212 – Friction

Like what you hear? Join the discussion in the Stoic Coffee House!

Anxieties can only come from your internal judgement.

— Marcus Aurelius

We all have things in our lives that seems to stop us from completing things that we really want to do. Often, these things aren’t even all that big but end up being show stoppers nonetheless. Today I want to talk about why it’s important to pay attention to the things that get in your way, and some possible ways to get around them.

The other day I was listening to the Hidden Brain podcast and they were talking about the idea that we get stopped from doing things by obstacles that we don’t even really notice. We spend a lot of time and energy on adding fuel to our efforts, such as improving our skills, or spending more time or money, but we miss the small and sometimes seemingly trivial things that are really hammering our progress.

So what do I mean by friction? Friction is anything that slows you down from completing your task. Friction is different than an obstacle in that an obstacle is something obvious and very evidently in the way of completing your task. Friction on the other hand is usually something smaller, subtle, and much harder to figure out.

As a simple example of friction, if you’ve ever been ice skating, a zamboni out on the ice is an obstacle. It is something clearly in your path and something that you’ll need to go around. A rough patch of ice is friction, and while it doesn’t stop you it can slow you down and make your time on the ice much slower.

Why is it easier to add fuel than it is to remove friction? Fuel is obvious. Fuel is resources. Whether that’s time, money, effort, it’s the necessary elements that make up whatever it is you’re working on. It’s things that can be added. If you’re trying to send a rocket into space, adding more fuel to lift you out of Earth’s orbit make sense.

Friction on the other hand is usually something small. They’re usually hard to detect, and may time a lot of time. Often we ignore it as well because each one in and of itself may not be a big deal, but cumulatively several small frictions can add up, and have just as much impact as an obstacle. Back on our rocket analogy, this would be like removing every possible bit of weight that you could from your rocket and payload.

Adding More Fuel

Often times when we’re trying to work on or improve something, we do so by adding fuel. This often is the easiest part because we know what we need to add to something. By this I mean we put more effort into it, push harder, or maybe add more resources. But often times, what is foiling our efforts is not that we aren’t putting enough time or energy or money into something, it’s that we aren’t examining the things that are in the way. It’s not that we need more fuel, it’s that we need to remove friction.

Understanding that sometimes adding more fuel sometimes can actually be detrimental was a lesson that I learned while I was training for short course triathlons. A triathlon for those that don’t know, consists of swimming, cycling, and running, and while I’m not a great runner, I found that swimming was probably the most challenging aspect. When I first started out I could do 500m in about 20 minutes. Just on my own I was about get that time down to about 16 minutes, but it didn’t seem to matter how hard I swam, I couldn’t cut any significant amount off that time.

Then I purchased a book on how to improve my swimming technique, and as I read through all the different pointers, there were two small changes that had a giant impact my time. The first one, was that I needed to reduce the amount of drag that I had in the water by changing my stroke just a little more to the center of my body. Basically, reaching right over the top of my head, rather than to the side. This small change help me be more aerodynamic, and flow through the water a little more smoothly.

The second change, which seemed most counter-intuitive, was that I needed to slow down and use less strokes for each lap. At first I thought, this was crazy, but I tried it and bam! I found that by trying to trying to slow down and use less strokes, my strokes became longer, which helped center my body, and more efficient because less movement also created more flow in the water. By shaving off 2-3 strokes per lap in the pool, I dropped my time closer to 10 minutes.


In his book, The War of Art, Stephen Pressfield talks about the idea of Resistance. Resistance is the opposing force in any creative endeavor, or any endeavor to improve ourselves. To me, Resistance is the mental friction that keeps us from doing our work and accomplishing our task. Whether it’s composing music, writing a novel, starting a company or non-profit, or even just trying to get back in shape, Resistance are the blocks that our minds put into place slow or stop our progress.

Pressfield defines it like this:

Resistance comes arises from within. It is self-generated and self-perpetuated. Resistance is the enemy within.

The thing about Resistance is that it happens to everyone. Those people that are most successful know this. They get that is not something to be feared, but understood. They don’t run away from their enemy, but study it, learn it’s tricks, and find ways to counter every move.

The path of least resistance is a terrible teacher.

— Ryan Holiday

The Path of Least Resistance

Part of why we often make the choices we do is because we tend to follow the path of least resistance. When we come up against a challenge, we tend to choose the easier way through. If you’re walking in the woods, you’re more likely to follow a path that others have already created. When we work on achieving our goals or making personal changes we will also take the path of least resistance, and that’s not always a good thing. If we’re trying to change our diet but we don’t make it easy for ourselves to follow our new plan, then we’re likely going to fall back on old eating habits because they’re much easier and require a lot less work. For example, I know some people who will batch cook meals one night a week so that they have healthy meals every day of the week, rather than trying to come up with some each night that fits into their diet.

Figuring out what is friction in your life is not an easy task. There are so many small things that keep up from stepping up and doing the thing that we want. Sometimes it’s a lack of confidence. Maybe it’s a lack of skill. Maybe it’s a thought pattern or anxiety that keeps us from making the first step. Whatever it is, the more we can do to reduce the friction that we have in our lives, the better off we’ll be when we work on pursuing the things that we want.

Today I escaped anxiety. Or no, I discarded it, because it was within me, in my own perceptions – not outside.

—Marcus Aurelius


So how can you tell what items are friction and getting in your way of not accomplishing what you want? Often times it can be found when listing out why you are struggling with something. It usually starts with some something like, “I can’t x because of y”. For example, I have friend that gets anxious driving and parking downtown. In their minds they think, “I can’t meet up with friends downtown because parking is so stressful.” In a case like this doing things like finding a parking garage on a map, taking an Uber, or carpooling with a friend is a way to reduce friction of meeting up with friends.


I think one of the most pernicious and most obvious forms of friction is perfectionism. It’s the idea that if we can’t produce something that is good enough or follow our plan well enough that we shouldn’t even try. I know that when I sit down to work on music I will often get overwhelmed because I know that most of what I create that session won’t be very good, at least not at first. This is something that even though I’ve created music that I like, such as the theme to this podcast, I still struggle every time I sit down at the piano because of the pressure I put on my self.


Often we have things that distract us that keep us accomplishing our tasks. There are plenty of things that are easier to do than to put the work in. Our phones, Netflix, email, the internet, are all distractions that can keep us from working on things that we want. These aren’t bad things but we need to be honest about if we are using them to distract us from working on things that we want. Often these are things that feel productive, like answering emails or reading up on something for work. But are they really? Sometimes we do these things because we feel like we are doing work, but we’re not progressing towards our goals. We’re not moving the needle.

Never let people who choose the path of least resistance steer you away from your chosen path of most resistance.

—David Goggins

Social Costs

Sometimes when embark on changing something in our lives we may find that the social costs are something we don’t want to pay. Sometimes this can be our friends or family might not approve of what we want to do, so we avoid doing it, even if we know that it is good for us or it’s something that we want to do. I’ve read that sometimes people are often sabotaged by partners or family members when they want work on losing weight or getting into shape. Other people may not want the us to change, because it may mean that the relationship will change. For example, if one partner is losing weight the other partner may feel threatened because they don’t want to change their eating habits, or they may feel if their partner loses weight and gets into shape, that they may no longer be attractive to the partner that has changed.

Another big example of where let friction stop us from moving forward is our careers. We will often stay at job that we are unhappy with because the friction of finding another job and leaving is too great. We will stay in a field we don’t like because planning out and learning new set of skills can feel overwhelming. It can often be a simple as the idea of taking the time to update our resume seems like too much work, or setting up an account on a job site feels like too much of a hassle.

Reduce Friction

So how do we reduce friction in our lives? I think the biggest thing that we can do is to simply recognize the friction. Once we recognize it, then we can work on strategies to reduce or eliminate the friction. If we suffer from perfectionism, then we can treat our work or tasks as times of play and curiosity, and reduce the pressure to have some to good to just having something at all. If we are easily distracted, we can work to create a distraction free space. If we’re getting friction from our partners or friends, we have frank conversations with them and ask for their support. We do anything that we can to reduce the friction.

When I started this podcast, I found that a friction point for me was that I felt like I didn’t know how to record voices very well. I had been composing music in Logic Pro, so I could use audio software reasonably well, but using a mic to record my voice and make it sound good seemed so overwhelming that it kept me from doing it. So instead of using my expensive equipment, I used my iPhone for significant portion of the first episodes. Once I felt more comfortable with my process, I moved over to recording in Logic, and continued to improve my skills at mixing and recording my voice.


Each of us is going to have different points of friction for the things that we work on in our lives. Often we don’t even recognize what these things are, and in doing so, we may be missing small things that keep us from accomplishing what we set out to do. We may be trying our hardest and putting in extra effort, but finding that we are still falling short, or even digressing. Recognizing and removing the small things in our way can often have the largest impact.

Hello friends! Thank you for listening. If this podcast speaks to you, join us over in the Stoic Coffee House. The Stoic Coffee House is a community built around the ideas of stoicism and the Stoic Coffee Break  podcast.
Also stop by the website at where you can sign up for our newsletter, and buy some great looking shirts and hoodies at the Stoic Coffee Shop.
Lastly if you know of someone that would benefit from or appreciate this podcast, please share it. Word of mouth is the best way to help this podcast grow. Thanks again for listening.

Coffee Break

211 – Toxic Positivity

“To be always fortunate, and to pass through life with a soul that has never known sorrow, is to be ignorant of one half of nature.”

― Seneca

Life is never meant to be kittens and rainbows. A good portion of our life is going to sadness, disappointment, and failure. In this episode, I want to talk about how being too positive can actually be bad for you.

Toxic Positivity

One of the interesting topics I’ve been hearing about over the past few months is the idea of toxic positivity and interestingly enough, I’ve heard stoicism mentioned in the same breath. This was a bit perplexing for me, because I don’t see stoicism as something that ignores the challenges in life and pretends they aren’t there. In fact, for me, stoicism is about trying to see and accept reality as it actually is, which makes it easier to manage life. But as I read a bit more on this, I can see why some stoic principles can be misrepresented in such a way that they encourage toxic positivity.

What’s So Bad a Being Positive?

First of all, what is toxic positivity? It’s the idea that you should only think positive thoughts and not let yourself think negative thoughts or emotions. Often we do this and project a positive image, even when we don’t feel positive. Basically, it’s emotional repression. It’s not allowing yourself to feel what you feel, and it discounts what other people are feeling as well. It comes across as inauthentic and fake. According to Tabitha Kirkland, a psychologist and Associate Teaching Professor at University of Washington, “Toxic positivity is a way of responding to your own or someone else’s suffering that comes across as a lack of empathy. It dismisses emotions instead of affirming them.”

While there is nothing wrong with trying to see the positive side of things, toxic positivity is about suppressing the darker side of life. It’s about ignoring reality, and pretending that everything is just fine. And the thing is, life is not always happy. There is going to be sadness, heartbreak, failure, and all kinds of uncomfortable emotions. In fact, in my experience, when I try to avoid negative feelings, my life is often harder and causes more issue than if I just learned how to deal with them.

So how does stoicism get warped to support this idea of toxic positivity?

Being Stoic

I think the biggest problem is that the term stoic has come to mean someone that doesn’t feel emotions, that they repress their emotions. I think this has done a great disservice to stoicism as a whole because it’s not about turning off your feelings. We all feel emotions, but a stoic works to acknowledge those emotions, and to take a moment in between what they feel, and decide how they want to respond, rather than just react. And because of that practice, the person managing their emotions doesn’t react in a way that most people would. They take their time to slow down, see how they feel, process those emotions, and decide how they want to respond in a situation.

Toxic positivity means that people will simply ignore how they feel in a situation for a number of reasons. Maybe they don’t want to upset others, or they find it challenging to sit with uncomfortable emotions. Maybe they grew up in a family where they were to repress darker emotions and to put on a happy face. Toxic positivity is just another way of pushing away uncomfortable emotions from ourselves or others with a fake smile.

I think that this is really the opposite of stoicism. For me, stoicism is about being in touch with how you feel about things. It’s being exceptionally aware of your emotions, how your body feels, your gut instinct. It’s not about ignoring these things, but being so aware of them, and so in touch with them, that you know how to handle them in any given situation. Being stoic is not about ignoring feelings, but being so in control of yourself that you can acknowledge and manage them in a healthy way.


Another way that I think the toxic positivity gets mixed up with stoicism is that the stoics teach us that our perception is how we give meaning to the things around us, and this meaning influences how we feel about things. We should take time to be aware of our perceptions so that we are sure that we are reading a situation correctly. Often our perspective is wrong and we respond incorrectly, so doing our best to be sure that our perspective serves us, and our observations are correct, we can change the meaning we give things. This doesn’t mean that we can simply decide that something isn’t dangerous and suddenly it’s not. For example, if we see someone coming at us with a knife and an angry expression, we can’t just decide that it’s safe and everything will be fine.

There are plenty of situations where changing our perspective is useful and we can choose how we want to react when we feel those emotions. For example, if someone is insulting us and we decide we don’t really care about what they have to say, then it’s pretty easy not to get riled up about it. It doesn’t mean that we don’t call them out for being rude, or point out that what they have to say is offensive. The parts that we control are whether we are offended and what we do about it.

You gotta know happy – you gotta know glad
Because you're gonna know lonely
And you're gonna know bad

— Mark Knopfler

Good and Bad Emotions

Another problem comes in when we make judgements about whether the emotions that we feel are good or bad. I want to propose that no emotion is good or bad, it just is. Are some emotions difficult to handle? Yes they are, but that does not make them bad. And the thing is, life is going to be full of all kinds of emotions. You will not feel happy all the time. There’s going to be sadness, heartbreak, and sorrow. And they’re all okay, and there’s nothing wrong with feeling these things. In fact, learning to appreciate all these emotions makes you a more full human being. I mean, if someone close to us dies, do you want to just be numb to it? Grief is exactly what we are feeling, and there is nothing wrong with feeling grief. Grief is a challenging emotion, but it’s not a bad emotion. I know for me, as much as it sucks to go through these difficult emotions, repressing them and ignoring them is far worse.

Life is Suffering

How do you combat toxic positivity?

The first of the four noble truths the Buddha taught was that there is suffering, and that there is no way to escape it. We will get sick. We’ll feel pain. We will feel sorrow, and loneliness, but when we accept that there will be suffering in life, then we are already on the path to enlightenment. We make room in our lives for all the emotions we feel, not just the positive one. Think of it this way – if we don’t expect life to be perfect and we assume that things are going to suck and we’re going to get bruised and battered, then we are better able to manage when things are difficult.

And the thing is we shouldn’t being trying to avoid the more difficult emotions. A good way to think about this is that if you aren’t failing at something, you’re not taking any risks or growing. If you haven’t had your heart broken, then you are not trying to love.

Self Validation

We all need to have our experience validated. By ourselves, and by others. Now when I talk about validation, what I mean is that we need acknowledgement of our experience. It does not mean that we need others’ approval. By acknowledging what we’re feeling and talking about what we are feeling, we are able to own our experience. When we share this with another person, they help us validate what we feel. Often what we feel may not make sense, and we may not like the feelings, but it is what we feel. It could be completely irrational, or uncomfortable, but it does not mean those feelings are bad. They just are. The better we get at acknowledging what we’re feeling and sitting with them, the better we can deal with setbacks. When we just “try to stay positive” and pretend that everything is fine, we’re not acknowledging the truth of the situation. In fact, what we’re doing is lying to ourselves.

When I got divorced, I really struggled for a while. While I knew I would get past the feeling of loss, I still grieved for the loss. I missed seeing my kids every day, and putting them to bed at night. To say the least, it was uncomfortable and, at times, painful. There were times I felt incredibly lonely. There were times I’d drop my kids off at their mom’s house and I’d come home and cry in my empty apartment. But I knew that if I just pretended like everything was okay, then I would not only be lying to myself, those emotions would probably show up in other, more destructive ways.

Sharing Feels

Just as important as feeling our feelings is validating others’ feelings. I think that a big reason many of us find dealing with our emotions so challenging is because we’re often taught at a young age that some feelings are off limits. When parents or peers tell us things like, “Stop crying, everything is fine”, or “it’s not a big deal”, basically we’re being taught that what we feel is unimportant or wrong. What we need in this world is more validation from each other.

When another person talks to us about their feelings or about their experience in the world, if we are constantly trying to put a positive spin on things, we are not acknowledging their experience. If your friend is feeling awful after a breakup, failed at something that was important to them, don’t minimize how they’re feeling. Let them feel it, and share it with them. And validating does not mean that we have to just agree with everything they say. It means that we acknowledge their experience. We acknowledge they feel sad or angry or hurt, just like we would if they were happy.


Dealing with emotions is always challenging, and I think that as we progress as a society, we’re learning more and more how not dealing with emotions in a healthy way is not a way to live an authentic life. Any time that emotions aren’t dealt with, they crop up and cause issues in other areas of our lives. Learning to feel all your feelings and manage them helps you to live a richer and deeper life.

Hello friends! Thank you for listening. If this podcast speaks to you, join us over in the Stoic Coffee House. The Stoic Coffee House is a community built around the ideas of stoicism and the Stoic Coffee Break  podcast.
Also stop by the website at where you can sign up for our newsletter, and buy some great looking shirts and hoodies at the Stoic Coffee Shop.
Lastly if you know of someone that would benefit from or appreciate this podcast, please share it. Word of mouth is the best way to help this podcast grow. Thanks again for listening.

Coffee Break

209 – Privilege

Like what you hear? Join us at the Stoic Coffee House!

What kind of privileges have you had in your life? Do you recognize the advantages that you have enjoyed? In this episode I want to talk about privilege, and how the stoics encourage us to use the privileges we have  to improve society.

One cannot pursue one’s own highest good without at the same time necessarily promoting the good of others. A life based on narrow self-interest cannot be esteemed by any honorable measurement.  Seeking the very best in ourselves means actively caring for the welfare of other human beings. Our human contract is not with the few people with whom our affairs are most immediately intertwined, nor to the prominent, rich, or well educated,  but to all our human brethren.

— Epictetus

What advantages have you benefited from in your life? Maybe you were born into a wealthy or middle class family. Maybe you are part of the majority race or ethnic group in your community. Maybe you were born with some talent or physical attribute that gave you advantages that others don’t have. We each have different privileges that have nothing to do with anything that we do or have done, or whether or not we deserve or don’t deserve them.

Before we dig into this any farther, I want to state that having privileges is not a bad thing. They are simply things that you got that you didn’t have to work for. For example, if you are white and male in America, you have certain privileges that you gain simply by the color of your skin and your sex that others don’t have.

There is nothing wrong with having privileges!

We all have things help us, that give us some kind of advantage. Whether that’s other people, circumstances, or talent, there is nothing wrong with admitting that we had help along the way. For example, would the fact that your parents could afford the best education for you diminish your accomplishments in your chosen field? Not at all. It just means that you had access to resources that plenty of others don’t.

What I take issue with is if you are unwilling to acknowledge them and recognize that others don’t have the same privileges as you. Some people act as though their privileges are something that they deserve or earned, or they don’t even notice that they have them to begin with. We need to acknowledge them and be willing to help those that do not have access to the same privileges that we have.

“The Stoics believed in social reform, but they also believed in personal transformation. More precisely, they thought the first step in transforming a society into one in which people live a good life is to teach people how to make their happiness depend as little as possible on their external circumstances. The Stoics would add that if we fail to transform ourselves, then no matter how much we transform the society in which we live, we are unlikely to have a good life”

— William B. Irvine

While many aspects of stoicism are about taking personal responsibility, we often forget to examine how we should use what we learn to improve the world, and to help those that may not have had the same advantages. In fact, one of the four highest virtues of stoicism is justice. Because the world is not naturally a fair and just place, it is up to us to help make the world more fair and just. That people aren’t denied opportunities simply based on external factors such as where they were born, or their skin color, or sex, which all things that we have no control over.

What good is working on yourself to be a better person and not using what you have to help society? We’re all in this life together and there is so much that we can do to make this place better for everyone. The stoics lay it out very clearly that humans are social animals, and part of our purpose in life is to help others and to use what skills and advantages we have to improve society as a whole.

So let’s use me as an example and talk about some privileges that I have enjoyed in my life. I’m white and male and was born into a middle class family. My parents both had college degrees, my mother was an English teacher and my father was a software engineer. My mother stayed home and took care of us until we were all in school. Because of my parents’ emphasis on learning and books, I was reading before kindergarten. Because my father made pretty good money, I never had to worry about having enough to eat or having good clothing. They supported me in all of my extracurricular activities, such as soccer and theater. These advantages that I had made it easier for me to excel at school.

Because I’m white and male, I’m paid more than those who are another race or gender. I don’t worry about my safety when I’m pulled over by the police for a traffic stop. It’s easier for me a to get a loan on a house or a car, and my interest rates will be less than someone who is not white. When I’m walking alone at night downtown, I don’t have to worry nearly as much about my safety as a female. There are plenty of privileges afforded to me that I don’t have to do anything for.

When I was in college, I worked at a customer service center for a credit card company. One day I was talking to my friend Danny who worked there about why we had some many people who had emigrated from Mexico but did not speak English. Danny was from Spain and spoke 5 languages, far exceeding my meager bilingual status. I asked him why these people who had lived in the US for decades had never learned English, but I spent two years in Austria, and spoke fluent German. I assumed it was just because they were lazy, giving into the stereotype that is often attributed to Mexican immigrants. Danny looked at me and said, “Well, think about this way. Many of these people barely have an elementary school education and can barely read. How easy to you think it would be to learn another language if you could barely read your own?”

I was very humbled at that moment because the thought had never occurred to me. I recognize that the high quality education that I received made it much easier to pick up another language because I could read things as simple as a German-English dictionary, as well as higher level books about German grammar. I had also taken German in high school, so I knew a lot of the basics years before I ever set foot in Austria.

“For as these were made to perform a particular function, and, by performing it according to their own constitution, gain in full what is due to them, so likewise, a human being is formed by nature to benefit others, and, when he has performed some benevolent action or accomplished anything else that contributes to the common good, he has done what he was constituted for, and has what is properly his.”

— Marcus Aurelius

In America we have a really strong streak of so called rugged individualism, and I find that concept very problematic. I hear people talk about how they are self made, that they achieved their success in life by themselves, and I find that argument simply ridiculous. We are all dependent upon other people. When we’re born, we are 100% dependent on our parents or caregivers. There is no way that we are not dependent on others. If we didn’t have others helping us, we would never make it past childhood.

We are all better off when we help each other. You probably drink the clean water that is provided by your city. You drive on the roads that were built by your city or state. You may have gone to a university that was partially supported by the state. You rely on the fire department that is funded by your city or county. These are just a few examples, but simply put, when we pool our resources and find ways to support and help as many people as possible, then we are all better off. When others in your community succeed, then your whole community is better off, and that means you get to live in a better community, which in turn makes the world little better.

The reason why Stoicism is incompatible with racism, misogyny, bigotry, and hatred of others for things outside of their control is that because we are only responsible for the things we can control. No one can control what family they were born into. No one can control what race or sex they are born. Therefore, we cannot hold others responsible for what race they are born and hate them for it because they cannot control it.

Each of us is born into circumstances that we can’t control. We do not choose the family that we’re born into, the color of our skin, or our sex. Maybe we are born into money and have opportunities that others could never even dream of. Maybe we have some kind of gift of intelligence or natural physical or athletic skill that sets us apart from others. We all have different advantages and disadvantages in every area of our lives, and the more we share and support each other, the better the world is.

Hello friends! Thank you for listening. If this podcast speaks to you, join us over in the Stoic Coffee House. The Stoic Coffee House is a community built around the ideas of stoicism and the Stoic Coffee Break  podcast.
Also stop by the website at where you can sign up for our newsletter, and buy some great looking shirts and hoodies at the Stoic Coffee Shop.
Lastly if you know of someone that would benefit from or appreciate this podcast, please share it. Word of mouth is the best way to help this podcast grow. Thanks again for listening.