269 – Getting Unstuck

Are you stuck in life? Do you feel like you can’t break out of the rut you’re in? Today I want to talk about why we get stuck and offer some ideas of how to get unstuck.

“What upsets people is not things themselves, but their judgements about these things.”

— Epictetus


Getting stuck in a rut is a fairly common occurrence in modern life. To be honest, it’s often been a curse throughout the ages. Because we are all creatures of habit, we often find something that works, then we cling to it because, while it may not be the best thing for us, it’s safe, and if we’re working in a creative realm we often have all kinds of fears and anxieties that pop up and make it challenging to move forward.

The reason that I’m doing an episode on this topic is that I struggle with this every week. I wish that I could say that creating an episode each week was easy and that the ideas just flowed from my mind and through the microphone, but they don’t. Each week is a challenge that I face as I come up with an idea, find information and quotes to help illustrate the points that I’m trying to make, and sit down synthesis all these ideas into a good episode for you.

As I’ve mentioned many times before, almost every episode that I put out is usually something that I’m working through in my personal life. As I work to try and solve the problems that I deal with, sitting down and creating an episode is a way for me to find some solutions, and do my best to share them with you.

So why do we get stuck? What is it that keeps up from progressing forward in our lives?

Lack of Resources

Sometimes we are stuck because have a lack of resources to make progress. That could mean that we don’t the funds to accomplish our goals. We may not have the right equipment or tools to complete a project. We may not have the opportunities for the education we need.

Often the resource we lack most of is time. We may simply have too many other commitments and lack the time to be able to achieve what we want. I’ve run into this many times myself and have gone through periods of my life where I reduce the number of things I’m working on at any given time so that I don’t burn out.

Other People

We may be dependent on someone else. Sometimes other people are in positions that block us from being able to accomplish what we want. This could be anyone from a manager to even someone in your family.

Probably the most challenging is when it comes from a partner. So, last week I sent out an email to all the people on my email list and asked them what their biggest challenge was when it came to self improvement. There were a lot of different answers, but one that came up more frequently than I expected was dealing with partners who were not interested in personal growth, and they felt like they were at odds with them in their efforts to improve themselves.


Sometimes we get stuck because we don’t know what to do. We may be trying something new, and because it’s new, we don’t know what steps are needed to move us forward. For example, as I’m working on turning the podcast into a full time job, I’m very unsure of what to do.

Coaching, masterminds, creating courses, and learning how to market them is something that is way outside of my comfort zone, and there are plenty of times when I have no idea what to do next. In my case, there is certainly not a dearth of information, but rather there is too much information. I don’t know what next steps I should take because there are so many opinions of how to make this successful.


Often we’re stuck in a rut because we’re just simply burnt out. We might be over scheduled. We might be just trying to take on too much. We might have other obligations or people that have demands on our time that we don’t have the courage to step up and say no to. Burnout is something that is very real, and often times it takes us crashing and burning to recognize that’s what’s going on in our lives, and this will often force us to take step back and start to care for ourselves a little better.


“The limit is not the sky. The limit is the mind.”

— Wim Hof

I think the biggest reason that we get stuck in our lives is fear. Fear is the primary driver of so many of our actions, that we may not even be truly aware of it. But the thing is that fear is caused by our own minds. Most of the things that we are afraid of are things that we just imagine might cause us some kind of pain, but in most cases the only pain we ever feel is our own distress, not any real physical harm.

There are different kinds of fear that can keep up from moving forward. First and foremost is the fear of failure. We can get so fixated on not being able to meet certain expectations, that we fail to even get started on a project or we refuse to put ourselves out there. This fear can also be driven from several places such as our fear of being judged by others, especially when we sensitive to external validation from others. Rather than even trying, we just avoid the situation altogether.

The fear of failure can also swing the other way and we can become paralyzed with perfectionism. Our inner critic can convince us that whatever it is that we are working on is just not good enough. So we keep working on it and working on it far past the point where most people would consider it complete. Sometimes we just give up on it because we never reach a point where we consider it complete.

We can also get stuck with fear of the unknown. Because the future is always uncertain, we may stay stuck because of that uncertainty. We’d rather stick with what we know because it’s safe. We might even be comfortable where we are in life, and therefore don’t want things to change at all. But as we all know, life is never static so the wish to keep things as they are is something that will ultimately fail.

The thing about all the fears we have that keep us stuck are usually things that don’t even exist outside of our own minds. It is our perception of these things, and all the awful scenarios that we conjure up which cause us the most pain in the form of anxiety. We become our own tormentors.

So what are some things that we can do to help get ourselves unstuck?


“Discomfort is the currency of success.”

— Brooke Castillo

“The truth is that our finest moments are most likely to occur when we are feeling deeply uncomfortable, unhappy, or unfulfilled. For it is only in such moments, propelled by our discomfort, that we are likely to step out of our ruts and start searching for different ways or truer answers.”

— M. Scott Peck

Often, we procrastinate on something because we have associated a strong negative feeling with the activity that we are trying to do. It’s often challenging because we feel like something is wrong with us that we have something we want to accomplish, and yet, we will put it off and even self-sabotage ourselves.

I know that for me, many times I have struggled getting this podcast done because I feel like it’s just not going to be good enough. That feeling that it has to somehow be perfect creeps in and makes it so my brain wants to avoid working on it. At that point, everything else seems much more interesting, so it’s easeir to get distracted.

In order to move past procrastination, we need to be mindful of the story that we are telling ourselves about what we need to accomplish. We need to be mindful of the feelings that we have somehow associated with our task. In my case, that it needs to be perfect. I continually remind myself, that a good episode is far better than none, and more likely to get a good episode done than a “perfect” episode.

Developing that mindfulness can help us face the different fears that we have about something. If we don’t understand why we’re avoiding something, it makes it very challenging to to actually face up to and overcome the fears that we have created in our minds.


“Now is the time to get serious about living your ideals. How long can you afford to put off who you really want to be? Your nobler self cannot wait any longer. Put your principles into practice – now. Stop the excuses and the procrastination. This is your life! […] Decide to be extraordinary and do what you need to do – now.”

— Epictetus

I know that I talk a lot on my podcast about focusing on the process and learning how to enjoy the work, but sometimes we get fixated on the out come. So, if this is the case, and we’re going to slide into that way of thinking, why don’t we do a nice jujitsu move on our brains and use this to help us out?

Sometimes imagining what accomplishing something will feel like in the future can be very useful to us. We can imagine how good it will feel to complete our task. We can imagine how much less stressful it will feel once we’re done working on it. When you reach that point, your future self with thank your present self for putting in the hard work.

Copy The Masters

"Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn't really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while."

— Steve Jobs

One thing that I’ve found that is helpful when I’m creating music, writing, or even writing software, is that I find songs or elegant solutions that other people have created and copy what they are doing. If it’s music, I’ll try to may my own version of someone else’s song then start adding my own sounds, arrangements, or variations to make it my own. If it’s writing, I’ll read great books or listen to great podcasts to get inspiration or learn new things to expand my horizons. If it’s coding problem, then I’ll try to find tutorials or code that others have posted that can help me make progress on what I’m doing.

The point is, in this age where we have so much information available to us, we should use it to build off the shoulders of giants. Much of what we do in this world is about combining unusual ideas to create new and better ones. We have all kinds of of processes and tools that can help us take what is good, and make it great. Sometimes it’s not about creating a completely unique idea, but rather looking at something with a different perspective.

Break it Down

Sometimes we get stuck because the task we’re approaching seems so overwhelming. By taking some time to break things down to smaller and more discreet tasks, it can make things much easier. Rather than being one giant task that you have to get done, it can be several smaller tasks that are much easier to get done.

This is something that we do very often in software development. Since software applications are built of lots interworking pieces of code, breaking a large project into smaller parts that can be completed in a shorter amount of time makes it more likely that the project will get completed. If you’re interested in this process and want to adapt it into your workflow, check out scum or agile development and see if you might be able to apply it to what you’re working on.

Short Timelines

Sometimes the way to get past the being stuck it to set yourself short timelines so that you just get started. And what I mean by that is that if you find that it’s difficult to go for a run, set a minimum amount of time that you have to run. Something like 5 or 10 minutes. That means that you only have to run for 5 or 10 minutes, then you can can turn around and go home. Or, that you only have to write or paint for 5 or 10 minutes then you can quit. Often, it only takes getting the action started, then it’s easier to keep going. By creating some momentum with a timeline that is easy to complete, it makes it easier to keep going.

Ask For Help

“Associate with people who are likely to improve you. Welcome those who you are capable of improving. The process is a mutual one: men learn as they teach.”


Probably the hardest thing to do when we’re stuck is to reach out to others and ask for help. This is not easy because far too often we think that we need to go it alone and that asking for help is admitting failure. Often we think that other people won’t want to help us and so we don’t ask so we don’t get rejected. But the thing is, other people like to help, and often can bring new and interesting insights into what you’re working on. They may have skills that you don’t have, and know things that you never would have figured out.

This is something that I’ve been working on myself. I’ve found a few people who are stronger in areas that I don’t know much about, or they are willing to just talk through things that help me see things that I might have missed. Plus, when you ask others for help, it’s a great space to build a better connection with them. I know that I appreciate it when people are vulnerable and ask me for help.


Getting unstuck is not an easy thing to do, but most of the things that keep us stuck are products of our own mind. By becoming aware of the thoughts and behaviors that derail us, we can develop coping mechanisms that can help get us back on track. We can find ways to help our minds work with us and achieve the things that we want, and in doing so help us get unstuck just a little faster.

Hello friends! Thank you for listening.

if you want to take these ideas and yourself to the next level, join the Stoic Coffee House.

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268 – Creation is the Purpose of Life

What do you think the purpose of life is? Do you ever wonder why we’re here? Today I want to talk about some ideas of what we’re supposed to do with the one life that we have.

So while I normally talk about something that is directly a stoic teaching, I want to veer off in a different direction on something that has been rattling around in my head for a while. I hope you enjoy this weeks departure.

There are a lot of challenges in this life. Probably the hardest is to understand what is our purpose in life. I think from the earliest days of mankind, every human being has wondered, “Why am I here?” Every religion, mystic, philosophy, even science has tried to answer this question, and we still have no conclusive answer. There has been no divine being or alien visit to come down and tell us all why we are alive on this planet.

To be honest, I don’t know either. But the more I think about, the I’ve come to the conclusion that we are here to create.

To Create Is Human

“Creativity involves breaking out of established patterns in order to look at things in a different way."

— Edward de Bono

From the dawn of time, human beings are driven to create. From a purely biological sense, we spend a lot of time and energy making sure that we can survive long enough to make it to adulthood and procreate. Besides breathing, eating, drinking, and sleeping, sex is one of the strongest biological drives we have. From the outset, next to survival, the first biological impulse is to create a new life.

Once we have the basics of life, we set out to create things. We build houses and roads, and towns and cities. When you think about it, all of our jobs are either to create something, to aid in the creation of something, or to help in the maintenance of something that has been created.

From there, we try to understand the world around us. We tell stories and draw things real and imagined. Write sonnets, songs, and symphonies. Build cars, bridges, skyscrapers, and spaceships. If we can imagine it, we try to create it.

It’s our willingness to try things that are silly and even stupid that help us to move forward as a species. It’s this ability to think of things that might be outrageous or ridiculous that lead us to pursue crazy ideas in physics, and other sciences that lead to amazing things. It is our creativity that leads us to try things that at first seem outrageous, but later prove to be incredible breakthroughs and advances for humanity.

Nature is Creation

Nature itself is all about creation. The fact that seeds form trees and plants with the right conditions to create forests and food, such a wide variety of animal and other organic life on this planet. I live in Oregon, where it seems like if there is some kind of land that is not cultivated, nature will fill it in with weeds, ivy, or blackberry bushes.


One of the first things I want to do is redefine what it means to be creative. One of the things that I find most interesting when I talk with people about being creative is that many people consider themselves to be uncreative people. And I think this is wrong. Everyone is creative in their own way. I think we need to redefine creativity from a narrow scope of artistic endeavors to a wider scope of anything that helps improve the world.

Planting and tending a garden is creation. Building out your company’s computer network or developing and inclusive HR policy can be itself a creative act. Being a good parent who raises resilient kids can be a creative act. Being a teacher that helps kids think and become the leaders of the future is a creative act.

Creative Solutions

"Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn't really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while."

— Steve Jobs

Creation is not just about creating art, but about creating in everyday life. Ideas to help fix problems in the world are acts in creation. There are a lot of problems in the world, and in order to solve these problems, we need innovative solutions. We won’t be able to address the problems of tomorrow with the same solutions that we have had in the past or present. We’ll have to solve them by thinking in ever more creative ways that build upon or even possibly completely disregard previous knowledge, ideas, and solutions.

Now, the reason I think we should all try to create something artistic is that creating art can help us learn to think of things in different ways. It allows us to shift our perspectives and see things from different viewpoints that we might not have ever considered. It gives us practice of creating things that did not exist before. It stretches our minds to see things that are not obvious, to see details in things that we might have missed before. It helps us meld disparate ideas and technologies that we otherwise might not have tried if we just did things the way they have always been done.

Art and the Self

"Creativity is intelligence having fun."

— Albert Einstein

One of the most important reason why I think we need to create things, and specifically artistically, is that art is about expression of the self. It’s about figuring out who we are through other means. Each story, painting, song, sculpture, or dance is a way to discover something about ourselves. It’s a way to express a deeper part of ourselves, and about our humanity. In a world where so much pressure is put on being productive or creating wealth, taking time out to create in a way that is important for you is one of the healthiest things you can do for yourself.

Each week as I work on my podcast, I change my mind and my thinking just a little bit. As I work through the topic of the week, I learn something about my own view on something. I may even completely reverse my previous thinking on something. The more I work through the process of clarifying my ideas about something, the more expansive my thinking becomes.

This is why, for example, I don’t use AI to write my episodes. The time and energy I put into creating an episode is not just to have an end product, but to stretch my own thinking, to improve my cognitive skills and rational thinking.

The process of creation is just as important as what is created.

Creating something also can bring on tremendously powerful mental states. Often, when we work on something creative, we will hit flow states. When I play piano or when I sing, I will hit these state of almost joy where it feels like everything just works. Where melodies and chords just work. Where my voice just feels like I can hit any note I want, and I could sing for hours. It’s that feeling of something almost being channeled through me from some deeper source.

Internal Resistance

“Creativity is a type of learning process where the teacher and pupil are located in the same individual."

— Arthur Koestler

Whenever someone works to create something, there is always resistance. This can come in many forms. It can come from the obstacles that we have to overcome when creating something. It can be the self doubt that we have about our own skills or the ideas that we are trying to bring to life. We may worry about the opinions of others and that they will think what we are working on is dumb, a waste of time, or even dangerous. Whenever we attempt a creative act, there will always be something that makes it hard.

But just because we hit that resistance, doesn’t mean that it isn’t worth it. In fact, in many cases it means that we are on the right path. Each and every week when I sit down to work on my podcast, I find the usual culprits that make working on an episode challenging. Self-doubt, writers block, and distraction being among the usual suspects. Even so, it’s worth it to continue pushing through. Often I just type whatever comes to mind, knowing that even with a long and verbose and unpolished first, second, or third draft, I’ll find some gold that I can share with you.

External Resistance

"If you're not prepared to be wrong, you'll never come up with anything original."

— Ken Robinson

We can see that the urge to stifle creative thought will come from those with power who feel threatened by what those ideas can mean. From artists to writers, and physicists to astronomers, people who think creatively and try to push society forward have met resistance from those who want to keep things as they are. But the universe is not static. It is always in a constant state of change. This is why we should always be willing to question ideas that people like to propose as being absolutes or claim as how things must be.

When I was in the Mormon church there were dictates about what the leaders thought god wanted from us. First and foremost of which was obedience to the leaders of the church. We were often warned of books we shouldn’t read, movies we shouldn’t watch, and even music we shouldn’t listen to.

I remember feeling stifled in that I would feel guilty for wanting to learn and understand things that were considered taboo in the church. Challenging or offering different opinions on things the church set down as doctrine was usually frowned upon and in many cases not tolerated. Anything that went against the dictates of the leadership was seen as a threat to their power.

Throughout humanity, there are always those that will try to stifle art because it is through art that people are inspired to think differently about something. Whether it’s a painting or a song or a movie, anything that can move us emotionally, can change our opinions about the world around us.


Even if you feel you are not particularly creative in an artistic way, being someone that is supportive and helps others in creating can be a way to contribute to the creativeness of the world. All throughout history, great artists and inventors have had patrons who helped support them in their endeavors. These were people who recognized that even though they may not have a particular ability in some area, they were willing support others who did because it would help benefit humanity in the long run.


Another aspect to help move things creatively is to surround yourself with other people who are working on their own creativity. Last month I attended the SHIFT festival in Eastern Oregon that is put on by the Burning Man camp that I belong to. There’s tons of music ranging from rock to EDM to jazz. Performances ranging from circus clowns to aerialist and dancers. There were sculptures and paintings and intricate LED installations. There are theme camps ranging from a tea tent, to a full aerialist big top. It’s really a lot of fun with people coming from all over the Pacific Northwest and neighboring states.

Each year the art just keeps getting more and more amazing, especially some of the LED art pieces. And one night when I was walking back to my tent it occurred to me that with the technology we have in so many areas of our lives, we are able to be more and more creative in all kinds of ways. We’re able to take what others have created, the tools that have been invented, for example new kinds of musical and audio technology, 3D printing, or advances in LEDs, microchips, and code to make each new iteration of art more and more amazing.


Creativity is something that is inherent in all humans. Even in our youngest days of building sandcastles on the beach, building a car with Legos, or drawing the family dog for a school project, humans are inherently creative. I believe that we are driven to create, and that creating is one of the most human things we can do.

So what can you do to be more creative in your life? Is there an instrument that you’ve always wanted to learn or haven’t picked up since you were young? Maybe you’d like to learn to draw? Maybe gardening is more your speed. Whatever it is, I urge you to add to this world and share your creative energy. The world will be better off for it, and so will you.

Hello friends! Thank you for listening.

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Thanks again for listening.


267 – Conquering Victimhood with a Stoic Mindset

Are you a victim? Do you put yourself in the role of a victim rather than owning up to and taking responsibility for yourself? Today I want to talk about why we fall into the role of victim and how we can step up and be responsible for ourselves.

“An ignorant person is inclined to blame others for his own misfortune. To blame oneself is proof of progress. But the wise man never has to blame another or himself.”

— Epictetus

Life Happens

There are a lot of things that happen to us in life. As the stoics have told us time and again, there are very few things that we control. In short, we control our thoughts, our choices, and our actions, and that’s about it. So if we control so little, doesn’t that make us the victim of the circumstances that we have no control over? When things go wrong, can’t we just blame it on the universe? Other people? The government?

Sure. We can always do that. We can put the blame for our unhappiness on someone else. It is always a choice that we can make. But, if we want to actually be happy, grow, and make progress in our lives, blaming others is a waste of time. The sooner we move out of the role of victim, the more likely we are to create happiness, and actually accomplish the things that we want to in our lives.

So why do we allow ourselves to become the victim in so many ways? Why would we let go of the power we have and put ourselves in a place of weakness?


“People think that if they complain about life, life or the world might change. But of course this does not happen. You cannot change Nature and its laws. It is what it is. No amount of complaining, resentment or mourning will help. Accept, let go and move on.”

— @TheAncientSage (twitter)

One of the main reasons that we fall into the role of victim is that it gives us an alibi for failing at something. Often we try to make ourselves feel better by making the reason for our failure something or someone else. If the reason for failing is external to us, then we feel like less of a failure because it was due to something else that we do not have control over.

Coming up with excuses also removes the pressure from having to make changes and actually do something about the situation we find ourselves in. If we can place the blame outside ourselves and find some other reason other than ourselves for why we failed, then we don’t have to change. Change is hard and we will look for all kinds of reason to not have to put in the work to improve.

I know that in the past that I would fall into this way of behaving. Much of that had to do with growing up in the church and the turbulent home life I had growing up. In both cases, if I had a good excuse for why I had done something then often things went more smoothly and I didn’t get in as much trouble as if I had just owned up and taken responsibility for my actions. If I could come up a good enough excuse, there was good chance I could escape punishment for my actions.

This bad habit took a long time to become aware of and even longer to remove from my way of operating. But just like everyone, I sometimes fall into coming up with excuses for my not so great behavior. It takes a lot of effort to change this kind of behavior, especially when it worked so well in the past.


Another reason why we will play the role of a victim is that it brings us attention. Most of us want to be noticed by others, and playing the victim, we have something that sets us apart without having to put much work into it. Rather than putting effort into something and receiving attention for our actions, our self victimization allows us to feel important with little work.

There are people who continuously cast themselves in the role of the victim for whatever life brings their way. Every new setback is something to complain about and to tell others about how unfair their life is and garners even more attention.


Secondarily to garnering attention, playing the victim can garner sympathy from others. When we are the victim and are in a position of weakness, it plays on the sympathies of others. On the whole, people like to help others who are in need, and this exploits the natural tendency that most people have to helps others. Garnering sympathy makes us a feel like we are loved and that people care for us, but again, it can easily be used to manipulate others into getting us what we want.

The sympathy we get from others in our victimhood also becomes a way of validating our feelings and our sense of righteousness. The more validation we get, the more we feel like we don’t have to make any changes to our behavior. Because we feel like we are “right” in our feelings of being a victim, we continue on on this role without ever really questioning ourselves.

Growing up I remember a relative who always had something wrong with them. Their spouse and other family members were always doing everything for them because their wide ranging ailments were used as excuses to not have to do anything around the house. Every time we would visit my dad would joke that we shouldn’t ask how they are doing because they might tells us and we’d be there all night listening to the never-ending list of ailments and calamities in their life.

Group Acceptance

Sometimes we will use our victimhood as a way to fit into a group. When we find fellow victims, we can bond over the ways that we were wronged. Victimhood becomes a sort of social currency. Because we get that validation from others, we can stay stuck in that role, convinced of the “rightness” of our position. This aspect of playing the role of a victim can be the most dangerous because it allows us to stay where we are without anyone else questioning our belief. The reinforcement and validation of others makes it easy to never question it ourselves either.


Often we will use victimhood to try and control other people. In the role of a victim, we hold onto the idea that we have been wronged. We feel like we are in the “right” and try to use it as leverage against someone else. We may try to control them by trying to make them feel guilty and shame them into do what we want them to do.


“To complain is always nonacceptance of what is.”

— Eckhart Tolle

Ultimately, we play the role of the victim because it’s a way to try and control the situation around us. It also allows us to feel morally superior without having to take responsibility or make changes to our behavior. So what can we do to be more aware of when we are acting like a victim, and take more responsibility for ourselves?

One of the key components of stoicism is that we have to understand what we do and what we do not control. When we try to control things that we don’t have control over, such as the opinions of others, or other people in general, then we’re wasting our time and energy, and it turns us into victims. When we are not controlling the things that we can control, then again, we allow ourselves to become victims because we could actually be doing something about the situation, but we’re choose not to.

Sometimes it’s hard to see that we’re playing the role of victim. We feel righteous about our position and we hold onto the conviction that the other person needs to change for us. But the thing is, as much as we might want the other person to change, we have no control over them. We can sit around all day wanting them to change for us, but if they don’t want to, there is very little that we can do. By making our happiness dependent on the will of others we actually give them control over us.


“It is our own opinions that disturb us. Take away these opinions then, and resolve to dismiss your judgment about an act as if it were something grievous, and your anger is gone.”

— Marcus Aurelius

One clear way to recognize when we might be trying to control other people is if we are angry with them. Often, we are angry with someone because they won’t do something we want, and we try to use anger to control them and get them to change or do something. I know that I often did this with my ex-partner. When she was annoyed or disappointed with me, I would try and argue with her about why she shouldn’t be.

Now, much of this was driven from a fear that if she was upset with me that she didn’t love me, which is a trauma response that I have from my childhood, but it’s no excuse for my behavior. Nonetheless, it was my way of trying to control her by trying to change how she felt about me.

Rather than stepping up and owning my feelings about the situation and giving her space to have her have her feelings about it, I would cast myself in the role of the victim and make it her fault that I felt uncomfortable and angry. Doing so pushed her farther away from me because no one likes having someone trying to control their feelings.

Point of View

“If we know only our own side of the argument, we hardly know even that; it becomes stale, soon learned only by rote, untested, a pallid and lifeless truth.”

― Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark

One tool that we can use to help pull ourselves out of being a victim is to put ourselves in the other person’s point of view. This isn’t easy to do, especially when we’re convinced that we are in the right. But, if we only pay attention to and know our side, then we do not have even close to a complete picture of the situation. Our own point of view may be severely limited because we have let our emotions take over, or we may just have a limited amount of information.

Own It

“Pay attention to your enemies, for they are the first to discover your mistakes.”

— Antisthenes

Another thing to consider when you’re acting like a victim, is to understand what exactly it is that you are upset about. Are you upset that someone pointed out a flaw of yours? Did they say something mean or gossip about you? More to the point, is what they said actually true? We don’t like being called out on our bad behavior. But if you find yourself upset at someone for pointing out something you actually said or did, then you are arguing with reality. In this case, we need to step up and own our behavior.


“Emotions are easily hijacked by illusory threats that tap into our insecurities. We can’t be strategically dynamic if we are always on the defensive. We are more effective when we realize how many things don’t require any response at all.”

— @TheStoicEmperor (twitter)

“At any given moment, you can choose to follow the chain of thoughts, emotions, and sensations that reinforce a perception of yourself as vulnerable and limited, or to remember that your true nature is pure, unconditioned, and incapable of being harmed.”

—Mingyur Rinpoche

The most important step to getting out of victimhood is taking responsibility. Now when I talk about taking responsibility it includes a few areas.

First, we need to be responsible for our emotions and reactions in any situation. This can be incredibly challenging because it often feels like our emotions come from what someone else did or said, or what life sent our way. Our emotions are actually formed by the meaning that we give to an event, so trying to blame how we feel on someone else is a mistake.

Also, when we put the blame of how we feel on someone or something else, we are letting something outside of ourselves have power over us. We are allowing circumstances or what others do control our moods and emotions.

Most importantly though, the area of responsibility that falls to us when we no longer want to play victim, is that we recognize that we need to be ones the take action in our lives. While you may not be to blame for whatever happens in your life, you are the one who is responsible for doing something about it. Waiting around for someone else to fix things leaves you powerless.

Even if someone else did something that put in you at a disadvantage or harmed you, they may not want to change in the way that you expect them to. Since we don’t control other people, you need to step up and do what you can do, rather than waiting around for others or the world to change for you.


Playing the role of victim is something that is easy to do. Doing so is a way to escape having to do the hard work of taking responsibility for your life, and putting in the work to improve your life. Taking that kind of responsibility means that in any situation you are able to find opportunities for growth and improving your situation. It takes awareness of yourself and the situation. It takes a willingness to control what you can, and let the rest go.

When you place blame on someone or something outside of yourself, you forfeit the power you have to do something about it. So the next time you find yourself a victim, rather than waiting for someone else to do something, ask yourself, “What can I do in this situation?”, then step up and start doing it.

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!

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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.


266 – Finding Balance: The Paradox of Pain and Pleasure

Do you think that life should be all pleasure and no pain? This week I want to talk about the balance between pain and pleasure and why if you want more pleasure, you may have to add more pain to your life.

“If one oversteps the bounds of moderation, the greatest pleasures cease to please.”


The Paradox of Pain and Pleasure

A few weeks ago, I had an episode called Suffer Well, and in that episode I talked about how we should be willing to put ourselves in pain deliberately because it teaches us how to deal with unexpected suffering. I also talked about how exposing ourselves to the right amount pain helps us grow, become more confident in ourselves, and find purpose in our lives.

This week, I want to explore the link between pleasure and pain from a slightly different angle. Last week I was listening to a two part episode on Hidden Brain, which is one of my favorite podcasts to listen to. The episodes, The Paradox of Pleasure and The Path to Enough talked about research into the connection between pain and pleasure and how if we are only pursuing pleasure, we can actually end up causing ourselves a lot of pain.

In the episodes, Dr Anne Lembke, who is Chief of the Stanford Addiction Medicine Dual Diagnosis Clinic at Stanford University, talks about how because pain and pleasure are colocated in the brain, when we experience pleasure and get a dopamine hit, the brain automatically tries to balance it out. Think of it like a seesaw, that as soon as you push on one side, the brain starts pushing on the other side to achieve balance, or what is called homeostasis. This is why when you indulge in something pleasurable, such as taking drugs, drinking alcohol, eating sugar, or even checking social media, your brain is constantly trying to balance things out. This is why we get a hangover, come down effects from things like drugs and alcohol, and reduced pleasure from social media.

This balancing act in our brains is why many people find pleasure when they do painful things. As I talked about in Suffer Well, when I’m out cycling and stressing my legs I notice that when I get home and I’m relaxing after my shower, I have this pleasurable buzzed feeling from the endorphins that my body produces after I exert myself. This is the same phenomenon as a “Runner’s High”, but on wheels. Almost any physical activity can generate similar effects. I know that I feel better after a walk, lifting weights, or even just 20 minutes of yoga.

Another example where pain can cause pleasure is when people who like to eat really spicy food talk about the pleasurable high that kicks in after eating something spicy. It’s because the body kicks in pleasure to help balance out the pain that you feel.

I like to think of this like Newton’s Third Law of Motion, which states, “For each action, there is an equal and opposite reaction”. It appears that for pain and pleasure in our brains, this is also the case. The more we pursue pleasurable things, the more we create a dopamine deficit, and the more we do things that are challenging and at times painful, we are rewarded with a natural dopamine increase.


“A person who has built his life around pleasure is bound to be disillusioned. Hedonism is not sustainable, and it leaves a person empty. We are not meant to experience sustained pleasure. Therefore, to cope with the drab routine of daily existence, one must find meaning somewhere.”

— @TheAncientSage

While most people apply temperance to alcohol, we need to consider that almost anything can become an addiction. In fact, the researcher, Anna Lembke, talks about her own addiction that disrupted her life in a fairly dramatic way. And you might be surprised at what it was: romance novels. She became enthralled with the erotic portions of romance novels to the point where she would read until 3 or 4 in the morning even though she had to be at work early in the morning. She found herself reducing her time spent with family and friends. To keep others from knowing what she was reading, she bought a kindle. She was losing connection with the real world and escaping to fantasy in the pages of erotica.

Other addictions that are mentioned in episode include dugs, online gambling, pornography, shopping, food, video games, and even social media. We have so much instant pleasure at our fingertips we can easily find ourselves addicted without even really being conscious of what is happening. Because our brains are always trying to keep homeostasis, after a certain point, those pleasurable things can actually start to cause us harm.


Where we really start to run into issues with pleasure that when you keep doing something on the pleasure side, and you get that dopamine hit, then your brain tries to balance it out by reducing the pleasure you get from it. That means in order to get the same amount of pleasure you had from the previous hit, you have to have more. You can build up a tolerance to almost anything pleasurable, to the point where it starts to make you irritable, anxious, or even sick.

One of the most interesting things that I learned from this podcast is that often the thing that someone is addicted to is used not to treat the original issue, but to treat the comedown effect from the last use of it. Meaning that you use it, your brain counters it, then you have to use it again to try and block the negative effects from the last time you used it.

This was illustrated in the second episode of the podcast, where they talk about a patient named Delilah, who suffered from anxiety and depression and would smoke cannabis to help relieve those symptoms. But as Lembke worked with Delilah, she realized that the anxiety and depression that she was treating was actually being caused by the cannabis. She convinced Delilah to give up cannabis for 4 weeks to try and reset her dopamine levels.

After 4 weeks Delilah returned and talked about her experience. She said that in the first week she was vomiting violently because of the withdrawal from cannabis. She recognized that she had actually been addicted, and that her body had been changed by such chronic heavy use. After the four weeks of not using cannabis she said that she felt less anxious and depressed than she had felt in years.

Lembke herself talks about how when she gave up reading erotica, that the first two weeks she had terrible insomnia and even headaches as she was going through withdrawal symptoms from the lack of dopamine she was used to. She had to detox from the erotica in order to reset her dopamine levels.


So why does our brain work this way? Why does it try to limit pleasure and reward us for pain? Because it’s trying to keep us safe and help us grow. How does it keep us safe? Because often those things that offer instant pleasure are things that are not good for us in the long term. A good example of this is hard drugs like meth or heroin. While in the moment they feel incredibly pleasurable, they take their toll on those that use them. Our brain is doing its best to keep us alive by putting the brakes on pleasure.

On the flip side, our brains reward us for seeking out the right kind of pain. For example, when we exercise, it is uncomfortable and at times painful, we grow stronger, can run faster, and our bodies work better overall when we subject ourselves to certain levels of pain and stress. By pushing on the pain side, we get our brains to reward us by releasing pleasurable chemicals.

Embracing Discomfort

“Why do I keep repeating harmful behaviors/habits when I know they are bad for me?” Because they give you pleasure or help you avoid discomfort. And you are too weak to let go of a little pleasure or to bear a little discomfort.”

— @TheAncientSage

So now that we know how the brain handles pain and pleasure, what can we do to take advantage of this knowledge?

One of the best and worst things about modern life how much access we have to comfort and pleasure. In fact, it been shown in studies that as our societies have more access to easy pleasures and comforts, we have higher levels of unhappiness. It seems that the easier our lives have become, the worse off we are. People in developed countries as a whole report far higher levels of stress and anxiety than those in less developed countries.

When we learn to embrace discomfort, we are not only strengthening ourselves, but we are actually able to find more pleasure. When we learn how handle things that are challenging, we actually get a natural hit of dopamine when we overcome a problem. Taking on the right amount of physical pain and stress we are also rewarded as our brain tips the seesaw over towards the pleasure side. Our brains reward us for doing hard things.


Another reason why we often seek out too much pleasure is to cover up our own pain or unhappiness. Often times the addictive behavior comes from trying to escape difficult feelings. While these feeling are uncomfortable and at times painful, when we try to numb them out with pleasure, then we are creating another problem on top of the one that we are trying to avoid.

When we are willing to step up and face the difficult feelings, then our brains actually reward us. I know that in my own experience when I step up and try to work through things, even though it’s hard, I usually feel better about myself. When I make a breakthrough and handle a challenging situation better, while it may not be the pleasure hit from a good whiskey, there’s an underlying good feeling of accomplishment that lasts far longer because I’ve made some progress.


While listening to the episodes, it made me think about how the stoics teach us about the importance of moderation, also referred to as temperance. It is so important to the stoics, that it is one of the four virtues along with wisdom, justice, and courage. The stoics understood what neuroscience is discovering – that the pursuit of pleasure and the avoidance of pain, can actually cause us harm.

When we think about temperance or moderation, there’s often this idea that in practicing moderation we’re spoiling our fun. But the stoics knew from watching human behavior that the pursuit of nothing but pleasure and avoiding pain led to a life of excess and little growth. In fact, in writing about the pleasure seeking of the Epicureans, Seneca clearly states that when you seek out virtue first, then happiness will follow.

“Let virtue lead the way: then every step will be safe. Too much pleasure is hurtful: but with virtue we need fear no excess of any kind, because moderation is contained in virtue herself. That which is injured by its own extent cannot be a good thing: besides what better guide can there be than reason [as opposed to pleasure] for beings endowed with a reasoning nature? So if this combination pleases you, if you are willing to proceed to a happy life thus accompanied, let virtue lead the way, let pleasure follow and hang about the body like a shadow: it is the part of a mind incapable of great things to hand over virtue, the highest of all qualities, as a handmaid to pleasure.”

— Seneca

Here Seneca is pointing out that when we seek pleasure for its own sake, then too much can cause us harm. Seneca even points out, “That which is injured by its own extent cannot be a good thing”, he’s pointing out that sometimes pleasurable things can cause injury by using them to excess. For anyone who has had one drink too many, I think you can agree that there can be too much of a good thing.

When we act with virtue, then pleasure and happiness follow as a natural consequence. When we act with virtue it is also self regulating. You can’t harm yourself practicing moderation.


As the world moves faster and pleasure is easier to access, we find that people are lonelier and more unhappy than ever before because they are working against their own biology. The next drink, the next pill, the next bet, the next post gives us that next little hit of pleasure, but our own brain knows that easy pleasure always comes with a price. When we can instead learn to govern ourselves, to choose the harder path of growth and moderation, we can work with our biology, and find the pleasure in the pain.

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.