Coffee Break

253 – Digging Deep: Uncovering Your Unconscious Motivations

Do you always act the way you want to? Do you struggle to accomplish what you set out to do? Do you find it challenging to make choices that are in line with what you think you want? Today I want to talk about learning to understand why often make choices and do things that don’t line up with that we think we really want.

"No man is free who is not a master of himself."

— Epictetus

A few months ago, I read a book called Existential Kink by Carolyn Elliot, which is a great book about embracing and accepting your shadow self. I’ve talked about it on the podcast before, and one of the most interesting ideas that I got from that book is this idea:

“Having is evidence of wanting.”

— Carolyn Elliot

What this means is that we need to recognize that even though we might say that we want some other kind of result in our lives, we usually get what we actually want. Usually, these actual desires are things that we are unaware of. Simply put, we have lots of unconscious desires and goals that drive our lives.


We may end up dating the same kind of person, even though we failed in relationships with this type of person in the past. We might want to eat healthier or drink less alcohol, but we end up eating same bad things or drinking more than we had planned. We skip the gym even though the effort to get there wouldn’t be that difficult. We have the same arguments with our partners, even though we say we don’t like to argue.

What I’m getting at, is that what if we are making choices to get the exact thing that really want, but we are just unconscious of what we really want?

“Until we make the unconscious conscious, it will rule our lives and we will call it fate.”

— Carl Jung

A common example of this is for people that grow up in a chaotic and unstable home. They might have hated it and have a desire for a more stable home life once they’re out on their own. They want a partner that is calm, secure, and stable, but find themselves dating people that are more chaotic, similar to what they grew up with. They might find their behavior very confusing because it’s not what think they want.

So why would someone continue to add chaos back into their life, when what they’re craving is stability?

For many people in this situation, they find a stable home life to be very challenging because it’s not what they’re used to. They don’t understand the rules of the game. Dating someone that is more like what they’re used to allows them to feel comfortable because it’s familiar. They are used to the excitement of a chaotic home. If they’re used to the adrenaline rush of uncertainty, then a stable home life can feel exceptionally boring. Throwing their world back into chaos might be the only way for them to feel what they consider “normal”.

The unconscious goal in this case is familiarity, which is more important than stability.

Another example of where our conscious goals and unconscious goals diverge is when we get angry at someone. Usually when we get angry, it feels like it’s just an instantaneous or automatic reaction, and like something we don’t have control over.

Later, after we cool down, we’re disappointed with ourselves because of our behavior. We may say that we didn’t mean to get angry. But I think that this is a kind of dishonest mental revisionism of what actually happened. We did mean to get angry, otherwise we would not have.

Think about it this way…

We all have people that we would never display this kind of anger towards. We are able to control it. Whether that is because we respect them enough or because we would suffer some other kind of consequence like losing a job or there’s a fear of violence from them, we can choose to hold back our anger.

So why would we hold back in one instance and lash out in another?

It’s because in each of these cases, the goals are different. When we lash out, our goal is to try and control the other person. When we keep our anger in check, it is to avoid consequences of a confrontation. We are just unaware of or dishonest about our real goals. Until we are aware what our real goal is we will keep repeating the same behaviors and creating the same results.

So how do we get to know what these unconscious goals are? How do we figure out what we really want?

Work Backwards

"The first and greatest victory is to conquer yourself."

— Plato

In episode 231, I discussed a model of thinking, and basically, we can use it to break it down what’s really going on in any situation. I’ll quickly summarize the model here but I recommend going back to that episode for a more in depth discussion. Basically, there are circumstances, which are the factual elements, and usually things that we can we can’t control. Then we have our thoughts about those circumstances. Those thoughts create our emotions. Those emotions drive what actions we choose, and our actions create the results we get.

Now, one of the best ways to understanding our unconscious goals, or why we really do what we do, is to work backwards, without judgment. We need to look at the results we are getting, and the actions and choices we make which cause those results. Then we have to understand what we were feeling and thinking at the time we made those choices. This is probably the hardest part because we often have trouble recalling what we were feeling or thinking in the heat of the moment. This is why it is important to be open to the possibility that we were not thinking at our best, and that we were letting emotional feedback distort our perspective.

Because our ego tries to protect itself, we will often convince ourselves that we were thinking or feeling something different than we were. We don’t want to own up to what we really thought or felt because we don’t like to think of ourselves as that kind of person. We will rationalize or ignore what was really going on in our mind.

This is why examining things without judgments is so important. When we do this kind of exploration, we’re not worried about placing blame. We need to think of it like we’re on a fact finding mission.

Like I talked about in the example above, someone who grew up in a chaotic home may feel confused or ashamed that they keep dating people who cause lots of drama. But until they are open to accepting that they may in some way like the drama because it’s exciting and it’s familiar, it’s going to be hard for them to change.

When we walk backwards from the results, to the actions, to our emotions, then to our thinking, we’re open to getting to root of things.

Get Quiet

“Know thyself.”

— Socrates

One of the best ways to practice this kind of exercise is meditation. I know that I talk about it a lot on here, but I find that it’s an indispensable tool in getting to understand your own mind. Just like any other skill, mastering our mind takes practice. Meditation can be difficult because our minds are in a constant state of stimulation.

For some, meditation is too boring, and to sit still for any length of time is challenging. But when you practice this skill, then you learn how to be aware of your mind and its thinking. Once you get to know your mind, then you are able to quiet your mind so you can focus on things that you want to. You can direct it in a way that is more helpful.

When you take that time to be quiet and just observe your thinking, often time you have inspiration that just pops out of nowhere. You’ll have insights and solutions to problems. You’ll have creative ideas that you were just moving too fast to see. When you get quiet, your mind has a chance to show you things it’s been working on in the background.

Write It Down

"The soul becomes dyed with the color of its thoughts."

— Marcus Aurelius

Another exercise that is extremely helpful in our unconscious exploration is journaling. Sitting down and trying to get the contents of your thinking on paper is another way to help uncover things. I know for me that sometimes I really need to just brain dump the thoughts in my mind in order to give me some distance from them. It’s kind of like having a picture that is simply too close to be able to see it clearly. By getting things out, I’m better able to see what it is that really going on. I can often see connections that I wasn’t able to before.

When you get things out on a page, it also frees up your mind to not have to hold on to things as much. You know that you have it in a durable form, so you don’t need to worry about remembering those ideas. You’re able to refer back to it at a later time and hopefully find more inspiration and make connections when you’re in a good headspace.

Back to Back

I find that doing meditation and journaling back to back is very helpful. There are times when I meditate first to give my mind the space to just let things be, then afterwards take the time to capture those thoughts and ideas in my journal.

Sometimes I find that journaling before meditation is useful because it helps guide my mind towards pondering some issues that I’m worried about, and my mind is able to make interesting connections in a relaxed state.


Our minds are a pretty amazing set of processes, thoughts, ideas, emotions, and unconscious desires. Getting to know ourselves and our deep and often hidden motivations can be exceptionally challenging.

For me, stoicism has been crucial for being able to understand and accept the parts of me that I may not want to see, but are there nonetheless. With a focus on a nonjudgmental way of viewing the world and yourself, you have tools to explore who you really are, and work on accepting every part of you. It is with this self-awareness and self-acceptance, that you are able to find more personal peace, and are better able to make changes you want in your life.

Hello friends! Thank you for listening. 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.

Want to help support this podcast? Become a patron on patreon!

Like the theme song? You can find it here from my alter ego. 🙂

Find me on instagram or twitter.

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.


252 – Overwhelmed

Do you get overwhelmed with the challenges of life? When life gets too stressful do you shut down and bail out? Today I want to talk about why we let things overwhelm us and what can we do to stay on track.

“If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.”

— Marcus Aurelius

Life is challenging. Some times we feel overwhelmed at the situations we have in life. When this happens we may shut down and retreat. We may give up on things that are important to us that are not even directly tied to the situation that may be causing stress in our lives. This can include areas such as work, relationships, or hobbies.

Many people might see this and think that the "obvious" solution is that this is a failure of planning, as in, you might have unrealistic timelines or expectations of how much you can actually get done. When you fail to meet those expectations, you get frustrated and burned out.

But before we look at tactics, let's think a little deeper, shall we?

First, I want you to know that you are not alone. Anyone involved in a creative endeavor runs into this issue. And by creative endeavor I mean creating anything, and that also includes creating a better life. We have great intentions, high aspirations, and plenty of talent, and yet, we get sidetracked, spiral out, and shut down.

I know that I have a pretty familiar pattern: I make plans when I’m in a good headspace. I feel excited and am looking forward to working on my goals. Then something stressful hits in my life, and pretty soon I find myself retreating and backing off from a lot of things in life.

I’ve done this several times with my podcast. Things in my personal life would be falling apart, then I would shut down the podcast. Sometimes, I would try working on another project, only to find that I even then I still would feel overwhelmed and just give up.

The worst part about this pattern is that I would feel like a failure on multiple fronts. I would feel like a failure because of the issue in my personal life, then I would feel like a failure because I wasn’t working on my podcast or music or learning 3D programming.

So why do we do this? Why do allow stress from one part in our life deep six other things in our lives?


I think the first thing we need to come to terms with is that sometimes, we’re looking for a way out. When I feel overwhelmed and let myself burnout, it is often because, deep down, at some level, it's what I really want. I want to give up. Sometimes, life is hard and letting outside events overwhelm me is an easy way to blame an outside event for failing to achieve what I set out to do.

Now, you might be thinking to yourself, “I would never do that! I really want to succeed, but there was just too much other shit going on."

Let me let in you on something: Everyone has too much other shit going on. Kid's plays and soccer games. Partners and friends who need your time and attention. And there are the basics such as, you know, keeping up with work. That's not to mention taking time for ourselves such as exercise, hobbies, and rest.

Simple put, life is busy.

Plenty of people have done amazing things while still managing all this extra shit. If you really want to accomplish your goal, then you wouldn't let anything stop you.

Let me put it this way. If one of your projects was something you needed to complete because if you didn't you would die, do you think you would let those outside things overwhelm you?

I don't think so.

I think you'd finish it come hell or highwater and push all those external things to the side.

If there is something that you truly want to do in life, then any external excuse for quitting, is just that – an excuse.

Ultimately, I find that I sometimes let myself just get overwhelmed because it's easier than pushing through, and I can point to a "reason" why it wasn't my fault that I failed. But if I'm honest with myself, I know, deep down, I'm quitting because I just don't want to do the hard work. It's hard to admit to something like this, especially when you know you are quite capable, but owning up to it is the first step in taking responsibility for your choices. You have the right to choose to not do something. You don’t need a reason outside of yourself.

Now, not everything we feel burned out on is due to self-sabotage. Sometimes we really do want to reach some goal but we’re pushing ourselves too hard and we end up ignoring other aspects of our lives. Stoicism is about equanimity, it’s about finding balance so that we can work efficiently and effectively. So let’s dig into some ways that you can help find that balance, and avoid burning out.

Facing Up to Your Emotions

I think the biggest piece of the puzzle that can cause us to feel overwhelmed is that we may be in situations that are emotionally challenging and we don’t want to face them. When something in our lives is emotionally draining, we will often try to ignore it. But in doing so, the emotion doesn’t go away. It stays in our system unresolved. We carry it around like shackles on our ankles, and we’re the ones that put them on. We might be able to function in our daily lives, but we are not bringing all our resources to bear. We are not operating at our best.

This can become too much of a burden and rather than face up to and deal with these challenging emotions, we find ways to distract ourselves. The list of distractions includes alcohol, drugs, work, television, video games or any other number of things that allow us to push these uncomfortable emotions to the side. I noticed that when I took a break from my podcast over a year ago, rather than working on learning graphics programming in my spare time, which was my plan, I ended up just playing video games. I had no motivation to anything else. I didn’t write. I didn’t read any books. I didn’t hang out with friends.

Once I started facing up to some of the emotionally challenging situations in my life, I was better able to handle the pressure of other commitments, such as working on my podcast. I was more social. I started working out again. My life wasn’t perfect by any means, but it certainly felt more manageable.

Physical Health

I think that many of our issues with mental health are directly related to out physical health. If we’re exhausted, in pain, or in poor health, it affects our state of mind, causing us to have a negative outlook on life. I think that there is an underestimation of how much our physical state affects our mental state. We like to think that we can just change our thinking and we can ignore our physical state. But remember, we experience the world in our bodies, so to pretend that they aren’t linked is rather foolish.

If you find yourself feeling burned out, make sure that you are taking care of the physical things. Pushing ourselves too hard, eating poorly, not sleeping enough affects our mental outlook whether we like it or not.

For example, in my own life, I struggle with insomnia. This makes it hard to think clearly, and often makes things feel much darker or harder than they really are. I can be grumpy and irritable without really being aware of it. Doing my best to take care of myself by doing everything I can to improve my sleep by eating healthy, exercising, and following a regular sleep schedule has helped quite a bit. I also do my best to be aware of my mood by writing in my journal and meditating.

Narrow Your Focus

In our world of productivity hacks and hustle culture, we can feel overwhelmed because we try to take on too many things. We may feel guilty when we take time to relax and recharge because it’s not considered productive. Much of this comes from comparing ourselves to others. We look at how others “hustle” and think that is the reason for their success. But as any good athlete will tell you, resting is just as important as training. Doing one without the other will guarantee failure. Finding the balance of working hard and resting is what puts you in the ideal state.

When we’re spread too thin and pulled in too many directions, we end up not doing anything very well. By reducing what we’re working on to just a few things at any given period of time, we can make more progress on the goals that we have. This doesn’t mean that we need to drop everything else, but it can mean that we schedule things to a later date. There is nothing that says we have to accomplish everything all at once. And to be honest, just hustling all the time sucks the joy and pleasure out of life.

Time Management

"It is not that we have a short time to live, but that we waste a lot of it."

— Seneca

One area that we can focus on which will help reduce our stress is managing our time. This is something that I’m still working on, and I should probably do a full episode so that I can explore ways to manage my time better. But for now, I have a very basic schedule to my day of when I start and end work. I also schedule in self care activities like exercise and meditation. I make sure that I take at least 30 minutes for lunch, since I work from home and it’s pretty easy to just get busy and push through some code I’m working on.

Since I struggle with insomnia, I’ve been making sure that I have some wind down time before bed. This means that an hour before bed I will doing something relaxing that is not cognitively taxing. This could be watching something fun on Netflix, reading some nice fiction, or sitting in the hot tub. As I’m getting ready for bed, I’ll put on some chill jazz piano, to help my mind wind down.

Creating a basic outline to your day can help you manage your life a little better. The less you have to keep in your head, the more likely you’ll be able to follow your schedule. Also, if you put everything on a calendar, it’s easier to see if you are simply overloaded and trying to take on too many things.

Make Choices

"It is not what happens to you that matters, but how you react to it that determines the quality of your life. You have within you the power to choose your thoughts and opinions, and you can choose to respond to any situation with patience, courage, and understanding."

— Epictetus

Often when we’re feeling overwhelmed it’s because we are stuck in a place of worry and confusion. Probably the most useful tool that I’ve worked on implementing in my life is something I talked about in episode 247 – There are no Problems, Only Choices. This is the idea that rather than focusing on a problem and all the worries attached to it, you focus on what choices you have available, and figure out which one most align with your goals, your values, and your principles.

Focusing on what choices you can make is beneficial for a number of reasons. Since you are focusing on choices, you spend less time needlessly worrying about the problem. It also puts you in a better place to take action. When you take action, you are making progress. When you make even just a little progress, it makes the next set of choices easier. You create momentum which can help carry you through the difficult parts of a situation.

We may get stuck in worrying what choice is the “right one”, or we may have too many choices. If you find that you have having a hard time making a choice, figure out what your principles and values are and use that as your guide. Is there a choice that aligns with them? If not, are there any choices that tick most of the boxes, but still support your most important principles? Is there choice that can, at the very least, get you started?


There are a lot of things in the world that can derail us from achieving the things we want, though usually the biggest hinderance is ourselves. However, there are foundational things that we can to do that make us more resilient when we run into resistance and help us avoid burnout. When we focus on taking care of our physical health, managing our time, and put our energy towards making better choices and find that balance that we need. When we find that balance, it helps us keep moving forward, rest and recover, and enjoy the journey.

Hello friends! Thank you for listening. 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.

Want to help support this podcast? Become a patron on patreon!

Like the theme song? You can find it here from my alter ego. 🙂

Find me on instagram or twitter.

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.


251 – Conversation with Brian from the LOTS Project

A wide ranging conversation with Brian, the host of the LOTS project. You can find out more information about Brian and living off the grid at

Acceptance Choices Circumstances

250 – When Life Has Other Plans

When life throws you curveballs, how do you handle them? Do you freak out? Do you roll with it? Do you look at it as an opportunity or a disaster? Today I want to about how to keep a perspective on life that helps you keep on moving when things don’t go as planned.

We must be willing to let go of the life we planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us.

— Epictetus

First, I want to apologize for not getting last weeks episode out. As you know I’ve been struggling with pretty severe insomnia over the last few months and last week I just hit a wall. I had the episode about 85% finished, but was so wiped out that It was a struggle to just get to the end of the week. The irony of it was that the episode was about dealing with feeling overwhelmed. I was going to make it this weeks episode, but given some big events that happened for me this last week, I felt it was more pressing to talk about how we handle the unexpected twists that life throws our way.


One of my favorite things that has taken place in Portland over the past 12 years was the World Domination Summit. For those of you who don’t know what it was, it was kind of like a TED conference with all kinds of interesting speakers, classes, and experiences for people who want to live differently in the world. It was founded by Chris Guillebeau, who lives here in Portland. He’s the author of several books and writes a blog about travel and living an unconventional life.

A few weeks ago, I was reading one of his posts called “Congratulations On Your New Life”, that really stuck with me. He talked about how a few years ago he was speaking at a conference and someone who was asking a question mentioned that they had just lost their job, and rather than offering condolences, he felt like he needed to take another route. He congratulated them. Since that time, this is usually the response he offers when someone talks about something that is causing a big transition in life, such as losing a job or ending a relationship.

Now this may seem a little harsh to some people, but Chris mentioned that most times when he followed up with the other person, that even if they were a little shocked at first, when they took the time to think about it, they really didn’t like the job or could see that they were better off out of the relationship. In a way, this event was a favor and an opportunity to make a change in their life that they probably wouldn’t have done were it not for this happening.


The obstacle in the path becomes the path. Never forget, within every obstacle is an opportunity to improve our condition.

— Ryan Holiday

This last week, as I mentioned, was exhausting. I decided to take off Friday to see if I could get caught up on some sleep. Even though I knew that I could sleep in, I still only got about 5 hours of sleep. I was able to get a short nap in later that afternoon, but soon after waking up received a call from the owner of the company I work for. He let me know that due to financial constraints, he had to cut my project and was letting me go. I thanked him for letting me know and we talked through next steps of making the transition smoother for the other developers who would be taking up the slack for some of my minor projects.

At the end of the call, he thanked me for handling things professionally and not making it a difficult call. I told him there was no reason make things difficult. He was simply doing what he needed to for his company. For me, it was an interesting moment. There was no real stress about the whole thing. It was just matter of fact like “this is just a thing that happens in life”. I felt very relaxed and stoic about it, and after the called was over I laughed about the fact that my first thought on hearing the news was that now I’d finally be able to caught up on sleep.

Life Happens

So what do you when life throws unexpected things your way? Do you panic? Do you look at all the downsides?

Don’t Panic!

— Douglas Adams

The first and most important thing we can do in any situation is to do our best to stay calm. Part of the stoic teaching of Amor Fati, is that we love everything that happens to us, and that our reaction to anything will not really change what happens. In the case of getting laid off, being rude to my now former boss, would not have changed the situation, and would have only made things worse. In fact, by the end of the call, he asked if, when he had more funding available in the future, I was open to working as consultant to finish the development of the software I had been working on. I told him that I was certainly open to it if my situation in the future made it possible to do so.

No One to Blame

To accuse others for one’s own misfortunes is a sign of want of education; to accuse oneself shows that one’s education has begun; to accuse neither oneself nor others shows that one’s education is complete.


Another important thing we can do is not get caught up in finding someone to blame. It is one thing to understand the root cause of something, but to waste time trying to pin the blame on someone does nothing to help you move forward. It only leads to more stress and worry. Now, this does not mean that if someone is causing issues for you that you simply ignore them. It does mean that you do your best move on and let go of things that don’t serve you. In this case, being angry with my former boss because he didn’t have the funds to continue keeping me on payroll doesn’t matter. It’s simply the way that things turned out. It’s just the way that all the circumstances lined up. Nothing more, nothing less.


There are no problems, only choices.

One of the most important ideas that I’ve been trying to implement in my life over the past few months is that of focusing on what choices I have in front of me in any given situation. Letting go of all the worries and what ifs won’t help me keep moving forward. In the case of losing my job, I’ve been able to apply this by making a list of things I can do, not worry about why didn’t things work the way I wanted.

What Next?

It is not what happens to you that matters, but how you react to it that determines the quality of your life.

— Epictetus

So what comes next for me? That’s hard to say at the moment. This last year has been a turbulent one already, so this is just one more factor in the mix. But right now I have a little more of the most precious resource known to man – available time. And this is something that will allow me to accelerate some things I’ve been working towards.

I find myself in a place full of opportunity.

I’m reaching out to recruiters and others in my industry. Since I’m working on getting my house ready to sell, I’m appreciating the fact that I will have more time available for getting things prepared. I plan on improving my workout regimen and cycling more once the weather warms up a little more. I plan on getting a few more podcast episodes made so I have them ready a week or more in advance so that I don’t run into something like last week. I’m working on some ideas for expanding the reach of the podcast.

But first, I’m going to get some sleep.

Hello friends! Thank you for listening. 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.

Want to help support this podcast? Become a patron on patreon!

Like the theme song? You can find it here from my alter ego. 🙂

Find me on instagram or twitter.

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.