you're in a relationship. And you want to be a “true stoic”. So you decide to have a “preferred indifference” attitude towards how your partner treats you. In the end, you can't control your partner, right? So while preferring “good” behaviour, you'll accept whatever “fate” brings you. 

But in this case it has nothing to do with “preferred indifference”. Because many things in a relationship are totally within your control. You chose this partner. It's within your control to choose not to be with them. You chose not to set the boundaries. It's within your control to communicate them and do not accept behaviour that violates your boundaries.

“Preferred indifference” concept is only applicable to things that are truly outside of our control – like natural disasters, wars, etc. But what's within our control – is to choose to live in the areas where these risks are comparably lower.

There is no virtue in pretending being “stoic” by treating your life with “preferred indifference”. You'd be better off taking responsibility for what's happening and making new, better choice.