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295 – How to Lead Like a Stoic Emperor: The Timeless Wisdom of Marcus Aurelius

Does it often feel like leaders, both in our work places and in politics, seem to be lacking? Have you ever had the good fortune of working with a great leader? Today I want to talk about the leadership style of Marcus Aurelius, and what we can learn from one of the greatest and most principled leaders of all time.

"What we do now echoes in eternity."

—Marcus Aurelius

In an era defined by rapid technological advancement, environmental crises, and global interconnectedness, Marcus Aurelius' Stoic principles offer a grounding force. The challenges faced by leaders today may seem worlds apart from those of a Roman emperor, yet the essence of leadership—guiding others through uncertainty, making tough decisions with moral courage, and inspiring collective action towards a common goal—remains unchanged. Marcus, who led Rome from 161 to 180 AD, was not just an emperor in title but a philosopher in practice, embodying the Stoic ideals in his reign and personal writings.

From a young age, Marcus Aurelius was a serious student of philosophy. Being from an aristocratic family, he was schooled at home from a number of notable teachers. Diognetus, a painting master, was very influential on young Marcus, and apparently introduced him to philosophy. At the urging of Diognetus, Marcus took on the sparse dress of a philosopher and slept on the floor until his mother convinced him to at least sleep on a simple bed. It was from this early introduction to philosophy that Marcus developed his moral center, which would guide him through the challenges of being the most powerful man in the world.

Marcus Aurelius navigated his empire through war, plague, and the complexities of ancient politics with a leadership style rooted in Stoicism, with an emphasis on rationality, virtue, and emotional resilience. His personal writings in "Meditations," provide a window into his soul and a blueprint for effective leadership that is still relevant today.

Lead with Virtue and Integrity

"Waste no more time arguing what a good man should be. Be one."

—Marcus Aurelius

Marcus Aurelius believed that the cornerstone of effective leadership was personal virtue and integrity. For him, a leader's primary duty was to be morally upright and just, and to ensure the welfare of those he governed. In keeping with Stoic teachings, Marcus felt that one should develop good character in order to be a just leader. By developing the Stoic virtues of wisdom, courage, justice, and temperance a leader was more likely to make choices for the greater good, and avoid the temptations of self enrichment and excess that often befell those who had ruled with so much power.

Leaders should lead by example. Those who walk the walk, not just talk the talk, are respected for their character. Their example cultivates a culture of trust and respect by demonstrating the values they wish to instill in their organizations, such as honesty, responsibility, and compassion. In case after case, when there is corruption within an organization, it is often due a culture that is permissive of cutting corners and questionable business practices which emanates from the example of those in positions of power. Organizations with a culture of high standards and where ethical leadership is the norm, practices like this are quickly rooted out or are never considered in the first place.

Emotional Resilience

“You have power over your mind, not external events. Realize this and you will find strength.”

—Marcus Aurelius

The Stoic emperor taught that we cannot control external events, only our reactions to them. He faced adversity with a calm demeanor and a clear mind, embodying the Stoic ideal of equanimity. Stoicism teaches the value of emotional control in facing life's challenges. Marcus Aurelius exemplified this through his calm demeanor amidst the trials of his reign, including military invasions, the plague, political betrayals, and the deaths of several of his children. His approach underscores the importance of emotional intelligence—maintaining composure in crisis, managing stress, and making decisions unclouded by panic or passion.

A Stoic leader focuses on their actions and reactions, understanding that external events are often beyond their control. This means concentrating on personal effort, ethics, and how one responds to challenges, rather than fretting over outcomes. Good leaders invest their energy wisely, focusing on actionable steps and maintaining integrity in their endeavors.

Throughout my long career in IT, I have seen leaders of all stripes. For me, the ones that were least effective and the least respected were those that were unable to maintain control of their emotions. Leadership is often stressful and most plans never go off without setbacks or issues. A leader who cannot manage themself, will not be able to effectively manage others. Being able to take things in stride and bring a team together to solve them is the hallmark of a good leader.

Leadership as Service

“What is not good for the swarm is not good for the bee.”

—Marcus Aurelius

Marcus Aurelius saw leadership not as a path to power but as a form of service to the greater good. "The object of life is not to be on the side of the majority, but to escape finding oneself in the ranks of the insane," he remarked, highlighting the leader's duty to pursue justice and the common good over popularity or personal gain. For Marcus Aurelius, leadership was not an avenue for glory or domination but a means to serve and uplift others. He saw himself as part of a larger whole, emphasizing the importance of working for the common benefit.

Leaders whose main focus is on serving those around them are able to rally their employees and supporters around their vision, and inspire them to work together to achieve great things. When people feel supported, they are willing to go above and beyond in supporting their leaders in return.

In my own experience I have had the good fortune to have a few examples of excellent service oriented leaders. Early in my career I was working for a large logistics company and a new team was put in place to support and develop its financial applications. The manager of this team, Krishna, was a very kind and compassionate leader who was adept at supporting his team.

In our first team meeting he said, “My job is to serve you and to get anything that is blocking your work out of the way. If you need anything, like better hardware or software, or if others are asking for your time on things that are out of scope or not part of the project, please let me know so I can take care of it. My job is to help you do your job.” This was the first time I’d ever heard a leader speak this way, and over the next year and half, he proved that he was as good as his word, and we had the highest performing team in the company. His example made an impression on me that I still remember over 20 years later.

Openness to Criticism

“If anyone can refute me‚ show me I’m making a mistake or looking at things from the wrong perspective‚ I’ll gladly change. It’s the truth I’m after.”

—Marcus Aurelius

Far too often we see those in power, whether in politics or at work, are not open to anything that might put them in a bad light. With brittle egos, they worry more about what others think rather than examining what is being said to see if there is any truth in it. Not being open to criticism, they create an environment where those who point out their flaws are punished. Marcus Aurelius teaches us that rather than complaining about or shutting down criticism leveled against us, we should welcome it and see if we can find any truth in it so that we can expand our awareness of ourselves.

A leader who is able to look at criticism objectively and put their egos aside, is better able to examine themself from a different perspective. Since we are only able to view the world from our own perspective, having other perspectives can help us find the chinks in our armor, and to consider ideas that we never would have come up with on our own.

Cultivate Self-Awareness

A key takeaway from Marcus Arelius’ "Meditations" is the practice of regular self-reflection. Marcus Aurelius constantly questioned his actions, motives, and emotions, striving for self-improvement, a habit that enabled him to lead with wisdom and humility. Through his own thoughtful writings and seeking out the input of trusted mentors, Marcus was very aware of his shortcomings. This awareness and a commitment to growth allowed him to serve his subjects well, and become known as one of the greatest emperors of the Roman Empire.

We all have weaknesses and failings, and as a leader these are often more on display. Leaders who have the self awareness and the courage to grow are more likely to own up to and take responsibility for their mistakes. This leads to more trust with those under their stewardship, and helps create a culture of responsibility where mistakes, rather than being something to cover up, are opportunities to improve.

Obstacles as Opportunities

The Stoic view of obstacles as opportunities for growth is particularly relevant in today's fast-paced and often unpredictable world. Leaders can reframe challenges as chances to innovate, learn, and strengthen their teams, just as Marcus Aurelius turned the trials of his reign into lessons in resilience and virtue.

Marcus Aurelius himself faced numerous challenges without losing his philosophical center. Modern leaders can apply this mindset by viewing difficulties as chances to innovate, strengthen teamwork, and develop resilience. It’s about leveraging the inherent lessons in every setback to build a more robust, adaptable leadership approach.

Conclusion

Marcus Aurelius’ reign and writings offer timeless insights into the art of leadership. His Stoic philosophy, with its emphasis on virtue, reason, and the common good, provides a profound framework for leading in any era. His example teaches us that effective leadership is not about the position of power one holds but about the strength of one’s character. By embodying virtues of integrity, resilience, and service, leaders can navigate the complexities of the modern world with wisdom and grace, inspiring those around them to do the same. In a sense, to lead like a Stoic emperor is to recognize that the true realm over which we govern is not the external world but the internal one—from which all true leadership emanates.


Hello friends! Thanks for listening.
Want to take these principles to the next level? Join the Stoic Coffee House Community!

Stop by the website at stoic.coffee where you can sign up for our newsletter, and buy some great looking shirts and hoodies at the Stoic Coffee Shop.

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Coffee Break

256 – Developing Optimism

Are you a pessimist? Do you see the glass as half empty? Do you often get depressed when you think about the state of the world? Today I want to talk about how stoicism can help make you an optimist.

Very little is needed to make a happy life; it is all within yourself, in your way of thinking.

— Marcus Aurelius

Have you ever noticed how most of the movies about the future of mankind are usually post-apocalyptic? Meaning that they are generally about the end of the world, or at least the world as we know it. It’s easy to think about how things can go wrong. It’s easy to think about the things that can go wrong because there are more things that can go wrong than can go right. Being a pessimist is easy.

On the other hand, finding the way that things can go right takes perseverance and dedication. It takes a willingness to believe that things can go right. It takes effort. Working in software and working on complex interdependent systems, one of the things that most developers would agree on is the fact that getting things to work properly is hard. Breaking things is easy. Things not working is far easier than getting things to work the way that we want them to.

So the reason I brought this up is that often when we think about the future, we tend to take a dark view of where things are heading, and I think that it’s easy to develop a pessimistic view of where humanity is heading. I know that I have a tendency to do this, and I want to change my perspective because I think that it would serve me better for my daily happiness, and help me to make choices and take actions that could be more beneficial in the areas where I do have influence.

A few weeks ago I was listening to a podcast with Kevin Kelly. Now Kevin Kelly, among many other things, is the founder of Wired magazine, and has lived quite an interesting life. Rather than going off to college after high school, he wandered around Asia for 10 years. He’s written a sprawling sci-fi graphic novel, a book about vanishing cultures in China, and started the Long Now Society which is focused on developing long term policy for survival of the human race. Most recently he released a book that was all about the lessons he wished he’d known when he was younger.

But even with all this impressive stuff on his resume, there was something he said that really stuck with me. He talked about the fact that even with all the doom and gloom and challenges that are facing in the world, that he’s still very optimistic about the future. He said he wasn’t naive or blind to the challenges we face, but that he deliberately chooses to be an optimist. He said that it helps to make his every day life better, and that we as a society need people in this world that keep driving us forward with a better vision of the world.

He said that a big part of why he is an optimist is that we have as a species created lots of improbable things. The fact that we have created so many complex things that actually work is due to optimism. Complex things are improbable, meaning that complex things are more likely not to work, and the fact that we make them work and work well is pretty incredible. It says a lot for us as a species. It means that we can work together to create some pretty amazing stuff that makes life better for a large numbers of people.

He went on to make the argument that life is always going to have challenges and that there is simply no way to have a perfect world. Utopia is something that never will be possible. He framed his idea as “protopioa” which he defines as a culture where we recognize that life is full of challenges and that often there are trade offs for the solutions that we come up with. Often time those solutions create even more challenges, but even so, they are still worth it because the open up more options.

So why do I bring up all these things and how does stoicism fit in to all of this?

For me, this is a clear example of how choosing your perspective on life can make all the difference in the world. Because he specifically decides to view life through an optimistic lens, Kevin is able to see things in a way that supports his world view. He looks at the world around him, and find evidence that there are reasons to be optimistic, in spite of the challenges ahead.

It gave me pause. I started to think about if I would classify myself as an optimist or a pessimist. I realized that I’m clearly on the pessimistic side of the line, and that’s something that I would like to change. I know that much of it for me comes from my past and far too often I assume the worst will happen as a safety mechanism. If the worst happens, then I’m prepared for it.

So I started thinking about how I could work on changing that because I’d rather be hopeful about life and about humanity. Seeing the down side to everything leads you to that direction and you start seeing everything through that lens. I think it’s too easy to get lost in the dark.

So how does one develop a more optimistic outlook on life using stoic principles?

I think a lot of it comes with being able to reframe how you view the world. I think it also comes down to being aware of your thoughts, and making active choices to change how you want to view the world. It means that you choose to be an optimist, and for me there are a few principles that can help us be more optimistic.

Control

Stoicism focuses a lot on what we have control over, which allows us to actually have an impact on our lives. When we find ourselves in a challenging situation, when we can clearly delineate what is within our control and what is not, we can focus on what is within our power. This gives us control over some aspects of our life.

Epictetus makes it pretty clear that the only things that we really have control over are our thoughts, choices, and actions. In short, our will. We can choose what thoughts we think. We can make choices that are more beneficial for us and those around us. We may not be able to control the circumstances that we find ourselves in, but we can take actions that will help us in the long run.

For example, let’s say that you had some health issues and your doctor prescribed a diet that would help take care of those issue. In this case, you don’t have the power to just tell your body to heal itself. What you do have power over is how strictly you adhere to the diet that your doctor prescribed.

Responsibility

Related to control, we can take responsibility for our lives. When we own up to our choices and actions, we have the ability to shape our future. We refuse to blame others for the outcomes of our choices. The more responsibility we take, the more power we have in our lives. We make it so that we aren’t helpless.

When things happen that are out of our control, we step up and take responsibility for doing what we can to improve things. We don’t focus on who is to blame, but rather, we recognize that it is our responsibility to make things better. We could sit around hoping or even demanding that someone else fix things for us, but we’re much more likely to get what we want if we take responsibility for our own happiness.

When we stop up and take responsibility for ourselves and practice self control, the better we are able to handle future situations that might be even more challenging. Every time we step up, take responsibility and stretch ourselves to handle things outside of our comfort zone, the better we are able to handle harder and harder situations. But until we are able to step up and take responsibility, we will continually blame things outside of ourselves for why we’re unhappy and things aren’t going our way.

Change

The only constant in life is change. Embrace it, adapt to it, and let it transform you for the better.

— Epictetus

The stoics recognize that life is constantly changing and that we need to embrace change. The harder we resist changes in our life, that harder we make things for ourselves. When we see change and challenges as opportunities, we are able to embrace change with a sense of optimism that we’ll come out better on the other side.

Another aspect to consider and one that came to mind as I was listening to the podcast is to look at the challenges ahead as something that will give us ample opportunity to grow, then we will have to rise to the occasion to meet them. We will have to push ourselves, to expand our thinking of what’s possible, and find ways to work together in ways that we had never considered before. If we’re never challenged then we never really find out how good we can get. If we simply do the same easy things, then we never grow. We want those greater and greater challenges so that we can grow to be even better.

Gratitude

He who is not contented with what he has, would not be contented with what he would like to have.

— Socrates

The stoics teach us to be grateful and content with the things that we have. When we can be content with what have, then we don’t have to be continually striving for more in order to be happy. Now this may seem like a paradox, and it is. We need to be content with what we have, but always be looking to grow and move forward. We find in joy with appreciating what we have, and yet look forward to what’s ahead.

I think this is a profound lesson. If we can’t be happy and content with what we currently have, then when we get what we think we want, we still won’t be content and happy. By learning to want what we already have, we can be happy about things that already there. It’s an easy want to increase your happiness just by shifting your perspective, and is something that you can do at any moment.

Gratitude also helps us keep an open mind about things. I find that when I’m in a negative headspace that it is much harder to see that there are a lot more options to solving the problems that I’m dealing with. Gratitude and positivity is a choice, and it’s one that helps us widen our field of view rather than diminishing it.

Conclusion

So, are there areas in your life where you are take a dark view of things? Are there situations where you can reframe how you view things so that you see the good in even the darkest of situations? As with most aspects of stoicism, I think it’s important that we find a balance of being realistic, but also choosing how we want to view things. I don’t think we need to be naive about things and not see things as they are, but rather we can see things as they are and still choose to look at things through a more optimistic lens, and do our best to make a better future.


Hello friends! Thank you for listening. Stop by the website at stoic.coffee 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.

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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.

Stuck

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.

Conclusion

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 stoic.coffee 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.

Categories
Coffee Break Health

249 – Strong Body for a Strong Mind

Do you take care of your body? To you treat it like a temple? Do you exercise it and strengthen it as much as your mind? Today I want to talk about how important it is to treat your body as good as, if not better than your mind.

It is impossible to live a pleasant life without living wisely and well and justly, and it is impossible to live wisely and well and justly without living a pleasant life. And the wise man needs to take care of his body just as a farmer takes care of his land.

— Epictetus

The stoics teach us that it is our mind and our perspective which creates our reality, and on this show I talk a lot about understanding our thinking so that we can be the kind of people that we want. We spend a lot of time focusing on the mind. But the other day I was thinking about some of the changes I’ve made to my physical environment that have made a big impact on my life, so today I want to talk less about the mind and more about the body.

It is necessary to care for the body, not for its own sake, but because it is the abode of the soul.

— Musonius Rufus

One of the most important things that we need to remember is that we experience the world physically, that is, through our bodies. It is through the senses that we perceive the world. If we didn’t have a body and senses, there would be no way to experience or interact with the world. The brain is reliant upon the input that it receives from the body. To neglect the body means that we experience the world in a less than optimal way.

The state that our body is in can have a very large impact on our perceptions of the world. If you’re tired or feeling unwell physically, it colors how you view the world. It can have a big impact your mood. It can also lead to poor decision making, which is why we are better served by making important decisions when we are well rested.

Physical Health

I maintain that the first step to freedom is to take care of one’s health. If a man is diseased in body, his mind will also be diseased.

— Seneca

I think that a good number of mental health issues can trace their source to physical health issues. If you aren’t taking care of your body, if you are eating only junk food or not getting the proper nutrition your body needs, it can make it challenging for you to think clearly.

If your body is not in good condition, then you are already starting at a disadvantage. This doesn’t mean that you need to become a gym rat and spend every free moment working out. It does mean that you eat a healthy diet, exercising every day, and getting enough sleep. It also means that we seek help if we have substance abuse issues with alcohol or drugs.

Alcohol

Over the past few months I’ve made number of changes that have impacted my life in a very positive way. The first major change was that over a month ago, I stopped drinking alcohol. I found that I was using it to avoid having to deal with difficult emotional situations and emotions. It had also became an almost nightly habit, though I found that I was drinking more on nights when I was particularly stressed. It also made me more impulsive and less able to manage my emotions and my temper.

Sugar

Around the same time, I decided to change my diet because I was having digestive issues fairly regularly. I stopped eating refined sugars, and replaced them with fresh fruits and vegetables. I’ve paying attention to things that don’t sit well, and avoid them. At times it has felt a bit restrictive, but then one night when I was out for dinner I decided to splurge on chocolate cake, and while it tasted delicious, I suffered for the next two days as my body processed all that sugar.

I had put on weight during the pandemic from drinking soda every day, as well as having desserts fairly often. Just removing alcohol and sugar from my diet has made a quite a difference. I’ve lost 8 pounds in last month. I had made other changes to my diet, but did not lose any weight until I removed them. I have been feeling much more mentally aware. I have a lot less problems with my digestive system, and I just feel better overall. I feel like I’m clean on the inside.

Exercise

The last big change I’ve made is that I’ve been doing 20 minutes of yoga or stretching every morning, as well as a minimum of 20 minutes of more strenuous exercise during the day such as waking, cycling, or rowing. Because a of healing shoulder injury I have not been lifting any weights, but with these exercise I find that I am building muscle. As I lose more weight I can also feel some of the formerly flabby areas of my body starting to tighten up. I also feel more awake and find that my mind and thinking have been much clearer. My mood is improved and I handle stress significantly better.

Sleep

In study after study, science has shown that sleep is one of the keys to good health. I know that when I don’t get enough sleep over an extended period, I’m more prone to catching colds or developing a sinus infection. Unfortunately, sleep is an area where I have been struggling over the years, and especially over the last 3 months. For some reason my body has gotten into a habit of waking up after 4-5 hours and most nights I’m unable to fall back asleep. I’ve been working to get better sleep and some nights I’m more successful than others.

In my quest of a good nights sleep, I have found a few things that increase my chance of a good night sleep. As I mentioned before, I’m eating healthier, reducing alcohol, and exercising everyday. I’ve been heading to bed at a reasonable hour, and I have wind down routine that includes some nice piano jazz, and a few minutes of meditation before my head hits the pillow.

Discipline

Another benefit that we get when we focus on taking care of out physical health, is that we develop more self discipline. If you find that you have problems with mental discipline, then practicing a sport or marshal art or almost any physical activity can help you develop more discipline that can be applied in other areas of your life. I find for me that they go hand in hand. When I’m taking care of myself physically, it is much easier to take care of myself mentally.

Conclusion

Moderation is freedom from that which is disgraceful and servile, while intemperance is the contrary.

— Epictetus

Now, I’m not saying all these things to brag about myself. I’m not saying that you need to stop drinking or enjoying dessert or that you need to hit the gym every day. I’m sharing what I’ve changed in my life that has been helping me live a better life. Many of these are things that I knew that I needed to change for quite some time, but I resisted.

Many of them I resisted for years.

I think that some of these, especially the alcohol, were ways of coping with stress in my life. I think as I made some of the bigger mental health breakthroughs in my life, it made it easier to finally decide to make the changes I knew would be beneficial for me. I didn’t need these things as crutches. I could face my challenges head on.

The stoics speak often of temperance, which means finding moderation and balance in our lives. For me, this means that I focus on keeping my mind and body healthy. It means that I make choices that are more beneficial in and help me feel better in the long run. And I’m finding that as I improve my physical health, I’m enjoying the the fact that I look better, feel better, and think better.

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Coffee Break Conversations

248 – Conversation With Author Crystal Jasckson

Life is full of challenges that can knock you down, but the question is, are you going to stay down? As a romance novelist, Crystal Jackson might seem an odd choice for a guest on a podcast about stoicism, but Crystal has seen her fair share of hard knocks, and has some great lesson to share. We talk about how sometimes the greatest challenges in our lives are also the greatest teachers.

You can find more from Crystal here: https://www.crystaljacksonwriter.com/


Hello friends! Thank you for listening. Stop by the website at stoic.coffee 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.

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Coffee Break

228 – Offended

Are you Offended?
Choose not to be harmed

Choose not to be harmed — and you won’t feel harmed. Don’t feel harmed — and you haven’t been.

—Marcus Aurelius

How often have you been offended by someone? Maybe it was something someone said to you? Maybe they made a comment about your clothes or mocked something that you really liked such as your favorite football team or musician. Maybe it’s one of your siblings who always tries to put you down or get under your skin. Maybe someone on the internet posted a mean comment to a picture you put on social media.

As much as the internet has been one of the greatest tools for learning, commerce, connection, and so many innovations, it still amazes me how awful people can be to each other just because someone holds a different opinion. I have seen people treat others in some pretty horrendous ways just because they had a sign or a t-shirt that was from an opposing political party. It’s as if they forget that there is another human being on the other side of that comment.

What really frightens and dismays us is not external events themselves, but the way in which we think about them. It is not things that disturb us, but our interpretation of their significance.

― Epictetus

In all cases, when we are offended by something, it’s because of the thoughts we have about it and what we make it mean. When we really think about it, when someone says something, it is just them making sounds or writing down symbols on a page. If we didn’t speak the same language and had no idea what they said or wrote, would we still be offended? No, because it is not the words that are offensive, but our thoughts about what was said.

When we take offense at what someone else says, we are blaming them for how we feel, rather than owning the fact that it’s our own thoughts that are creating our emotions. We are letting them control us. The words that others say or write are not things that can physically harm you, but often we see people get so upset by what others say that they will resort to violence. The story that they have told themselves is such that they believe it is worth trying to harm someone else because of those words.

Sometimes people are rude because they are unhappy. They will try to put others down as a way to try and bring themselves up. Others might try to offend us because they are deliberately trying to upset us. It’s a way of trying to controlling other people. When we’re upset, we’re easier to manipulate. We make rash decisions, and become more reactive and less rational in our responses. The more we allow others to provoke us, the more they have control over us. If we can keep this in mind it makes is much easier for us to be less reactive. We know what others are trying to do and in a way can beat them at their own game.

If evil be spoken of you and it be true, correct yourself, if it’s a lie, laugh at it.

—Epictetus

Another thing that can help is to actually listen to what the other person said, and ask yourself, "Is it true?" If it is, why be offended by it if it's true? It simply shows you where you might need some work. If it is not true, then why be offended by it? It is simply someone else's opinion.

Often we get upset about what someone has said because they may hit on some insecurity. We think, "If they see this flaw in us, then maybe there is something to it." We may not want to face up to this part of us. Maybe we’re ashamed about that part of us. Whether deliberately or not, when we feel hurt by things that others say about us is usually because deep down we're afraid they might be right.

Another way to think of it is from one of my favorite scenes in Game of Thrones where Tyrion Lannister is talking to Jon Snow:

Let me give you some advice bastard. Never forget what you are. The rest of the world will not. Wear it like armor, and it can never be used to hurt you.

— Tyrion Lannister

Never be upset at the truth about yourself. You don't have to like it, but you can accept it. Once you have accepted it, then you have the opportunity to change it.

If we are comfortable in our own skin it is really hard for others to offend us. If someone tells George Clooney that they think he's ugly or stupid or that he can't act, do you think that changes what he thinks of himself? I can't say for certain, but I would say with a high degree of accuracy that it probably doesn't. He seems secure in his opinion of himself, so anything someone else has to say has no impact. Even if criticism of his acting comes from someone who is an expert acting coach pointing out where he could improve, it doesn't impact what he thinks of himself.

Not reacting to deliberate provocation is a superpower. If you have the awareness and self-control to not react predictably, there is nothing that can put you off your path. Remember: the only enemy you need to fear is your own self – your lack of awareness and loss of control.

—The Ancient Sage

What, for instance, does it mean to be insulted? Stand by a rock and insult it, and what have you accomplished? If someone responds to insult like a rock, what has the abuser gained with his invective?

—Epictetus

So how can we handle feeling insulted by other people? I think the most important thing to remember is that you offended because of what you make something mean. It’s the thoughts in your head that cause you to feel offended and not what the other person said. Someone can only offend you if you let them. When we take responsibility for our emotions, then we remain on control of ourselves.

Another way is to learn how to be dispassionate about someone else’s opinion about something. And what I mean by that is just simply recognizing that it is just their opinion. It doesn’t mean that you have to do anything about it. You don’t have to change their mind, nor do you have to change yours. It is simply that they have a different thought about something than you do. That is all. Not everyone in the world needs to think the same way as you. It’s also been shown that you’re more likely to change someones opinion if you treat them with kindness rather than trying to convince them the error of their ways.

Being offended and getting upset at others seems to be a part of daily life, especially if you spend much time online, which if you’re listening to this podcast, there’s a good chance that you do. If you find yourself getting angry or upset with others that have a differing opinion that you, just remember, it’s your thoughts that are causing these emotions. By simply choosing not to be offended you have robbed the other person of their victory, and brought a little more equanimity back into your life.


Hello friends! Thank you for listening. Stop by the website at stoic.coffee 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.

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Coffee Break

225 – Be Yourself

Be Yourself
What mask do you wear?

How much of our lives do we spend living in way to please other people? How much unhappiness do we feel in our lives because we’re not being ourselves? Today I want to talk about why it can be really hard to live authentically.

And this, too, affords no small occasion for anxieties – if you are bent on assuming a pose and never reveal yourself to anyone frankly, in the fashion of many who live a false life that is all made up for show; for it is torturous to be constantly watching oneself and be fearful of being caught out of our usual role. And we are never free from concern if we think that every time anyone looks at us he is always taking our measure; for many things happen that strip off our pretense against our will, and, though all this attention to self is successful, yet the life of those who live under a mask cannot be happy and without anxiety. But how much pleasure there is in simplicity that is pure, in itself unadorned, and veils no part of its character! Yet even such a life as this does run some risk of scorn, if everything lies open to everybody; for there are those who disdain whatever has become too familiar. But neither does virtue run any risk of being despised when she is brought close to the eyes, and it is better to be scorned by reason of simplicity than tortured by perpetual pretense.

Seneca

Growing up, I was constantly adjusting and perfecting the persona that I showed to other people. Because I was expected to be a good little mormon boy – we used the term Peter Priesthood – I was constantly making sure that I never really revealed my true thoughts and feelings about a lot of things, depending on the company I was in. I learned how to espouse the “correct” views so that I was able to fit in to the culture I was in. It was only when I spent time with my theater friends outside of church or school that I felt like I was able to be more of my true self.

The biggest problem with this was that I always felt like a fraud. I disagreed with the church on a lot of issues, but because I had been raised to believe that church doctrine was the word of god and it’s leaders were infallible, I felt like there was something wrong with me rather than the teachings. The church’s views on topics ranging from sexuality to science to the treatment of women were thing that just never fit with my own opinions and ideas. Because I was so immersed in the culture, I got pretty good at saying all the right things at the right time.

This was also an issue at home where often I had to hide my true feelings and ideas in order to keep the peace with my father. Learning to navigate his explosive moods to stay safe from his wrath also felt like a tamping down of my own self. It’s taken many years, decades even, to learn how to stand up for my own opinions. Often times I wasn’t even sure what I felt or thought about things or what I really wanted as a person because I had spent so many decades hiding my wants and needs in order to fit in with others and remain a member of the church.

Over time, what this did to me, and what it does to others, is it gives you the message that who you are as a person is not acceptable. Because we all want to fit in, we bury that true self because that self is not okay. We end up miserable because deep down we know that we’re faking it to get along. We’re lying to ourselves and to everyone around us, and that takes a toll on our mental health. We often feel resentful of those around us because we feel like they are the reason that we can’t relax and just be ourselves, when in reality, it’s prison of our own making.

The life of those who live under a mask cannot be happy and without anxiety.

— Seneca

We spend much of our time doing things or acting in a way to fit in with those around you, and this feels disingenuous and fake and not who we really want to be. This is what happens when we are well socialized. We all are trained by our culture of how to fit in and what things are acceptable and what things gain you approval of others. Breaking this kind of thinking and behavior is really hard for most people because from birth we are trained to seek approval. And for most of us, this pretense we’re taught to keep up feels fake, but we’re not sure how to be otherwise.

Recognizing this feeling is where the work starts. Once you start to look around and see what is really going, you have choices. Do you just go with the flow or are you honest with yourself and others about who you really are and what you really want? Do you tell people no when you don’t want to do something? Do you go along with the crowd so as not to offend others? Do you step up and be that person that you want to be regardless of who others want you to be?

These are not easy choices. It feels like so much at stake for stepping up and owning your life. But there is even more at stake if you don’t, mainly, living a life that you won’t regret when it comes to a close.

So how to we break out of this pattern? How do we take off this mask?

It think the first step is to accept yourself for exactly who you are. This is not an easy thing. When you’ve been brought up with all the subtle messages that the person you are is not acceptable, it’s really hard to believe that you are okay. But I will tell you something, you are okay. Do you know how I know that? Because you are here in the planet to be exactly who you are. No one else is just like you, so your job is to be the best you that you can be. Accept all the messy, weird, and quirky bits of you, just like you do with your friends.

Second, spend time with people that accept and encourage you to be yourself. If people don’t like you for being yourself, then they are not your people and that’s okay. Why try to fit in with others that don’t like you? Be around those that you can be honest with. That you can tell your truth to without being shamed or belittled.

Another step that I have found comes from one of my favorite authors, Neil Gaiman. In a commencement speech at the University of Philadelphia, he said, the most important thing we can do in life is to “Make good art.” Why art? Art has always been a way for people to explore facets about themselves. Writing, drawing, sculpting, singing, writing music, whatever it is that you can do, just do it. You can find what makes you unique. And don’t worry if it’s good or not. It’s not about impressing anyone else, it’s just about exploring and making things that are all about you.

What it really comes down to is learning to listen to yourself, knowing what you want, and making choices that suit you best rather than make others happy. You may lose friends and even family if you take that path, but you might just find yourself.


Hello friends! Thank you for listening. Stop by the website at stoic.coffee 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. 🙂

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.

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Coffee Break

223 – Changing Others

Changing Others
Epictetus

Living on this planet with other people can be very challenging at times. If you’re like me, sometimes you have a strong difference of opinion with someone, and you end up in an argument and spend a lot of time and energy trying to change the other persons mind. We see this play out on social media as well where people spend a lot of time and energy trying to debate other people to get them to change. Watching this behavior in myself and others, makes me ask the question:

Why do we spend so much time trying to change other people or expecting that other people will change for us?

We know that we cannot change others, but there’s a part of us that wants the world to change for us. Our brain looks for threats and danger outside of ourselves in order to keep us safe. When we’re uncomfortable, it’s challenging to just sit with those things that are uncomfortable so we look for a cause outside of ourselves. Maybe we don’t like what someone else said, or we disagree with their opinion. We think that if the other person would behave or think differently, then we would be happier. Rather than spending our time and energy looking inside and finding what we control in the situation, we try to change what we think is the cause.

The problem is that we misidentify the cause of our distress. We think the cause is someone or something else, but really it comes down to the story that we’re telling ourself. It’s the meaning that we give to what the other person said or did. We take their actions and words and interpret them to suit the narrative that going on in our minds. We spin what they other person says in a negative or positive light depending out our opinion of them.

One of the main reasons that we may try to change other people is that we want others to think like us. Human beings are very social animals and fitting in with others is very important. It’s part of what helps our survival. If there are more people who think like us, then we feel like our worldview is correct, and we feel safer. We feel like we’re part of how the world is supposed to be. When others disagree with us, we may feel like our worldview is under threat, which causes us to feel uncomfortable or even hostile. When it comes to an opinion that we hold very strongly, we may unconsciously feel fear when something comes along and challenges our beliefs. We don’t like the tension and so we try to change the other persons opinion.

I also think as humans we’re all a little lazy, or more to the point, our brains are lazy tries to be efficient. Taking time to figure out where we might be wrong or to figure out the the things we can control takes time and cognitive energy. It also takes energy to actually control the things we can. If we can get someone else to do the work, then we don’t have to. The problem with expecting others to do this kind of work, and to change for us, is that it makes others resentful, and the changes that we need to make don’t happen. Also, in the long run it means a lot more work for us if we expect others to change for us, we have to somehow convince all those other people to change to fit our worldview.

When someone is properly grounded in life, they shouldn’t have to look outside themselves for approval.

— Epictetus

So how do we work with this? How can we get better about recognizing and staying in a place where we don’t need to change other people in order for us to feel happy?

I think the first thing we need to do is ask ourselves why it is important that we change this other person? What do we get if they change their mind? What happens if they don’t? What are you making it mean if this person has a different opinion? What’s the story you’re telling yourself?

I think a lot of this behavior comes from insecurity. When we are insecure, we need others to agree with us in order for us to feel okay with ourselves. Our ego needs that validation in order for us to feel okay.

When we are comfortable with ourselves, we don’t need others to agree with us. Just as we wouldn’t argue with someone over whether 1 + 1 = 2, if we are really secure with ourselves, we would not feel threatened over someone disagreeing with us.

Don’t argue with people nor insist on showing them truth. Maybe it is you who needs to change your mind. Even if you are right you only incur resentment by trying to correct others.

—The Ancient Sage (@theAncientSage)

We also need to consider the fact that we might be the one who is wrong. Just because you think something and have an opinion about something does not mean that you are correct and the other person is not. When we take the time to really consider someone else’s opinion, we may find some problems with the opinion that we are holding. We would just realize that we had bad information and could adjust accordingly.

Lastly, we need to recognize that when we expect others to change for us, we give our power away because we are basing our comfort or happiness upon someone else changing for us. When we expect others to change for us, we are placing ourselves in the role of a victim. We’re unhappy and won’t feel happy until someone else changes and does what we want them to. Not a good way to to find equanimity.

Learning to let go of our ego and of our need to have other people think like we do can reduce a lot of stress in our lives. When we can listen to and be curious about other peoples opinions without taking it to mean that we’re wrong if we don’t agree with them. We can expand our worldview while at the same time preserve our equanimity.


Hello friends! Thank you for listening. Stop by the website at stoic.coffee 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. 🙂

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.

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Coffee Break

220 – Stoics and Emotions

Stoics and Emotions

Today's episode is about stoics and emotions.

So earlier this week on reddit, in the stoicism subreddit, somebody posted a link to an article in Psychology Today called stoicism as a fad of philosophy. I decided to take the time to read the article and surprisingly I found that my podcast was mentioned in the second paragraph and called my podcast noncommittal, which I take as not an insult, but as very true about what I try to do with this podcast. I do my best to take stoicism and give it to my listeners in such a way that they can apply it in their daily lives. I don't think that you need to commit yourself to being a hardcore stoic one way or the other, but that you can find things within this philosophy that help you to live a better life.

Now the article was okay. There are definitely some problems that I had with the article, although I did appreciate the shout out I guess. The first part she spends a lot of time, I'm sorry, she is Mariska Olivia, I'm sorry if I didn't pronounce that correctly doing the best I can. She is an associate professor of philosophy at the University of Colorado and Denver and the issues that I had with this article was simply that, you know, first off she talks about it as a fad and the reason why this has become so popular right now, is simply because Ryan Holiday is a great marketer and while yes, a lot of people have heard of stoicism because of Ryan Holiday, I think that she's missing a giant point there of why stoicism has really picked up.

For me, I look at stoicism as something that is really filling a number of things that a lot of people need. So for people like me, I just turned 50 this year, if you can believe that! I would be considered part of the Gen-X generation. I grew up as you all know, I grew up mormon and found their religion was something that did not work for me. It was something that actually made my life much more miserable. But there were aspects of religion that were very helpful for me, but they really didn't, unfortunately in my case, outweigh the negatives of being in religion.

I can see that religion as a whole has been very detrimental to a lot of people and it's something that's been very abused and so I think right now there is a lot of need for people to have a kind of moral framework, if you will, to view life through, that doesn't have all of the abuses that go along with it, that we find in traditional religions today. And so for me, I look at stoicism is definitely fulfilling a lot of these needs. And part of the reason why is because it is something that it contains a lot of what I call universal principles, meaning there are things that seem to makes sense no matter where you are or who you are, and there are things that you can try and you know what they work, and that for me is what stoicism is all about.

It's a practical philosophy that actually is something that helps you in your life. It's not just some esoteric, you know, thought idea that people want to sit and argue about, but it's real practical principles about how to live a better life. It's not something that you have to take as dogma. You don't have to take the whole thing and say, I have to live exactly this way. There are just lots of principles that can help you in different aspects of your life, but it's put together in a decent framework, so you have a good foundation to kind of help guide your life when find yourself in challenging situations.

There was another part of her main points of the article that I definitely had a bone to pick, and I wanted to bring that up today. She talks about how stoicism is used to basically get rid of emotions, and she says if you refuse to make a deep emotional investment in anything, you will likely miss the joy that accompanies success, not simply avoiding the pain of failure. She also says that stoicism is thus a bit like those drugs for bipolar disorder that cause emotions to flatline and help avoid the lows at the cost of sacrificing the highs. And this is something I really disagree with because for me, stoicism is not about divorcing yourself from emotions or turning off all of your emotions. Stoicism for me is about understanding how your emotions are created, how your emotions affect you, how the thoughts in your head, the stories that you tell yourself create a lot of these emotions and how by understanding these things, you can manage your emotions better.

I mean, I see stoics as people who not who are not avoiding emotions but are so comfortable with emotions that they can move in and out of them really easy. They can sit in those heavy, dark, challenging emotions and they don't act like everybody else does or how how you think they should. And that's really what it comes down to is that stoics take their time so that they can be in charge of their emotions. They don't respond like a lot of people do in the situation.

So Seneca did a really good job of explaining this when he said, “Everyone faces up more bravely to a thing for which he has long prepared himself sufferings. Even being withstood if they have been trained for in advance, those who are unprepared on the other hand are panic stricken by the most insignificant happenings.”

I mean a good metaphor for this is that if you come upon a fire and somebody's house is on fire, usually the people who are trying to escape are kind of freaking out. They are doing their best to get out of the house as fast as they can. And most people in a dangerous situation like that are are working off of pure instinct. They're doing their best to just get out of there as fast as possible. But if you are a firefighter and you are well trained and you know how to handle yourself in a firefighting situation, you're going to come up on a situation like this and your reaction, your response is going to be very very different for a number of reasons. One, because you've trained because you're comfortable in that situation, you're comfortable in this situation that brings a lot of fear and anxiety to your average person.

A stoic is very much like this. They're okay with uncomfortable emotions. In fact they can sit with them and they practiced being okay with these dark emotions. So they're not repressing these emotions, they're just learning how to sit with them and deal with them in a much healthier way rather than allowing these emotions to overtake them and cause them to do things that they might regret later on.

I mean the stoics feel their emotions just as much as anyone else. When someone dies, for a stoic, they grieve just as much as the next person. They just don't let that grief overcome them to the point of inaction. Stoics strive to be emotionally mature. This means that rather than reacting like most people would, stoics practice mindfulness in a way that allows them to see the situation for what it really is and act in the way that's going to be most helpful.

The way I see it as a stoic is kind of one step ahead of the game. They are not easily upset by things because when they come upon a situation, they’re so mindful of their own emotions that they're able to, again, manage them in a way that's going to be most beneficial for everybody in the situation. It doesn't mean they turn them off. It just means that they can step past those emotions, they can step past that fear, they can step past that anger and act in a way that's going to be more helpful than giving in to those emotions.

Because of this mindfulness, when things are challenging ,when there's a crisis, they know that losing their shit would cause more harm than good. And so they use their rationality to serve those around them rather than being upset about the awfulness of their circumstances. They recognize that they always have a choice to do something of value in any situation. Even if those choices are very limited. A stoic takes their time to examine and get to know their emotional states and to be curious about what they're feeling. They learn to sit with these emotions, especially when those emotions are uncomfortable. They don't repress those emotions, but they get comfortable with them.

They're able to sit in any emotional state, knowing that it will most likely be short lived and that it can change in an hour or even just a few minutes. So the stoics have given us a lot of tools to be able to manage our emotions better. And one of the biggest tools, you know, we've talked about this before is the idea of negative visualization or premeditato malorum, which is to sit down and think about in any situation, what's the worst thing that can happen And this can be applied in all kinds of situations.

If you're planning a trip, sometimes sitting down and thinking about what's the worst thing that can happen canan do a number of things. It can help you to notice things that you may not have thought of before. It can help you be more prepared when those things happen.

Another way that it's used is that we imagine what it would be like for those that we love to not be here with us, to have died. And we understand that it's kind of like a pre-grieving process and we we feel that feeling of what it would be like if this person were no longer in our life, we feel that grief already. And part of why this is such a powerful thing is that we get ourselves used to feeling that that kind of sadness. But then when we let go of that, when we recognize that this is just something that we're creating in our minds and we let it go, we appreciate that person because they're still alive and we appreciate them even more in our life and how much they mean to us.

And, for me, we actually deepen our feelings and we appreciate the fact that they are still with us now and so that we have more joy when we're around them. So that practice is a simple practice of imagining what it would be like to be without those we love can help deepen our relationships and our feelings about those person.

Now, don't get me wrong. I think that anytime somebody criticizes stoicism or tries to point out things that are probably wrong with stoicism, I think that's really helpful. And in this case I read the article and even though I disagreed with it, I do find that there are people who oftentimes use stoicism as a tool to repress their emotions and that's not something that stoicism really should be used for.

But I think that we should look at these criticisms and say, “Is that something that's really happening?” And one of the things that I have noticed on reddit in the stoicism subreddit, is that there are quite a few people who talk about using stoicism as a way to limit their emotions as a way to stop feeling a lot of things. And these are usually people who are new to stoicism and they're usually people who are probably in a lot of pain, and sometimes kind of numbing out that pain can be helpful for a time in order for them to get to a place where they can deal with those emotions better.

But if you're using stoicism as a way to simply avoid all negative emotions and to not feel them, then you're kind of missing the point, because stoicism is very much about being like a kayaker on a river. And if you want to say that a river is, is all these swirling emotions going along, then a skillful kayaker doesn't avoid the rapids doesn't avoid the currents. In fact, they really enjoy them and they easily navigate over these currents and rapids, and in some cases, even some waterfalls, but they're comfortable in these tumultuous conditions. They don't try to avoid them, but they handle them with grace and skill and that's how we want to be as stoics. We want to be able to move in and out of these emotions and handle them properly and handle them in a way that's useful without setting them down because those emotional things are what make us human.

Getting comfortable with our emotions is part of being a stoic and just part of being able to live a good life as a human being. Strong emotions aren't something that should be feared but are something that should be understand and should be managed well. And I think stoicism is definitely one of the things that has given us tools to do that better in our lives.

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Coffee Break

219 – Acceptance of Others

Acceptance of Others

When you wake up in the morning, tell yourself: the people I deal with today will be meddling, ungrateful, arrogant, dishonest, jealous and surly. They are like this because they can't tell good from evil.

— Marcus Aurelius

Last week I talked about accepting yourself for exactly who you are, including all the things you like and more importantly the things you don’t like about yourself. This week I want to talk about accepting others for exactly who they are.

Amor Fati is the acceptance and the embracing of your fate, or what life brings your way. We usually think of applying this to just the events and circumstances of life, but have you ever thought of applying this to other people? For me I think of Amor Fati as loving everything in your life, especially those things that you don’t have control over, and one thing we don’t have control of is other people.

I think we can see that most of the problems in our lives and throughout humanity have been one party tries to impose their will and ideas of how they think others should be. We see this in personal relationships and the world as a whole. This is really what the basis of all conflict is.

Why is it that we think we have the right to determine what it best for other people? I think the biggest problem we have with getting along with other people is that we forget that they are not here to do what we want them to. They are not here to look out for our best interest. They are just like us – looking out for their best interest.

What if we just accepted that everyone is looking out for themselves, just like we are? What if we realized that they are just as selfish as we are, and could let go of the idea that other people should act in the way that we want them to? I mean if you did that you would not feel resentful of others. You would never be surprised at anything they did. You would just accept the fact that they are not going to behave how you think they should.

And since we’re working on accepting ourselves for exactly who we are, we have to be honest about the fact that we’re looking out for our own best interests as well. I mean we may say things in such a way that it makes us look better and that we’re not being selfish, but if we’re really honest with ourselves, we’re just looking out for what we want and that’s okay. It’s part of self preservation. It’s just we need to be cognizant when our needs step on the needs of others and work on communicating and negotiating those things. But that is really hard because it means that we have to own up to being exactly who we are and honest about what we really want.

We want them to accept us for exactly who we are, so the better we can be at accepting them for who they are, then we both have the space and support to be ourselves.

When we accept others for who they are, it does not mean that we have to approve of everything they do. We don’t have to like everything they do. We just have to recognize that they are what they are, and to be aware of how our expectations of how we think they should be color how we see them. We make all kinds of judgments base on our expectations, and unless they have explicitly agreed to them, we need to be aware of how we are judging them.

It does not mean that they can ignore our boundaries and behave in ways that are not respectful. We need to clearly communicate with others when they do this, and let them know what is and is not acceptable. If they cross our boundaries that we have communicated then we need to be sure to respect ourselves, and let them know what our response will be.

It does mean that we are gracious with others. When they make mistakes, we give them some space to apologize and make amends. We don’t stop loving them when they annoy us. It means that we can still love them even if they are not perfect.

We also need to encourage others to respect their own boundaries. Often we have friends who don’t think they have the right to stand up for themselves, so being conscientious that we respect their boundaries is important. This helps them to feel like they deserve respect, and we have integrity for respecting their boundaries.

It’s kinda like Shrek and Donkey. They certainly annoy each other, but they still love and support and help each other, even if they’re frustrated with each other. They will never leave the other one hanging when they are in need.

Recognize that we cannot control others, so we let them be themselves. This is not always easy because we have expectations of how we want them to be. And this goes for everyone – family, romantic partners, friends, strangers – everyone.

I think what it really comes down to is that we all want to just be accepted for who we are and to find our place in this world, and the least, or maybe the best that we can do is offer the same to others.

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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.

Perspective

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.

Conclusion

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 stoic.coffee 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.

Categories
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 stoic.coffee 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.

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Coffee Break Control

205 – Two Sides of the Same Coin

Some things are within our power, while others are not. Within our power are opinion, motivation, desire, aversion, and, in a word, whatever is of our own doing; not within our power are our body, our property, reputation, office, and, in a word, whatever is not of our own doing.

— Epictetus

One topic that I revisit on the podcast repeatedly is how important it is to control the things that we can’ and let go of the things that we can’t. For me, this is one of the most important lessons we can learn in our lives. In this episode, I want to talk about how we be more mindful of what we can, and what we cannot control.

What Do You Control?

According to the stoics, we control very little. Mostly, we can control our thoughts and perspective, our choices, and our actions. Everything else is outside of our control. For many people, the idea that we are so small, powerless, and insignificant is an unsettling thought.

Two Sides

I like to think of control as two sides of the same coin. If you are controlling the things that you can, and letting go of the things that you can’t, you are being effective and respecting yourself. You are the master of yourself. If you are trying to control the things that you can’t, like other people, or the circumstances that you are facing, then you are not controlling what you can, and you are wasting time and energy. You can’t control yourself and external things at the same time. You can do one or the other.

Blame

Many people are very unsettled because they have so little power in their lives and it makes them very anxious and angry. They want to feel like they have more control. They don’t like the fact that they have so little power in the world to influence things. They feel like their lives are not under their control. The most interesting thing is that most people I’ve met who feel this way ironically choose to blame other people for all the things they are unhappy about. They may blame their partner, their parents, immigrants, the government, the weather, bad luck, the devil,… and the list goes on. Rather than do the hard work of being responsible for themselves, their emotions, their choices, they blame other people.

Victim

When we choose not to control the things that we can, we are allowing ourselves to become a victim. When we have options in front of us we could take, but we don’t make a choice or take an action, then we are at least partially responsible for our situation. And I say partially, because we may be in a situation that we don’t like, but may have done nothing to get ourselves there. If we are in a car accident because of someone else’s recklessness, we may have an injury that we are not responsible for, but how we approach our recovery is up to us. We may not recover back to full health because there are things outside of our control, but how we see and act in our lives despite these challenges is always our choice.

Fate

So what about things that we don’t have control over? This is where the idea of control dovetails with Amor Fati, that we love our fate, meaning that fate, circumstance, life happens to all of us, whether we like it or not. We don’t have control over what life sends our way. We have control over how we respond. It may be true that you a victim of circumstance, and that you are suffering from something out of your control. Natural disasters, political upheavals, and wars, for example, are all things that have profound impacts on us we have no control over. These things also limit the choices and opportunities that someone may have. I consider myself lucky that I have never had to live through any of these kind of events, which makes me even more empathetic to those that have had to suffer through them. I hope that if I were ever tested with any of these, that I could put stoic teachings into practice.

Other People

One of the most frustrating things we struggle with in life is other people. If other people just acted in the way that we wanted, life would be so much easier! But that’s the thing, it never does, and people don’t always act the way want them to. When we learn to let go of trying to control other people and their thoughts and actions, and focus on showing up in the world how we want to, then we can let go of what other people do or think. We can focus on what we do and think. We can make our choices, and take actions that are inline with our values, regardless of what other people are doing, and we can be the person who we want to be no matter what is happening around us.

The chief task in life is simply this: to identify and separate matters so that I can say clearly to myself which are externals not under my control, and which have to do with the choices I actually control. Where then do I look for good and evil? Not to uncontrollable externals, but within myself to the choices that are my own.

—Epictetus

Mindfulness

Since we have so little that we control, what can we do to maximize our influence? What can we do to be more effective with the things we have control over? I think that much of it comes from mindfulness – that we are in control of, and aware of, our own minds. If we are not paying attention to the thoughts in our minds, it makes it very challenging to understand why we make the choices and take the actions that we do. Meditation and journaling are still two of the best methods for understanding the workings of our own minds.

Practice

When we’re in a challenging situation, we need to understand how our mind works, and that we have practiced how we want to respond in any situation. When I was first starting out college, I was enrolled in the musical theater program. I wanted to be an actor and a singer, and a big part of being good at that was rehearsal. When cast in a play, there were weeks of rehearsals in order to perform our best. Sometimes it was very challenging. Long days of school followed by running lines and practicing dance numbers or staging was exhausting. And the thing was, that we certainly did not get it right the first few times. Often, we would have practiced a dance number dozens of times, night after night, to the point where I would almost be annoyed by the music and the dance moves. But as soon as we hit opening night and show started, there was an excitement night after night as the hard work that we put in showed up on stage. And even then, each performance got a little better.

When we take the time to think through and imagine how we want to behave in certain scenarios, it can go a long way towards helping us develop better responses in difficult situations. You can do this in journaling by writing out how we want to act in a given situation that comes up in your life.

Boundaries

One of the best ways for us to exert control over what we have control over is to set boundaries. Setting boundaries is a way for us to clearly explain to others, and ourselves, what we will and will not accept. It teaches others how we want to be treated, and it helps us maintain our own inner equanimity. Boundaries are not ultimatums, but are ways to clarify how we wish to be treated, and when others are not willing to respect those boundaries, we have set clear responses of what actions we will take. We may excuse ourselves and leave the situation. We may limit the time that we spend them. We may cut off contact altogether. These are all about communicating what we need and will accept, and following through with those commitments to respect ourselves.

Values

When we are clear about our values, and the kind of person who we want to be, it makes it easier to show up in the world the way we want. When we have decided who we are and are very clear in our mind about who we are, then what other people do and what circumstances we find yourself in matter very little. We are who we want to be; we uphold those values, and stand by our principles, regardless of what others do. If our values and actions change base upon others, then we are not in control of ourself. We are allowing them to control us.

Conclusion

When you are facing a challenging situation, recognizing what you have control over and acting upon those things is not a simple task. It is something that you will probably fail at. I know I do often. But when I take the time to think through the kind of person who I want to be, and imagine and rehearse how I want to handle myself, I usually do a much better job. It really comes down to knowing yourself, recognizing what you can control, and taking actions that align with who you want to be.


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. You'll meet your fellow Stoics, and have a place where you can share your life experiences and what you've learned along the way. Also stop by the website at stoic.coffee where you can sign up for our newsletter, and buy some great looking shirts and hoodies at the Stoic Coffee Shop. Also, 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.

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Coffee Break death Time

202 – Life Is Long If You Know How To Use It

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“While we wait for life, life passes.”

— Seneca

Time is the most important, the most in demand resource that we have in life. Are you spending yours wisely or do you let it go to waste? Today I want to talk about time, and how we can take some steps to be mindful of how we spend it.

“It is not that we have a short time to live, but that we waste a lot of it. Life is long enough, and a sufficiently generous amount has been given to us for the highest achievements if it were all well invested. But when it is wasted in heedless luxury and spent on no good activity, we are forced at last by death’s final constraint to realize that it has passed away before we knew it was passing. So it is: we are not given a short life but we make it short, and we are not ill-supplied but wasteful of it… Life is long if you know how to use it.”

— Seneca

How Much Time?

The most finite resource that each of us has is our time. We can always make more money, but making more time is not something that any of us can do. We only have a finite number of hours in our life, and we don’t even know how many we truly have. Which is all the more reason we should work on spending our time more wisely.

“Were all the geniuses of history to focus on this single theme, they could never fully express their bafflement at the darkness of the human mind. No person would give up even an inch of their estate, and the slightest dispute with a neighbor can mean hell to pay; yeta we easily let others encroach on our lives — worse, we often pave the way for those who will take it over. No person hands out their money to passersby, but to how many do each of us hand out our lives! We’re tightfisted with property and money, yet think too little of wasting time, the one thing about which we should all be the toughest misers.”

— Seneca, “On the Shortness of Life,”

Wasting Time

What are the time-suckers in your life? How much time do you spend on social media? How much time do you spend on watching Netflix on a given night? None of these things are bad in and of themselves. I enjoy good movies and art because those are things that I enjoy in this life. Life doesn’t need to be so serious and all about work, but we need to be thoughtful about how we spend our time, just as we should be thoughtful about how we spend our money. For example, I limit my time on Facebook since it such an easy rabbit hole to fall into. I can waste hours just scrolling and trying to stay up on everyone’s posts, soI limit myself to about 15-20 minutes a day to catch up with friends and see what’s happening in their lives.

When I was in college, I saw a talk given by movie critic Micheal Medvid. While I don’t see eye to eye with him on a lot of things, he said something that really stuck with me. He said talked about how at the time the average American watched an average of 28 hours of TV a week. And this was before we had Facebook or Netflix. He talked about the fact that it’s not that there isn’t enough quality media to watch. There’s plenty of good material. It’s that we lose a lot of our lives if we’re immersed in that much TV. We miss family connections. We miss out on living our own lives when we live by proxy of watching someone else’s life, real or fictional.

Intentionality

I want you to ask yourself, “what do I want to accomplish in my life?”. Do you know what that is? When you know that, every choice you make then becomes a simple question: “Does this get me closer to the vision of my life?” When you have a clear filter of what you want, it makes it easier to decide. Be aware though, once you know your purpose, there will be times when you have to pass opportunities that seemed more fun but do not help to fulfill the vision and purpose of your life.

But to be sure, it doesn’t need to be all about work and achieving your vision. I think part of having a good and happy life is to choose things from time to time that enhance your life that have nothing to do with your purpose of life. Watch films just for fun. Read books that are guilty pleasures. Have variety in your life and make sure that you enjoy the pleasures of being human! What it really comes down to is being clear and deliberate about the things that you choose to spend your time on. It comes to making sure that you really think about each “yes” and “no”.

Priority

Multi tasking is not really something we can do as humans, and yet we continue to think that we can do more than one thing at a time. But for me, the question is why? Why would you want to focus on multiple things? When you are not focused on the task at hand, then you are not deeply immersed in what you are doing. You do it less well, take longer to do it, and can easily miss out on some of the more subtle aspects of the task. I know that for me when I’m writing or working on music, the more focused I am, the more I enjoy the work, and the better my work is. I’m able to be more creative, come up with more interesting ideas, and discover concepts that I would have missed if I had not been immersed in my work.

I often hear the term that you have to “set your priorities”. The thing is, you can’t have priorities. Priority means “fact or condition of coming first in importance or requiring immediate attention”, meaning the concept is singular – at any given time, there can only be one priority. You may have a hierarchy of tasks on your todo list, but there can be only one priority at a time.

So what is your priority? This is going to be different for everyone. For some, family is their priority. For others, it may be their work. Others it may be service to a cause. There is nothing that dictates what your priority should be. Each person needs to decide for themselves what is most important for them. And why is important to have your priority figured out at any given moment? Because if you aren’t clear about what you are trying to focus on, it’s very easy to get distracted, and to get off track. If you don’t have a clear vision of where you want to go, then you’ll end up exactly where aim – nowhere.

And the thing is, it’s going to vary for each person. Everyone has different things that are of more or less importance than others. And we need to understand that what we find important is not going to be the same for others. And that’s okay. If everyone had the exact same priority, we’d have a very much less interesting world to live in. Understanding what your priority is at any given moment can help guide you in focusing on the things that are most rewarding.

Core Values

One of the areas that can help you choose what your priority is at any given moment is by understanding your core values. I’ve talked a lot about figuring out what your core values are in order to help you understand what should be at the top of your list. Knowing what is important to you and filtering things through the lens of your core values can help you quickly determine what is worth your time and effort and what you bump off your todo list.

Changes

As you move through the different stages of life, you’ll find that the things that were important to you in your teen years will be far different from those in your twenties. Those things that seemed so important in your twenties will change dramatically in your thirties. Every stage of life is space of learning new things. You’ll have different responsibilities and different things competing for your time. You’ll find that some things you thought were so important when you were in college seem ridiculous when you’ve you look back on them 10 years later. As we learn and grow as people, we’re always going to be changing.

Indecision

When we don’t know what we want to achieve in our lives, we can easily fall into a space of indecision. We get suck on trying to find the “right” path and often find ourselves with many interesting choices and unsure which way to go. I have often struggled with deciding where to focus my time outside of work. For a long time I would go back and forth between my different hobbies, choosing to focus on one for a while and then another. I felt guilty about it for a while, but looking back on how things have evolved in my life over the past few years, I wish that I would have been more gentle with myself and just enjoyed what I was working on. I was so worried about being successful at what I was doing that I didn’t always enjoy it while I was doing it. I can see now that switching back and forth was actually what I needed because, at certain times, I need different things in my life. I also needed to experiment with my different hobbies and see what worked and what was fulfilling. I think that is why I taking a year and a half off from the podcast was actually really helpful for me. It took the pressure off, so when I returned, I returned to it with pleasure because I missed the process of creating episodes and the personal growth that it helped me with.

If you’re in this place of indecision, that’s okay. What I would suggest is that you just do something. Even if you don’t know exactly what you want to do, just do something that seems interesting or fulfilling. You don’t have to be successful at it for it to be a good thing in your life. Focusing on being successful at something can take the enjoyment out of doing something. Not everything has to lead to some accomplishment, and you can always change your mind. Just doing something you truly love for the joy and pleasure of it as part of being human!

Conclusion

Anytime is a good time for us to look at what we’re spending our time on in life. Taking time to be sure that the things we’re spending our time on are moving us forward towards the kind of life we want to have is something we should do on a regular basis. By taking the time to evaluate if the goals that we have line up with our priority and our core values, we can be better at choosing those activities that enhance our lives. We can be sure to use our most precious resource wisely.


Hello friends! Thank you for listening. If you like what you hear, head on over to patreon.com/stoicoffee and help support this podcast by becoming a patron. Also stop by the website at www.stoic.coffee where you can sign up for our newsletter, and buy some great looking shirts and hoodies at the Stoic Coffee Shop. Also, 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.

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Coffee Break death

201 – You May Leave This Life at Any Moment

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“You may leave this life at any moment: have this possibility in your mind in all that you do or say or think.”

— Marcus Aurelius

Do you think about death? Are you afraid of death? Do you take the time to think about what the world will be like when you are no longer here? Today I want to talk about why death is so important, and how when we avoid thinking about death, we are missing out on one of the best tools to live a fulfilling life.

“Death is not an evil. What is it then? The one law humankind has that is free of all discrimination.”

—Seneca

Memento Mori

The concept of Memento Mori, to remember or think of death, is important in stoicism. Because stoicism is about facing the challenges of life head on, to ignore death is to ignore one of the most fundamental truths of life: that one day, each of us will die. In fact, one thing that every person in this world has in common is that they too will die.

Most of us have a fear of death. This is not a bad thing. If we are to survive in this world, then having a healthy fear of death is one thing that helps us avoid things that are hazardous to us. But at some point, each of us has to face up to our own mortality, and the sooner that we can do that, I think the more rich your life can be.

“Stop whatever you’re doing for a moment and ask yourself: Am I afraid of death because I won’t be able to do this anymore?”

—Marcus Aurelius

Why are we afraid to die?

There are many reasons to be afraid of death, but until you know what you fear, you’ll never be able to overcome that fear. Maybe you’re afraid of all the things you’ll miss in life when you die. If I were to die today, I’d miss the experience of my kids growing into adults. I’d miss watching them discover the world, and create the kind of lives that they want to live. I’d miss kitchen discussions about life and dad jokes and random TikTok videos.

Maybe you are afraid of the unknown, that you don’t know know what happens after we die. Maybe you are afraid that there is nothing after this life. I can understand fear, but if we consider things rationally, if there is nothing after this life, then you will not be aware of it. If there is something after we die, then that will be another adventure for us.

There are many more reasons why we fear death, but until we face those reasons, we will also be afraid of living.

“Let each thing you would do, say, or intend, be like that of a dying person.”

—Marcus Aurelius

What is Impotant?

The main reason that the stoics wanted to make sure that we remember death, is that it death is a great clarifier. It is a great filter for the things that are important and the things that aren’t. If we can pause from time to time and ask ourselves if we died right now, would this be something we’d be okay with doing with our last moments on earth? And I don’t mean that it has to be something crazy like skydiving, but it can help us change our perspective about what is important, and take action on what we have control over.

For example, say that you’re having a heated argument with someone you care about. If you died right then, would you want that to be the last thing that you do? Would you want them to have that as the last memory of you? Using the filter of Memento Mori, can help you make a different and more productive choices, and ones that you will be much happier with.

“Choose to die well while you can; wait too long, and it might become impossible to do so. “

—Gaius Musonius Rufus

Die Well

The first time I read that quote, I didn’t really understand what Rufus meant. I’ve never seen those stoics as people that were out to die, so how would you die well? So, I’ve been reading an interesting book called The Way and the Power by Fredrick J. Lovret. It’s about Japanese swordsmanship, and to be honest, it’s a challenging and fascinating book. Having grown up around violence, I’ve been on the side of non-violence, and the book is all about samurai, their dedication to the art of war, and living and dying by the sword. Every samurai understood that by choosing the way of the sword, they were also choosing their death by the sword. For them, death was a fact of life and they relished they would die in glory, facing death head on and the only terrible death was one without honor, such as cowardice or treachery.

Each time they went into battle, they had a mental exercise of imagining they were already dead. They had already accepted their death so they would fight ferociously because they were not there to protect their lives, but to give their lives and advance the goal they had pledged themselves to. If they came out of the battle alive, then it was as if they had been reborn, and they had another chance to fight for the cause they pledged their lives to. If they died, then it was a good death, because they fought for a cause they believed in, and they had fought with honor.

“It is not death that a man should fear, but rather he should fear never beginning to live.”

—Marcus Aurelius

Quality Over Quantity

For me, the biggest reason we should remember death is so that we can use it as a reminder to focus on the quality of life, not the quantity. Since you never know when you’re going to die, focus on making good use of the time you have. Focus on the things that are important to you, and let go of the things that don’t improve the quality of your life.

I think that when you overcome your fear of death, you also overcome your fear of living. Fear drives how much of your life. How many things to you do, or keep doing because you’re afraid? How many times have you stayed in a relationship or a continued working at a job because you were afraid? People who have had near-death experiences often lose their fear of death. When they have already faced their ultimate fear, they recognize that they have a second chance, and they do their best to take full advantage of it. They get rid of the things in life that don’t work for them. They appreciate every moment they have, and step up and own their choices and take actions to create the life that they want.

We can apply this in all kinds of areas of life. Maybe you’re spending a lot of time and energy focusing on material possessions that take up time and resources, but bring little joy to your life. You might have lots of stuff, but does it serve you in living the life you want? Clearing out the unnecessary things in your life can free up time and energy to focus on the important things.

For relationships, there are many times that we will put a lot of time and energy into relationships that are ultimately unsatisfying or even damaging. We may feel like we don’t want to walk away because we have put in that time and energy. We may also feel obligated with family members that we have to put up with their poor behavior. But if we’re clear about the kind of life that we want, we control the things that we can. We put up clear boundaries or end those relationships that damage us. Life is too short to waste on people that will not respect us and our boundaries.

We can apply these ideas to our careers or the organizations that we work for. Working a job that you hate or at a company that holds ideals counter to your own can really be a constant drain on your mental health. Just like setting good boundaries or removing damaging relationships, we can do the same things with our careers and work environments.

Conclusion

When you dedicate time to removing your fear of death, which for many is their greatest fear, then you are more willing to live your life fearlessly. You’ll take those risks. You’ll pursue the goals you want. You’ll step up and take control of the things you can. You’ll more easily let go of the things you can’t. You will be governed by your will, your choices, not by fear. Don’t worry about how to live longer- worry about how to live better.


Hello friends! Thank you for listening. If you like what you hear, head on over to patreon.com/stoicoffee and help support this podcast by becoming a patron. Also stop by the website at www.stoic.coffee where you can sign up for our newsletter, and buy some great looking shirts and hoodies at the Stoic Coffee Shop. Also, 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.

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Coffee Break

200 – With Great Responsibility Comes Great Power

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“The responsibility is all yours. No one can stop you from being honest or straightforward.”

— Marcus Aurelius

Do you own your actions? Do you graciously accept the consequences of your choices? When you make a mistake do you try to cover it up? Today I want to talk about the idea that to have more control over your life, you need to accept responsibility for everything you do.

“There is only one basic human right, the right to do as you damn well please. And with it comes the only basic human duty, the duty to take the consequences.”

— P. J. O’Rourke

Blame

How often do we blame our behavior on something outside of ourselves? For example, maybe we tell a person we’re arguing with that if they had not done or said something then we would not have gotten angry? And the thing is, our language, at least English, is full of phrases that help reinforce this way of thinking. For example, how many times have you said that someone “made you angry” or “something upset you”? Do they really have the power to turn your emotions on or off?

We even see this in our leaders and public figures. I mean how many times have we seen a politician make up all kings of excuses or use phrases like “mistakes were made” as a way to distance themselves from a bad situation? Even worse is when they try to blame a whole group of people, such as immigrants, a racial group, or other political party for why things are wrong. Part of leadership is to step up and take responsibility.

Another way that we avoid responsibility is when we say we “had no choice” to do what we did. We always have a choice. We may not like the choices that we have before us, but we always have a choice. Every time we point to some reason outside ourselves of why we made a choice, we are reacting and not responding. Every time we blame something outside of ourselves, we give up control and lessen our power in our own lives. When we own up to every time we make a choice, and we accept the responsibility, we gain some power.

“Most people do not really want freedom, because freedom involves responsibility, and most people are frightened of responsibility.”

— Sigmund  Freud

Why do we Shift Blame?

Why do we blame others for our mistakes? Why do we shift the blame for things outside of ourselves? One reason is we don’t like to look at our own shortcomings. Our ego doesn’t like the fact that we might not be as great as we think we are, and I’ll tell you something – you aren’t as perfect as you think you are. And that’s okay. You don’t need to be perfect.

Another reason is that it is just easier to blame someone else because you don’t have to repair things. You don’t have to fix what you messed up. You can just blame it on someone else, and by doing so, you don’t have to put in any work. You don’t have to make amends or change what you’re doing.

Shifting blame can also give you an excuse to continue with your unacceptable behavior. If the reason for your behavior is outside of yourself, then there is nothing you can do to fix it, so you can carry on with your shitty behavior.

What Happens When We Avoid Responsibility?

When we don’t take responsibility for the things that happen in our lives, then we don’t have control of our lives. We are always being acted upon, making ourselves helpless, and choosing to be victims. When we take responsibility for our lives, then we are in control of our lives. The more responsibility we take for ourselves, the more power we have. External things have much less control over us.

One of the worst side effects of avoiding responsibility is damage it causes to personal relationships. When people feel like you are not taking responsibility for your feelings and actions and that you blame them or always have excuses, it erodes trust. When we accept responsibility for ourselves, then others can rely on us to pull our weight, and they're usually more willing to step up and help when we can’t.

Another downside to shifting blame is that it damages our careers. If we’re always making excuses and never stepping up and taking responsibility for our part when things don’t go to plan, then our colleagues at work can’t rely on us. They can’t trust that we’ll step up and accept responsibility for our mistakes, and help fix those mistakes.

“A person conquers the world by conquering themselves.”

— Zeno of Citium

Great Power

For those familiar with Spider-Man, one of the most iconic sayings in the Spiderverse comes from Peter Parker’s Uncle Ben. As a parental figure and role model for Peter, Uncle Ben tells Peter,

“With great power comes great responsibility.”

— Uncle Ben, Spider-Man

When Peter gets his Spidey powers, he uses this teaching as a guide for trying to use his power for good, and to step up when things are tough. And it is true – when you have great power, you have great responsibility. We see that Marcus Aurelius embraced this philosophy as emperor. He saw himself as a servant to his people, and not as a king to be served.

I want to take that idea though, and flip it on its head

“With great responsibility comes great power.”

The more we take responsibility for our thoughts, emotions, choices, and actions, the more control we have ourselves. The more control we have over ourselves, the more we can focus on being useful to others. The more we take on, the more power we have. If we are constantly leaving messes for others to clean up, then people won’t trust us, and the less they will want to work with us.

If you want to have great power in this life, take on more responsibility, especially for your own thoughts, choices, and actions. Build a resilient foundation, so you can take on bigger challenges. When shit gets hard, you’ll be able to stick things out rather than falling apart when a challenge comes your way. If you are constantly shifting blame for things outside yourself, then you are never actually fixing the problems and issues in your life.

Own It

So how do we become more responsible for our lives?

First, we accept that we blame things outside of ourselves. (See what I did there?) If we can acknowledge that we shift the blame, then we notice when we do it.

We listen to how we speak. If we say something like, “I did this because John made me angry”, we’re putting the blame for our feelings and actions on someone else.

We stop complaining. When we complain, we’re blaming our unhappiness on things outside of ourselves. Plus, no one likes to hear you complain.

We stop making excuses. Every time we make an excuse, we are avoiding responsibility. For example, if we’re late for dinner, don’t complain about traffic. Own that you didn’t leave enough time. The traffic may have been bad, but we own our part in not adding some time into our travel plan. We own the things we can control.

We keep our promises. Now why is this one important? When we come up with excuses because we failed to keep our promises and commitments, we’re trying to get out of being held responsible. The more we can set and keep our commitments, the more others trust us, and the more we self respect we have for ourselves.

Know what you want in life. If you know what you want in your life, you know the life you want to live, and you act accordingly. Your actions are in line with who you want to be. You accept responsibility for what happens because you are owning choices and actions and the consequences.

Conclusion

Taking responsibility for your choices and actions is hard, but the more you work on doing so, the more power that you have over your life. It means that others can trust you. By owning your mistakes, taking responsibility for your choices and actions, you take control of your life.


Hello friends! Thank you for listening. If you like what you hear, head on over to patreon.com/stoicoffee and help support this podcast by becoming a patron. Also stop by the website at www.stoic.coffee where you can sign up for our newsletter, and buy some great looking shirts and hoodies at the Stoic Coffee Shop. Also, 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.

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Coffee Break

199 – What Are You Thinking?

What are you thinking?

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How aware are you of what you are thinking? What you are feeling? Most of us like to think that we are pretty aware of what’s going on in our minds or what emotion is currently driving us. I mean, we’re the one inside of our mind, so we should know what we’re thinking or feeling, right? Well, not always. Often, the thoughts and emotions inside my head are busy, confusing, conflicting, and overwhelming. So today we’re going to talk about the most important mental skill you can develop, awareness.

“Objective judgment, at this very moment. Unselfish action, now at this very moment. Willing acceptance – now at this very moment – of all external events. That’s all you need.”

— Marcus Aurelius

One of the most important principles of Stoicism is that we are in control of our thoughts, choices, and actions. But if we’re not even aware of the thoughts that are going on in our head, how are we in control of what we are thinking? I mean, how many times have you had a song stuck in your head that you tried to get rid of, only to find yourself absentmindedly humming it a few hours later?

Thinking, and Thinking, and Thinking…

It is estimated that we have around 65,000 thoughts a day. That’s a lot of noise going on in our minds, and most of those thought go barely or even completely unnoticed. It’s no wonder by the end of the day we’re tired and weary and ready to give our brains a rest, even if we have done nothing particularly physically or mentally demanding. Just the ongoing chatter in our minds can be exhausting.

Why is it so important to know what we are thinking? Because what we think creates the emotions that we have, and those emotions influence the choices we make and the actions that we take. If we are not focusing our awareness on the current moment, then our mind is somewhere or maybe some when else. We may be thinking about the past or anticipating what might happen in the future.

When we choose to be mindful and to be aware, we are also much more present in our lives. We are “here, now”, and not with our minds wandering through other times and spaces, unless we choose to let that happen. There is nothing wrong with letting your mind wander, to allow yourself to be bored, to use your imagination. But often, when the work in front of us is challenging, we allow ourselves to get distracted by other things because we don’t want to focus on the hard work. Our brains are lazy. And we can allow our brains to be lazy, but it should be a choice, and not a default way of acting because we are avoiding something.

“Self-control is all about moment to moment self awareness. You catch yourself doing – or about to do – something undesirable, see that it isn’t good for you in the long term, and as a result of this awareness abstain from doing it.”

— The Ancient Sage

Why Would We Want to be Unaware?

There are a lot of reasons that we may not want to be aware. For example, I like to think I’m a pretty good person, but there are parts of me I don’t like. Sometimes I behave in ways that I’m not proud of. I say things that are mean and hurtful. I don’t like these shadow parts all that much because they aren’t the person who I imagine myself to be, so being aware of and owning these shadow parts of me can be very uncomfortable.

Sometimes being aware of the world around us can be painful. I think a lot of people genuinely don’t like the lives they are living, but they feel like it’s just their lot in life. I know I felt that way growing up and that I had little choice but to follow what the church had laid out for me as the way to live my life. I think many people, they became more aware in their lives, and they knew that they can choose to do something about it, many people would shrink back in fear because change is hard. Change is scary. It is safer to remain in ignorance than to accept the challenge of improving their lives.

People will ignore what is going around them because the truth, because reality can be too painful. To be truly mindful and aware is to accept reality for what it is. Amore Fati is ultimately about awareness. It is about doing your best to be aware of what is really happening, to acknowledge it, and to accept it and not wish it to be otherwise.

“I think, therefore I am, what I think I am.”

— 2Nu

Mindfulness is a Choice

The hardest part about mindfulness is to remember to be mindful. Because mindfulness is a choice, is it something that we have to actively work on. We don’t just wake up one day being mindful. It’s something that we have to constantly practice each minute of each day. We have to develop strategies. To be aware of our current experience is to be more fully alive, rather than sleep walking with our heads stuck in the past or the future. It is to choose to be here in this very moment. When we can be present in this moment, then we are truly alive. We are experiencing everything around us more intensely.

Having a higher level of awareness does not mean that life become magically easier, but the more mindful we are, the more effective we are. We are more aware of the choices that we make. We can even reduce the number of choices that we need to make in a day. This saves a lot of energy and time, and we are more effective with the choices we make.

Task Switching

Many of us try to do too many things at once. We like to think that we can multi-task and have it all. But there have been plenty of studies that have shown that multitasking is not really something that we can do as humans. This constant task switching extracts a cost every time we move from one task to the next. It takes our brains some time to get back into the groove of the previous task that we were working on. When you cultivate mindfulness, you can be more aware of when you are task switching, so you can be more deliberate when you choose to switch task. Reducing your task switching reduces the amount of ramp up time time.

When you are more mindful of what you are doing, you are better able to accomplish your task because you are not mentally somewhere else. When you are more present, you are more engaged with what you are doing. Because you are focused on what you are doing, the quality of your work is better because all your resources are focused on the task at hand.

Flow State

In sports and other performance based activities, there is the concept of being a flow state. Where the process of what you are working on feels smooth and you are “in the zone”. I think that most of us have experienced this state when we have become engrossed in whatever we were doing. We felt energized, had a clear focus, and proficiency at whatever task we were doing. But what if we took this idea and worked on applying it in our daily lives? What if we tried to apply this kind of mindfulness as a way of being?

Why would we want to be more in a flow state throughout our days? I mean, wouldn’t you want to feel energized, focused, and proficient in your daily life? There are a lot of benefits from working in a flow state. We can be more aware of ourselves and our thinking. We are able to make decisions faster, and with more clarity. We’re more relaxed, focused, and can tap into the better parts of our thinking.

Practice

The moment to moment awareness I’m talking about is difficult to achieve. It takes a lot of energy, effort, and practice. But if we want to become truly in control of our thoughts, choices, and actions, then we need to practice this kind of awareness. And that’s just what it is, a practice. You will never be 100% aware all the time. We just not wired for that way. Some days you’ll be better and some days you’ll struggle. But everyday you practice on being more mindful, the more you’ll feel in touch with the world, and with yourself.

This kind of practice also helps you to be more intentional about your life. Because you are paying more attention to what you are thinking, you can be more deliberate about the choices you make, not just being reactive to everything that comes your way.

There are lots of different ways to practice mindfulness, but really it’s just about choosing to focus your attention on something, and this is something that you can do with almost everything. It can be just taking a moment to really focus on the sounds around you and the different textures and timbres you can hear. You can look closely at a painting or a picture and try to notice as many details about it as you can. When you are eating your lunch, what are the different textures and tastes and scents that you can detect?

One practice that I have been using over the past few weeks is what I call AAA:

Awareness

Acknowledgement

Acceptance

I try throughout the day, whenever I remember, or whenever I check the time on a clock, to ask myself, what I’m feeling. Then I acknowledge it by simply saying, “I am feeling ” whatever it is I’m feeling: anxious, bored, sad, whatever. Then I accept it. I don’t try to change it, I just accept it by saying, “and that’s okay”.

When you are more aware of your feelings, your more aware of the impact they have on your choices and the actions that you take. I know for me that a lot of times after I’ve gotten into an argument, when I reflect on what happened, I recognize I was unaware of how I was feeling beforehand. I may have been irritable, but since I wasn’t being mindful, I let how I was feeling color my perspective, which changed the meaning that I gave something. My judgement impacted the choices I made of how to handle that situation.

Conclusion

If we want to take control of the things that we can control, namely our thoughts, emotions, choices, and actions, we need to increase our self-awareness. And as we become more mindful, we become more present in our lives. You could say that life just seems more real. Colors seem more vivid. You notice more of your surroundings. You’re more present for the people around you. Being more aware means being more alive.


Hello friends! Thank you for listening. If you like what you hear, head on over to patreon.com/stoicoffee and help support this podcast by becoming a patron. Also stop by the website at www.stoic.coffee where you can sign up for our newsletter, and buy some great looking shirts and hoodies at the Stoic Coffee Shop. Also, 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.

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Coffee Break

195 – Why You Should Care

Why You Should Care

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“Humans exist for the sake of one another.”

— Marcus Aurelius

A few weeks ago I talked about being self-sovereign, that you are in 100% responsible for your choices and actions, and that you may live exactly the want to, regardless of the opinions of others. I got to thinking about it, and I wanted to cover another aspect of what it means to be self-sovereign. When you choose to live by your rules and values, it means that you are only controlling the things that you can control, and not trying to control those you can’t. But does this mean that you can ignore everyone around you and live in ways that are only helpful to you?

Yes, you can. But does that mean that you should?

I talk a lot about how we are not responsible for the feelings of others, so why should we care about the feelings of others? Why shouldn’t you just be a selfish person and do whatever you want? I will not tell you shouldn’t. You have the right to be exactly the person who you want to be, and so does everyone else. They also have the right to be exactly who they want to be and choose the life that they want.

So why should we care about other people?

To quote one of my favorite films of all times:

“The greatest thing you’ll ever learn is to love and be loved in return.”

— Moulin Rouge

Because caring for other people, connecting with people, loving others, and being loved is the only thing that matters in life.

And why do I think this is the case? Because you can have all kinds of possessions but when you die, they are no longer yours. You can’t take them with you. All that is true left of you, and what has the most impact, is how you treated the people around you.

If we think about it from a purely evolutionary point of view, what is the purpose of life? To survive, and have offspring. That’s it. So basically, your life would like this: You’re born, you grow up, at some point have sex, do your best to see that your offspring survive as long as they can so that they can have offspring, then you die. Doesn’t sound all the great right?

But the thing is, other people make this life worth living. Having a loving and supportive community around you is where you find the most fulfillment in life. Not the amount of money you have or the amount of stuff you have, but impact you have on other people.

So why do I believe that caring about others is the purpose of life? My father died in when I was 24 years old. It was a hard time for me. We weren’t really talking to each other because I was still so angry about the abuse I suffered growing up. I didn’t know how to be around him. I wanted to forgive him, but I didn’t know how. He died rather suddenly so there was no time to address these things, and to be honest, I don’t know that he would have been open to talking about them anyway. I don’t have any possessions from my father and I’m fine with that. The things that I have are the lessons that I learned from him, both good and bad. Those are the things that lasted after his death. And what would I have liked most to have from him? More memories of love and compassion and connection. Those are the things that I still crave, even though he’s been gone for decades.

“That before long you’ll be no one, and nowhere. Like all the things you see now. All the people now living. Everything’s destiny is to change, to be transformed, to perish. So that new things can be born.”

— Marcus Aurelius

On a larger scale, when have empathy and compassion for others, we create a better society. We need cooperation and connection to create a society that benefits the most people, rather than just the wealthy or the privileged. More important than buildings or money or anything else, a culture should be judged by its values – by its willingness to help the poor, to protect the helpless, and ensure equal rights to all. The greatest thinkers, poets, and philosophers throughout time have made this abundantly clear. Buddha, Jesus, Ghandi, Martin Luther King, Jr., the Dalai Lama…I could on for days.

When we have empathy and compassion for others, we create a better life for ourselves. When we connect with others, we can work together make our own communities better because we can do far more together than we can by ourselves.

While some of us may be more naturally empathetic, we are physiologically wired for compassion. In 1848, a man named Phineas Gage was injured in a construction accident. An explosion drove an iron rod through his skull. He survived, but his personality was markedly different. He became much more profane, cared little for others, and had reduced impulse control. His ability to be empathetic towards others seemed to have shut down.

Others

So what happens when you don’t care about others?

When we don’t care about others, and decide that we don’t have to consider our impact on others, we see the damage it causes us as a society. Throughout the pandemic, we have seen countless numbers of people who decided that it more important for them to get a haircut or to go drink at a bar than to slow the spread of the Corona virus, and help save lives. They have refused to get vaccinated or wear masks in public because they felt the lives of others were less important than having to change their lifestyle. Their choices have dampened the effort to control the virus and now we are dealing with an uptick in cases, and more contagious variants.

On a personal level, if you are materialistic, you might work hard to have all kinds of possessions. You might want other people might admire you. But the thing is, you can’t control if they admire you or not. You might think they admire you for your wealth or status, but you honestly don’t know if they do or not. When we set our hearts on possessions, we are actually putting our happiness in the wrong things. When we are only self serving, we are constantly taking, so the control of our happiness is outside of ourselves.

If you are a selfish person, then you’re probably not going to have a lot of friends. Nobody wants to spend their time around someone that makes everything all about them, who takes, and never gives or contributes to the friendship. If you choose to devote all of your time and energy doing things that hurt other people, then chances are you will not have that many close friends. Certainly not any that care for you and have your back when you need it.

If you want to have people close to you that love and care for you, then you need to be a loving and caring person yourself.

Care

So how do you find a balance of living your life the way you want and to live with others?

When we choose to be self-sovereign, we take responsibility for our actions. We are honest. We are are clear about our intentions. We accept the results and consequences for our actions. We do not blame others for how we feel or for our actions. Most importantly, we pay attention to how our actions impact others and we apologize do our best to make amends when we make mistakes. We do not defend our actions when we know they are wrong just because we don’t want to own our mistakes.

We set boundaries because we know that by letting people know how they can best interact with us; it makes it easier for them to love us. Boundaries also help us take care of ourselves so that we can give our best to others. It does not mean that you need to change because someone doesn’t like what you did or said. If you are living up to your core principles and have acted in a way that you feel is honorable, then you do not need to change to fit others. You do not need to become something you’re not because someone else is uncomfortable with it.

We also respect others and honor their boundaries. We do this by asking what they need and how we can help. We do not simply decide that we know best and try to impose our will on them. We do our best to help where we can, but do so in a way that respects our own boundaries and values.

One thing I have learned in my life is when we are selfish, and only look out for ourselves, it makes us less happy. When we harden ourselves to the plight of others, we miss an opportunity to increase our ability for compassion, and do something good. When we are too focused on us, we may get what we want, but we don’t feel as good. Simply put, it feels good to be connected to and to help others.

You need not look about for the reward of a just deed; a just deed in itself offers a still greater return.

—Seneca


Hello friends! Thank you for listening. If you like what you hear, head on over to patreon.com/stoicoffee and help support this podcast by becoming a patron. Also stop by the website at www.stoic.coffee where you can sign up for our newsletter, and buy some great looking shirts and hoodies at the Stoic Coffee Shop. Also, 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.

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Coffee Break Control philosophy stoicism

194 – Find Your Why

Find Your Why

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“So you were born to feel ‘nice’? Instead of doing things and experiencing them? Don’t you see the plants, the birds, the ants and spiders and bees going about their individual tasks, putting the world in order, as best they can? And you’re not willing to do your job as a human being? Why aren’t you running to do what your nature demands?”

— Marcus Aurelius

Does your work suck? Is your boss a micromanager worthy of the office? Maybe your co-workers are shallow and spend their time working on the perfect selfie for Instagram? Maybe it’s boring or too challenging? Today we’re going to talk about something that takes up the bulk of our lives, and how we can make it better.

One of the toughest things in life is to work at a job we don’t like. There are plenty of factors that can lead to job satisfaction. Many of them are outside of our control, but there are some that aren’t, and those are the most important ones because they can lead to true job satisfaction, and maybe to finding your purpose in life.

The other day I was listening to an audiobook called Own Your Day by Aubrey Marcus. It’s all about getting yourself into shape both physically and mentally so that you can “own your day”. There was a chapter that was all about how to love the work that you do. He used a term which really resonated with me:

Love the grind.

When you love the grind, you find pleasure in every aspect of what you’re doing, even if it’s tedious, uncomfortable, or even painful. You understand that this is what you signed up for. You understand that it’s the process, it’s the doing that is the thing.

Learning to love the grind is all about appreciating every aspect of your job, even the parts that are not fun. This means that you can even figure out a way to enjoy the boring parts of your job. And I mean it just like that. Take it on as a challenge to make the boring parts not so boring.

Learning to love the grind is also about facing the challenging parts head on. It’s about not fearing the challenge, but thriving on it. People often complain about the hard parts of a job, but the challenging parts are the most interesting parts. That’s where you hone your skills, and where you learn learn to master your body and mind. Any job that does not challenge you is not worth doing. If you are not growing, you are wasting time. Now, that doesn’t mean that you have to be running at peak every second of the day. There are aspects to every job that are boring, and that’s expected. Nothing is going to be a thrill-a-minute, and if it were, you’d burn out way too fast.

It’s about learning to love the process, the doing of the work, and not being too focused on the outcome. Sure, you need to keep an eye on your goals and what your working towards so that you can make sure that you are taking the right steps to achieve your outcome. But don’t get too fixed on it, because life throws you curveballs and no outcome is ever guaranteed. You can control your part in the process, but you can’t control that it will end up the way you want. It will be what it will be.

Find Your Why

“Those who have a ‘why’ to live, can bear with almost any ‘how’.”

― Viktor E. Frankl

“Everything, a horse, a vine, is created for some duty. For what task, then, were you yourself created? A man’s true delight is to do the things he was made for.”

— Marcus Aurelius

When it comes to jobs, I think there are really two kinds. There are the ones that do because we believe in the mission, and it aligns with our purpose, and those that are a means to an end so that we can pursue our purpose outside of work.

Either way, to be successful and to enjoy your work, you must figure out your why.

When people say that you should follow your bliss and do what you love, they are not wrong. But like always, it’s never that simple. What they are really saying is that you need to find that inner loadstar, that fire that gets you up and moving, not look to things outside yourself. Figure out the why not the what. People get stuck on trying to figure out the perfect job and once they know that, they’ll be blissfully happy. Every job, no matter how awesome or glamorous it looks, has its shitty aspects. Want to be a rockstar? There’s a lot of work involved. Lots of practices, lots of touring, lots of rejection and disappointment. You can’t have the glory without the slog.

Now, there are times in our lives when we may work at a job that is not something we love or even like, but it can still feed our why. Sometimes we just have to pay our dues. For example, my oldest kid just got a job at a bakery, and as we were talking about it today, they said they had made up their mind that even if the job sucked, they were excited anyway because they really wanted to learn how to bake and to decorate cakes. They were willing to put up with the crappy parts because they want to gain the skills that could lead to something better. They were willing to pay their dues.

Another example of doing something that may not be our passion, but feeds our why was in an interview with the director Kevin Smith. He was talking about how his dad worked at the post office for his whole career. He didn’t much care for his career, but he did it because his why was that he wanted to have a family and hang out with this wife and kids. He didn’t care what anyone thought about his job. He had his dream of being a father and husband, and the post office was just a means to an end. It was a price he was willing to pay for his dream.

Internal vs External

No matter what, your “why” should be internally motivated. If your motivation is to receive praise or to have the prestige of having a certain position, or do a job you hate just for the money, then your why is going to be really hard to support because it’s outside of your control. Praise, rewards, recognition, bonuses – these are all externals. If you are externally motivated, you don’t have control. You are at the mercy of others.

The reason we get stuck on external motivators is that we are brought up that way. We get praise when we behave or when we get good grades or score a goal or do well at whatever task we do. But when we’re only willing to do something for praise, we are only doing what others want us to do. If we only do things as long as there is some recognition or or reward, then we don’t push through the hard or the boring things that might lead us to improve and master our skills. It also means that we tolerate the shitty parts rather than enjoying the slog.

When we are internally motivated, when we have our why, then we will do whatever it takes to reach our goals, to master our skills. Anything that gets thrown at us just another challenge for us to test our mettle and get stronger. We will put up with the shitty parts of a job because they serve our greater goal. We want it because it’s important to us, not someone else. Don’t give your life and time living for someone else’s dream. Find your “why” and own it.

Owning Your Why Gets You Through the Slog

When I first started this podcast, I really didn’t know what my “why” was. I wanted to learn about stoicism, and I wanted to figure out how to make a podcast. I hoped that learning about stoicism would help me to grow into the person that I want to be, and that making the podcast would teach me the skills to create something interesting. As I’ve worked on this, I figured out that my “why” for creating this podcast, and for creating a community around it is this:

My “why” is to reduce suffering in the world and help people live their best life through learning and applying Stoic principles.

Owning this “why” helps me through the slog.

When I sit down to work on an episode for this podcast, it’s almost always challenging. I’ll have an idea in my head of what I want to express, and sometimes it feels like I have to push hard to get things going. Sometimes I hit that flow where my mind is clear and my fingers fly across the keyboard. Sometimes, I can tell I’m on the edge of something good and finding the right words and phrases to bring the idea from my head to the page so that I can share it you is like is like slogging through a Spartan race course, but I can feel that the gold is at the end of that slog. So I push through. I push through the slog because I know if I push through that resistance, put word next to word, in the end I’ll have created something of value. Some episodes come out great, others are just so-so. But no matter what, it’s always worth it.

Setbacks

Sometimes we get frustrated or struggle with our work. We complain about our the things we don’t like, which can make it easy to focus on the less desirable parts of our work. This can color our entire view of the situation, and rarely leads to a solution, but just making us feel even worse. We can offset this with constructive complaining or venting and getting out the things that you are struggling with. If you’re complaining but have no desire to do anything about it, be honest about it. But recognize that when you complain and take no action, you are not controlling the things that you can, and are allowing yourself to become a victim. If you are letting off steam, and are paying attention to what bothers you, you can take those issues and figure how to fix them. Look at the challenging parts of your jobs not as impediments to your work, but as obstacles to learn from, to grow your skills, and master the challenging parts.

Whatever it is you do for work, find your “why”. Maybe it’s providing for your family or to learn a skill. Maybe it’s because you believe in the mission of what you’re doing. Whatever it is, figure out what that is so that when you hit the slog, when a new challenge comes along, or you’re stuck in the boring part of your work, you won’t slack or complain, but you’ll be the master of yourself, and your work.


Hello friends! Thank you for listening. If you like what you hear, head on over to patreon.com/stoicoffee and help support this podcast by becoming a patron. Want to be a part of the Stoic Coffee Community? Click here for more info! Also stop by the website at www.stoic.coffee where you can sign up for our newsletter, and buy some great looking shirts and hoodies at the Stoic Coffee Shop. Also, 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.

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Coffee Break

193 – 10,000 Kicks

10,000 Kicks

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“If something is difficult for you to accomplish, do not then think it impossible for any human being; rather, if it is humanly possible and corresponds to human nature, know that it is attainable by you as well.” 

— Marcus Aurelius

What is the key to success? Why are some people able to achieve what they want while others languish? Today we’re going to talk about how Stoicism can help you to develop the skills it takes to reach your goals, and live your best life.

My Story

When I first started this podcast, it was simply a way for me to record my thoughts about Stoicism and share what I learned with others. I had wanted to start a podcast and had tried a few ideas, but never felt like anything worked, or was up to the standard I felt it should be. So, I made a promise to myself that I would just put it out, even if it sucked. For 137 days, I did an episode every day. Sometimes I would write down my ideas, go drop my kids off at school, then record an episode in my car while waiting for traffic to clear up before heading into work. Some were good, some were not so good, but it didn’t matter. I put them out anyway, remembering my promise to myself that I would put it out even if it sucked. The key was to create something, and get a little better each time.

When I switched to doing it on a weekly basis, I still found it challenging. Sometimes I would stress out about whether or not it was good enough, but I still made myself put it out. I finally reached a point where I was stressing out over the quality. I was a bit burned out and still deeply insecure, and convinced myself that I really didn’t want to do it anymore. So I quit, using my desire to focus on music as an excuse.

Last summer, I was curious to see how many downloads my podcast had. I was shocked when I saw that even after a year of no new episodes, I had almost 250,000 downloads. I was dumbfounded. I had no idea what I had created had still been connecting with people in my absence. I thought about restarting the podcast, but found that nagging insecurity made it difficult to sit down and create episodes. Even with the numbers on my side, it still took several more months of grappling with the fear of not being good enough to actually sit down and record more episodes.

Since the beginning of this year, I have put out some of the best episodes I think I’ve ever created. I feel like my skills in writing, recording, and editing have improved substantially. I have seen the number of listener grow exponentially. Most importantly, I’ve had scores of people contact me to let me know how much the podcast has helped them deal with some challenging aspect of their lives, and in some cases helped them make life altering changes.

Through all of this, I’ve learned a few key secrets to how to be successful at anything, and I’d like to share those with you.

Keys to Success

Most of us want to be successful in life. We want to be masters at what we do. Being at the top of our game is something most of us strive for. But so much of what we find on the internet is about how to make whole bunch of money with very little work. We’re sold easy promises of how to get rich quick. I know that I’ve found them tempting, only feel like the promises and ideas that they were peddling just didn’t square with my ethics, or sounded too good to be true.

The secret to being successful is really kind of boring, but it is often elusive because we get caught up in trying to find the shortcut, the sexy tactic, or the secret no one else knows about. It can be summed up in single quote:

“How do you move forward? One step at a time. How do you lose weight? One kilo at a time. How do you write a book? One page at a time. How do you build a relationship? One day at a time. In a world obsessed with speed, never forget things of real worth and value take time.”

— Thibaut

You don’t have to be incredibly smart. You don’t have to be clever. You don’t even have to be naturally talented. What you do have to be is consistent. If you can make even just 1% progress every day, you will succeed at anything that you mind and energy towards. Consistency is key.

This last week I attended an online workshop about how to make your podcast more successful. There was a panel of some of the most successful podcasts on the internet. I found it interesting and informative from the advice that they had to give, but I also found it just as interesting to read the questions that were asked from the audience. One question that came up several times was what is the fastest way to get more listeners? Many of the people asking the question has just recently put out a few episodes and seemed impatient because they didn’t have hundreds or thousands of listeners. Over and over the panelists would answer with things like keep putting out more episodes, keep improving your craft, keep engaging with your audience.

Things Get In The Way

The hardest part about being consistent, is that things get in the way. There are so many distractions, and not all of them are bad. We have relationships, and families, and jobs. These are important thing, and things that we need to survive. They are certainly worthy of our time and energy. But there are so many less important things that we waste our time and energy on that keep us from achieving our dreams.

The Stoics spell out some key skills that can help free up time and energy to accomplish our goals. The most important principle of Stoicism is to identify and act on the things we can control, and let go of the things we can’t. The most important things that you have control over is your time, and your focus. When you control these two things, you are able to be consistent with any task you take on, and become a master at what you do.

Whatever it is that you want to be successful at, you take time to practice. You read books and take courses. You seek out a mentor to help you get improve and  point out your weaknesses. We limit the distractions of other things in our lives that don’t help us achieve our goals. We spend less time passively scrolling on Facebook or twitter, or watching the latest binge worthy show on Netflix.

The path to success is not about the newest idea or the shiniest app. It is about consistently focus on doing good work and improving just a little every day.

“I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.”

— Bruce Lee


Hello friends! Thank you for listening. If you like what you hear, head on over to patreon.com/stoicoffee and help support this podcast by becoming a patron. Also stop by the website at www.stoic.coffee where you can sign up for our newsletter, and buy some great looking shirts and hoodies at the Stoic Coffee Shop. Also, 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.

Categories
Coffee Break philosophy stoicism

192 – Self-Sovereign

Self-Sovereign

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“Be content to seem what you really are.”

— Marcus Aurelius

One of the hardest things in our lives is to be completely honest with our selves and with those around us. Why is that? Why do we hide parts of ourselves or lie about how we feel, especially with those we love the most?

We are afraid of rejection. We are afraid of not belonging. We are afraid that if those closest to us really “knew” us, they would no longer love us. The need to fit in and belong is a powerful, almost primal one. Being rejected by your family or society can be one of the most devastating events of a persons life.

Belong

For those of us who grew up in a strong religious culture, there is an accepted way of behaving, and anything outside of those roles and rules is frowned upon, and sometimes you can be shunned or excommunicated. I have friends and acquaintances who haven’t spoken to family members for years or decades because they didn’t toe the church line.

For some, being open about their sexuality has gotten them ostracized from organizations that embraced them prior to their coming out. The person hadn’t changed, just the perception of them in the eyes of that group changed.

There are also powerful forces in the media and marketing industry who spend tremendous amounts of time and money figuring out ways to make you feel you are not good enough. The messages are so well crafted and often subtle to where unless you are really paying attention you don’t even notice the influence they have on you. All of this to get you to buy certain things, support certain politicians or causes, or to hold certain beliefs.

My Story

When I was seventeen, I had decided that I no longer wanted to be a part of the Mormon church. I was tired of feeling ashamed because I struggled so hard to behave like a good Mormon. I struggled with the inconstancies in church doctrine and how so many core beliefs conflicted with scientific discoveries, and my own common sense. I felt like there was something truly flawed in who I was as a person. I tried to leave, but because most of my social circles were church related, I got pulled back into it, and struggled for another decade or so to fit in.

It took a lot of a work and support from my ex wife, but I finally left the church in my early thirties. I had finally reached the point where I could no longer pretend to be someone I wasn’t and believe in something that I felt to be patently untrue. When I finally made that decision, I felt like I had just shed 200 pounds. I felt lighter. I felt relief. I felt like I was finally free. It has taken a long time and a lot of work to shed the belief that I was less of a person because I didn’t live up to someone else’s expectations.

More recently I’ve been working on healing a lot of the trauma from the environment I grew up in. I’ve been lucky to find a good therapist who specializes in healing trauma. Re-training how my my brain interprets things has not been easy. It has meant being honest with myself about the things that scare me. It has meant facing up to my fear that maybe deep down I’m not a very good person or that I’m somehow broken. I’ll give you a hint: it’s not true. I’ve had to learn how to accept and love myself, even with all my flaws, or maybe because of them.

Along with that healing has come a better sense of well being. I feel like I am more honest with myself and others. I am the person that I want to be. I ask for what I need and want. I don’t need the approval of others. There are times when I fall back into old habits and patterns. Sometimes the disapproval of others can still kick in that fear of not being good enough, but those episodes are fewer and far between.

Self-Sovereign

“The happiness of those who want to be popular depends on others; the happiness of those who seek pleasure fluctuates with moods outside their control; but the happiness of the wise grows out of their own free acts.”

— Marcus Aurelius

One of the biggest truths that I’ve learned through all of this is that when you finally stop apologizing for not living up to the expectation of others, and truly accept yourself for who you are and live your life how feel is best for you, then you are truly free.

This is the truth that is often hidden from us. It scares people who have power over us. When they can no longer control or manipulate you, you may be judged harshly. They may speak ill of you. You may be ostracized or shunned. But when you hold to what you know is true, hold to your core values, and love and accept yourself, then nothing that anyone else has to say matters. You are free. You are what I call “self-sovereign”.

Being a self-sovereign person is challenging. This kind of freedom is scary. You no longer blame anyone else for your feelings and actions. You don’t apologize for not living up to others’ expectations. And you might think that I’m saying you can do whatever you want, and well, I am. Being self-sovereign also means that you own your choices and are honest about your motivations. You are 100% responsible for yourself, and that you accept the consequences for your actions.

Actions

So what are some steps you can take to become more self-sovereign in your own life?

I think the first step is to work on self acceptance. To accept that you are worthy of love, just like everyone else. To accept that you are not broken. You are not a mistake. You are just another flawed human, doing the best you can. Accept that it’s okay to make mistakes, and you don’t have to be perfect to be loved.

Second, is to understand that doing this kind of work is challenging and uncomfortable, so having a good support system in place will make a big difference. Whether that’s a therapist, a good friend, or some kind of support group, surround yourself with those that encourage you to be your authentic self. They will challenge you to take responsibility for your own actions.

Lastly, to do this kind of work, you’ll need to step out of your comfort zone. I found a tweet the other day from a Dr. Vassilia Binensztok, with the twitter handle of @JunoCounseling that I think is very appropriate and pretty much nails it:

“When you’re not used to being confident, confidence feels like arrogance.

When you’re used to being passive, assertiveness feels like aggression.

When you’re not used to getting your needs met, prioritizing yourself feels selfish.

Your comfort zone is not a good benchmark.“

— Dr. Vassilia Binensztok

Being self-sovereign, learning how to be your authentic self and let go other expectations of others is a challenge that we all face. The most courageous thing you can do in your life is to ignore who the world thinks you should be, and to truly, unconditionally be yourself. It is then that you are free.

Hello friends! Thank you for listening. If you like what you hear, head on over to patreon.com/stoicoffee and help support this podcast by becoming a patron. Also stop by the website at www.stoic.coffee where you can sign up for our newsletter, and buy some great looking shirts and hoodies at the Stoic Coffee Shop. Also, 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.

Categories
Coffee Break philosophy self-improvement stoicism

191 – Get Busy With Life’s Purpose

Get Busy With Life’s Purpose

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Does being a Stoic mean you can be apathetic? Does not reacting mean that you just give up? Because Stoicism is about controlling your response, it can easily seem that you just let things just happen and don’t take action. But to be a true Stoic, you are the opposite of apathetic. You are effective. By taking the time to choose your shot, you don’t waste time or energy on the things you can’t control.

Often, we confuse action with actually doing something useful. Because Stoicism is about taking responsibility for ourselves, we need to be smart about the actions we choose. When we take the time to make a deliberate and well thought out choice. We want to be effective, not busy.

“Get busy with life’s purpose, toss aside empty hopes, get active in your own rescue — if you care for yourself at all — and do it while you can.”

— Marcus Aurelius

Apatheia

When we look at the definition of stoic term apatheia, it means “without suffering”, which is like equanimity, or “to be emotionally balanced” and unaffected by negative emotions. It is not the same thing as the modern day English term apathetic, which means void of feeling.

It’s easy to understand why people might use Stoicism as an excuse for apathy. On its surface, it can seem like not being reactive to every little thing in your life is just being out of touch with the world. When you don’t respond in a way that most of the world thinks you should, it can seem like you are disconnected and emotionally unavailable. But a Stoic is not someone that doesn’t feel, rather someone that chooses the act in a way that upholds their principles and chooses their response, even when they have powerful emotions around something.

For example, if someone is struggling, it’s easy enough to say that you aren’t stepping in to help because it’s not something that you can control. This is true because you can’t control other people and their situations. But, given that there is almost always something in every situation that you can control, taking the times to be sure that you are doing what you can to be helpful is something that a Stoic would do.

This can be challenging though, because sometimes not acting is the best course of action. Often the situation is best served by not getting involved. Sometimes the other person does not want you involved in their business. Sometimes it’s simply none of your business.

I think that it’s also easy to become apathetic because you understand how little you control in what happens in your life. You also recognize that the small part you control may not seem like it has a big impact. And if you have so little control, and the things you do make little or no difference, why even try?

Because how you live your life is important. How you carry yourself in the world matters. Because the mannerin which you do your work matters. If you approach the world with the attitude that nothing you do makes any difference in the long run, it’s too easy to fall into nihilism and just give up completely on living. This is a far cry of what Stoicism is about. Remember, life isn’t just about the accomplishments in our lives, it’s about the process. Cliché as it may sound, but it’s the journey that counts.

And honestly, if the world so depended on the things that you did, that could be a bit overwhelming to hold that kind of responsibility. I’m sure that Marcus Aurelius felt this way all the time.

What Can You Do?

So how can you be sure that you are not just using Stoicism as an excuse to be apathetic?

I think we need to look at why we might not take action in a situation. Sometimes, things are just hard and we may not want to do them. We may not have the mental or physical capacity to take on the things that we want. Sometimes we just may not have the skills needed to help. Taking the time to be honest about these aspects can help us take most effect action, or understand that the situation is best served by staying out of it. I think it comes down to knowing yourself, knowing your core values, and being willing to do the hard things when things are difficult.

Another important aspect to be aware of is burnout. I think that it’s easy as Stoics to take on more than we can handle. We want to see the world be a better place, and we want to do good in the world, but we also need to be honest about what we can handle. We also need to be honest about what we want. We only have one life, so we need to be clear about what it is we want to accomplish in our time on this planet. We also need to be clear about what our core values are. We shouldn’t do things because we feel guilty for not doing it. We should do the things that we want to, and do them to our best of our ability. That alone will certainly help make the world a better place.

This does not mean that you need to be a saint and give up all your worldly possessions and go serve the poor, unless that is what you want to do. If that’s what you decide would lead to the more fulfilling life, then you should do that. But don’t do something just because it’s what the world expects from you. Do it because it’s what you expect from you.

Actions

What are some steps you can take to avoid apathy? We can take the time to ask ourselves questions following questions and suss out if we’re just being lazy, or if we being effective.

Do you feel good about the actions that you took?

Are you upholding your core values?

Are you doing the things that you have the ability, capacity, and the willingness to do?

Are you not trying to control the things you can’t?

Are you being effective or are you just being busy?

Living like a Stoic is not about following a rigid dogma. It is about using your rational mind to be the most effective in your life, and the lives of those around you. By taking the time to know yourself, your values, your skills, and being respectful of others agency, you can apply yourself where and how you’ll be most effective, and sometimes that means doing nothing.

“Concentrate on what you have to do. Fix your eyes on it. Remind yourself that your task is to be a good human being; remind yourself what nature demands of people. Then do it, without hesitation, and speak the truth as you see it. But with kindness. With humility. Without hypocrisy.” 

— Marcus Aurelius


Hello friends! Thank you for listening. If you like what you hear, head on over to patreon.com/stoicoffee and help support this podcast by becoming a patron. Also stop by the website at www.stoic.coffee where you can sign up for our newsletter, and buy some great looking shirts and hoodies at the Stoic Coffee Shop. Also, 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.

Categories
Coffee Break philosophy stoicism

190 – The Stories We Tell Ourselves

The Stories We Tell Ourselves

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“It is not events that disturb people, it is their judgements concerning them.”

— Marcus Aurelius

How often do you find yourself upset over something someone said? Maybe you’re stressed out over something that is happened. Maybe it’s the opposite and you’re extremely excited about some event happening in your life. Whatever it is, every event that causes some kind of emotion for you is all driven by the story that you tell yourself.

One of the most important aspects of applying Stoicism in our lives is understanding our perspective on the events the occur. We know that our perspective is what influence the thoughts that we have, and those thoughts lead to the emotions that we feel. Sometimes it’s not easy for us to notice the perspective we have on things. We have all kinds of unconscious thoughts. We have emotional triggers from our memories of the past. There are biological stressors that we may not be all that aware of. There are a lot of things that can influence our thinking, and the more we can be aware of them, the easier it is for us to manage how much we let them have control over us

One of the most effective ways we can understand our perspective on events is ro pay attention to the stories we tell ourselves. Now what do I mean by that? When an event happens, we experience external stimulus through our senses. Our brain takes in all this data and tries to make sense of what is happening. It does this because it is trying to help us figure what to do next by making a prediction of what is going to happen.

The Making Of A Story

Most people like a good story. It’s what we’re drawn to as humans. In every culture, the stories and ideas contained in those stories are the ways that we share common ideas and beliefs. It’s why religions are centered around powerful stories. It’s the reason movies, gaming, music, and publishing are billion dollar industries. It’s why we’re drawn to certain people. When we get together with friends we share stories about what is happening in our lives. When our partners or kids come home they tell us about their day and the events that took place. Everything is a story.

With every story, there is a backstory, a history which sets the stage. All of us have a history full of events and memories and emotions that influence how we interpret things. Our brains are pattern recognition machines trying to understand things by pulling from the past to see if anything matches what we are currently experiencing. Stories tie the past to the present and the present to the future. The more familiar we are with a situation, the easier it is to identify what is happening, and more confident we about predicting what is most likely going to happen. We use stories to try and make sense of the world around us.

Unearthing these stories is not an easy process, and when we first start listening to our self-stories they are often a bit unclear. There are often strong emotions involved. We may find it difficult to be honest with ourselves about what we really think or feel because it can mean admitting some aspects of ourselves we may not like to see. We can all have a lot of shame around the darker parts of ourselves. It’s tricky business.

So why do we want to understand the stories that we tell ourselves? Because this is the narrative of your life. This is the lens in your minds eye that interprets everything that you experience. If you’re not aware of the stories you’re creating, then you’re just running on autopilot.

“The most common act of violence is the relentless mental violence we perpetrate upon ourselves with nothing other than our thoughts.”

– Bill Madden

Oh The Stories We Tell!

Understanding the stories tell ourselves is often a much easier way to understand why we do the things we do. If we just focus on the circumstances and the outcome of a situation, we can often find it perplexing how we got to where we are. If instead we take the time to walk ourselves through our story, we can find the the plot holes, misinterpreted situations, and motivations behind our own behavior.

For example, say that you apply for a job, and after several steps in the interview process, they let you know that you did not get the position. You’re devastated because you were really excited about the opportunity. You start to think about what went wrong and start to analyze every interaction that you had. What is the story that you are telling yourself that is getting you so upset? Here are some possible things:

“Maybe I’m not smart enough to do the job.”

“If only I had a degree from a better college.”

“If only I didn’t talk so much.”

And on and on…

Unless they told you explicitly why they didn’t hire you, these are all just thoughts your mind is making up. And sometimes your mind is not very nice to you. Understanding what you’re thinking is very important because those thoughts create the emotions you feel.

Unleash Your Inner Film Critic

When you’re digging into a story, you need think like a film critic. By doing your best to lay out the storyline, you can figure out “how did I get here?”

Some of the questions you can ask yourself include:

What are the fact, the circumstances, and events?

What thoughts did I have in response to those event?

What feelings where created by those thoughts?

What actions did I take in response to those feelings?

And probably the most important question of all:

“What is true?”

By asking yourself this question, and working hard to be honest with yourself, you can uncover a lot of your own thinking errors. This type of work takes mindfulness. It’s not easy to be aware of your thinking. I find that either writing it down or saying it out loud is very helpful in following the chain of events.

Let’s apply this process to a scenario that happens fairly often in real life.

Say that I’m working on a project on my house. My partner asks me what I’m working on. I tell her and explain how I plan to accomplish my task. She scrunches up her nose and say something like, “I don’t understand how that can work.” I feel like I she is criticizing my idea and we end up in an argument.

What are the facts, circumstances, and events?

My partner criticized my idea.

What thoughts did I have in response to those event?

“She thinks it’s a stupid idea. She thinks I’m stupid.”

What feelings where created by those thoughts?

I felt hurt

What actions did I take in response to those feelings?

I lashed out at my partner

Now let’s give it a second pass by asking “What is true?”

What did that person actually say or do?

“I don’t understand how that can work.”

Did they actually say what I thought they said?

No.

So much of what disturbs us is not what the person said, but what we make those words mean. Stopping and asking what is true and what other information we added is a great way to parse it out. We will often just take what they said and morph it into to something else because of our own history. If we’re used to being heavily criticized then we hear things through that kind of filter. We immediately assume anything that is not explicitly positive is criticizing us.

What we’re trying to do here is defuse the strong emotions that come up, not by suppressing those feelings, but by intercepting the thoughts that create those feelings. If we can change our thinking, we can change our feelings. And the thing is, we’re not lying to ourselves or making something up so we feel better. In fact, we’re kind of doing the opposite. We trying to see things for what they really are, so that our thinking is clearer, which helps us regulate our emotions better because they are much more in proportion to what is actually going on.

Understanding this process is not going to magically fix our problems for us. Even when we understand what is going on in our minds, changing these deeper patterns and behaviors is not a trivial task. But more than anything, it takes awareness – awareness of what is really happening, and awareness of what you are thinking.

Because it takes consistent work to do this, it’s easy to let it slide. Consistently being aware of your thinking is something that you have to work at every single day. At first, this kind of awareness will only happen after a situation has occurred. As you work on this kind of awareness, you will be able to move it closer to real time. You’ll notice the thoughts as they occur. You’ll be able to give yourself some space to think about what is really happening. You’ll be able to choose how you want to respond, and make better choices.


Hello friends! Thank you for listening. If you like what you hear, head on over to patreon.com/stoicoffee and help support this podcast by becoming a patron. Also stop by the website at www.stoic.coffee where you can sign up for our newsletter, and buy some great looking shirts and hoodies at the Stoic Coffee Shop. Also, 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.

Categories
Coffee Break philosophy self-improvement stoicism

189 – What You Are Capable Of

What You Are Capable Of

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“I judge you unfortunate because you have never lived through misfortune. You have passed through life without an opponent — no one can ever know what you are capable of, not even you.” 

– Seneca

Have you ever thought about how much energy and effort we as humans put into seeking comfort and avoiding challenging things? So many things that we spend money on in our lives revolve around making things easier or more comfortable. Part of human evolution has been to seek comfort. We try to make things easier for ourselves. But in doing so, are we robbing ourselves of a chance to grow? In our search for convenience, do we end up weakening ourselves?

Pleasure and Discomfort

If you have ever seen the movie Wall-E, you may remember what one of the main things of the story lines is how, in our search for comfort, humanity has become lazy and unable to care for themselves without technology. They are extremely obese, and are unable to walk, or really do anything for themselves. They lay on powered lounge chairs, eat junk food all day, and do nothing but amuse and entertain themselves. Every physical need is taken care of by robots. In their ultimate search for comfort, they have allowed themselves to atrophy and become basically grown up children.

On the flip side of this, if you have ever been to a Spartan Race, you would have seen people purposefully put themselves in hard situations. They seek out challenges. They push themselves to see how much they can take. Trudging through mud pits, scaling rock walls, crawling under barbed wire fences, all in an effort to test themselves to see what they are capable of. It’s pretty intense and inspiring.

So why do we struggle so much with choosing what we know will be good for us? I think we need to understand that most things we do in life are done to avoid discomfort and seek pleasure. If you examine almost anything you do it life, you’ll find that most, if not all, of the things you do fall into these two categories. We stay stuck in  habits because we are unwilling to let go of pleasure or deal with discomfort.

So how do we change this? How do we get to a place where we are willing to forgo pleasure and bear some discomfort?

We change our perspective on what we consider to be pain or pleasure, and a key to this is changing our timeframe.

When we think short term vs. long term, it becomes more clear about what is pleasure and what is discomfort. The thing is, what is considered uncomfortable and pleasurable is often very subjective. We are the ones that judge whether something is a pleasure or a discomfort. What may be very uncomfortable for others, some may look forward to. What some might think is very pleasurable may be annoying for someone else.

For example, some people consider lifting weights to be painful and uncomfortable and avoid going to the gym. Others consider it to be very pleasurable, and invest significant amounts of money and time at the gym. In my opinion lifting weights is uncomfortable, and at times can be painful, and at the same time it also feels really good to work your muscles and to build your strength. The research shows that lifting weights is good for us because of the long term health benefits such as stronger muscles which help the body withstand injury, increased bone density, plus having the strength to do other activities in your life. When we think about this in short vs long term, then we see that short term discomfort leads to long term pleasure.

So what it comes down to, is which perspective do you choose and act upon?

Choices

Years ago, I found out that a close friend of mine was celebrating being sober for 12 years. He said he had been an alcoholic and it had caused a lot of issues in his marriage. At one point his wife him that he had to get his drinking under control or she was leaving. He didn’t really think it was a problem, but started attending AA meetings to appease her. Over the next few months as he heard more and more stories, from other members, he noticed how many of their stories were very close to his own experiences. He started to see how his actions had been causing pain to himself, and to those that loved him. It took a lot of effort, but he was able to stop drinking. He did this because he changed his perspective. He decided that he was willing to give up the temporary pleasure that drinking gave him. He decided the pain he was covering up with alcohol was something that he needed to face head on. Undoing so he gave up short term pleasure and avoidance of discomfort for long term pleasures of more control in his life and improving his marriage.

What Is Your Pleasure?

So when we’re facing challenges what steps can we take in order to be more effective at making better choices? I think first off, have a clear definition of what your pleasure is. Is having a strong body or a particular physical skill your definition of pleasure? Is having a good relationship with your partner or children your pleasure? Whatever it is, then approach each challenge that you have as a way to flex your muscles and improve your skill. Look at the challenge as the pleasure. Imagine what it would feel like if you were a master of it? How much pleasure would that give you?

Learning to flip your idea of what pleasure and pain is very important skill and is very much about perspective. If you can decide that the uncomfortable thing and overcoming challenges and something that gives you pleasure, then when those things come your way, you won’t run away from them, you’ll turn and face them head on, and you’ll know what you’re capable of.


Hello friends! Thank you for listening. If you like what you hear, head on over to patreon.com/stoicoffee and help support this podcast by becoming a patron. Also stop by the website at www.stoic.coffee where you can sign up for our newsletter, and buy some great looking shirts and hoodies at the Stoic Coffee Shop. Also, 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.

Categories
Coffee Break philosophy self-improvement stoicism

188 – Do What You Can

Do What You Can

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When you find yourself in a challenging situation, how much time do you spend wishing things were different than they are? Do you get stuck in thinking how it’s not fair? What if instead of wanting to things to be other than what they are, we worked with what we have? What kind of change could you have in your life and in the lives of others if you instead focused on what you could do? How much time and frustration would you save yourself?

Today I want to talk about how taking action, even if it’s just a small one, can help get you on the path of moving through challenges.

“Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.”

— Theodore Roosevelt

One of my favorite movies and sequels of all times is The Bourne Identity with Matt Damon. One thing I love so much about it is how Jason Bourne is always looking for what he can do. While his character has training that most of us never will go through, what makes Bourne so good at surviving is his ability to improvise. He has trained his mind to approach any situation with an eye for figuring out what he can do with what he has. Whether that’s using something nearby to cause a distraction so he can achieve his objective, or simple stopping to blend in with a crowd, it’s his ability to see and accept things for what they are and not wish they were otherwise, and act on those things that keeps him alive.

Just like professional poker players understand that because you will never get a great hand every time, you do your best to play the hand you’ve been dealt. If you only wait until you have the best hand, you’d probably run out of chips before you got to play that hand anyway. But to be an excellent player, you use your skills of probabilities, reading other players, and misdirection. You don’t just play your cards – you play the situation, the place you’re playing, and the other players.

“Accept whatever comes to you woven in the pattern of your destiny, for what could more aptly fit your needs?”

— Marcus Aurelius

I’ve been shaving my head for years, and while I miss my hair mostly for the warmth, I have found that instead of feeling bad about not having the thick blond hair I had growing up, I’ve assembled a nice collection of hats that can be worn in every situation. When I go to a black light party, I have my partner or one of my artist friends draw with black light reactive ink on my head. The reactions I get from the brilliant glowing designs is one of the best parts of my night. I decided long ago that I would simply embrace what nature gave, a nice shiny head, and appreciate all the perks that come with not having to buy myself shampoo for the last 20 years.

I have a friend who lost a leg in a car accident years ago, but she hasn’t let that slow her down. She always out camping and hiking. When she shows up to a fund party or a festival she’ll often have her prosthetic leg that is decked out in LEDs. She could complain about it, but she recognized long ago that it was simply a waste of time.

When it comes to working with less physical things, it can be a bit murkier. Maybe you have a temper, or struggle with depression, or you have a hard time keeping organized. Rather than trying to get rid of these aspects of yourself, or beating yourself up over them, why not learn to just accept it and figure out how to work with it, or around it? If we can look at these and accept these things more like how we view physical challenges, as accepting them as things that just are, and not judge them as good or bad, I think we could make a lot more progress in a shorter amount of time.

I think one of the biggest areas that this shows up is in perfectionism. Because we feel like something has to be perfect, we can’t see it for its beauty of being less than perfect. As a side note, perfection in most cases is not something that can be actually defined or achieved any way. We except far to much of ourselves and expect that we should be able to do it all. That we can have the perfect body, never lose our temper, never miss an appointment, or always say the right thing, but we can’t. So rather than punish ourselves for not being able to do all the things that we think we should, what if we just figured out the best way to work around it?

It all comes down in figuring out the things you can do something about and working with those. If you spend your energy focused on all the things you can’t control, you’ll waste your time, and you won’t make progress. For example, if you have a hard time keeping organized, are there strategies that you can use to help you stay focused and on track? Maybe it’s setting a timer to go off every hour to remind you to check your todo list to be sure you’re on track. Maybe it’s bad enough that you need to hire someone else to help keep your time organized.

When you’re stuck in a situation, stop and think about what you can do. If you hear the words, “I wish…” come out of your mouth, stop for a moment and think about why you wish something was different. Usually a wish is something that you want changed that you have little control over. Then start your next sentence with “I can…” and list off 3 things you can actually do in that situation, even if they are very small things. Jus putting down a few small things you can do in that situation gets the creative juices going about what things you have control over, and actions you can actually take.

This is something that I’m not very good at, but when I do it, it make a difference in helping me to focus on what I can do in a situation. Whether that’s dealing with a difficult situation in a relationship, a problem at work, or really any challenge we have before us, if we ask ourselves 3 things we can do, we start taking control over the things that we actually can do something about.

As an example, I thought about what I can do when I’m frustrated with someone at work. What are three things I can do in that situation?

1. I can take 3 breaths before I say anything

2. I can type up a note and get all my frustrations out of my head

3. I can table the conversation to a later time, when I can approach it more clear headed

Now I know those are not Jason Bourne moves, but thankfully I’m not a former international agent running for my life.

Trying to think creatively when we’re stressed or challenged is not easy, but it’s fact of life. When we can stop wishing things were different, and look at a situation and ask, “What can I do?”, the more likely we are make some headway, and to help get ourselves unstuck.


Hello friends! Thank you for listening. If you like what you hear, head on over to patreon.com/stoicoffee and help support this podcast by becoming a patron. Also stop by the website at www.stoic.coffee where you can sign up for our newsletter, and buy some great looking shirts and hoodies at the Stoic Coffee Shop. Also, 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.

Categories
Coffee Break

187 – Yes, And…

Yes, And…

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How often do you think about the future? How much time do you spend thinking about the expectations you have for yourself, your life, those around you? How much time do you spend in your mind in the future, so much so that you don’t really live in the present?

Last week I talked about how it’s easy to get stuck in the past, and how doing so is a waste of energy because it not something that we have control over. Today I want to talk about holding expectations of the future can set us up for frustration and disappointment, and the tools the Stoics give us to enjoy life in the present.

The Future

You have been trying to reach many things by taking the long way around. All these things can be yours right now if you stop denying them to yourself. All you have to do is let go of the past, trust the future to providence, and direct the present to reverence and justice. 

— Marcus Aurelius

While we know we can’t change the past, our actions in the present have some impact on what will happen in the future. This makes us feel like we have some control over what happens to us. But I want to propose that we should not look at our current choices as something that will change the future and create a desired outcome, but that we should focus on living in the moment, and let the outcome be what it will.

When we do something in the present, we do so hoping it will create a desire outcome in the future. But, as well all know, life throws all kinds of things our way, and so an expected outcome is never guaranteed. We can do the same thing 100 times and have the same result each time, only to find on the 101st time that because of some unforeseen event, we get a different outcome, something that we never expected. When something falls outside of what we expected to happen, outside of our expectations, we struggle, we get angry, we are disappointed.

Memento Mori

You only live in the present, this fleeting moment. The rest of your life is already gone or not yet revealed.

— Marcus Aurelius

The Stoics talk a lot about Memento Mori, to remember death, to think about your mortality. This is not because they were a depressed lot who only thought about how awful life was. The Stoics found that this exercise sharpened their senses and their appreciation for the present moment. Knowing that any moment could be your last, you can approach each day with a sense of appreciation that you are able to do what it is you are doing. It helps you to focus on what is important, and let go of what is not. Would you rather that your last moments we spent on fretting about something unimportant or out of your control, or would you rather hold a sense of gratitude for every moment that you experience, even the unpleasant ones?

Because we could die at any moment, expecting that something will work out some particular way in the future is something that could change on a dime. You may not even be here to see it. Some people may see this as have a pessimistic or morbid outlook. I disagree. It’s a very pragmatic outlook, and a very present minded one. It helps you to appreciate that all you have is this moment.

I want to share a story that was shared with me from one my listeners by the username of Pluto shared with me that illustrates this idea very well.

“Yesterday I was walking out my dog and listening one of your episodes about living in the moment. Then it occurred to me that I could listen the podcast later, and instead I could just enjoy the walk with my dog. I took my headphones out and focused on my surroundings. I watched my lovely dog closely, thought about how her life span is shorter than mine and I have a limited number of walks with her. I noticed how much I will miss her once she leaves. I teared up a bit, then had a highly enjoyable walk.”

I just want to say, thank you so much for sharing that moment with me.

Amor Fati

How ridiculous and how strange to be surprised at anything which happens in life.

― Marcus Aurelius

The second tool that the Stoics recommend to us is “Amor Fati”, to “love our fate”. When we love our fate, we accept what life throws our way. We don’t complain about what has happened. We do our best to recognize that this is just a part of life and that if it upsets us, it is because we have expectations of what we think should happen that are counter to what actually is happening. By loving our fate, we keep our expectations flexible because we never know what could happen.

We are constantly upset because we made plans and had expectations, but then it didn’t come out how we wanted. To love whatever happens to us means we let go of trying to control something we can’t. It also means that the faster we can accept it, the faster we can deal with life as it really is.

So how do we get better at not getting stuck in the future, and loving our fate?

Yes, And…

In improv, there is a phrase called “Yes, and…” What it means is that when you’re working through a scene with your fellow actors, that when something else gets introduced into the scene, rather than fighting against it because you think that it doesn’t belong, or that it is something unexpected, you roll with it.

For example, if you’re doing a scene in a barber shop and someone says, “Hey, can I bring my pet squirrel in here?” A possible answer would be “Yes, and you’re in luck! Today is Super Squirrel Saturday! All squirrel mullet cuts and tail trims are 50% off.”

“Yes, and…” is accepting it, whatever it may be, and rolling with it. It’s this acceptance of anything coming and how to make it part of the comedy that keeps the scene moving forward. Sometimes it’s hilarious, sometimes it falls flat, but that ready acceptance keeps the momentum going. If it doesn’t really work with the scene, it is still acknowledged, used as best it can be, then discarded as the scene moves on.

Conclusion

The better we get at simply accepting “what is” by acknowledging it rather that holding tightly to our expectations, the more we are able to enjoy the present moment. When we can approach life with a “Yes, and..”, we are less shocked by events, and we might just find ourselves laughing along with the unexpected twists and turns that life sends our way.


Hello friends! Thank you for listening. If you like what you hear, head on over to patreon.com/stoicoffee and help support this podcast by becoming a patron. Also stop by the website at www.stoic.coffee where you can sign up for our newsletter, and buy some great looking shirts and hoodies at the Stoic Coffee Shop. Also, 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.

Categories
Coffee Break philosophy stoicism

186 – Stuck In The Past

Stuck In The Past
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I want you to take a moment and think about the biggest regret in your past. Is there some choice you made that you still kick yourself for? Were there circumstances, such as physical or emotional abuse, that you had no control over? Maybe there was something that you did, or didn’t do, that you still regret? Maybe there was the “one that got away” or you chose this job over that job. Every one of us has regrets about the past.

Today I want to talk about how holding onto the past is something that spoils your present and poisons your future.

“All this hurrying from place to place won’t bring you any relief, for you’re travelling in the company of your own emotions, followed by your troubles all the way”

– Seneca

One of the core tenants of Stoicism is to be aware of, and to focus on what we can control and let go of those we can’t. One area that we don’t have control over is what happened in the past. It is not something that can we can change, yet it is one of the hardest things for us to let go of. Regrets are a prison of our own making, but we are the ones that hold the key to our escape. Learning how to untangle ourselves from past can bring us so peace and freedom to move more lightly in the present.

“Regrets are a prison of our own making, but we are the ones that hold the key to our escape.”

Why do we hold on to the past?

So much of our identity is wrapped up in the memories of things that happened to us and things we did or didn’t do. Experiences shape how we think the world works and our behavior in all kinds of situations. Our perspective on the past informs us of who we think we are.

As a thought experiment, what would happen if you woke up with no memory of the past? How would you know who you are? Would it change who you are as a person? How would you know what you like, dislike, feared or consider as important? Do you like peanut butter and hate whiskey? Do you appreciate rainy days or do you find them intolerable? If you had no memories of the past, you wouldn’t know what you think about so many things. It is our memories, and the importance that we give them, which inform how we feel about things in the present, and how we decide what we think is important.

Another difficult part of letting go of the past is that because our minds are prediction making machines, we get stuck in the trap of “if only” thinking. We think about how much better our life would be if only we had made a different choice, or if only we had been born into different circumstances. We play back all kinds of alternate scenarios of how we think things should have been. But this kind of thinking hold us hostage to the past, to something that cannot change.

Since you can’t change the past, how to you let go of the past? How to stop painful memories from holding power over your daily life? How do you let yourself out of the prison of your own mind? Since you can’t change your past, the only thing you can change is how you think about it. Your perspective on what those memories is what gives them a positive or negative meaning. By changing your perspective, you change what those memories mean. This is called reframing.

How do we reframe the past?

“Reason shows us there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”

— Seneca

By changing the story that we tell ourselves about the past, we can change what it means to us. For example, I grew up in a very chaotic environment. My father was often violent and angry, and there was a lot of fear in our home. Now I could focus on how terrible it was, but what good does that do me? If I spend my time thinking about how awful it was and how I was so afraid of my father, I keep myself in a place of unhappiness. I create my own prison from the memories of something that I cannot change.

But what if I decide to change my perspective? What I focused on how my father was smart, curious, and funny? How he used to make us laugh so hard that we’d be doubled over on the floor? Or how he would talk about fascinating ideas that he had just read about the cosmos, or chaos theory? What if I look at my father with compassion and empathy, and decide that it’s a lesson for me in learning how to forgive others, and how to be loving towards people who have hurt me? By changing what the past means, I can can use those experiences as lessons. I can decide to focus on the good things and reframe the bad things as lessons I can learn from. Holding onto the past and allowing it to impact me negatively, doesn’t change what happened, and it the person it harms the most is myself.

Amor Fati

Now some people may disagree with handling things this way. They may think that doing so minimizes what happened or that we’re denying what happened. This is not the case. The Stoic idea of amor fati, “to love your fate”, means that we need to embrace our past. Because we cannot change the past, the more we resist accepting and acknowledging our past, the more power we give it over our lives. When we acknowledge and accept what happened, we also get to decide what we make it mean. We can make dark memories feel awful, or we can look at them as things that we survived, and how we got through them.

Also, remember that everything that happened to you in the past made you who you are today. Every choice you made, every experience you had was something that you can learn from if you’re willing to look for the lesson. By reframing it, you can look at it as an experience that you survived, and figured out how to get through. Because of the choices you made, you became the person you are today.

One of my favorite examples of where I had a sudden shift in perspective that changed a whole experience, was when I watched The Sixth Sense. If you haven’t seen that movie, this is your spoiler alert. In the movie, Bruce Willis plays a psychiatrist who is trying to help a young boy who is struggling with the fact that he sees dead people. When Bruce Willis’ character finally makes the realization that he is actually one of those dead people, it completely changes the meaning behind almost every moment in the movie. When you watch the movie a second time through with this knowledge, it’s like watching a completely different movie. Just that slight change in perspective changes the whole meaning of the movie.

Life is challenging. None of us are going to have a perfectly carefree life without pain or struggle. If we let every less than perfect moment in our life sour our memories, then we can lock ourselves in a prison of perpetual unhappiness. You are the one that holds the key to that prison. That key is all in your perspective and the stories you tell yourself.


Hello friends! Thank you for listening. If you like what you hear, head on over to patreon.com/stoicoffee and help support this podcast by becoming a patron. Also stop by the website at www.stoic.coffee where you can sign up for our newsletter, and buy some great looking shirts and hoodies at the Stoic Coffee Shop. Also, 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.

Categories
Coffee Break other people philosophy stoicism

185 – Needy

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Needy

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Transcript:

Hello Friends. My name is Erick Cloward and welcome to the Stoic Coffee Break. The Stoic Coffee Break is a weekly podcast where I take an aspect of stoicism and do my best to break it down into its smaller parts and see how we can apply it in our daily lives. I try to share my experiences, both my successes and my mistakes that hopefully you can learn from them and all within the time of a Coffee break. Today’s episode is called: Neediness.

Marcus Aurelius said:

“People exist for one another, you can instruct or endure them”.

Earlier this week I went to a movie theater. Now I know we’re in the middle of a pandemic so that seems like something odd that I would do because I follow science. I wear my mask and I’ve already got my second dose of the vaccine. But in this case it was a socially distance night at the movie theater. Friend of ours had rented out the theater so we could watch an old seventies kung fu movie and it was really a great time. It was a very small group of us in this whole giant theater, but it was really great to be able to spend time talking to some friends and having that kind of social interaction. And one of the things that I recognized, because I woke up the next morning feeling really happy and rejuvenated, was that one of the things that I need in my life is connecting with other people and being social. I’m an extrovert. So it’s not a big surprise, but I didn’t realize how much I missed it until the pandemic came along and made it so much more difficult to do those kind of things and to spend time with my friends.

So today I want to take a look at needs that we have and look at neediness through the lens of stoicism and how we can keep to our ideals, and understand how neediness is something that shouldn’t be looked down upon, frowned upon, but something needs to be understood. So I know that neediness in our society is something that’s always looked down upon and something to be avoided. And I think this is for a couple of reasons. I think one of them is because if you need something that makes you feel vulnerable, and if you tell somebody about some kind of need that you have, then that puts them in a position to have power over you.

I also think that a lot of this idea comes from the rugged individual society ideas that permeate our society, that we have to somehow make it on our own, that we have to be independent, that we have to forge our own path. And that said, and I think this has done a lot of disservice to us because in doing so, it also has helped reinforce a lot of these gender stereotypes that men have to be strong and unemotional and that if we’re emotional then we’re weak. So men are not able to ask for the things that they need because asking for anything that has to do with emotions is considered weak and that’s very, very frowned upon.

But on the flip side, women are supposed to be emotionally supportive for everyone else around them and to put their own needs on the back burner. And in this case we all get the short shrift, and I think this is something that’s been very damaging to our society. I think what we need to do is kind of re evaluate when we’re feeling needy about something not as a weakness, but as a signal that something is not being fulfilled in our lives.

Epictetus said:

“First, say to yourself what you would be and then do what you have to do”.

For me this is one of the simplest and clearest ways to define what self improvement is. It’s saying: decide the kind of person that you want to be and then do the things to become that person. But I think before you can decide who you want to be, you also need to understand who you are, and understanding your needs is part of understanding who you are.

And the thing is is that we all have needs and we need to be okay with the fact that we have needs and to accept that we’re all vulnerable in plenty of ways and that’s okay. I mean we’re born needy and when we have Children, we don’t go, “oh my gosh, this kid needs food”, you know, we don’t tell them to buck up and to figure it out and go find their own food. No, we take care of them, we help them by satisfying those needs that they have.

I think that in stoicism we need to be careful because oftentimes we can fall into that trap of self denial. We think that because we can go without, then we should go without. And I don’t think this is really a good way to look at things. Yes, in stoicism, part of it is understanding what we can and can’t control, and in this case by identifying the things that we need, we can take actions and steps to take care of the things that we can control and then ask others to help us for the things that we can’t.

Now, in saying all of this, understanding and accepting that you’re needy, because we all are, does not make it so that your needs are somebody else’s problems. It is not an excuse to be selfish. What this is is that clarifying the things that you need and asking for help to get the things that you need and doing your part in fulfilling those needs as well.

Now, what kind of needs am I talking about? Well, they could be almost anything. Me for example, needing other people. There are there are things that we do need from other people. For myself, I need friendship and acceptance. I need that affection that I get from being with my friends.

We may have physical needs that we need to take care of, such as where we decide to live. I live up here in the Pacific Northwest and I love it. This is a fantastic place. And this is some place where I decided that I didn’t need the cold of Minnesota, didn’t need the cold and the strangeness of Utah, but what I did need was to live in a place that was pretty open minded and where the weather was fairly comfortable.

We can also look at our career. What is it that you need in a job for happiness? For example, in any work that I do, I need to be creative, I need to be building or making something because that’s how my brain works. If I have a task that is just strictly too repetitive, it gets really, really boring for me and I find that it’s not a good space for me to be in. What I need is to do very creative work, but I also need to have a lot of structure as well. I need to know what it is that I’m trying to get done and have the support, be able to get done. The things that I need to. So, working in a chaotic environment sometimes can be exceptionally draining for me.

We can also decide what we need in relationships. What kind of things do we need emotionally? What kind of affection do we need from our partners? Are we begin to public displays of affection? Do we need lots of physical touch or do any lots of emotional reassurance?

Understanding these things and being able to not look at them as weaknesses, but as things that help us thrive, gives us the tools and gives us the insight to be able to see that, recognize what we need and then ask for help, getting those needs fulfilled. And the thing is is they’re probably going to be plenty of people who won’t be willing to help you fulfill some of those needs. And that’s okay. That tells you that there’s somebody who’s not going to be able to help you get those needs met. And that’s not a bad thing. In fact, if they can be very clear about that, that’s actually a good thing, because you won’t be wasting your time trying to get them to give you something they don’t want to give you.

Learning how to communicate those needs and express them clearly is something that can be very helpful in almost any relationship, so when it comes to identifying your needs, there’s a couple of things you want to keep in mind. Be easy on yourself. You shouldn’t feel ashamed for the things that you need, and wanting the things that you want. You can define what you need by just being honest with yourself. And if you have someone that you can trust, you can also ask them and you can say, “Hey, what areas do I seem to be a little bit needy in?”, and look at that as just a signal. It’s a flag to let you know where something is kind of missing in your life.

I do think it’s important that you take the time to examine your needs and decide if, if this is a need that is helpful for you. Is it something that helps you to grow into the person that you want to be? Or is this something that’s detrimental to you? Just because you want it or feel like you need, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s good for you.

And then once you have those things sorted out, you can ask others around you to help you get those needs fulfilled. Now when we’re doing all of this, be very careful that you don’t take on other needs unless it’s something that you truly want to. I know there’s some people who get a lot of their needs fulfilled by serving other people and that’s okay. If that’s something that recharges your batteries, then do that thing!

Every single person on this planet has needs and the sooner that we can be honest about what we need, the sooner we can work on getting those needs met in healthy ways. And that’s the end of the Stoic Coffee Break.

Be good to yourselves, be good to others, and thanks for listening.


Hello friends! Thank you for listening. If you like what you hear, head on over to patreon.com/stoicoffee and help support this podcast by becoming a patron. Also stop by the website at www.stoic.coffee where you can sign up for our newsletter, and buy some great looking shirts and hoodies at the Stoic Coffee Shop. Also, 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.

Categories
Coffee Break ego philosophy stoicism

184 – The Truth Never Harmed Anyone

The Truth Never Harmed Anyone

I want you to imagine something that you excel at. Something that you a pretty confident about. Maybe you can sing or dance or draw. Maybe you’re great at basketball, or soccer, or poker. Whatever it is, I want you to think about how you feel when you are doing it.

Now, I want you to imagine that you’ve just being doing this thing that you’re awesome at, and someone comes up and critiques you. How do you respond? Would you listen to this person? Would you get offended and annoyed? Would you think, “who does this person think they are to critique me?” Even if this person is one of the leading experts in this area, would that change how you feel?

Today I want to talk about one of the hardest things for us as human to receive – criticism.

”It’s the truth I’m after, and the truth never harmed anyone. What harms us is to persist in self-deceit and ignorance.”

– Marcus Aurelius

Why is Criticism so hard for us to hear?

I think it’s because deep down, no matter how good we are at something, we all harbor insecurities. We feel that we just aren’t as good as we pretend to be, or want to be. Because our ego, our identity, is wrapped up in who we think we are. When something threatens that identity, we can easily get defensive. Our egos try to maintain these boundaries of who we think we are.

Many of us, myself included, grew up in situations where we were frequently criticized by our caretakers, siblings, or even the community we grew up in. We might be constantly told through subtle and direct ways how often we fall short or are a disappointment. In these situations it’s hard to learn how to handle criticism effectively because those that are supposed to teach us, are the ones inflicting the wounds. The old adage of just “toughing it out” sometimes just creates more open wounds that never really heal. We can become hyper-sensitive to criticism because those wounds just get reopened, often feeling just as raw as they did when we were young.

Why should we get better at handling criticism?

The fastest way to improve at anything is to be honest about our skill with it. If we are unable to look at things as they are, we’re going to continue making the same mistakes. This true in so many areas of our lives. If we’re unable to handle criticism in our jobs, we’re never going to improve and gain the skills that we need to advance in our careers. If we can’t handle feedback in our relationships, we’ll find it difficult to build healthy and supportive relationships because we won’t be able to deal with challenges head on.

Not handling criticism can hold us back from taking a chance on the things that we really want to do. I know that this is one that is really a struggle for me. Looking back, I can see that some of my choices in life such as not pursuing music or acting was because I was afraid of the criticism and the accompanying feelings of insecurity. And those are both careers where there is no way to escape criticism.

When you get better at handling feedback, people trust you more, and feel like they can be honest with you. This can help relationships at work and in your personal life.

How do we get better at handling criticism?

So how do we get better at handling feedback? How do we transform ourselves from avoiding and resenting criticism, to not just handling it well, but embracing it?

The most important, and probably the hardest, step is to make it safe for others to give you feedback. Many people won’t give feedback because they’re afraid of upsetting the other person. Even when they a prompted, people will still not be completely honest because they don’t trust that there won’t be repercussions for their candor.

How do you make it safe? By listening, taking in the information, and thanking the other person for their candor. You don’t debate. You don’t get argue. You say “thanks”… and mean it.  This is not easy, but it pays huge dividends in the long run.

When getting feedback, it’s so easy for your ego to kick in and get defensive. Don’t argue with the person giving feedback. Remember, this is their opinion, which they are entitled to. You can waste a lot of time and energy trying to prove them wrong, or you can take that time and energy and focus on keeping it safe for people to share their opinions with you. Again, the best thing you can do is say, “thank you”.

When you get better at receiving feedback, it’s always helpful to ask for more information. You can ask for clarifying examples. You can be curious. But only ask if you really want to know. If you’re looking for fuel for an argument, say “thank you”, and move on.

Action

Once you’ve received feedback from someone else, you need to decide what to do with it. It’s always good to bounce this off someone that you trust. Sometimes, the advice isn’t all that great. Sometimes your ego might get in the way. Having someone who has an unbiased opinion can be helpful to see if there is merit in the feedback. And if the person gave you something that was helpful, let them know and thank them. This helps close the loop and shows the other person you really are open to receiving feedback.

Pitfalls

When taking feedback, it’s all too common to take it as a personal attack. And it is possible that it is. The other person might say these things because they have an ax to grind, and that’s okay. You can’t control how they give feedback, and they probably will not do it perfectly. What we’re working on is what you can control, and in this case you can control how you receive it. But think about how much power that gives you when someone can try to personally attack you, and you can just take it and smile without getting ruffled.

It’s also important that you don’t hold a grudge. If you want to be someone who people trust with giving you their honest opinion, holding a grudge is one way to sabotage any efforts of creating a safe space for people to tell you the truth.

Conclusion

Receiving feedback is one of the fastest ways to help us grow, but also one of the hardest skills to master. Our insecurities and ego are always getting in the way. But when we develop the skills to be open to honest feedback, others are more open and honest,  we are better able to master our own emotions, and we spot our shortcomings make improvements faster.


Hello friends! Thank you for listening. If you like what you hear, head on over to patreon.com/stoicoffee and help support this podcast by becoming a patron. Also stop by the website at www.stoic.coffee where you can sign up for our newsletter, and buy some great looking shirts and hoodies at the Stoic Coffee Shop. Also, 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.

 

Categories
Coffee Break philosophy stoicism

183 – Mind And Body

Mind And Body

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“Caretake this moment. Immerse yourself in its particulars. Respond to this person or that person, this challenge, this deed. Quit the evasions. Stop giving yourself needless trouble. It is time to really live; to fully inhabit the situation you happen to be in right now. You are not some disinterested bystander. Participate. Exert yourself.”

– Epictetus

One of the hardest things that we have to deal with as humans is anxiety. As humans, we evolved to be constantly aware of threats around us. This is how our brains evolved to keep us alive. That rustling in the bushes could have been a snake or tiger. The adrenaline spike got us ready in flash should we need to fight for our lives or run for safety. Without these traits, humans would not have survived very long.

The problem is that we are built to handle threats that don’t exist for most of us. Getting your brain to understand and appreciate that though is a whole other challenge to our modern world. Because our brains are constantly on the lookout for threats, we may feel uncomfortable or anxious for something that we “think” we shouldn’t cause that kind of response. Maybe our partner is frustrated with us for being late. Maybe the noise from the traffic outside is just a little too jarring. It could be anything that might trigger this kind of anxiety in us, and we may not notice until we’re all worked up about something and in the middle of an argument.

The Chaos

One of the things I struggle with is this kind of anxiousness that sits in the background of my thoughts. It’s almost like white noise, and I often don’t even notice it. It comes from having grown up in an environment where I felt unsafe. When this happens, you’re constantly vigilant for threats. It becomes a state of being. It becomes this barely perceptible background music that creates an anxious mood that can impact how I view everything. I call it the chaos.

The chaos is always there, and it colors how I view everything. It doesn’t care if I like it or not, it just wants to keep me safe. Because of this hyper-vigilance, the constant state of “threat” creates a physical sensation. A tightness in my stomach or shoulders or neck. My breathing may be a little faster and shallow. My heart rate may be a little elevated.

I talk a lot about how our thinking impacts so much of what we do. Our thoughts create emotions, which drive the actions that we take, and those actions lead to the results we get. And because I know this, I often try to “think” my way through feeling anxious. But the thing is, the physical sensations that we have strongly influence the thoughts we have. If you don’t believe me, try to have a calm, rational conversation with someone while holding your hand over a flame. It’s really not going to happen, and it shouldn’t. If you’re holding your hand over a flame, your body is smart enough to get you to stop.

Our physical sensations have more control over us than we want to admit. But the thing is we have physical bodies. That’s what being human is all about! It’s that simple. To think that we can somehow ignore our physical nature and the bodies we inhabit is not realistic. And that’s okay. I think having a body is great! Even as I get older and there are pains and things that don’t work as well as I’d like, I’m still glad that my body still functions pretty well.

Because anxiety is a physical sensation, it needs to be handled in a physical way.

The Mind-Body Connection

One of the great things about Stoicism is that we work really hard to handle things in a rational way. And while there is clearly a focus on how to manage our thinking, we need to be sure that we are not ignoring our physical nature. By examining the way we think and observing how external things impact us, we can use these tools to gain the awareness to manage things from both sides – the physical and the mental. It is not just one or the other. It’s both.

When I studied acting in my first year of college, we worked with a method of acting where we worked on developing a character internally and externally. Some exercises that we did in class were fascinating. For example, getting into costume, using a particular prop, or even just adjusting your posture could help you get into the mindset of your character.

By thinking what your character would think, you could change your entire personality, and you would change how you moved physically to embody how you felt inside. If the character was fierce or jolly, your face would take on those expressions. Standing in a menacing posture, or holding your arms outstretched to embrace a long-lost friend would trigger the emotions you were trying to create with your character.

Physical Awareness

“Wild animals run from the dangers they actually see, and once they have escaped them worry no more. We however are tormented alike by what is past and what is to come. A number of our blessings do us harm, for memory brings back the agony of fear while foresight brings it on prematurely. No one confines his unhappiness to the present.”

– Seneca

The other day I was feeling particularly anxious. I don’t know what was causing the stressful feelings, but I noticed them for a good portion of the day. I finally reached a point where I couldn’t sit with it anymore, so I went for a walk. When I got about 300 meters from my house, I burst into tears for about a minute. Then it just stopped. I continued on with my walk and noticed that my mood was getting more and more relaxed. Later that evening, I noticed how good I felt. I had done nothing in particular, but that physical activity, and that release of whatever was stressing me out helped purge those anxious feelings.

Active Mindfulness

One of the best ways to practice being aware of our physical nature is through mindfulness and even meditation. One of the biggest misconceptions about meditation is that it’s purely a mental exercise. There are some meditation practices that like that for sure, but most mediation practices I’ve ever done have been very much focused on an awareness of the thoughts in your mind and the sensations in your body. It’s about developing a more acute awareness of both so that they can help regulate and support each other.

The Buddhists have what they call “walking meditation”, which is an active mindfulness. This idea that it’s not just trying to control your mind or reach some state of nirvana, but to be fully present in your own body and mind. It’s about being intentional about what you are doing, not just mindlessly going through the motions. That while you are cooking or gardening or doing some other task, that you are fully aware of the thoughts in your mind and the sensations in your body. While cooking, do you smell the ingredients, and savor the tastes? If you’re gardening, do you notice the texture of the dirt between your fingers, the smell of the plants, the vibrancy of the flowers? The more we can practice noticing the physical sensations that we feel and recognizing them when they are very subtle, the sooner we can take some actions to reduce those anxious feelings.

When we recognize that anxiety is a physiological response to the physical world AND the thoughts that we have, we can make sure that we’re using all the tools in our toolbox to ensure our wellbeing. The next time you’re feeling anxious, rather than trying to think your way out of it, or to convince yourself that you shouldn’t feel that way, just let yourself feel it, and see if there is anything physical that you can do to help calm your nerves. Maybe a short walk or some exercise. Maybe doing some yardwork. Maybe even doing the dishes. I know for me that getting things back in order is also useful for the mental aspect of things. Whatever it is, find your thing that helps you bring things back into balance, and find that equanimity you’re looking for.

Hello friends! Thank you for listening. If you like what you hear, head on over to patreon.com/stoicoffee and help support this podcast by becoming a patron. Also stop by the website at www.stoic.coffee where you can sign up for our newsletter, and buy some great looking shirts and hoodies at the Stoic Coffee Shop. Also, 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.

Categories
Coffee Break philosophy stoicism

182 – Want What You Have

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Want What You Have

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If you’re in a place where you can take a moment and write something down, I want you to get a piece of paper and pen, or may sit down at your computer, or on your phone. Just something that you can take notes on. If you are driving or unable to take notes, then make a mental list.

I want you to take a moment and think about the things you want in life. Think about all the things you want to accomplish. Maybe the career or a particular job you want. Are there things you want to learn and master? Maybe material things you want to have, such as a house, or maybe a piano, or a bicycle. Maybe people want around you such as a partner, or kids, or friends. It doesn’t need to be exhaustive or all encompassing, but I want you to list at least 5 things. Go ahead and pause this for a moment and make a quick list, and start it again when you’re ready.

Now that you have a list of things you want in your life, I want to you count how many of the things on you list are thing you already have. Maybe a few? Maybe a lot? Maybe none?

Gratitude

Don’t set your mind on things you don’t possess as if they were yours, but count the blessings you actually possess and think how much you would desire them if they weren’t already yours.

— Marcus Aurelius

When we think about things that we want in our lives, we also need to think about the thing that we already have, and appreciate those things. It’s easy for us to get stuck in the mindset of only focusing on the things that we don’t have in our lives. We focus on what we are lacking as a person and where we consider ourselves as failures. We can get too focused on all the material things that we don’t have and want.

But what if instead, we took time each day to learn to want what we have? What if we stopped wishing for what we didn’t have appreciated what we did? I know for a lot of people who are religious and pray, this is something that is often included in their prayers. For those of us that are not religious, we can still take a lesson from them and remind ourselves daily to appreciate what we have.

Grass Is Always Greener…

The other aspect of gratitude stressed by the Stoics is that we should be careful about wanting what others have. How often have you looked at someone else and wanted what they had? Maybe it’s material possessions. Maybe you think they have a better life than you. Maybe they’re happier, better looking, charming, etc. We like to think that “if only we that person’s life, we’d be so much happier.” But we don’t know that. We don’t know what other troubles someone else is struggling with. Maybe in comparison, our troubles are so much easier to deal with. We can only project what we think our life might be like.

When we look at someone and think that they have it so much better than we do, and we want their life. But you know what? You can’t have their life. You have yours. This is what it means to accept your fate and everything that comes with it. It means that you get work with what you have. You work with your life as it really is, not as you wish it to be.  When we get stuck on wanting things we don’t have and making our happiness conditional on those things, we give those things power over our happiness!

Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t think that seeing what others have and wanting that is always a bad thing. Looking at what others have and appreciating is how we can understand what we want, and see that something is possible. Whether it’s an ideal relationship, career, or skill, we can look to them as role model. If it’s a material possession, we can can also appreciate it, and we can be happy for the other person.

Witholding

The Stoics also have an interesting idea that we should think about how much we would miss what we already have. If you look on your list of things that you appreciate about your life, how would you feel if you suddenly didn’t have it? What relationships do you have that you would miss in your life? What possession do you treasure that you would still desire if you didn’t have it? And it could be anything. It could be your favorite pair of jeans. It could be your favorite guitar. It could even be your phone, and I yes, I’m not saying that ironically. I imagine that a lot of you are listening to this podcast on your phone.

We can also take this one step further and practice a kind of abstinence with the things we appreciate by going without them for a while. I know some people will fast so that they appreciate the food and drink that they have. Others go camping to enjoy the outdoors, but they also know how much they will appreciate their nice warm bed. I know myself when I have been away from people I care about, I appreciate them even more, and remember how much I enjoy their company.

So much of the unhappiness we feel in our lives is not being present where we are. We’re constantly looking to the future and how we want things to be, or getting the things we desire. Wanting what we already have is a simple and effective way to be present in our own lives. Meditating on how we would feel if we did not have those things, as well as depriving ourselves at times, can also help us appreciate the life we have.

Hello friends! Thank you for listening. If you like what you hear, head on over to patreon.com/stoicoffee and help support this podcast by becoming a patron. Also stop by the website at www.stoic.coffee where you can sign up for our newsletter, and buy some great looking shirts and hoodies at the Stoic Coffee Shop. Also, 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.

Categories
Ask Coffee Break philosophy stoicism

181 – Askers and Guessers

Askers and Guessers

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“The first rule is to keep an untroubled spirit. The second is to look things in the face and know them for what they are.”

—Marcus Aurelius

Last week I talked about asking for help. This week I want to delve into asking a bit further.

Guess Culture

I grew up in a Guess Culture. And what is a Guess Culture? A Guess Culture is one where the social rules are so ubiquitous that everyone knows them, or is expected to know them. It usually happens when most people around you hold the same beliefs about how things should be. When a culture is very homogeneous, for example, a religious majority, it’s easy to just assume that everyone knows the social rules. Outsiders who are new to a city, or even country, often find themselves flummoxed as they try to navigate all these unwritten rules that everyone else seems to know.

Ask Culture

On the other side, there is Ask Culture. This is where asking is encouraged, and guessing is considered rude. It happens in families or communities that encourage asking. For example, many of the sex positive communities have clear lines around asking and consent. It also happens in places where there are diverse kinds of groups and in order to navigate all their differences they have to ask.

I want to talk about each of these, and why becoming an asker can help improve our culture dramatically.

I came across the idea of Ask Culture and Guess Culture after reading an old a blog post from metafilter.com. In it, the original poster talked about how a friend of his wife was coming to New York and asked if it was possible to stay with them for part of the time. It was a very straightforward ask with no assumptions made that they had to host her and she even said, “Let me know if this might be a possibility…”. He thought the ask was exceptionally rude. The comments that followed were very interesting as plenty of people thought it was exceptionally rude, whereas many others thought it was respectful, and urged the poster to simply say “No”. Finally, a user called tangerine mentioned how this was a clash between Ask Culture and Guess Culture. I’ll read a part of it now, and I’ll leave some links in the show notes to this and some other articles that I found rather enlightening:

“This is a classic case of Ask Culture meets Guess Culture.

In some families, you grow up with the expectation that it’s OK to ask for anything at all, but you gotta realize you might get no for an answer. This is Ask Culture.

In Guess Culture, you avoid putting a request into words unless you’re pretty sure the answer will be yes. Guess Culture depends on a tight net of shared expectations. A key skill is putting out delicate feelers. If you do this with enough subtlety, you won’t even have to make the request directly; you’ll get an offer. Even then, the offer may be genuine or pro forma; it takes yet more skill and delicacy to discern whether you should accept.

All kinds of problems spring up around the edges. If you’re a Guess Culture person — and you obviously are — then unwelcome requests from Ask Culture people seem presumptuous and out of line, and you’re likely to feel angry, uncomfortable, and manipulated.

If you’re an Ask Culture person, Guess Culture behavior can seem incomprehensible, inconsistent, and rife with passive aggression.”

After reading this, it amazed me at how many things just clicked. I grew up in a Guess Culture where everyone around me was Mormon or understood how Mormon culture permeated every aspect of life in Utah. When I would meet people who had just arrived and were not familiar with the church, I would often end up explaining how things worked. I would often get responses such as “Really?!” or “Are you serious?!” when explaining some of the unwritten rules of the road.

There are traits for each type:

Guessers

  1. Are used to just “knowing” what the “right thing” to do is because that’s what everyone else around them does
  2. Consider asking a direct question as creating conflict and they are usually conflict averse
  3. Want you to guess as well
  4. Find it difficult to directly tell you the truth.
  5. Feel you are challenging them if you ask them direct questions
  6. Feel resentful when you ask, because you’re supposed to “know” what is rude.

Askers

  1. Ask because they don’t know
  2. They don’t want to make assumptions.
  3. Are okay with “No” as an answer.
  4. They want the truth and find it confusing that asking considered offensive.
  5. Have a higher level of communication because they want things to be clear.

Now mos I have found that living as a Guesser causes a lot of stress. Leaving things ambiguous and trying to guess what someone else might want leads to uncomfortable situations. Whereas I thought I was doing something nice, the other person found it rude that I didn’t ask before I acted. If I had taken the time to ask, I would have gotten buy in from the other person, and we both would have been happy.

As I delve into this, remember the point of becoming an Asker is to improve communication with people around you. And for some, especially for those that live in a Guess Culture, this is going to seem like you are learning to be rude. It’s going to be uncomfortable. It may be especially challenging if the people closest to you are Guessers.

Honesty

When we work on becoming Askers, the most important thing is to be honest. We’re honest about our intentions. We’re clear about our ask. We ask because we really want to know. Learning to be as honest as possible is hard. In many cultures, and especially Mormon culture, we’re trained not to rock the boat. We’re trained to “be nice” which is code for don’t say things that might make others feel uncomfortable. A big problem with this thinking is that it means we have to figure out what might make others feel uncomfortable, but we won’t know what that might be unless we ask. It’s really stressful!

Most people never see everything eye to eye, so we should be cautious of those that agree with us too easily. There’s a high probability that they are not being completely honest and may just be telling you what they think you want to hear. The more comfortable we are with telling the truth and hearing the truth the better we can deal with life and trust those around us.

When we work on becoming an Asker, we’re also expecting others to be honest. When we make an ask, we want the truth. We want the other person to let us know if it is something that they don’t want to do.

For example, say that you’re out on a first date, and you ask your date if they’d like to go to your favorite Italian restaurant. Now maybe your date doesn’t like Italian food or is gluten intolerant. Would you be offended if they asked to go somewhere else? Personally, I would be more upset if they didn’t because I want the date to be enjoyable for both of us.

Boundaries

I’ve often talked about boundaries on this show and I think they are helpful as we learn to be Askers. When we’re trying to be more honest, it does not mean that we have to tell everyone everything. It means that we need to be honest about what we’re feeling and thinking. This is where defining and respecting boundaries comes in. For example, if someone asks you about something you don’t really want to discuss, you don’t have to tell them. Informing them with something like, “I’m not comfortable talking about that topic” is a straightforward way of setting your boundaries. If you notice that someone is uncomfortable with something you’re asking about, you can ask them if it’s something that they don’t want to discuss, and we can respect that.

Becoming an Asker can also help a lot in professional situations. For example, say that you’re in the middle of a project at work and your boss comes to you with a new project to work on. If you’re a Guesser, you might just say yes and try to figure out how to fit it in with the rest of your work, knowing that it will put you behind. If you are an Asker, you ask which project is the priority, and how much time you should allocate to each. If your boss is a Guesser, this may be a bit of a challenge, but this kind of clear communication can help you reduce stress and conflict because you are bringing up your concerns and asking for clarification.

Be Okay With “No”

When a Guesser is in a situation where they have to say “No”, it makes them uncomfortable. They feel like the other persons should never have “put them” in that situation, or they should have asked in some very specific way that an Asker could not have known. This is frustrating for an Asker because they don’t see asking as being rude. They are trying to be clear, to understand, or to get consent.

Responsibility

Being an Asker also means that you take responsibility for what you say. It means that if others are uncomfortable with what you ask for, as long as you follow your core principles of honesty, open mindedness, and compassion, you do not need to apologize or feel bad about telling the truth. Remember, if someone else is offended because you asked a question, it is their thinking that caused their emotions. You did not “make them” feel anything.

Create an Ask Culture

Creating an environment in your home or work of an Ask Culture can reap significant benefits. It can strengthen the communication with those that you spend most of your time with. It can lead to discussions that are difficult and rewarding. For example, if kids have an environment where they feel like they can ask their parents about anything, it can lead to a higher level of trust. It means that when they’re struggling, they will ask you for help, rather than shutting you out. If employees feel like anything is open for being questioned, you can have the frank kinds of discussions that are needed to improve the workplace and the company itself. We should reward people for being honest, not “punish” them for saying something that we don’t like.

Conclusion

Becoming an Asker after living so long as a Guesser has been a challenge for me. It is uncomfortable because I was trained for so long to say the “right thing” or have the “right answer”. Sometimes being honest about what I want feels confrontational. It also feels vulnerable because I might get a “No”, which feels like being rejected. But being an Asker is about doing our best to be honest and expect honesty from others.

And “No” is a completely acceptable response.

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Further reading:

https://ask.metafilter.com/55153/Whats-the-middle-ground-between-FU-and-Welcome#830421

https://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2010/05/askers-vs-guessers/340891/

Categories
Coffee Break philosophy self-improvement stoicism

180 – Ask For Help

Ask For Help

 

“Don’t be ashamed to need help. Like a soldier storming a wall, you have a mission to accomplish. And if you’ve been wounded and you need a comrade to pull you up? So what?”

— Marcus Aurelius

The Stoics teach us that we are part of the human community, that we’re here to help and support our fellow humans. We are social animals, and as much as we may think that we are independent, we’ve thrived as humans because of our cooperation. None of us can survive just on our own. We rely on each other in a very interconnected society.

Let’s look at a practical example of how we’re all physically reliant on each other. When you buy groceries from the store, you rely on all the people that built the store, run the store, and create food and other goods for that store. As much as you try, you can never be truly 100% self sufficient. Unless you walked naked out into the wilderness, used only what you could find, hunt, or harvest to create shelter and feed yourself, you are dependent on others.

Even understanding this basic principle, one of the hardest things for many of us in life is to ask for help.

Why? Why is this so hard for us?

There are a lot of reasons. Asking for help is being vulnerable. It is putting ourselves in a place where we might get rejected. We may feel like we are weak by asking for help. Societal ideas often reinforce this idea by promoting that we need to be strong and independent to be successful in life.

This is a lie.

Now some may think this a paradox of Stoicism. If we are to control what we can, doesn’t that mean that we should be self sufficient? Yes, we are need to control what we can, and be self sufficient. But controlling what you can, does not mean that you write off the rest of the world. It means that you do your part by managing your emotions and being the person that you want to be regardless of who other people think you should be. Asking for help is do something that we can control. Asking is communicating our needs, wants, and desires, and allowing others to choose to help us, or not.

Trust

For many of us, being able to ask for help comes down to trust. For those of us that grew up in difficult circumstances, we can find it hard to trust that other people won’t take advantage of us when we ask for help. We have a hard time trusting that someone else has our back. We may isolate ourselves physically, emotionally, or mentally so we don’t have to rely on other people.

This lack of trust can also lead to a lot of stress and unhappiness. When we interact with others, we’re often afraid that if we ask for something that we’ll be denied, so we often just do whatever we want without checking in with others. We may exclude others from our decision-making process because we are used to deciding things on how they impact us. Because we feel like we’re the only ones looking out for ourselves, we may not consider how our actions impact others.

Another impact this has on us is that we often try to take on too much and do whatever it is we’re trying to accomplish by ourselves because we don’t trust other people will help us. In a nutshell, we become control freaks because we don’t think that other people will have our best interests at heart, even if they have been supportive in the past.

Who Not How

So why should we trust other people? Why is it important to learn how to ask for help? To answer that question, I want to talk a little about a book I’ve been reading.

In their book “Who not How”, Dan Sullivan and Benjamin Hardy discuss how important it is to work with other people to accomplish the things we want to in our lives. They illustrate this point by discussing how Michael Jordan never would have had the success in his career on his own. In order to win as many games and championships as Jordan and the Chicago Bulls did, they needed to assemble the right team. This included Phil Jackson as coach and other stellar players like Scotty Pippen. Working together, they built one of the greatest basketball teams ever. Michael Jordan, for as truly talented as he was, never could have had such a winning career by himself.

“Do you have Whos in your life that give you the perspectives, resources, and ability to go beyond what you could do alone? Or are you keeping your goals so small to make them easier to accomplish them on your own? Do you really think you must be the one to put in the blood, sweat, and tears, bearing the whole load to prove your capability?”

— Dan Sullivan and Benjamin Hardy

When I read this, it really gave me pause. There are many things that I want to get accomplish in my life that I try to take on myself. And while I do have the skill to accomplish them from start to finish, I could get them done much quicker and have higher quality if I were willing to ask for help. I know that doing so also helps with organizing because I have to schedule something with other people in mind and not try to keep the schedule in my head. It also means that I could expand the size and scope of the project because I would have people onboard who would be stronger in areas where I’m weak.

Taking a little more from Who Not How:

“It can be easy to focus on How, especially for high achievers who want to control what they can control, which is themselves. It takes vulnerability and trust to expand your efforts and build a winning team. It takes wisdom to recognize that 1) other people are more than capable enough to handle much of the Hows, and 2) that your efforts and contribution (your “Hows”) should be focused exclusively where your greatest passion and impact are. Your attention and energy should not be spread thin, but purposefully directed where you can experience extreme flow and creativity. Results, not effort, is the name of the game. You are rewarded in life by the results you produce, not the effort.”

Personal Growth

Now much of what I’ve talked about focused a lot on career and work, but we can apply it to our personal lives. If we want to live healthy and happier lives, we all need people to help us where we lack in our lives. When we’re sick, it’s great to have someone willing to do those things that we’re cannot do for ourselves. We need friends who help support us when we struggling. When we share our lives with others and share our struggles, we also find out that we’re not the only ones that struggle. When we’re vulnerable, it allows others to be vulnerable and share their struggles with us. We get the chance to support others and be supported.

People also love to be supportive and helpful. For example, I was afraid to ask for contributions to my podcast for a long time. I was afraid of what others would think. But people have been happy to step up and support me in this endeavor. They’ve also offered some ideas that I’m working on to expand the reach and impact of this podcast, and find more ways to share Stoic principles with more people. They’ve also been vulnerable and shared their struggles with me, and I appreciate it. It’s helpful for me to know that I’m not alone in navigating the complexities of life.

Sharing our lives with others is also a source of a lot of joy. For example, camping with friends is something I really enjoy. Being able to connect with others out in nature certainly recharges my batteries. Sharing a sunset or sunrise with good friends is something that I look forward to.

We also need other people for us to see our flaws, because we all have blind spots in our own thinking and behavior. I know in my case having a partner who is stronger in areas that I’m weak has helped me become a better person. Her rationality, and she is a lot more rational than I am, her insights into people, and her ability to explain other points of view that I may not have considered have helped me grow in ways that I would not have been able to on my own. She’s also helps me see where I am weak, which is not always comfortable, and difficult to own up to. She holds me accountable to act like the person I’ve said I want to be.

How To Ask

So how do ask for help? Well, this is something that we don’t need to overcomplicate. We ask. We try to be as clear as we can in what we’re asking for. Sometimes we need to feel validated. Sometimes we need to vent. Sometimes we need help. But we ask. We need to make sure that we aren’t asking someone to do something that we should do for ourselves. Asking someone to change who they are because it doesn’t suit us is not a very healthy ask for either person.

With that said, we also need to be okay with someone refusing our ask. Just because we got up the courage to ask does not mean that the other person has to comply. Remember, we are all free to choose what we are and are not willing to do. We also should not guilt other people into doing what we ask. Trying to control and manipulate others is never a healthy way to get something done. If they aren’t willing to help, that’s okay. We now know that they are not someone we can go to for help in that specific area. They may help in other areas, so we also need to be sure that we don’t just write someone off because they aren’t doing what we want.

Asking for help is something that we can all get better at. The next time you are striving for your dream, or struggling with a problem in life, remember, many hands make light work.


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Categories
Coffee Break philosophy self-improvement stoicism wisdom

179 – Do Hard Things

Do Hard Things

“Give yourself fully to your endeavors. Decide to construct your character through excellent actions and determine to pay the price of a worthy goal. The trials you encounter will introduce you to your strengths.”

— Epictetus

The unglamorous, most powerful way to accomplish your goals and becoming the person that you want to become.

One thing that fascinates me about humans is our desire to find the easy way to do almost anything. So many of the things that we think of as necessities in our modern lives are simply things that make our lives easier. Things like dishwashers, microwaves, and email. All things that help us accomplish things that would otherwise take much longer to accomplish. Washing dishes or clothes by hand, while not exceptionally difficult, nonetheless take up quit a bit of time. Microwaves cook our food in less than half the time of traditional cooking. Dashing off an email takes far less effort than writing and mailing a letter.

None of these things are good or bad. They are simply tools to accomplish things in a shorter span of time. But just like everything, it comes with a cost. As we get used to the comfort and ease these tools bring to our lives, it gets easy to become complacent. We get used to things being easy and instant. We get bored if we’re not entertained. We find it hard to focus on and accomplish things that we want to. We get distracted by all the new and shiny things. We find it challenging when things are hard and take time.

Do you want to accomplish your goals? Do you want have more motivation throughout your day? Do you want to grow more as a person? If there is one thing that you can do in life that will help you to accomplish your goals in life, it is this:

How willing you are to do hard things, and how willing you are to suffer to accomplish them.

Why Do Hard Things?

“To make a goal of comfort or happiness has never appealed to me; a system of ethics built on this basis would be sufficient only for a herd of cattle.”

— Albert Einstein

Doing easy things does not bring about much of a sense of accomplishment. It’s when we push ourselves to our edge, challenge ourselves and take on a goal or task that feels risky or scary that’s when we feel alive. When we push through the difficulties and work our way through to the other side, it feels amazing.

If you want to have career success like Hugh Jackman or Steve Jobs, you have to do hard things. You have to get up each day and do the things that others don’t want to. You get up and you go for a run. You get up and go down to the basement and do that workout. You make a plan and follow it. You do the things that others don’t.

A gem cannot be polished without friction, nor a person perfected without trials.”

— Seneca

When it comes to growing as humans, taking the easy way never brings the fulfillment that we need. Personal growth is hard. If you want to be an exceptional human, or even just above average, you have to put in the work. There is no other way around it. You can’t have someone else do the work for you. There is no machine that magically turns you into an awesome person. There are no shortcuts in growing, and remember that it’s the journey, it’s doing the work is the point, not just reaching the destination.

To state the obvious, doing hard things is hard. That’s why everyone doesn’t have a body like Jessica Alba. Not everyone can sing like Kelly Clarkson or play the cello like Yo Yo Ma. It’s hard work.

Death Gives Clarity

The Stoics ask us to reflect on our own mortality. Momento Mori. Remember that we could die at any moment. Why is this important? Why think about death?

1. When we look through the lens of our own mortality, we get a clearer idea of things that are important to us.

2. We stop putting off important things until “later”, because there might not be a “later”.

Carpe Diem

— Robin Williams, Dead Poet Society

Let me put it this way…when you get to the end of your life and look back, would you rather reflect on how many hours you spent watching TV, or would you rather reflect on how you were able to grow and strive towards reaching your full potential?

I know for me I want the latter.

Massive Action

Training yourself to be disciplined and dedicated is hard work, but I think that there are two aspects of how to do hard things. Massive action, and small actions.

Brooke Castillo, my favorite life coach, talks about taking massive action. What this means is identifying what is going to move the needle the fastest. When we are able to make some great progress in a short amount of time, we can build up momentum to push through when things get tough.

Often, the massive action doesn’t have to be great, it just has to get done. Maybe something like writing a crappy first draft of a book over a weekend or writing 5 songs in a week regardless of how good or bad they turn out. Maybe it’s slowly walking a 5 miles on a weekend. It doesn’t matter if it’s great the first time. It matters that you took action that moved the needle.

Taking massive action gives you something to hold onto that helps keep you moving forward. In our example of the crappy first draft . If you have a crappy first draft of a book, you have something to work with. You have a foundation to build off of.

A good example of massive action in my own life is this podcast. My massive action was that I put out an episode every day for the first 137 days, a feat which still surprises me. I did slow down over time because what I wanted out of the podcast changed. I wanted to go a little deeper into each topic, and make it a little longer. I also wanted to spend time with my friends and family, so slowing the pace was necessary. But having created a large body of work made it easier to return to creating episodes after taking a break for over year.

Small Actions

“I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.”

— Bruce Lee

In 2003, I was watching the Ironman Triathlon broadcast from Hawaii. Now if you’ve never seen the Ironman, it’s pretty badass. It starts with a 5 mile open water swim, a 122 mile bicycle ride, and a full 26 mile marathon at the end. Finishing one is the probably the hardest sporting challenge a person can accomplish.

At the time, I was overweight, in terrible shape, and not very happy with my health. Watching the Ironman inspired me. Seeing the dedication and dogged persistence that those people, many of them just regular people and not professional athletes, lit a fire in me.

Over the next two years, I dedicated myself to training for triathlons. I started out small, just running for 15 minutes a day around my neighborhood. I was exhausted, my legs hurt, and my lungs burned, but I felt more alive than I had for years.

I started swimming at my gym. I would do 5 painfully slow laps per session. Over time I built up to 20 laps in the same amount of time.

I enrolled in spin classes and later bought my first road bike. As time went on, I found a passion for cycling and changed my focus. At my peak I was putting in around 200 miles a week on my bike and completed several century rides – rides of 100 miles. I also lost 55 lbs.

The most important lesson I learned from my years of cycling, is that consistency is king. If we want to actually finish what we start, we must become a master at building habits. Doing a small “hard thing” every day helps us get used to struggling. We get used to suffering for the things we want. That hard thing will be different for each person. It can be something that supports you in your goals or not, but it has to be something that challenges you. I should also be something that starts small and you do it every day until you don’t have to think about whether you should or shouldn’t. You just do it.

For example, say that you want to get up each morning and workout. If you get up on your first day and do a 60 minute workout after not having worked out for years, you’re setting yourself up for failure. You’ll be sore for a few days. You might resent how much time it takes, so remember to start small. Maybe on your first week, you get up and stretch for 5 minutes, do 10 push ups, and 10 sit ups. The next week, you might bump that up to 15 pushups, 15 sit ups. The next week you might add in some pull-ups or some free weights. The point is that you do it every day.

Once you have one habit that you do every day, add another. Then another. Soon you have a day that is a stack of habits of your choosing.

Feeling accomplished at cycling helped me feel more confident overall and willing to try other things that I might have felt were to scary or risky before. I also found that I was better able to create and keep helpful habits. Now that I’ve been out of cycling regularly, I miss that fire and drive. I’m also about 30 lbs overweight and I’m not happy with where my health is. I wrote this episode for me because I want to get back to doing hard things.

Process

An important aspect to remember about this are that you shouldn’t wait to feel motivated to start something. If you wait to “feel motivated”, you may never get it done. Take the feeling out of it.

Like we talked about last week:

“You can endure anything your mind can make endurable, by treating it as in your interest to do so.”

— Marcus Aurelius

So if motivation is not what’s going to help us achieve things, what will?

Process. Process is greater than motivation. Motivation comes from momentum, and your process is what helps you create momentum. When you create a defined process, you have a clear step by step guide that makes it easy to know what you need to do to accomplish your goal. Creating a process also helps you anticipate roadblocks and plan around them, which removes a lot of fear and anxiety that pops up when we set out to do hard things.

Do you want to be a good writer? You get up everyday and you write. You remove the distractions. You close you browser and silence your phone and you write. Then you do the next day, and the day after that. Even if you don’t have anything to write about or that you think is any good, you write and you edit and you write until you start to find your voice. You practice your craft every day. You do the hard things.

You want to be a great singer? Then you practice everyday. You do your scales every day. You sing the same song over and over until you know it so well that you almost hate it. You listen to your singing coach and follow their instructions. You do the hard things.

Want to have a better relationship? You have to do all the small things every day. You have to communicate with your partner. You have to consider their needs along with your own. You have to set healthy boundaries for yourself, and respect theirs. You have to put in the work. Just putting in the minimum, or “phoning it in” as they say, won’t get you there. You don’t build a strong and healthy relationship without effort. You do the hard things.

Doing hard things is a core and fundamental piece to accomplishing anything worthwhile. It helps to give our lives meaning, and creates a sense of accomplishment. The next time you face a particularly scary challenge, don’t turn away because it’s not easy, rather turn into it because it’s hard.


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178 – If It’s Endurable, Then Endure It

If It’s Endurable, Then Endure It

“Everything that happens is either endurable or not. If it’s endurable, then endure it. Stop complaining. If it’s unendurable… then stop complaining. Your destruction will mean its end as well. Just remember: you can endure anything your mind can make endurable, by treating it as in your interest to do so.”

— Marcus Aurelius

How often do we complain about the things that we don’t like about in life? There are so many things to complain about in life. Even at this moment, there are so many things to complain about. The Pandemic. The government. Politics. Our relationships with others. Money. Even the weather. We can all find things to complain about.

Complaining about something wishes things to be other than they are. It is trying to get the universe to change for us. The universe doesn’t care about our complaints. If you are able, do something about it. If you are cannot, accept it, let it go, and move on. To continue complaining is a waste of time and energy.

Why do we complain?

I think there are several reasons. Many of these have to do with covering up our own insecurities.

Attention – People often complain about things because it’s much easier that actually doing something about it. Internet trolls are a prime example of this behavior.

Avoid Responsibility – Blame other people or things so that you are not responsible for things failing. We don’t want to be the reason that we failed.

Excuses – This often is self soothing for things that are outside of our control. We don’t need to make excuse for things we can’t control.

Superiority – People will try to lift themselves up by putting others down. By pointing out someone else’s failures, they imply that they are superior to the other person.

Manipulation – This is often used as a way to bond with others. “If you hate the same things I do, we’re on the same side!”

Honesty is the best medicine

When we complain, it’s usually because we have expectations that are not met. We think that things should be other than they are. The fact that we have expectations mean that we think we have some kind of control over something. Because we think that something should or should not have happened the way that it did. The sooner we can recognize and accept how things really are, the less time we spend wishing things were otherwise.

Now, this does not mean that we should simply suffer in silence. Talking about things that are bothering us and saying them out loud a good way to understand what is bothering us. Sometimes we just need to vent.

The difference between talking through an issue and complaining is the motivation behind it. When you are discussing a problem or venting about an issue, you are trying to get things out into the open. You are expressing how you feel about something. It’s an investigation about what you are feeling and thinking. There is no expectation that anything is going to change. Complaining is putting things out there and expecting them to change without you having to do anything to affect that change.

Getting things out into the open is very important. The sooner we get them out, the more honest we can be about what is going on and the better we can identify what the reality of a situation is. The longer you hold onto these thoughts, the more they can drag you down. The more they float around in our minds, the longer they stay unresolved and often feel like they compound things and make it feel like they are much bigger than they really are. This is why talk therapy or journaling are so helpful for resolving problems.

What to do if we are a complainer?

We can notice when we are annoyed or frustrated by something. Be honest about why we’re complaining.

Are we hoping that things will change? Are wishing that someone else would fix this? Are we blaming others? Then we’re complaining.

Are we trying to figure out what’s bothering us? Are we just venting? Sometime talking through an issue out loud is exactly what we need to identify what is bothering us. And sometimes we just need to vent.

If we’ve identified that we can do something, are we willing to do it? We may not be in a place where we can. If we are, it’s a good time to ask for help if that’s something that we need.

If we’ve identified that we can’t do anything about it, sometimes just venting is all we need to get it out and let it go.

What to do if we are with a complainer?

Ask them if they are just venting, or if they are they looking for a solution. Ask if they want our opinion. Ask them what they are going to do about it.

If they’re venting, we can be that sounding board for them. We all need someone to listen to us and help us when things are hard.

If they’re asking for help, we can offer our opinions. We can offer our help if that is something we want to give.

We also need to not to take on their emotional labor. That means if they’re frustrated or upset about something, they may try to push those emotions on others, usually a partner or close friend, and expect them to try to soothe them and fix it. We can let them know we are not responsible for fixing their problems. We can listen. We can be supportive. We do not need to fix it for them and doing so robs them of the opportunity to grow. It also means that we are enabling them to continue in their unhelpful behavior.

Do what you can

I remember a few years ago when Neil Diamond was on tour and came down with the flu. While he was recovering, he still wanted to perform, but he let the audience know that because to his cold he was not up to his usual standard. He offered to refund anyone’s ticket to that wanted their money back and then went on to perform. Not a single person took up the offer. He did not complain. He did not make this anyone else’s problem. He took responsibility for what had control over.

Complaining is a lazy way to deal with a problem, because it is hoping that by airing our grievances they will somehow magically change for us. It’s how we become a victim and make ourselves powerless by giving our power away to people and things outside of ourselves.bra

If we can clearing identify a situation for what it is, do what we can, and let go of the things we can’t, we can stay in control ourselves and maintain our equanimity.


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177 – Get Comfortable with the Uncomfortable

Get Comfortable with the Uncomfortable

 

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

— Marcus Aurelius

Over the centuries, the term “stoic” evolved from the original meaning of someone that follows the philosophy of Stoicism, to someone who does not show emotions.

When you look up the definition of stoic in the dictionary, it says:

“stoic: Not affected by or showing passion or feeling. Firmly restraining response to pain or distress.”

Stoics are not emotionless automatons. All humans feel emotions. Reading Meditations, Marcus Aurelius seems far from being cold and emotionless.

“If you do everything as if it were the last thing you were doing in life, and stop being aimless, stop letting your emotions override what your mind tells you, stop being hypocritical, self-centered, irritable.”

— Marcus Aurelius

Practicing stoicism is not about repressing emotions. It is not about pretending you feel nothing. It’s about understanding how your mind works, so that you can use it to benefit you and those around you. It’s about finding balance and equanimity. It’s recognizing that you have control over what you think, feel, and do. If you are swayed by every little thing other people say, or frustrated by outside events, you will be at the whims of your emotions. Others will easily control and manipulate you.

So why do people equate being stoic with being emotionless? I think it’s because anyone that follows the tenants of stoicism understands that emotions are like the weather. They come and go. They’re in a constant state of flux. Because they understand this, Stoics know that if you sit with uncomfortable emotions for a while, they will eventually change. They will pass.

Whenever you have a thought, you create an emotional state. Some are subtle and others can be powerful, but every single emotion starts from a thought. It could be a very conscious thought you are actively choosing to think about. It could be a non-conscious background thought that you aren’t particularly aware of.

When we’re offended or upset by someone, it says more about us than about the other person. The thoughts that create the emotion are our own, not someone else’s. If you are offended, it’s because you chose to be offended. Your mind creates every emotion you have. If you are the one creating your emotions, you also have the power to change your emotional state. By processing those difficult emotions, you are also taking responsibility for your emotions. You recognize you cause those emotions and you do not blame them on other people or events.

As Brooke Castillo, one of my favorite life coaches, says, “No one can make you feel anything without your permission.”

Other People

Another reason that people think of being stoic as being emotionless is that your reaction is being compared to how other people might react in the same situation. The person making the judgement has their own idea of how someone “should” respond. Because a Stoic does not react how they think someone should, it seems strange. It also means that it is someone else’s opinion, and as we all know, that is something we don’t have control over.

When we get comfortable with uncomfortable emotions we also do not take on other people’s emotions. Now what do I mean by this? When someone is angry or frustrated with us, they may try to use those emotions to control or manipulate us. We may feel it’s up to us to change in order to manage their emotions. It is not. Their emotions are theirs to deal with. It is not up to us to manage their emotional state. When we can learn to separate ourselves from someone else’s frustration or anger, we can act in a way that is calm and wise. We don’t let others control us.

Examples

Let’s look at some examples.

If someone says something rude or offensive to you, is what they said intrinsically offensive? Like if someone said that you looked like a warthog, would that offend you? It is only offensive because of your judgment. It’s only offensive because of the meaning that you give to it. Maybe you think warthogs are awesome and fierce, so you could take it as a compliment.

Another example. Say that you’re feeling down and sad about something. You feel that emotional distress. You may feel depressed. Suddenly someone says something that makes you laugh and suddenly your mood has changed. The feeling may not completely go away, but the intensity lessens. All because what your mind focused on shifted. The power those thoughts had over your mind moments before has faded.

Bad Choices

Succumbing to your emotional reactions can be a detriment to the task you are trying to accomplish. I remember seeing a new report after a particularly devastating earthquake in Haiti. Some aid workers were so disturbed by the devastation, they felt overwhelmed with shock and sadness. And while this is a natural feeling, getting stuck in that sadness made them far less effective than if they recognize they were making the tragedy all about them rather than the people they were there to serve. If they had taken the time to recognize which things are not in their control and focused instead on what they can control, they would have been much more effective.

Now I’m not saying that you shouldn’t shouldn’t feel what you feel. Having empathy and compassion for others is part of what makes us better humans. But learning to sit with those uncomfortable emotions and finding better ways to process them helps you and those around you in the long run.

Know Thyself

I think the most important tool in learning to sit with uncomfortable emotions, is that we need to identify what we’re feeling, and ask why we’re feeling the way we do. Are you angry? Fearful? Ashamed? Why? Often the reason that we feel uncomfortable is that there is truth in what someone said.

Maybe we’re insecure about something. Maybe we acted in a way we’re not proud of and we don’t want to own up to. Maybe there is some true injustice happening, and that’s feeling is a signal for us to step up and take some action.

To be a Stoic is to be striving to be a better you and being willing to stretch yourself when things are hard. It is being willing to develop strength in areas that others won’t. It means developing the mental fortitude to recognize how your emotions are impacting your thinking. It is finding healthier ways to process emotions. Maybe that means you go for a run or a walk when you’re angry. Maybe it means that you give yourself some time to just vent to a friend or even just out loud.

Just remember that an emotion is sensation in your body, and barring certain medical conditions, an emotion can’t physically harm you. It won’t kill you. Emotions are the drivers of our actions, which is why it’s so important to sit with them, especially when they are uncomfortable. Because emotions change and fluctuate so easily, we know that the emotion will subside just by thinking different thoughts. If we can’t sit with uncomfortable emotions, we’re prone to acting out in ways are harmful to ourselves and others.

Any time you have an uncomfortable feeling, don’t run from it. Embrace it and ask what it is trying to tell you. If you don’t understand what you’re feeling, how are you going to know how to respond properly? If you fly off the handle at every minor challenge or lose your cool when things don’t go your way, you’ll be easily derailed. The more you can sit with uncomfortable emotions, the better you will be at handling difficult situations.


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176 – Win Or Learn, Then You Never Lose

Win or Learn, Then you Never Lose

I have a card in my office that I look at from time to time. It says, “Win or learn, then you never lose.” I don’t know how I got this card or where it came from. I love that quote so much I have it sitting on my desk as a daily reminder that I when I feel like I’m failing at something to remember that I’m really just learning something.

Why is it so hard to look at things with this kind of perspective?

Expectations

From the day we start school, they encourage us to get good grades. We’re encouraged to do what teachers expect from us. We learn how we’re measured, tested, quantified. We learn what is considered “good” and “bad”. As we get older, we’re often discouraged from figuring things out, to be curious, and explore, and instead come up with the “right” answers.

This kind of thinking leads us to focus on the outcome, and to only judge what is happening based on what others think is the “correct” outcome. We get so focused on this idea of finding the right answers we miss a lot of chances for growth along the way.

What if you could look at everything that happens to you as something you can learn from? What if you could train your mind to see everything as an opportunity? What if you could resist less, and flow more?

“The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.”

—Marcus Aurelius

When we frame our experiences as a place for learning, experimenting, and exploring, we see that the doing, the actual work is important. Every time we make an attempt, we get a little better. We find what might make things a little more efficient, a little more impactful. Even day is a step towards getting where we want to go. Every challenge that we come across is just one more lesson we get to learn. Each step we have to repeat, the better we get at it.

When we focus on the process, we are doing the things that we can control. When we take each challenge as a step in learning, we can refine our process. We may even start with one process, then throw the whole thing out and create a new one all together. When we are willing to be in a constant state of learning, we always win. If we are only looking to win, we miss out on so many parts of the experience.

Let’s look at a real-life example.

When I first started singing in my high school choir, I really didn’t know what I was doing. I loved music. I sang along with songs on the radio. I sang hymns at church. But I was certainly no Frank Sinatra or Placido Domingo. I often sang off pitch. The quality of my voice was thin and a little rough. Sometimes I felt embarrassed because I would sing something quite different from what my fellow tenors were singing. I would end up singing along with the sopranos who usually had the melody.

But as time went along, I kept getting better. Each day I would learn a little more about how to sing. A note that seemed too high the week before was a little easier. As my vocal cords become stronger, I was more accurate in my pitch. As my longs strengthened, I could hold my notes a little longer. The timbre of my voice became smoother and richer.

I also took voice lessons from a great teacher, who helped me build a strong foundation of correct singing. At first, it was scary to stand in front of a single person and sing. Especially someone as good as my teacher. But I knew that if I wanted to get better, having someone help me get to know my voice and how to use it would help me develop the processes I needed to become a better singer. I learned exercises to strengthen my voice. Exercises to get better at hitting the right pitch. I learned to move my mouth, neck, and body to create the sound I wanted. How to breathe to get the most power and control. How to sing delicately while still staying on pitch.

But interestingly enough, I found that the biggest impediment to becoming a better singer was worrying about how good I was in comparison to others. When I would get down on myself about how I didn’t sound as good as some of the others who had been singing for years, I would get nervous and it was like I had almost forgotten all the things I had learned. When I worried about what others thought, I would usually sing far worse than if I didn’t care, and sang because I wanted to sing.

I think that much of my success with singing came because I didn’t know what I was doing, and I was okay with not sounding great when I started off. I remember thinking when I successfully auditioned for the choir that it would be a great way to learn how to sing. The overall outcome I wanted to was to learn to be a better singer, which was something that I had control over. If my goal had been to sing a certain number solos or to have a recording contract, then I probably would have failed because those were things I did not have any control over.

Application

Now that we know this on a cognitive level, how can we apply this in real life? I mean it’s one thing to know it, it’s another to do it.

First, be clear that nothing is a mistake. It is a process. Think of it like an airplane. An airplane is never perfectly on course. In fact, it is off course most of the trip and is constantly making small course corrections along the way. We’re very much the same way. Think of every step in getting to your goal as something to work through. It is there to teach you. It’s a puzzle to be solved.

Second, don’t waste the experience. When you feel you have failed at something, which I think we all do, sit down and write what you learned from that failure. What are the things that you didn’t know before? What are the things you know now? What can you do differently next time?

Third, don’t let the idea of failing stop you. Accept that failing is learning. Accept that you won’t get it right the first time, or even the second or third. In fact, you may never get it right. But if you learn something from it? Well, then you’ve succeeded.

The goals that we set should be guides, stars that help us along the way. But if we only judge our success by whether we achieved the stated goal, then there’s a greater chance we’ll fail. If you set your goal to learn what you can from trying different things and improve based upon your experience, you’ll have a much better chance of succeeding.

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175 – Circumstances and Choices

Circumstances and Choices

One of the core tenants of Stoicism is understanding the things we control and the things we cannot control. Today I want to discuss this a bit more in depth.

“Some things are within our power, while others are not. Within our power are opinion, motivation, desire, aversion, and, in a word, whatever is of our own doing; not within our power are our body, our property, reputation, office, and, in a word, whatever is not of our own doing.”

— Epictetus

Circumstances and Externals

First, I want to focus on the things that we don’t have control over.

Our property is anything that we own. We don’t control what happens to our things. An earthquake, fire, or flood could ruin our home. Someone could crash into our car. Our computer or jewelry or money could be stolen.

Our reputation, or namely, what other people think of us. This is hard because we want to be liked by other people, and to some extent are driven by what others think of us. But simply put, we have absolutely no control over what other people think of us. As an aside to this, since we cannot control what other people think of us, this also means that we cannot control other people. Since other people’s moods and actions are driven by how they think, and we cannot control what they think, we cannot control other people.

Our office, or the position in life. This includes things like the circumstances of out birth. For example, we don’t control if we were born white or Black, Finnish or Filipino. We can’t control the nation that we are born in. We can’t control if we are born into a wealthy family. These are all things that are just pure luck.

This also includes aspects of our career or politic power. We can choose our career, but how successful we are is not up to us. We can work hard and make the best choices we can, but we often get promoted at work because of the choices of other people. We may choose to run for political office but we get elected to office because other people vote for us.

Probably the most surprising thing for many on the list of things that we don’t control is our body. You might think, well, I do have control over my body. Can you stop your body from breaking down? Can you stop simply make an illness stop? No, you can’t.

Thinking

Now that we clarified what things outside of our control, let’s dive into what we do have control over. Epictetus tells us we control how and what we think. Let’s take each of the things that he mentions and dissect it.

Opinions are our judgments about people and events. These are our beliefs about the world. These are formed by our experience, our knowledge, what other people have told us, and our own biases and superstitions. These are the things that we think of as “true”, and in a sense, they are true for us.

Motivations are the reasons and meanings that we give to things, or why we think things happen the way they do. When we make assumptions about why people do things, we are ascribing motivations to them. This is of course just our opinion about why we think they do something.

Desires are things we want, such as material things, career, personal pursuits and growth. These our own motivations. This is the “why” behind the things that we do.

Aversions are things we avoid, dislike, and may even hate. This is the “why” or the motivation behind the things we avoid or will not do.

These things that Epictetus has laid out are the things that influence our thinking. They are integral to our complete thought process. Each of these aspects is so important to understand because how we think is the key to the choices that we make, and the actions we take.

Choices

So when it comes down to it, our thoughts and choices are the only things that we actually have control over. Everything else is outside of our control.

Everything.

When you look at everything as a circumstance or a choice, it becomes much easier to see what our options are in any situation. When we clearly understand what our options, it is easier to make a choice, and those choices lead to actions, which lead to the results we get. We many not have many options. We may not like our options. They may completely suck. But the better we get at clearly recognizing our options, the more willing we are to make choices. The more choices we make, the better we get at making better choices.

Shifting to this way of thinking is not easy. From my experience, most of us go through life thinking that we have a lot more control over what happens to us. When we recognize that we have very little control over what happens to us in life, it can be downright scary, or it can be downright liberating.

The less we have control over, the more we can focus on the things that we do have control over. We can focus on understanding how we think. We can examine our opinions. We can see if our beliefs about things are holding us back or influencing us in a way that is detrimental. We can stop wasting energy on things we don’t control.

The most important thing that we can do each day is to practice seeing what our options are and making choices.

“If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.”

— Neil Peart (Drummer and lyricists of Rush)

It’s okay to decide not to make a choice. Sometimes we don’t have enough information, or we feel overwhelmed by too much information. Sometimes is not a choice that is worth our time. Steve Jobs and Barack Obama both simplified their wardrobes so that they did not have to spend time make choices they felt were unimportant. You can do the same. Choosing to not make a choice, or to delay a choice, is still making a choice. But by making it intentional, you are exerting control over your life.

Influence

Many of the things we cannot control, we may think that we have influence over. But I want to caution about this way of thinking. I think we should view things as either circumstances OR as things we can control. Why is it important to get rid of this grey area? Because believing we have influence over something is a messy area that can lead to very poor choices.

“Influencing” is not an action, it is just a perception. You can’t choose to influence someone or a situation. However, you can make a choice, take an action, and the result of that action may or may not influence someone or influence an outcome.

Influence is also something difficult, if not impossible, to measure. When you think that you have influence over something, you think that you have some semblance of control over it. By keeping things clearly in the categories of things you do have control over, and things you do not have control over, you are able to think more clearly, and you don’t fall victim to hubris.

Practice

So how do we become better at seeing our options and making choices? I plan on making an episode about how to make better choices, so that I can give it the focus that needs. But in the meantime, taking some time each day to write down your options when it comes a decision is a good place to start. You can also examine the choices you make each day and eliminate the ones that are not important.

Clearly seeing things we do and don’t have control over is a skill that can impact every aspect of our lives. It can help lower our stress and help us make better and faster decisions. It can save us energy by focusing on the important things in our lives and letting go of the rest.

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174 – You Are Good Enough

You are Good Enough

“A person’s worth is measured by the worth of what they value.”

Marcus Aurelius

The other day I was talking with someone close to me who said that they often felt extremely anxious in social settings, at work, or even video chatting with people online. I asked them why, and they said, “Because I’m afraid I’ll say the wrong thing and they’ll get mad at me.” I mentioned the usual things like, “It’s not your place to try and control what other people think and feel. To try to do so is just manipulation”, and “How they feel is not your problem to deal with, it is theirs”. And while these things are true, I didn’t feel like I got to the root of the issue.

In thinking about it over the last few days, I think it comes down to one thing – they do not value themselves. They do not feel “good enough”, that they are not worthy. I know that a lot of us struggle with this, but I want to tell you this – you are of value. You are worthy. Why do I know that? Because you are a human being, and every human being is worthy because they exist. You were not put here to live for someone else. You are here to realize your full potential, and if you are living for others, you are not following your path.

I have often wondered how it is that every person loves themself more than all others, but yet sets less value on their own opinion of themself than on the opinion of others.

Marcus Aurelius

This person, like me, is a recovering people pleaser. They struggle with it because they are also a nurturing person and sometimes the line between nurturing and people pleasing is not very clear. I understand this. My people pleasing came from my own insecurities of feeling like I’m not good enough, so I would try to get my validation from other people.

This is is not an unusual thing. I think many of us are brought up in ways which teach us that our opinions, our thoughts, our desires, are not worth anything. We’re taught that our value comes from following what others expect us to do. This includes all kinds of things like where to go to college, what our profession should be, even who we should marry.

The truth of it is Our thoughts, your desires, are all valid. All of them. Sure they might be considered silly, weird, or even disgusting by others. That is their opinion. The thing is, we are allowed to live our lives any way that we want. We get to live in the way that we think is best for us. We get to chose who we want to be. We are not here to live for someone else. With this also comes the realization that everyone else gets to do the same. They get to live life how they want to as well. They are not put here to live the way that we think they should.

Now, with that said, this does not mean that we are free from the consequences of how we want to live our lives. If we choose to abuse drugs, we can’t make the physical and mental consequences that happen magically go away. If we choose to live a life of violence, there are consequences that come with it, such as becoming the victim of violence, ending up in prison, or possibly death.

We also need to consider that we’re often fine with not keeping our commitments to ourselves, yet we’re afraid to disappoint others. Why is this be the case? Why should your commitments to yourself be less important than what other think?

This is what the Stoic’s mean by valuing your opinion over that of others. In fact, the better you become at defining your core values and living them regardless of what others think, the more control you will have over your life. Since Stoicism teaches us that we need to control the things we can, by defining our values, and living them, we are controlling the one thing we can control, namely ourselves. The more you worry about what others think, and try to live the way that they expect you to, the more control you are giving to them over your life.

“Attach yourself to what is spiritually superior, regardless of what other people think or do. Hold to your true aspirations no matter what is going on around you.”

Epictetus

But this does bring up a question – isn’t this a selfish way of living? Isn’t paying attention to our needs over those of others selfish? I think it’s just the opposite. I think of it like the instructions they give you on an airplane. You need to secure your mask before you help others. If you’re constantly pushing off what you need for others, you are not living to your fullest potential. You’re not running at your best. When you’re taking care of yourself, you are able to be more helpful to others. There will be people who think this is selfish, but that is just their opinion. We don’t have any control over what they think. But if you are acting in a way that is inline with your core beliefs, then by your own definition, you are not being selfish.

This also means that we do not have to justify ourselves and our choices to other people. We do not need their approval to live the way that we want to. We do not need their approval to be who we want to be. Their approval is something that is outside of our control. Seeking approval from others is just another way of people pleasing and worrying about the opinions of others.

When we choose to live according to our values, we have control over ourselves, and we are better able to be actors in our lives. We are more responsible for ourselves because we are choosing the kind of life, and the kind of person that we want to be, not what other people think we should do or be.


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173 – Change Your Perspective, Change Your World

Change your Perspective, Change Your World

Before I begin today’s episode, I want to let you know that I’ll be discussing an attempted suicide. While I believe in talking about things honestly and directly, I know that this topic can be difficult for some people.

“It is not so much what happens to you as how you think about what happens.”

– Epictetus

This last week I read a very powerful and moving story about a baseball player name Drew Johnson. Growing up, baseball was one of the most important things in Drew’s life. In his professional career he bounced around in the minor leagues, occasionally being called in to play in the major leagues. But even when he was succeeding, Drew still felt like a failure. Last spring, after years of struggling with his mental health, Drew tried to take his own life, but to his surprise and luck he failed.

After having survived a bullet wound in his head, Drew was surprised to find himself still alive the next day. It had been almost 20 hours. As he sat there thinking about his situation, he held the gun in one hand, and his phone in the other with 911 typed in. He had a choice: he could use the gun to finish what he started, or he could hit the green dial button and call for help. As he weighed his options, Drew suddenly had the will to live. He decided that the fact that he had survived this long meant that he was supposed to stay alive. He had to figure how why, and what he should do with this second chance.

When he called 911, the operator was surprised that he was still alive after 20 hours. The police quickly arrived to check on the situation.  As they waited for the ambulance, an officer asked him why he had tried to kill himself. He said, “Because I hate myself.”

“When you arise in the morning think of what a privilege it is to be alive, to think, to enjoy, to love.”

– Marcus Aurelius

The next morning when Drew woke up from surgery, he felt gratitude and love: towards his family and friends, the breath in his lungs, even the blanket that was keeping him warm in recovery. The failed attempt had given him a clarity in his life that many people never find. He found a new courage of being as honest as possible to everyone in his life. He tells them how much he loves them. When he struggles he talks about his emotions instead of keeping them hidden. He makes the most of his second chance.

Drew takes responsibility for himself and his actions. He doesn’t blame others for his choices. When his parents asked what they could have done to stop him from trying to kill himself, he said, “Nothing. It was my responsibility, not yours.” When asked how they could have missed the signs, he said “Because I worked hard to hide my sadness.”

“Accept the things to which fate binds you, and love the people with whom fate brings you together, but do so with all your heart.”

– Marcus Aurelius

It’s taken months of steady work for Drew to recover. There are good and bad days, but he’s grateful for them all. And what was amazing to me is to see how once Drew’s perspective on himself and his life changed, how he was better able to handle the circumstances of his life. In fact, his life in many ways should be harder than before. He lost his right eye to the bullet that entered his head. He has scars on his face from the many surgeries.

For some, such challenges and pain would weigh them down, and possibly make them withdraw even further. Drew found that by opening up and being vulnerable and asking for help, he has built a strong network of support for himself. This has also helped members of his family to open up and share their own struggles that they were ashamed to admit and to seek help as well. His relationships with his family and his girlfriend are closer than they have ever been. To him, every day is a good day to be alive.

When Drew talks about his experience, he doesn’t glorify what happened, but recognizes what he learned from it. He embraces his fate. “I was supposed to go through that. I’m supposed to help people get through battles that don’t seem winnable. It was completely supposed to happen. There’s no other answer. It doesn’t make any sense. It was supposed to happen. I’m free now. I shot myself, but I killed my ego.”

“Very little is needed to make a happy life; it is all within yourself in your way of thinking.”

– Marcus Aurelius

In the last episode, I talked about how to be responsible for our own emotions and actions. We do this by making active choices in our lives. We may not like our options. We may not have many options. But we always have the ability to make a choice.  When we can recognize this, and actively choose, we are taking control of our lives. If we don’t actively choose, then we are simply reacting to life. We are allowing ourselves to be acted upon. We are letting ourselves become victims.

Once Drew changed his perspective, he saw the things he had control over and took control of them. He makes a choice each day to be honest with himself and those around him. He chooses not to feel shame or to hide what happened, but instead shares his story in the hope that it can help others who are struggling. He tells himself and others that asking for help is not a sign of weakness. That it’s OK to not be OK.

Most of us will never have to experience something like what Drew went through. But we can learn that how we view ourselves and the challenges in our lives is far more important than the actual circumstances. We can also recognize that when we are struggling, we can reach out for support and help.

Not everyone one that attempts suicide are as lucky as Drew. Sometimes things can feel so painful and overwhelming that suicide feels like the only way out. If you are struggling, please know that there are people everywhere who are willing to help and support you. Reach out to friends or family if you have someone you can trust. You can also call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK(8255) or at suicidepreventionlifeline.org.

Drew Johnson’s Remarkable Second Act

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172 – Responsibility

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Responsibility_8cc46177fa0ff23a208763abda29bbad_800.jpg
Responsibility

How is one responsible for themselves?

“You have power over your mind – not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.”

– Marcus Aurelius

On this podcast I talk a lot about being responsible for for your own actions and thoughts, but what does that really mean? How do you actually accomplish this?

When you take responsibility for yourself, you recognize that it’s your own thoughts which create your feelings. You can step back and see that you can change how you view a situation. Regardless of what anyone else does or says, you are in command of your emotions. By choosing to think differently about what is happening around you, you don’t give power to other people over how you feel.

If we are upset because of what someone else said, we don’t blame them for how we feel. No one can make us feel anything without our permission. And while this is great in theory, it is hard to put into practice. Even our language makes it easy to blame others. “You made me so angry!”

On the flip side of that, we do not own someone else’s feelings. If they feel something, it is their own thinking that creates their feelings. They are responsible for how they feel, not you. This doesn’t mean that we have to be jerks. We can be compassionate and understanding. But if they don’t like something we say and they blame us for how they feel, we don’t take ownership of that.

What does it mean to be responsible?

Let’s break down the word: responsabilis, which is latin for “to sponsor or pledge, to be answerable for.” And -ility which means to act. So in a nutshell it means, “to act in the way that you have pledged”.

“Waste no more time arguing about what a good person should be. Be one.”

– Marcus Aurelius

I think the biggest key to taking responsibility for you actions comes down to one thing:

Choice.

Choices are active. Being responsible means choosing to take action, rather than being acted upon. Choose your response to others instead of just reacting. Reactions are giving up our ability to choose.

In every situation, we have choices. They may not be many but we always have a choice.

Rather than simply waiting for something to happen so you can respond, be proactive and choose to act.

Don’t just avoid doing evil, choose to actively do good.

Rather than avoiding saying mean things, choose to say encouraging things.

Rather than trying to not get angry, we can work on being kind and compassionate.

Rather than avoiding an uncomfortable situation, face it head on with courage.

Take action.

How do we get better at taking action?

As with developing any skill, the first step is awareness. The more aware we about what we think, what we say, and what we do, the more we can choose those things, rather than reacting. Awareness always takes lots of work. It means that we can’t run on autopilot. The brain tries to be efficient by relying on emotions or gut feelings. These are shortcuts. Being truly aware is hard. It means that we look at the situation, applying logic, think about options and outcomes, then act on our decision.

As we become more aware of our own thoughts, words, and actions, we need to take some time to think about what kind of person we want to be. We need to ask if those thoughts and actions help us become the kind of person we want to be? We need to plan how we want to act in a given situation. Then act.

If there is one thing that I can recommend that will really help with this, it’s paying attention to the language we use. We can practice changing our language. “I felt sad when I heard what you said.” Even further: “I felt sad, because I thought X when I heard what you said.”

Taking responsibility for our thoughts and actions is not easy. But I think it becomes easier when we take an actively making choices, rather than just passively avoiding uncomfortable situations. Be the driver of your life, not just a passive onlooker.

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171 – Beyond Fear

Beyond Fear

What scares us the most is our perception of events.

“A number of our blessings do us harm, for memory brings back the agony of fear while foresight brings it on prematurely. No one confines his unhappiness to the present.”

— Seneca, Letters III

Fear is a powerful force in our lives. It can be the driver of action or inaction. Because it taps into the hard wiring of our lizard brains, it pushes us into reacting in ways that are more basic and instinctual. Fear makes it harder to use higher reasoning skills.

When we are afraid of something, we believe that something it going to hurt us. Usually, fear is triggered by something outside of ourselves. Whether we fear something physical, mental, or emotional, our perception and thoughts around what is happening causes the fear that we feel.

When we are afraid, our ability to make rational decisions is diminished. Depending on the severity of the situation, we may react actions that in the short term may feel like we are protecting ourselves, but in the long term can cause a lot more problems. If we feel truly threatened we may shift into survival mode, “fight, fight, or freeze”.

Anger

Anger is the outward expression of fear. When someone is angry they are usually trying to control a situation or another person. In the case of a physical danger, anger might scare away a threat. In an argument it might be used to try and bring someone into compliance.

Fear is such a powerful force, it is used in politics to try and control others and sway elections. By creating fear though rhetoric meant to amplify real or perceived threats, people are less likely to use higher reasoning skills, and act on their baser instinct. Current and past problems are blamed on some “other” group. Tales of imagined future catastrophes are used to spur followers into action against this “enemy”. Whether it’s claiming a stolen election or losing jobs to immigrants, by stoking up fear, their followers become easier to manipulate. People can become so fearful they can be easily influenced into taking actions that they normally would never do.

Anxiety

Recently, I’ve come to the realization that many of my choices and actions come from a place of fear. The more I pay attention to it, the more I see how it influences the things I do and say, and the things I don’t. I see how many of my habits are in place just to avoid something uncomfortable. I often, unconsciously, make a decision based upon what someone else might think of me. I may avoid doing or saying something just to avoid conflict. This is where a lot of my people pleasing comes from. I’m afraid if I don’t behave or act a certain way, then they won’t like me.

If you’re like me, you may have a low level of anxiety that colors most things. Because of my upbringing of always worrying about any misstep, I’m always on alert for the other shoe to drop. Filtered through the lens of anxiety, I can find something wrong in any situation. This kind of thinking is very unconscious, and I usually don’t notice that I’m in a state of vigilance, ready for any threat. A situation will arise where I feel threatened and have a strong reaction, which at the time seemed appropriate. But once things calm down, I can see that I had an outsized reaction to the situation.

So how do we manage our fear? How do we minimize it’s impact on us? How can we begin to get control over this powerful emotion so that in the midst of it, we can choose to be intentional with our response, rather than simply react?

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

– Marcus Aurelius

Fear is the result of our thinking. When a situation comes along, we project what we think the outcome will be and if we judge that it is positive, we’re generally going to be happy. But if we decide that the likely outcome is negative, we might feel upset. Our mood has been changed by something that hasn’t even happened!

Some of us get stuck agonizing over things that happened in the past. We worry about something that cannot be changed, and can be held hostage by something that can no longer affect us, except in the inner world of our minds.

Because fear is created by our perceptions of things, we can learn how to change our perceptions. We can train ourselves to look at things in a different way. We can decide what thoughts are useful, and which ones trap us in a prison of our own making. When you have control of your thinking, you recognize the patterns and thoughts that create your fears, can you choose new and more helpful ones.

The first step of reducing the fear in our lives is to remember that fear is created by the thoughts in your head, not by a real thing. I cannot stress the importance of this idea. Any time you feel fear or anxiety, instead of looking outwards for the cause, look inwards to your thoughts.

The next step to changing our perceptions is developing the skill of awareness. We need to become observers of how we think. It is estimated that the average person has around 60,000 thoughts a day. Most of us go throughout our day without thinking too much about what thoughts we are having. To pay attention to every thought that we have is not really a possibility.

Our society is not set up in a way that we can easily slow down and take stock of how we are thinking. We have constant and unending distractions around us. Even when we have a spare moment where we could spend some time noticing what is happening in our minds, we instead opt for looking at our phones to catch up on twitter or Facebook or the latest TikTok, which take us out of our present situation and take us somewhere far away.

This kind of mindfulness takes patience and training. The two most practical tools of mindfulness have been with us for thousands of years – meditation and journaling. In fact, Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations is his journal.

Many people tend to shy away from meditating. I often hear from others how hard it is to mediate. Sitting quietly with your thoughts can feel strangely uncomfortable. I myself find it difficult to do more than 15 minutes at a time. For many, the idea of meditation is sitting on the floor trying to clear thoughts from your mind. What has helped for me is to do a meditation practice where I try to become very aware of my body, my sensations, and my thoughts. I focus on my breathing to recenter myself when my mind has wandered away from observing my thoughts, and following my thoughts.

There’s also what it called walking or active meditation. This is where you focus very intently on some task that you are working on. Whether that is washing the dishes, working in the garden, or going for a run. Just try to be as present as possible. Focus your attention on what’s around you. Focus on the dish or the tool in your hand. Focus on the feeling of your foot landing and pushing off the road. This type of practice helps us move from just “seeing” what’s going on to “observing” what’s going on. When we become more mindful, we stay more in the present. We stay out of the past and the future.

Journaling is another way to get in touch with the constant flow of thoughts in your mind. In The Artist’s Way, author Julie Cameron recommends what she calls Morning Pages. The basic ideas is to write three pages in a stream of consciousness, with no real topic or goal in mind. With no judgment or goal, you are free to explore what thoughts are appearing and leaving.

You either are active participant in your life, or you are being acted upon.

Once you become more aware of the thoughts in your mind, you can start to choose what you want your observations to mean. You can decide how you want to respond to a situation. If you don’t actively choose your judgements and responses, you end up just reacting to the things happening around you. You either are active participant in your life, or you are being acted upon.

But what about things in the past? Since these are things that happened and can’t be changed, how can you make an active choice to do something? You can decide to reinterpret what those things mean. You can decide if the hard or painful thing in the past was a terrible thing that happened to you, or that it was a difficult situation that you figured out how to get through. You can look at your scars as something ugly, or you can look at them as battle wounds that you earned. It’s all about how you decide to look at it. You give it meaning.

When it comes to things in the future, we start to recognize the futility of worrying about what may happen. Most of the futures we imagine will not happen. This isn’t to say that we should completely ignore what may happen, or to prepare for emergencies that can arise. It does mean we don’t need to obsess over all the possible outcomes or only focus on that possible negative ones. By learning how to manage our thinking better, and staying out of that place of fear, we can make better decisions that may help bring about the future that we want.

Learning how to manage our thinking and recognizing that we are the ones that create our fear, we can decide to interpret things in a more positive way. This doesn’t mean that we are naive or overly optimistic. We want to be sure that we see reality for what it is. But it does mean that we can choose if we view something as a difficult and fearful thing, or a challenge that we can learn from and grow stronger.

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170 – Boundaries

Boundaries

Today I want to talk about how Stoicism can help us set healthy boundaries. Learning how to set healthy boundaries is not easy. I was never really taught how to do this, and so I’ve been learning how to do this over the last few years, and honestly, it’s been a challenge.

“To achieve freedom and happiness, you need to grasp this basic truth: some things in life are under your control, and others are not.”

– Epictetus

The first and most important teaching of Stoicism is that there are things that we control, and things we cannot and that we should focus on the things that we can control and let go of the rest. This seems like a very clear concepts, but is one of the hardest things to master. Truly understanding and taking responsibility for the things that you can control is hard. It is much easier to blame our misfortunes and unhappiness on things outside of ourselves. But every time we do this, we allow ourselves to become a victim, and come no closer to solving the issue we’re dealing with.

But how do we deal with things that we can’t control, but have a big impact on us? For example, we can’t control what other people do or say. Does this mean that we have to just let them do what they are going to do and just live with however their actions impact us? I think that Stoicism gives us some tools to handle these situations.

First lets talk about what a boundary is. A boundary is a clear statement about what your actions will be in a given situation. It is letting the other person know what you will do. It is not telling someone else what to do. Setting a boundary is not the same as an ultimatum.

When we set boundaries we are acting on the things that we control, namely, what we say and what we do. We let others know how we will respond in a given situation. We don’t tell others what to do, because that is not within our control.

This is really hard for most of us to do. We want to control the things and people around us. But when we try to control others, we are not taking responsibility for the things that we can control. We often try to do this through all kinds of ways – manipulation, coercion, threats, ultimatums. All of which are trying to control the actions of others, most of which generally fail.

Why is it important to set healthy boundaries? Figuring out your boundaries helps you understand what you want, and how you want to be treated. It is a way for you to define your values. It is how you stand up for yourself. Setting boundaries is how you let other people know how you want to be treated. It improves relationships because you let the other person know how they can respect and support you.

Setting boundaries, especially where you haven’t before, can be very challenging. Often when you start to set boundaries with people that weren’t there before, there is resistance. The other person might get upset because they like how things are. They might try to test the boundaries that you have set up, which is why it is important that you hold your boundaries. Maintaining your boundaries is how you respect and take care of yourself.

How do we set healthy boundaries?

There are a few steps to creating healthy boundaries.

First define what is acceptable behavior. Decide what things uphold your values and what things do not. Decide what you will and won’t put up with.

Second, decide what action you will take in response. Remember, this is about you and your actions. It is not telling the other person what they have to do.

Third, communicate this boundary to the other person. You don’t have to explain yourself. You don’t have to justify why you are setting this boundary. You have the right to determine what you do and do not want to do. Also, remember that this is not an ultimatum, but a statement of what your actions will be.

Fourth, hold up your end of the bargain and take action when necessary.

In some cases, setting a boundary is as simple as saying “no”. Whether in relationships at work, or with family and friends, a clear and concise no is often the best way to create healthy relationships. It lets others know how they can respect your space and time. Remember, you do not have to explain yourself. For some people this is hard, and as a recovering people pleaser, doubly so. We each have the right to determine what we will or won’t do.

Sometimes setting and maintaining boundaries is a little more involved. Lets say you have friend who frequently gets drunk whenever you go out together and it bothers you. When they’re drunk, they get loud and obnoxious. Maybe it’s led to some uncomfortable situations. Setting a clear boundary would be letting them know that if they continue to get drunk when you are out together that you will excuse yourself and head home.

In this case, you made it clear what actions you will take in that situation. You did not tell your friend that they have to stop drinking. You just make it clear what you will do. The next time you are out with your friend, and they decide to get drunk, you politely but firmly excuse yourself.

The last aspect I want to discuss is making sure that we respect the boundaries of others. When someone else has set a boundary, do we acknowledge it and to our best we respect it? Do we try to persuade or talk them out of it? Do we get frustrated and try to bully them? Recognizing and respecting the boundaries of others is a clear recognition that we can’t control other people.

Learning how to set boundaries is a process of defining your values, and understanding your value. It is how you let others know how you want to be treated. Think of it as creating a guide book to you.

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169 – Why Do You Care What Others Think?

Why Do You Care What Others Think?
 
Why do you care what other people think?

“I have often wondered how it is that every man loves himself more than all the rest of men, but yet sets less value on his own opinion of himself than on the opinion of others.”

– Marcus Aurelius

“How much time he gains who does not look to see what his neighbor says or does or thinks, but only at what he does himself, to make it just and holy.”

– Marcus Aurelius

Marcus Aurelius warned us worrying about the opinion of others is a waste of time. But, if we live with other people and are social animals, shouldn’t we worry about what others think?

No, because what others think doesn’t change the intrinsic value of who or what is being judged. It’s just a thought in their mind. That is all.

While this is an easy concept to grasp, it is a hard thing to implement. From the day we’re born we seek the approval of other. Our parents and family at home. Our teachers at school. Our friends and co-workers. We all want to be liked.

But does someone’s opinion of us change our intrinsic value? Does someone else’s thoughts make us a better or worse person? No, it doesn’t. What other people think doesn’t have any bearing on whether you are a good or bad person. Whether you have value or not.

So what happens if we stop worrying about what other people think?

We save ourselves a lot of stress. We focus on how well we’re are doing in our personal growth. We stop worrying about what other people are doing with their lives. We stop focusing on the faults of others. We don’t worry about who others think we should be. We focus on becoming the person we want to be.

Because in the end, you’re the one that chooses who you are. You’re the only one who can decide who you want to be. If someone disapproves of you, or doesn’t like you, it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t change who you are.

Now, does this mean that we should completely ignore the opinions of others? No it doesn’t. I know that I just got done telling you the opinions of other shouldn’t matter to you, but we should listen to others to see if there are any facts or truth to what they have to say.

So how do we do this? How do we listen to the opinion of others, but not let the sway of it impact us? If someone disparages us, how do we let it go? If someone praises us how do we not let it go to our heads?

We do this by being curious. We listen for what is fact, and what is opinion. We leave the opinion for the other person. We verify the facts and use them to our benefit. We try to find the data, so that we can learn from it.

Let’s take an example. If you’re singing a song at a performance, and afterwards you overhear someone mention they didn’t like your performance. Should you be offended? Does it change your value? Does it change the performance? No.

Now let’s say that you go up to this person and ask them why they didn’t like your performance. They may mention something like the prefer a different kind of voice for that song. Maybe they didn’t like the style it was played in. Maybe it was their exes favorites song and it brings up bad memories for them. Most of these things are just their opinion. All of them are things that you cannot change.

But, if they were to tell you that a few notes were  flat, or you flubbed some of the lyrics in the second verse, these are factual things that you can verify. These are things that you can do something about. You can practice those tricky passages. You can work on memorizing the lyrics. In this case, you should be grateful for their feedback because others may not feel comfortable being that honest with you.

Learning to separate fact from opinion is a very powerful skill but it something that most of us are not very good at, but there are some ways that you can practice this. The next time you’re watching the news, pull out a sheet of paper, and split it in the middle into two columns. Label one column facts, and the other opinions. Pay attention to what the speaker says and write down which things are facts and which are opinions. Also notice how many things they state as facts but really are just opinions.

When you start to master this, try this in a conversation with someone. Think about what you are saying. Which things are facts and which are opinions?  How about the other person?

The buddhist’s teach that all suffering is caused by attachment. Attaching our self worth to the opinions of others is a way to truly suffer. It gives the other person control over you, and you become a victim. Learning how to let go of the opinions of others gives you the strength to stay true to your core values.

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167 – Self Advocacy

Self Advocacy

Today I want to talk about the idea of self advocacy. One area that I really struggle with, and I’ve talked a bit about it on this podcast, is the fact that I’m a recovering people pleaser. Too often I’ll put my own needs aside and try to do what I think other people want me to do. Usually it’s not a conscious thing, but a built in habit from years and years of either wanting people to like me, or to avoid conflict.

The thing about people pleasing is that it’s lying. When I do something so that someone else will like me, I’m lying. When I do something for someone that I really don’t want to do, I’m lying when I say that I want to do it. When someone asks my opinion and I try to figure out the “right” thing to say, then I’m lying about what I really think.

Most of us who are people pleasers feel like if people knew who we really were, they wouldn’t like us. We feel like our needs aren’t as important as the needs of others, or that we have to put their needs above ours in order for us to be liked. In some cases we do or say things we don’t really believe or want to do because we want to avoid conflict with the other person. That if we just say or do things right, then we’ll somehow keep the peace.

The problem is that it doesn’t work, and in the end it backfires on us.

We often feel resentment towards this other person. If I lie to someone by telling them what I think they want to hear and not what I think, then they really can’t know who I am. They only see this image I’m trying to put out there, and so I’ll resent them for not letting me be myself, even though I was the one making that choice.

When we put our needs and wants on the back burner for this person, and they don’t react in how we want them so, we’re upset that they aren’t pleased by what we did. And the thing is, what we’re doing is trying to manipulate them. We’re trying to control how they feel, and most people don’t like that feeling at all. And to top it off, we’ve just put our happiness in the hands of other people.

So how do we change this behavior? How do we stop doing things or saying things that we really don’t want to? I mean it seems pretty simple, doesn’t it? We should just stop saying and doing those things, right?

In reality, it’s not that easy. For me, this is a pattern that is so ingrained that I often don’t notice that I’m doing it. It won’t be until I’m part way into an argument or some time after a situation I’ll see that I was trying to please the other person. I often have a bit of anxiety when I want to step up and say what I really think or feel because I’m afraid it will upset the other person.

This is where the idea of self advocacy comes in. Self advocacy is the idea that you have the right to stand up and advocate for yourself. That your feelings, your thoughts, your opinions do matter, and that you have the right to advocate for yourself, regardless of how others feel about what you think. Often, we cast the other person as some kind of bully that doesn’t like what we have to say or think. Often, this isn’t the case and we’re the ones that are self censoring, and then blaming them for our behavior. And when I think of it this way, it’s kind of crazy.

Now there are going to be people that dislike what we have to say or think. And that’s okay. One of the most important things that I hope you can take from today’s episode is that you don’t have to please anyone else. Ever. Let me say that again. You don’t have to please anyone else. It is not your job.

Let that sink in for a moment. I know that sounds really selfish, but it truly isn’t. To me, trying to manipulate others is selfish. Trying to control the feelings of others is selfish. To be honest and truthful and let them decide how they want to feel is really an unselfish thing. Think about that. By being your true self, you are giving them the choice to decide how they want to feel an how they want to act. They may not like you, and that’s okay. That’s their choice. Let them have that choice. And if they decide they don’t like you, then they’re not someone for you. They’re not your people.

For recovering people pleasers, this is not easy. It may feel extremely anxiety producing. I know that it is for me. I sometimes feel like I’m disappointing others or that I’m letting them down somehow. But the thing is, when you do this, it lets the others know who you truly are. It frees you from feeling like you need to be in charge of other people’s happiness. It frees others from feeling like you are trying to manipulate them. It allows you to be a stronger person because you’ll know who you are, and so will other people.

Learning self advocacy is really just an expression of self love, and that’s something that benefits us all.

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166 – Imposter Syndrome

Imposter Syndrome

Imposter Syndrome has killed more great works, more companies, more careers and possibilities than almost anything I know. When we begin something that we want to be skilled at, we understandably feel like we don’t deserve to call ourselves by the title that would accompany our work. Musician, actor, sculpture, entrepreneur, programmer, writer… We add qualifiers like “I’m working on becoming an actor.” Or “I work as an accountant, but my side hustle is composing.”

Do I have to make money at it before I can call myself what I am? Do I have to wait until the title is bestowed upon me? Who makes that decision?

Now, there are some things that have to be credentialed before you are official. Just because I want to become a doctor, does not mean that I can just throw a stethoscope around my neck and start seeing patients. But for most other things, you are the only one that needs to decide.

Why do we do this? Why are we afraid to take on the title of what it is we’re doing? If I am making music, am I not a musician? If I get up each morning and type even 100 words on my book, doesn’t that make me a writer? I think it comes down to the worrying about the opinions of others. We feel like we’re an imposter because we think there are some criteria set or that we have to reach a certain level of proficiency before we can assume the title.

But who has set this level? In most cases, we ourselves are the ones that have set some imaginary level. We have decided what we think makes someone a writer, a musician, an athlete. The good thing about that is that we are the ones that can change it. We are the ones that can decide what that level is and make it be more generous.

I say that we do it Bob Ross style. If you are painting, you’re a painter. If you’re out there in your running shoes putting the miles in, you’re an athlete. Every time you pick up that guitar, you’re a musician. If you are actively doing whatever that goal is, that’s all that matters. Even if you only get down a few words each day and they are terrible. Even if you struggle to play the only two guitar chords you know. Only got a mile into your run before you had to walk? That’s okay, you are a still a runner.

When we’re working on something we love and are pushing ourselves to stretch and create and become better that we before sometimes all we can do is just keep moving forward as best we can. When we’re starting out we need to remember that the quality or the quantity of our work isn’t where we want it to be, but that we’re doing it is important. And if we keep on doing it, we will get better. I think the saying “fake it till you make it” is descriptive of how we need to handle imposter syndrome.

Imposter syndrome is just worrying about the opinions of others, and that is something, as the Stoics remind us, we have no control over. What you do have control over is if you’re going to keep going. So pick up those brushes, lace up those shoes, and keep pounding away that those keyboards, and don’t worry so much about what others might think.

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165 – How to be Angry

How to be Angry

One thing that I find vexes us in modern society is how to be angry. Anger is not a bad thing in and of itself. It simply is an emotion. When we get angry it is because something has bothered us. We’re not taught how to manage our anger very well. Things get pushed below the surface where they stew and remain unresolved. We are often afraid of dealing with someone that is angry because we as a culture, at least here in the U.S., avoid talking about it and dealing with it healthily. It is used to bully people, intimidate others, and to shut down discourse. We see this in our current political scene, where many of our leaders lash out at anyone they feel have wronged them or disagree with them.

Of course there will be anger where the love is strong, spilled like gasoline
It’s crude but it’s a power we can draw upon, if it fuels the right machine

— David Wilcox, Covert War

I’ve been meditating on lately is how to manage anger better. My role models for anger growing up were either explosive rage, or passive acceptance. Neither of these is useful or helpful in dealing with the things that upset me. In working with my therapist, and talking with my partner, I’m working on how to be angry in a productive way, and trust that I can be angry, and talk or even shout about the things I need to get out. I’m not trying to suppress anger or pretend that I’m not upset or push it to the side. Basically, I can be angry without being an asshole.

In the January edition of the Atlantic magazine, Charles Duhigg, one of my favorite authors about habits, writes about a study about anger in Greenfield, Massachusetts in 1977. The researcher, James Averill, was curious to understand if the existing attitudes about anger, that it is to be avoided and suppressed, really held up in a place where the quality of life seemed to be rated very high, and crime rates very low. He sent out an in depth and almost invasive survey and the result surprised him. Most people reported being angry several times a day to several times a week. And here’s the thing – most of these angry episodes were typically short and restrained conversations, rarely becoming blowout fights. And contrary to Averill’s hypothesis, they didn’t make bad situations worse. Instead, they tended to make bad situations much better. They resolved, rather than exacerbated, tensions. When an angry teenager got upset about his curfew, his parents agreed to modifications — as long as the teen promised to improve his grades.

Anger is one of the densest forms of communication. It conveys more information, more quickly, than almost any other type of emotion. And it does an excellent job of forcing us to listen to and confront problems we might otherwise avoid.

—James Averill

If we could, when dealing with someone who is angry, at least count on a general way of how that person might act, we could confront them and work on resolving issues rather than ignoring the problem until it manifests itself in violence. If we knew that we could get angry about something, and that the target of that anger would be willing to listen to us and work towards a resolution, we could be angry in beneficial ways that help bring up and work on difficult topics.

And as societies around the world become less able to deal with their anger about everyday life, the world as a whole becomes a more violent place. When politicians stir up anger in their voters against some distant group that is easy to demonize, there is no easy outlet for the perceived wrongs. I think this idea of not being angry is really not healthy.

How can you learn to be angry in a fruitful way? Rather than making anger something to be feared, what if we could, as a society, teach people how to be angry in ways that direct us towards resolution, rather than division? Are there ways in your own life that you could turn anger into a positive force?

Resources:
Chales Duhigg – Atlantic Magazine

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164 – Thinking in Bets

Thinking in Bets

How often do we approach decisions in a black and white manner? We wonder if we are making the “right” choice, which often leads us to think there is only one choice. What if instead of there being a “right” choice or a “wrong” choice, we looked at choices based on their likelihood to achieve the outcome we want? In today’s episode we’ll discuss the book Thinking in Bets by Annie Duke. In this book, she teaches us how to approach decisions like a poker player by understanding probability, dealing with less than full information, and how sometimes we just get lucky.

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163 – Self Ownership

Self Ownership

“I have often wondered how it is that every man loves himself more than all the rest of men, but yet sets less value on his own opinions of himself than on the opinions of others.”

— Marcus Aurelius

One of the things the Stoics teach us is that we shouldn’t worry about the opinions of others. This advice is very sound and seems pretty easy when it’s people that we don’t really know or care that much about. When it comes to the opinions of people closest to you, this is not always an easy thing. For example, if your parents disapprove of your choices, or you and your partner disagree on something, it’s not always easy to stand by what you feel is right, and let go of their opinions. Self ownership is the idea that you are 100% responsible for your opinions, emotions, and actions. It means that you recognize that no else “makes” you feel, think, or do anything. It meas that you give yourself the space to have your own thoughts and opinions, and that you allow others the same. That you and those you love can disagree and hold different views.

Are there people in your life that care about that always seem to be on the opposing side or disapprove of your choices? What are ways that you can set appropriate boundaries and hold true to yourself?

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162 – Don’t Kill the Message

Don’t Kill The Message

Often, we dismiss an idea because it makes us feel uncomfortable. We may dismiss the idea out of hand because it conflicts with our preexisting beliefs. We may not like the idea because it could mean that we supported an opposing view, and we are often loath to admit that we were wrong. We can be blind to seeing the merits or truth of something based on our own feelings or prejudices. Feelings are shortcuts to making decisions, and while they are very useful, we need to be deliberative and analytical thinking to make better decisions.

What are some areas of your life where you dismiss an idea because it made you uncomfortable? How you can set aside your prejudice and look at it objectively?

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161 – Better Than You?

Better Than You?

We want to feel like we are “doing things right”. Often this means we compare ourselves with others, making sure that we appear or at least feel like we are “better” than they are. But what does that mean? Why are we better? Who is the judge of what is better? Can we just look at someone else and see that they are the same just that they’ve made different choices?

Anthony De Mello in the book Awareness, said:

“Someone once had a terribly beautiful thing to say about Jesus. This
person wasn’t even Christian. He said, “The lovely thing about Jesus
was that he was so at home with sinners, because he understood that he
wasn’t one bit better than they were.” We differ from others—from
criminals, for example—only in what we do or don’t do, not in what we
are. The only difference between Jesus and those others was that he
was awake and they weren’t.”

– Anthony De Mello

In today’s episode, we’re going to talk a bit about comparison, how it keeps us from compassion, and a simple strategy to move past it.

You can read more about these ideas in the fantastic book, Awareness: The Perils and Opportunities of Reality, by Anthony De Mello.

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Coffee Break

160 – I, Me, and Enlightenment

I, Me, and Enlightenment

What if you could look at the world and yourself more objectively? What if you could see things without so much judgment or emotion attached? In today’s episode, we talk about a basic concept about the self from Anthony De Mello that can help us act in a more objective and less reactive manner.

You can read more about this idea in the fantastic book, Awareness: The Perils and Opportunities of Reality, by Anthony De Mello.

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Coffee Break

159 – It’s About Time

It’s About Time
Live YOUR life!

Time is the most important, the most in-demand resource that we have in life. Are you spending yours wisely or do you let it go to waste?

How much time?

The most finite resource that each of us has is our time. We can always make more money, but making more time is not something that any of us can do. While we can’t ever know exactly how much time we have, each of us can learn to spend our time more wisely.

“It is not that we have a short time to live, but that we waste a lot of it. Life is long enough, and a sufficiently generous amount has been given to us for the highest achievements if it were all well invested. But when it is wasted in heedless luxury and spent on no good activity, we are forced at last by death’s final constraint to realize that it has passed away before we knew it was passing. So it is: we are not given a short life but we make it short, and we are not ill-supplied but wasteful of it… Life is long if you know how to use it.”

— Seneca

Time Wasters

Are you just wasting time? How much time do you spend on social media? How much time do you spend on watching T.V. or Netflix on a given night? What are the time-suckers in your life? I mean how many likes do you need to give on Facebook? I find that I’ve had to limit my time on Facebook since it such an easy rabbit hole to fall in to.

I remember that I saw a talk once given by movie critic Micheal Medvid, when I was in college. While I don’t see eye to eye with him on a lot of things, he said something that really stuck with me. He said talked about how at the time the average American watched an average of 28 hours of TV a week. And this was before Facebook was even dreamed of. He talked about the fact that it’s not that there is enough quality media to watch. There’s plenty of good material. It’s that we lose a lot of our lives if we’re immersed in that much TV. We miss family connections. We miss out on living our own lives when we live by proxy of watching someone else’s life, real or fictional.

Indecision

One area that I’m currently struggling with is deciding where I want to put my time outside of work. I have so many things that I’m interested in doing and things I want to work on that I struggle with paring things down so that I can give enough time to the things I really want to do. I have plenty of good options, things that are very interesting to me. But I’m struggling to choose one, and because of that indecision, I’m not really moving forward with any of my plans. I’m working through the choices and deciding where I want to go. I’ve set a deadline for the end of the year, so that I can focus my energy on a few things, rather than being spread too thin.

“Were all the geniuses of history to focus on this single theme, they could never fully express their bafflement at the darkness of the human mind. No person would give up even an inch of their estate, and the slightest dispute with a neighbor can mean hell to pay, yet we easily let others encroach on our lives — worse, we often pave the way for those who will take it over. No person hands out their money to passersby, but to how many do each of us hand out our lives! We’re tightfisted with property and money, yet think too little of wasting time, the one thing about which we should all be the toughest misers.”

— Seneca, “On the Shortness of Life,” 3.1-2

Priorities

One of the things that we really need is to have our priorities lined up. This is going to be different for everyone. For some, family is their top priority. For others, it may be their work. Others it may be service to a cause. There is no perfect list of priorities. Each person needs to decide for themselves what is most important for them, and stay focused on it. If you don’t have a clear vision of where you want to go, then you’ll end up exactly where aim. Nowhere.

And the thing is, it’s going to vary for each person. Everyone has differing things that are of more or less important than others. And we need to understand that what we find important, is not going to be the same for others. And that’s okay. If everyone had the exact same priorities, we’d have a very much less interesting world to live in. Understanding what priorities are yours can help guide you in focusing on the things that are most rewarding.

Core Values

One of the areas that can help you choose what your priorities are is by understanding your core values. We talked about this a few episodes ago, and these are the things that can help you stick to the priorities that are more rewarding for you.

Changes

As you move through the different stages of life you’ll find that the things that were important to you in your teen years will be far different than those in your twenties. Those things that seemed so important in your twenties will change dramatically in your thirties. Every stage of life is a place of learning new things. You’ll have different responsibilities and different things competing for your time. You’ll find that some things you thought were so important when you were in college seem ridiculous when you’ve you look back on them 10 years later. As we learn and grow as people, we’re always going to be changing.

Intentional

So you need to ask yourself what you want to accomplish. Every choice you make then becomes a simple question: “Does this get me closer to the vision of my life? Does this move me forward on my goals?” And the thing is, you can and should choose at the time to do things that don’t move you forward. A life too focused means that you may miss out on some fun and interesting things. But what it really comes down to is being clear and deliberate about the things that you choose to spend your time on. It comes to making sure that you really think about each “yes” and “no”.

With the new year just around the corner, this is a good time for us to look at what we’re spending our time on in life. We can take time to be sure that the things we’re spending our time on are moving us forward towards the goals that we have in our lives. By taking the time to evaluate if the goals that we have line up with our priorities and our core values, we can be better at choosing those activities that enhance our lives. We can be sure

——

Hey friends, thanks for listening to the podcast. If you like what you hear, I would really appreciate it if you could help support me by making a pledge on Patreon. You can find me at patreon.com/stoiccoffee. Even just a small amount helps in keeping this podcast going. Also, head on over to my website at www.stoic.coffee and sign up for our weekly newsletter. And lastly, if you know of someone that might like or could benefit from this podcast, please share it with them. Word of mouth is one of the best ways to help this podcast grow. Thanks again for listening.

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158 – How To Be Alone

How To Be Alone

Humans are very social creatures. It is our ability to be social and to cooperate in large numbers that has enabled us to create such amazing societies. We usually feel most at home when we’re with others, but there are times when we find ourselves alone. Most of us find it rather uncomfortable. How do we learn to be alone?

A friend of mine who went through a recent breakup asked me how to deal with living alone. And while I gave him a few suggestions, I thought that it was big enough question that I want to address it further.

When I went through my divorce I found that the hardest change in my life was learning how to live alone again. I had my kids part-time, but I found that on the evenings after I dropped them off, the quiet of my apartment was just too much to bear. I would go to the mall or the grocery store or a karaoke bar just to fight off the dreaded loneliness that was so apparent after having my kids for a few days. On the days that I’d forget and just go home, I’d feel so heartbreakingly alone I would end up in tears on my couch. It took some time to learn how to be alone again. I was used to the hum and the noise of my family and found comfort in the rhythms of dinner, bath, and story time with the kiddos.

Alone in my apartment, I worked on making friends with the quiet. I let myself feel the sadness at the ending of my marriage. I cried at missing story time with my kids. Sometimes it would sneak up on me, leaving me feeling like I had just gotten the wind knocked out of me. I would still find myself trying to distract myself from my feelings. I read books, watched movies, and played guitar, but I got better at just being okay with feeling like shit sometimes.

“Nothing, to my way of thinking, is a better proof of a well-ordered mind than a man’s ability to stop just where he is and pass some time in his own company.”

― Seneca

When we learn how to be alone, we learn that loneliness is not the enemy. It is just a reminder that we like being around other people. Because we are social creatures, it’s built into us to want to be with others. Often the hardest part about being alone is the stories our minds tell us about why were alone: “I’m not good enough.” Or “People don’t want to be around me.” Or “I deserve to be alone.” I think this is where a lot of our loneliness comes from. Our mind is trying to make sense of why we’re alone, so it starts finding reasons to support it. Because we don’t like hearing these things and the feelings they create, we try to distract ourselves. T.V., drinking, drugs, overeating, and Facebook are just a few of the ways to distract ourselves from the constant dialogue in our heads.

If you can sit with the quiet you can start to hear the thoughts that are constantly humming in the background. At first, it may be uncomfortable. You may feel all sort of uncomfortable feelings because of the negative chatter that goes on in your head. When you take the time to listen to and get to really know yourself, you can learn to like yourself. What’s great about it is that if you don’t like the company you’re in, you can change. You can work on becoming the person you want to be. You can become someone that you like. That you can change yourself is one of the most important things the Stoics taught.

“It is in your power to withdraw yourself whenever you desire. Perfect tranquility within consists in the good ordering of the mind, the realm of your own.”

― Marcus Aurelius

When you learn to be okay with being alone, you develop a stronger sense of who you are. In my case, learning to have my own sense of autonomy was something I needed to develop. I had relied on my ex-wife for a lot of things. I had relied on my church as well. Now that I was no longer married and no longer Mormon, I had to reinvent myself. My identity that I had held for so long was not really who I was anymore. I had to decide the kind of life that I wanted to live. I had to create the person I wanted to be.

When you can be comfortable with the quiet, you can find being alone as a refuge from the noisiness of the world. With all the technology we have that keeps us so connected, sometimes you need to disconnect and turn off all the noise and chatter just to hear yourself think. You can put down your phone, turn off Netflix, and just listen to the quiet. With no pressure or rush to be anywhere, you can learn to be more comfortable with yourself. Rather than reacting to one distraction after another, you can listen to, and get to really know yourself. You might be surprised what you learn about the one person you should know better than anyone else.

—-

Hey friends, thanks for listening to the podcast. If you like what you hear, I would really appreciate it if you could help support me by making a pledge on Patreon. You can find me at patreon.com/stoiccoffee. Even just a small amount helps in keeping this podcast going. Also, head on over to my website at www.stoic.coffee and sign up for our weekly newsletter. And lastly, if you know of someone that might like or could benefit from this podcast, please share it with them. Word of mouth is one of the best ways to help this podcast grow. Thanks again for listening.

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157 – Don’t Feed the Trolls

Don’t Feed the Trolls

 

Don’t be a dick.

One of the hazards of being alive is the fact that we’re never going to please everyone. We’re going to have people that will not like what we do. People are going to criticize whatever it is we’re doing. And in the 21st century, this is nowhere more apparent than in social media. This weeks episode is about how to be your best online.

I’m always amazed and saddened by the vitriol and hate that I see online, especially towards women. It’s as if the anonymity of being online, that separation of the digital world, they aren’t talking to a real person. I read comments and the like from others saying things that they would probably never say in person. That social pressure to not be an asshole somehow gets ignored. That distance gives them license to express their most vulgar selves with no repercussions.

Compassion

So how do we deal with criticism? How do we deal with vitriolic tweets and Facebook trolls?

“When someone criticizes you, they do so because they believe they are right. They can only go by their views, not yours. If their views are wrong, it is they who will suffer the consequences. Keeping this in mind, treat your critics with compassion. When you are tempted to get back at them, remind yourself, ‘They did what seemed to them to be the right thing to do.’”
— Epictetus

What Epictetus is reminding us here is that someone else’s opinion is just that – their opinion. It has very little to do with you but says volumes about them. What they are expressing is their view of the world. Often, they don’t have anything to truly criticize other than they don’t like your point of view. They may feel insecure about themselves, and they don’t like the facts presented because it threatens their worldview. I see this a lot in political areas. People often adopt an “us vs. them” mentality where anything that doesn’t come from their “team” is wrong. Often all they can do is threaten or insult the author because they can’t offer up any real counter-arguments.

The next thing Epictetus advises us it to have compassion for our critics. And why is that? Why should we be compassionate towards someone that says mean, cruel, vulgar things to us? Because they are the ones that suffer if their views are wrong. The fact that they can be so cruel tells you that they are pretty unhappy people if they can get so easily riled up and jump quickly to insults.

The easiest way to do this as well is to simply look at the facts. If all they have to offer is insults, then you can easily dismiss it because there are no facts involved. If they actually have something factual and logical, you should be delighted because then you have something you may able to learn from and improve yourself.

Confidence in Yourself

“I have often wondered how it is that every man loves himself more than all the rest of men, but yet sets less value on his own opinion of himself than on the opinion of others.”
— Marcus Aurelius

When someone does disagree with us, how do we react? Do we get riled up? Do we dash off an angry tweet to our critics? Why do we feel angry anyway? If we are acting in a way that we are proud of then nothing that someone else says should upset us. Usually, when we act in a way that comes from anger, we are insecure about something. If we are secure in who we are, if we are holding to our values, then others opinions don’t matter.

When we get into a flame war with a critic, we are no longer in charge of ourselves. When we let the opinions of others dictate our actions, then we are giving them control of us. If we get mad or get depressed because of the criticism of others, we have given them control over our emotions. We become the victim.

Being the Critic

So how should we act online, and in real life when giving criticism to others?

“If it is not right, do not do it. If it is not true, do not say it.”
— Marcus Aurelius

This simple maxim should be our guide in what we say and do. As Jiminy Cricket once said, “Let your conscience be your guide.” Or put more bluntly from Will Wheaton, “Don’t be a dick.” Most of us know when we’re being an ass and when we’re not living up to our best selves. If we have something honest and helpful to contribute, then do so. If not, it might be best to leave well enough alone. Spending time arguing with online trolls is pretty much a waste of time, and you really don’t change anyone’s mind. Usually, you end up getting dragged into a bunch of shit, and each side gets more and more dug in and convinced that they’re on the right side.

The world is full of haters. As we spend more time online and less time in person, and as political divisions become wider, I think we’re only going to see upticks in the vitriol. We need to be sure that we don’t get sucked into the vortex of online hate. By taking the time to be compassionate towards our critics thoughtful on our responses to other people and realize that they are coming from a place where they think they are doing what is best, then we could be part of the solution, not the problem.

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Hey friends, thanks for listening to the podcast. If you like what you hear, I would really appreciate it if you could help support me by making a pledge on Patreon. You can find me at patreon.com/stoiccoffee. Even just a small amount helps in keeping this podcast going. Also, head on over to my website at www.stoic.coffee and sign up for our weekly newsletter. And lastly, if you know of someone that might like or could benefit from this podcast, please share it with them. Word of mouth is one of the best ways to help this podcast grow. Thanks again for listening.

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Coffee Break

156 – What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

 

What could possibly go wrong?

What could possibly go wrong? I think one of the biggest mistakes that we as humans make is that we are far too optimistic about how something we’re planning might go. In doing so we often fool ourselves into believing that it will work as planned, and overlook what could go wrong. In this weeks episode, we’ll discuss how we can take steps to avoid the blind spots that can easily derail us.

How many times have you started a project, or tried to start a new habit, only to run into all kinds of unexpected resistance? Maybe you want to start going running each morning or maybe you have a project at work and despite your best-laid plans, things start heading off the rails in ways that you never expected. The optimism and energy you had starts to wane as you deal with one setback after another. I run into this all the time. I think that I have things well planned out only to find that what I thought were conservative estimates and plans were far too optimistic.

When we make overly optimistic plans, we act as if it were a simple mathematical formula that we can plug in the right variables and have things turn out exactly as expected. But as we all well know, the best plans don’t mean anything if they can’t stand up to the reality of a situation. We fall into overly optimistic thinking because our brains are trying to be efficient. It takes time and effort to dig into a planning process and go deeper than our initial optimistic plans. It takes exploring uncomfortable thoughts and ideas and being willing to throw away any ideas that don’t stand up to reality, even if we’re very attached to them.

So why is it so hard to get things nailed down and complete the things we want? First, we’ll look at two of the most common mental traps that we fall into. Then we’ll look at some ways we can work around own limitations, and help mitigate the challenges that surprise us along the way.

Confirmation Bias

“The first principle is that you must not fool yourself – and you are the easiest person to fool.”

—Richard Feynman

Probably the most pernicious enemy of trying to plan for something is confirmation bias. Confirmation bias is when we seek out evidence which supports our decision and ignore evidence that conflicts with our preconceptions. It is the clearest example of overly optimistic thinking, and we are all guilty of it. Confirmation bias blinds us to all kinds of other possible solutions. When are too attached to an idea, when we want to prove that we already have the solution, we miss out on finding better solutions. The more that we can approach something with an attitude of seeing where we could be wrong, the more likely it is that our plan will stand up to scrutiny and be more successful. Take the time to examine your own bias and to ask yourself, “Am I defending this idea simply because it’s mine? Am I ignoring contradictory information because I’m too in love with my own idea?”

We saw this happen in the second Iraq war where, because the decision makers had the idea that there had to be illegal weapons in the country, even the smallest bit of data that could bolster the argument was held up as definitive proof. Anything showing the opposite was simply dismissed and ignored because it didn’t support the idea. Once the country was invaded, it became evident that there were no such weapons and it became clear that the evidence was flimsy at best.

Beliefs

Belief Bias is a concept similar to Confirmation Bias. Whereas Confirmation Bias seeks out information to confirm the decision we want, Belief Bias is when we use an existing belief to support a conclusion that lines up with that belief. When we don’t allow our belief to be challenged, and to be open to the idea that we might be wrong, we don’t allow reality to influence our decisions. We may make bad decisions because they are based upon a faulty belief. Circumstances change, discoveries happen, and being open to new evidence is critical to making progress in ourselves, as well as successfully completing projects that we embark on.

For example, if we believe that women are not as smart as men, then we may dismiss a great idea because we believe that only good ideas can come from men. I’ve heard from a few women about how their ideas were dismissed at work, simply because they were a woman. Once the same idea was presented by a male colleague, it would be given the consideration it deserved. Because of this belief, it’s taken centuries for women to be treated as equals, to be paid the same as men, to be able to vote. As we progress as a society we often ask ourselves how could we ever have held such a ridiculous belief?

So how do we avoid these traps? What are some steps that we can take to be sure that we aren’t fooling ourselves?

Open to Criticism

“If any man is able to convince me and show me that I do not think or act right, I will gladly change; for I seek the truth by which no man was ever injured. But he is injured who abides in his error and ignorance.”

— Marcus Aurelius

One of the most important areas of making better decisions is to be open to criticism. One are where we can see that thrives on criticism is the are of science. One of the reasons why we have made so much scientific progress over the last 100 years is because science is open to the idea that a discovery or an idea is only valid for now. That it is based upon the best evidence available and should only stand as long as withstands review and stands up to criticism.

We should take this same idea and apply it in our own lives. We should only hold onto an idea or a habit as long as it serves us and helps moves us the direction we want to go. When we seek out contradictory opinions, we are taking steps to counter our own bias. When we come upon new information or receive criticism, we should be willing to review it and change direction if need be.

Imagination

“How ridiculous and how strange to be surprised at anything which happens in life.”

— Marcus Aurelius

One of the things that sets us apart from other animals is our imagination. The ability to tell ourselves fictional stories, to think about what-if scenarios is a powerful tool in creating our future. Without imagination, we would not have the ability to create ideas about what we think the future will be like. We would have no way to plan for the future. This singular ability is what helps us to move from being reactionary beings to creators and designers of our future. But far too often we suffer from a failure of imagination and end up surprised that things don’t turn out as we expect.

Because we have the gift of imagination we need to consider the unlikely, to think of the impossible, and be open to ideas that we may not like. This also opens us to a larger pool of possible solutions.

Premortum

“Nothing happens to the wise man contrary to his expectations.

— Seneca

One of the most important practices that the Stoics have is Premeditatio Malorum, which is to imagine all that possible ways that things could go wrong. I’ve talked about it before on the podcast, and it’s a very useful practice. This is not the same thing as being pessimistic. I like to think of it as a way to test your ideas and plans against reality, by using your imagination. This is not an easy exercise. It takes effort to let go of your wish to have the right solution and to think of all the things that could go wrong.

I came across a similar exercise that psychologist Gary Klein calls a “premortem”, that illustrates this idea rather nicely. As Dr. Klein explains, “Our exercise, is to ask planners to imagine that it is months into the future and that their plan has been carried out. And it has failed. That is all they know; they have to explain why they think it failed.” Just as doctors do a postmortem to understand what happened after the fact, a premortem is a way to truly imagine the most likely ways that a plan could fail.

Being Wrong

A lot of the topics I’ve discussed today revolve around the fact that we don’t like to be wrong. We get attached to an idea and want that idea to be right, and thereby validating ourselves. But the thing is the more try to avoid failure, rather than facing it head on, the more failure we’re going to have. Being able to let go of needing to be right, of validating ourselves, the more we can get out of our own way and make better decisions.

Hey friends, thanks for listening to the podcast. If you like what you hear, I would really appreciate it if you could help support me by making a pledge on Patreon. You can find me at patreon.com/stoiccoffee. Even just a small amount helps in keeping this podcast going. Also, head on over to my website at www.stoic.coffee and sign up for our weekly newsletter. And lastly, if you know of someone that might like or could benefit from this podcast, please share it with them. Word of mouth is one of the best ways to help this podcast grow. Thanks again for listening.

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Coffee Break

155 – Interview with Jeff Emtman of Here Be Monsters

Interview with Jeff Emtman of Here Be Monsters

 

This weeks episode is an interview with Jeff Emtman from the Here Be Monsters podcast. This is my first time interviewing someone, and Jeff is a very interesting and thoughtful guest. We talk about life challenges, creative challenges, and what it’s like to drag main.

You can find Jeff’s podcast at https://www.hbmpodcast.com. It is strange, mysterious, and at times very touching.

—-

Hey friends, thanks for listening to the podcast. If you like what you hear, I would really appreciate it if you could help support me by making a pledge on Patreon. You can find me at patreon.com/stoiccoffee. Even just a small amount helps in keeping this podcast going. Also, head on over to my website at www.stoic.coffee and sign up for our weekly newsletter. And lastly, if you know of someone that might like or could benefit from this podcast, please share it with them. Word of mouth is one of the best ways to help this podcast grow. Thanks again for listening.

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Challenges Coffee Break Fate

154 – The Paradox of Change

The Paradox of Change

 

The only way is through!

One of the weirdest things about being a human is how we get comfortable with our habits, and resist change, while at the same time we get bored when things stay the same. In this weeks episode, we’ll talk about how to deal with the paradox of change.

When one day is pretty much the same as the next, we crave variety. If something is too easy, we get bored and quickly lose interest in it. But when life throws a challenge our way we often complain and whine about how life isn’t fair.

So how do we deal with the challenges that life throws our way? How can we learn to cultivate and attitude of gratefulness for the hard things in our lives, and use them to grow and become better people?

“A setback has often cleared the way for greater prosperity. Many things have fallen only to rise to more exalted heights.”

— Seneca

I want you to think about the last movie you watched or book that you read. Can you remember the challenges the hero had to face? The obstacles they had to overcome? Maybe the hero got knocked down and had to struggle over and over to get back on her feet, and eventually through hard work and determination, overcame a great challenge. This is something that we as humans crave in our stories. I mean how interesting would it be if the story started with, “Our hero had everything her heart desired, and lived happily ever after”? Not much of a story, and certainly not one I would be interested in.

So why do we love this in our stories, yet complain about it in our lives? This is what I call the paradox of change. Life is continually changing and bringing new challenges our way, but we get comfortable and feel distressed when our comfort is disturbed, forgetting it’s the challenges that make us who we are, that help strengthen us into being the kind of people we want to be.

Say that you wanted to start your own company. If you want to succeed, then you have to learn how to deal with difficult people and situations. Because it is impossible to never face a tough situation or to have everyone you deal with simply follow and agree with everything you say. You have to expect setbacks and failures because you are going to have to learn how to navigate difficult situations if you want to succeed. In fact, the more you can anticipate and plan for setbacks, the better off you will be. If you only plan for rosy scenarios, then you will have a much harder time when challenges come your way.

“The greater the difficulty, the more glory in surmounting it. Skillful pilots gain their reputation from storms and tempests. ”

― Epictetus

When challenges come our way, one of the most important things that we can do it learn how to face them, and not shy away. If we make a habit of turning away from difficult situations and challenges, we’ll never get stronger. We’ll never reach our full potential. When we make a habit of leaning into the hard things, even if it scares us, then open the door to greater growth and opportunities. If we only take on the easy challenges, then our skills will never improve. If a pilot only sails their ship on the calmest of waters, they’ll never leave port because they can’t count on always having great weather. If a singer only sticks to nursery rhymes, they’ll never develop the skills to tackle the aria they want to master.

How can we look at something in a way that helps us see it as a tool for growth? I think the biggest thing, and this is something that I struggle with, is to let go of the outcome. When we get so tied to the desired outcome, we often just want to skip the hard stuff and get to the end result. When we’re stuck thinking that we want a situation to be a certain way, we can begin to feel like that’s what we’re entitled to. The problem with this kind of thinking is that we can’t control the outcome of any situation. Life has too many random things that happen that are simply out of our control.

When we develop a love of change, an acceptance that everything and everyone is always in a constant state of change. No one in life is static. Too often we get stuck thinking of ourselves as being a certain way, and what our lives should be. When something comes along and disturbs that, we often resist those changes and ignore the reality of the situation. We do this with other people as well. We decide that a person is a certain way and hold to our judgment of them, we find it difficult to accept that they may have changed.

“The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.”

― Marcus Aurelius

When we can look at a challenge, we need to see it as a teacher, as the thing that will actually train us how to overcome it. We need to look at something and ask, “What can I learn? What skills do I need to develop to over this?” When a musician starts a new piece, she doesn’t simply try to play it start to finish and then give up when she can’t play it perfectly. She starts working at a very basic level. She’ll break it down into smaller workable parts. Each passage presenting its own challenges. She will probably run into things that she’s never done before or isn’t very good at. Working on these passages are the very things that will help her to become better. Maybe she struggles with triplets, and rather than wishing they weren’t in there, she doubles her practice on them. Working on the challenges of the piece is the very thing that trains her in the skills to be able to master it.

“Win or learn, then you never lose.”

— Anonymous

It’s been said that those who don’t learn from history are bound to repeat it. And while this was said more as a critique of society, I think that it’s very true for each of us individually, as well as the places we work. If we label our failures as such rather than as something to learn from, we risk repeating them. A client of mine once made a mistake that brought down some of his companies computer systems. The company fired him missing an opportunity to work with that him to figure out how to prevent it in the future, as well as improving their employee training.

When we can learn to be grateful for the challenges that we face, we can approach them more readily, and humbly. We don’t try to avoid them, but rather welcome the challenge and become excited for the skills and the growth that they will bring. Then when things don’t go as planned, we are able to quickly regroup and learn what we can from the experience, and push forward and do better the next time.

Hey friends, thanks for listening to the podcast. If you like what you hear, I would really appreciate it if you could help support me by making a pledge on Patreon. You can find me at patreon.com/stoiccoffee. Even just a small amount helps in keeping this podcast going. Also, head on over to my website at www.stoic.coffee and sign up for our weekly newsletter. And lastly, if you know of someone that might like or could benefit from this podcast, please share it with them. Word of mouth is one of the best ways to help this podcast grow. Thanks again for listening.

Categories
Coffee Break

153 – Hatred of Others

Hatred of Others

 

Don’t be a dick!

Are you disturbed by the political landscape that has changed so rapidly over the last 4 years? As more and more authoritarian parties come into power around the world, we see that hatred towards others – immigrants, refugees, women, minorities – seems to be at an all-time high. In these troubled times, we need to take a look at ourselves and be sure that we don’t fall into the trap of hatred and blaming others for the disappointments in our lives.

When we look at today’s news, we can see that there seems to be an uptick in political violence. We see leaders being elected that openly advocate violence towards others. Why is this? Why do people feel the need to hate other groups?

I think it comes from people feeling disappointed with not getting what they think they deserve in life. And when that disappointment happens, people look for someone or something to blame. Rather than taking the time to think about why they didn’t get what they wanted like most of us, we find it’s easier to blame something outside of ourselves because our egos don’t want the uncomfortable reality that we are in charge of our lives and that there are things that we did or didn’t do.

When reality doesn’t live up to our dreams, when we don’t get the things that we think we deserve, we look to someone to tell us why. Politicians and leader exploit this need and provide us with easy targets as to why we didn’t get what we wanted. They give people someone to blame, and usually, it’s those that even less fortunate than the ones that they’re appealing to, such as getting the declining middle class to turn against the poor by taking away

Is there ever a time when it’s okay to hate another group based on race, nationality, gender, sex?

“Never in reply to the question, to what country you belong, say that you are an Athenian or a Corinthian, but that you are a citizen of the world.”

— Epictetus, Discourses

The Stoics held that we are all part of the same human family, that we are all very much like each other and that we are here as to help each other. When others try to act as though their group, their culture, their skin color is so much better than someone else’s, they’re really quite delusional. The thing is, we are all basically the same with some minor variations. And it’s this mix of difference, the variety that helps us all as human beings. How many of us have been touched by inventions and ideas that came from other cultures? Science and math had strong origins from the Arab world and from India as well as Europe.

I know I used this quote a few episodes ago, but I really think it’s work repeating.

“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

When we fail to help our fellow humans, when we think only of our group, our tribe, we are not contributing to the world. We are making the world a worse place.

One of the first things that I ever read from Epictetus was the first chapter of the Enchiridion. :

“To achieve freedom and happiness, you need to grasp this basic truth: some things in life are under your control, and others are not. What things are under your total control? What you believe, what you desire or hate, and what you are attracted to or avoid. You have complete control over these, so they are free, not subject to restraint or hindrance. They concern you because they are under your control. What things are not under your total control? Your body, property, reputation, status, and the like. Because they are not under your total control they are weak, slavish, subject to restraint, and in the power of others. They do not concern you because they are outside your control. If you think you can control things over which you have no control, then you will be hindered and disturbed. You will start complaining and become a fault-finding person.”

— Epictetus, Enchiridion

Here we see clearly that one of the things that are outside of our control is our bodies. That means that we and everyone else has no control over where they were born, what color their skin is, what gender or sex they are. When we hate someone for something that is outside of their control, there is nothing that they can do about it. If someone hated me because I was born in Salt Lake, there’s nothing that I can do to change that. I can’t change that I have light skin, that I have blue eyes, that I don’t have much hair.

But the thing is, that when we hate, we do more damage to ourselves.

“Whoever does wrong, wrongs himself; whoever does injustice, does it to himself, making himself evil.”

― Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

When we give into blame, hate, and violence, then we damage ourselves. We become just as bad, if not worse than what we accuse others of being. We are no longer people that we strive to be. We become the monsters.

“Events don’t disturb people; the way they think about events does. Even death is not frightening by itself. But our view of death, that it is something we should be afraid of, frightens us. So when we are frustrated, angry or unhappy, let’s hold ourselves responsible for these emotions because they are the result of our judgments. No one else is responsible for them. When you blame others for your negative feelings, you are being ignorant. When you blame yourself for your negative feelings, you are making progress. You are being wise when you stop blaming yourself or others.”

— Epictetus, Enchiridion

Why is this so hard for us to do? It really comes down to our egos. We like to think of ourselves as being smart, hardworking, kind, gracious, etc. and when we do things that might contradict this, we will gloss over and even ignore some pretty bad behaviors. We try to fool ourselves because we don’t want to see that we’re not as great as we think we are. Our ego, our identity may also feel threatened as well. When we have an idea of ourselves that we present to the outside world when we do things that are out of character, we will ignore them because we want to maintain this identity.

So how can combat this hatred and violence? This is always a tough question. The person that can work on most is ourselves. We need to exemplify the kind of people we want to see in the world. Gandhi talked about this when he said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” Because we can’t change other people, we can only change ourselves, we need to act like the kind of people that we think should be in the world.

So what can we do to inoculate ourselves against this kind of thinking?

“No soul is willingly deprived of the truth; and the same applies to justice too, and temperance, and benevolence, and everything of the kind.  It is most necessary that you should constantly keep this in mind, for you will then be gentler towards everyone.”

— Marcus Aurelius

When we can recognize that people are acting out of what they think is their best interest, we can be compassionate towards those that think differently than us. And this includes people who may have different political views than we do. And it’s not easy. We may see them as irrational and intolerant, and they may be. But if we counter that with irrationality and intolerance, then we are just the same as them. We may be on the opposite side, but we need to set the example of how to be inclusive.

One of the best ways to do this is developing a sense of empathy. Each of us likes to think that our way of living is well thought out, well-reasoned, and the best way of living. The person on the other side probably thinks the same thing. When you can put yourself in someone else’s shoes and see the world through their eyes, even as distasteful as we might find their worldview, it helps us to understand why they think as they do and helps us to possibly find ways to help them see their own irrational behavior. When we try to understand the influences that they had in their lives – their culture, family, education – we can begin to see why they hold their worldview.

This is not easy and it takes much more effort. Anger is easy. Hate is intoxicating.

“Convince your enemy, convince him that he’s wrong

To win a bloodless battle, the victory is long

A simple act of faith, of reason over might

To blow up his children will only prove him right”

— Sting

There’s a lot of hate going on in the world, and it’s easy to be angry at those advocating violence. But that’s all the more reason to do our best to take the high road. We need to make sure that we create a culture where violence and bigotry and misogyny are not acceptable. Where people see every other person as just another person with their own thoughts, opinions, and ideas about how to live their lives, but to do so in peace.

Hey friends, thanks for listening to the podcast. If you like what you hear, I would really appreciate it if you could help support me by making a pledge on Patreon. You can find me at patreon.com/stoiccoffee. Even just a small amount helps in keeping this podcast going. Also, head on over to my website at www.stoic.coffee and sign up for our weekly newsletter. And lastly, if you know of someone that might like or could benefit from this podcast, please share it with them. Word of mouth is one of the best ways to help this podcast grow. Thanks again for listening.

Categories
Coffee Break

152 – Vulnerability and the Real You

Vulnerability and the Real You


 

Get Uncomfortable With Yourself!

Why is it hard for us to be vulnerable, especially when it comes to those we care about the most? Partners, children, family, close friends – if these are the people we are the closest to why would be afraid to be ourselves around them? In this weeks episode we’ll talk about vulnerability and the real you.

One of the hardest things in this world is to be vulnerable around others. To show people the messy, honest, truest parts of ourselves. And why is this? Why are we often so afraid to be ourselves around those that we consider the closest to us? If these are the most important people in our lives, why do we feel like we need to protect ourselves and not share the deepest, darkest, and most intimate parts of ourselves?

Who do You Think You Are?

“I have often wondered how it is that every man loves himself more than all the rest of men, but yet sets less value on his own opinions of himself than on the opinions of others.”

—Marcus Aurelius

I talked about this quote on here before, with regards to worrying about the opinions of others, but I want to talk more about the opinions of ourselves.

A few weeks ago I was discussing the idea of identity with a good friend of mine. He’s struggling at the moment with figuring out who he is and who he wants to be. Basically, he’s going through a midlife crisis. In talking about letting go of all the expectations that were heaped upon him by his family and church while growing up, he feels a bit lost because he lived with a mask, an identity of who he felt like he was supposed to be for most of his life. Over the last few years, he’s been shedding a lot of those ideas and beliefs, and while he knows who he isn’t, he’s not sure who he is. Just as people who’ve suffered job losses or divorce and other kinds of loss, often find themselves lost as a core piece of their identity is gone. He’s struggling through this difficult process of self-exploration and is finding it both exciting and very scary. Exciting because he’s exploring the world and beginning to choose who he is, but also extremely scary because the identity he has is no longer reflective of who he truly is.

And this idea really struck me, that when we hold on so tightly to an identity of who we think we are, it makes is very difficult to become who we want to become. When we’ve built up an identity, and presented this idea of who we are to the world, then when we find discrepancies with that identity, we try to defend who we think we are. And I think holding onto this identity, the ego, is the root of why being vulnerable is so scary. Because much of this identity is created from the expectations that we think others, especially those that we love, have about us. Whether or not these have been explicitly communicated or not, I think that many of us feel like we’re supposed to behave a certain way and do certain things. We’re afraid if they knew that we aren’t necessarily the person we present to the world, and if they knew how deeply flawed we truly are, they might reject us. They may no longer love us. But the thing is, we judge ourselves more harshly than those around us. We think they notice every flaw, count every mistake, and keep a tally of every fuck up we make. But the truth is, they don’t. Most people are too busy with their own thinking and their own business pay that much attention to someone else. And if they are that kind of person, they aren’t people we want to be around. If their love and acceptance are conditional, they are probably not people that we want to spend time with.

Unapologetically You

“Above all, keep a close watch on this — that you are never so tied to your former acquaintances and friends that you are pulled down to their level. If you don’t, you’ll be ruined. … You must choose whether to be loved by these friends and remain the same person, or to become a better person at the cost of those friends … if you try to have it both ways you will neither make progress nor keep what you once had.”

— Epictetus, “Discourses,” 4.2.1; 4-5

What would happen if you were just unapologetically yourself? What if you didn’t hold onto this identity so tightly? This is a scary proposition for sure. I know in my own life, I find it often difficult to admit what I truly think or feel about something for fear of being rejected by friends and loved ones. But we should be open to the idea that being truly ourselves may mean that we need to change our lives. We may need to end friendships. We may get divorced. And that’s scary. That may mean a lot of change. Far too often we hold onto these identities far longer than they are useful, often to the point of damaging ourselves and relationships. I’ve seen friends stay in relationships that were not working for fear of change. I’ve done this myself. But living your life as someone else means that you may get to the end of your life never having really lived.

Brené Brown, a social scientist and researcher, has delved into the area of vulnerability rather deeply, and written several eye-opening books on the sense of shame that we internalize which keep us from loving and being okay with the person that we truly are. It’s this fear of rejection and a sense of shame that others will judge us that makes it so hard for us to share that deeper side of us with those that we love.

“Because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.”

― Brené Brown, Daring Greatly

What if we could own our flaws and just recognize them as a fact, that they are simply an attribute of who we are at this moment? How much more confident could we be in our life if we could just accept who we are, warts and all? The first step to being vulnerable is to learn how to love ourselves. I know that sounds all kinds of new-agey, but think that there’s a lot of truth in this. If we don’t like ourselves, then it’s going to be hard for us to accept that others can like us.

Now self-acceptance doesn’t mean that we give ourselves a free pass when we make mistakes, because that is much more about self-delusion and ignoring our mistakes. What I’m proposing is shine a light on our flaws, and own them. When we can do that, we take away the shame of our flaws. Self-love is the shame killer. The more we can accept ourselves, and see ourselves as we truly are, the easier it is to be forgiving and accepting of others.

Get Uncomfortable with Yourself

“Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never weakness.”

― Brené Brown, Daring Greatly

I want you to take some time this week and write down some of the uncomfortable and scary thoughts that you have running around in the back of your mind. Things that you’re afraid that if others knew about you, they may not like you. Things that you’re afraid of addressing because you’re afraid of where those thoughts might take you. And I want you to take some time and just sit with those thoughts, and practice being okay with them. Look at them without judgment, just as facts about you. Admit those truths to yourself, because I think we all lie to ourselves to some degree. We gloss over the uncomfortable parts, the dark parts of us because we want to present this beautiful picture to the world. We’re scared of what others might think about the darker parts of us. We want to look like we have it all together. It’s okay if we don’t. Nobody really does. Everybody has some area of their life where they struggle.

And the thing is, we often find that those things aren’t really so bad once they put down on paper. They are much scarier and darker in our heads. Getting them out and on paper is like shining a light on a shadow. It’s not nearly as big or scary as we made it out to be.

Owning who you are is a very uncomfortable thing. It means that you accept that you are full of flaws, that you aren’t nearly as great want others to think you are, and that you let other people down. It means may mean making choices that shake the very core of who you think you are. It means that those closest to you may not even recognize who you really are. But if they only see the person that you pretend to be, do they really love the real you? Why not give them the chance to know the real you? Why not give yourself the chance to know the real you?

——

Hey friends, thanks for listening to the podcast. If you like what you hear, I would really appreciate it if you could help support me by making a pledge on Patreon. You can find me at patreon.com/stoiccoffee. Even just a small amount helps in keeping this podcast going. Also, head on over to my website at www.stoic.coffee and sign up for our weekly newsletter. And lastly, if you know of someone that might like or could benefit from this podcast, please share it with them. Word of mouth is one of the best ways to help this podcast grow. Thanks again for listening.

Categories
Coffee Break Tranquility

151 – To Be Unshaken

Do you struggle to live up to your principles? Do feel like when you make a mistake that all your efforts were not worth it? In this weeks episode, we’re going to talk about how to approach mistakes in a much more helpful way.

Some of Seneca’s best works are in the form of letters to his friend Annaeus Serenus. In these, they carry on a dialogue as to how to live a better life. In one of the letters on tranquility Serenus writes to Seneca, describing how he feels he is afflicted with a sickness of mind because while he is very frugal, he is dazzled by the great wealth around him, and feeling dissatisfied with his humble house. He wishes to dedicate himself to public service, yet finds when he runs into difficult patches that he simply wants to give up and head for the leisure of his home. When writing or speaking on behalf of causes that are important to him, when he wishes to keep his language simple and clear, Serenus says:

“Then again, when my mind has been uplifted by the greatness of its thoughts, it becomes ambitious of words, and with higher aspirations it desires higher expression, and language issues forth to match the dignity of the theme: forgetful then of my rule and of my more restrained judgment, I am swept to loftier heights by an utterance that is no longer my own.”

In a nutshell, Serenus is having a hard time living up to his ideals and is getting discouraged and disappointed in himself because of his shortcomings. He feels as though he is gradually losing ground in his struggle to become a better person. I think this is something that we can all relate to. I struggle with meeting my own ideals all the time. I want to be kinder, less selfish, more compassionate, less judgmental…so many things that I struggle with and could easily beat myself up over when I fail to live up to my own ideals.

So how do keep going when we falter? How do keep growing and move past these setbacks?

Seneca’s response is long, but I want to read a portion of it:

“In truth, Serenus, I have for a long time been silently asking myself to what I should liken such a condition of mind, and I can find nothing that so closely approaches it as the state of those who, after being released from a long and serious illness, are sometimes touched with fits of fever and slight disorders, and, freed from the last traces of them, are nevertheless disquieted with mistrust, and, though now quite well, stretch out their wrist to a physician and complain unjustly of any trace of heat in their body. It is not, Serenus, that these are not quite well in body, but that they are not quite used to being well; just as even a tranquil sea will show some ripple, particularly when it has just subsided after a storm. What you need, therefore, is not any of those harsher measures which we have already left behind, the necessity of opposing yourself at this point, of being angry with yourself at that, of sternly urging yourself on at another, but that which comes last — confidence in yourself and the belief that you are on the right path, and have not been led astray by the many cross-tracks of those who are roaming in every direction, some of whom are wandering very near the path itself. But what you desire is something great and supreme and very near to being a god — to be unshaken.”

― Seneca

So let’s unpack this. Seneca likens this to be a sick person that has been healed, but is so used to being sick, that anytime they get even the slightest fever, assumes that all it lost again. And this can be like us. When we fall back into old habits and ways of thinking we often feel like because we didn’t meet the ideals or standards that we have, that we are a complete failure, that we are ill again. That it’s kind of an all or nothing proposition. And what Seneca recommends is that when things go off the rails a bit in our efforts to grow, we shouldn’t be too harsh or angry with ourselves, that we should instead be kinder on ourselves and that we should be confident in ourselves that we’re on the right path. This kind of confidence is a virtuous cycle. By being confident in ourselves, we handle our failures better and gain more confidence. And it’s this confidence that allows us to be unshaken.

You’re Going to do it Wrong

So how do we gain this kind of confidence? How do move past our failures? My oldest is now driving and is often so worried behind the wheel that he’s going to do something wrong. And my partner simply says, “Yes, you are going to do it wrong.” Because truth is, we rarely doing something right the first time, especially if it’s something difficult like driving a car or being a less selfish person. Being okay with being wrong, that you will make mistakes is a necessary part of learning. Making mistakes is inevitable. Learning from them is optional.

It’s up to you to decide what your mistakes mean. For those of us that are often too hard on ourselves, just because we make a mistake doesn’t mean we are a bad or unworthy person. It means we’re human. So go easy on yourself.

But how can we be easier on ourselves without allowing ourselves to skate by?

Sincere vs. Serious

A few months ago I read Out of Your Mind by Allen Watts. Now Allen Watts was an interesting character. He was a professor of Asian Studies and an author of several dozen books on Buddhism and Zen. His approach to life was one of self-development, and growth, and not taking life so seriously. And as I was reading I stumbled across this gem:

“I may be sincere, but never serious, because I don’t think the universe is serious.”

— Allen Watts

When I read that quote I laughed out loud, because far too often I am the exact opposite. But it stuck in my head and over the past few weeks, I’ve found it to be a helpful filter on viewing the world. I think that being a sincere person mitigates so much of the self-shaming and anger that we point at ourselves when we fail.

When you make a mistake, and you approach it with sincerity, you can look at the situation more clearly. If you need to you can sincerely apologize. You can be sincere about forgiving yourself, knowing that you are sincerely trying to do your best. Sincerity is humble because you aren’t trying to prove something, or protect your ego. There are no ulterior motives because sincerity is about being honest with compassion.

If you think about it, you can be sincere in almost any context and it’s appropriate. If you are laughing and joking, you can still be sincere. If you’re in a situation where there is sadness, sincerity is a great approach. When you are in an argument with someone, if you can focus on being sincere you’ll probably resolve things much quicker. If you are being sincere, you’re more likely to listen and speak honestly. You aren’t trying to push the other person’s buttons and make the situation worse.

Trying to live up to our ideals is not easy work. The more we grow, the more we see how much more we have to grow. Never satisfied with just resting on our laurels, we set the bar higher, but then feel bad because we’re not as good as we want to be, often ignoring the growth we have made. And that’s kind of a great thing because if we never had something to improve on, some way to grow, then we would have no purpose. It’s also kind of a bad thing because we can perpetually feel like we’re never good enough. Learning to approach life sincerely yet not seriously can help us gain that confidence that we’re on the right path.

——-

Hey friends, thanks for listening to the podcast. If you like what you hear, I would really appreciate it if you could help support me by making a pledge on Patreon. You can find me at patreon.com/stoiccoffee. Even just a small amount helps in keeping this podcast going. Also, head on over to my website at www.stoic.coffee and sign up for our weekly newsletter. And lastly, if you know of someone that might like or could benefit from this podcast, please share it with them. Word of mouth is one of the best ways to help this podcast grow. Thanks again for listening.

Categories
Coffee Break stoicism Tranquility

150 – The Un-Pursuit of Happiness

The Un-Pursuit of Happiness

 

Be Useful!

Do you struggle to find happiness within yourself? Do you despair every time you watch the news? In today’s episode, we’re going to talk about how to get over this despair and how pursuing happiness may not be the best to actually finding happiness.

There’s an interesting trend in a lot of things I’ve been reading online, namely a sense of despair, hopelessness, and depression almost manifesting itself as nihilism. And why is this? Why do we feel like we’re in such hard times? Is it that things were better in the past and we’ve just lost our way, as many in some circles seem to think?

If we look at how things were 100 years ago, most people were likely to be farmers, living a life with a lot of hard work keeping farm animals and harvesting crops – certainly not a life of leisure or comfort. If you lived in the city, you were very likely a factory worker, with less than ideal conditions, often with very long hours because there weren’t a lot of labor laws in place.

So why are we, with so much leisure time and modern conveniences, so unhappy?

I think that ironically it’s because as a society, we focus so much on trying to be happy. Now, why would this, the search for happiness, make so many people unhappy? Isn’t this what we’re supposed to do with our lives? It even says in the American Declaration of Independence from the British that we have the right to “Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

But that’s the thing – we’re not guaranteed happiness, we’re only given the opportunity to pursue happiness. But I think it’s this dogged pursuit that gives us so much anguish. So why does pursuing happiness not bring happiness? I mean we’re taught from an early age that when we want something that we go out and get it. I think that happiness it a byproduct of doing useful and good things in our lives. When we try to make ourselves happy, we can’t. It’s like trying pet a cat. The more you chase after the cat, the more it runs from you until you stop chasing it and ignore it, then it suddenly shows up trying to snuggle itself right into your face. It isn’t until we stop trying to be happy, and just focus on trying to live a good life, that happiness finds us. Happiness is what happens when we making other plans or while we’re doing other things.

Gratitude

“If what you have seems insufficient to you, then though you possess the world, you will yet be miserable.”

― Seneca

If you were to ask yourself what you want in your life, what would be on that list? Would you list the things that you already have? One of the most important things that I’ve learned in studying stoicism it to be grateful for what we have, and to learn to want what we already have. If we’re always chasing some shiny object to fill that hole inside of us, we’ll always feel empty. Appreciating what we have – a place to live, family and friends, food, even the most basics of things, can immediately improve our level of happiness.

When I was in high school me and my friends used to say, “Wherever you go, there you are.” At the time it was just us being silly. I think we’d heard it on some TV commercial or show, but as I’ve gotten older, I realize that there is a profound truth in it. You can’t ever escape who you are. If you’re unhappy with who you are, if you don’t like yourself, nothing that you have, nothing that you do will ever fix that. Learning to be okay with yourself, learning to love yourself, and be good to yourself, is one of the biggest keys to happiness. I think loving who you are is an overlooked part of loving what you have. To recognize you are worthy of love despite, or maybe even because of your faults, is not an easy thing. But remember, we are all imperfect and messy and full of doubts, and every single one of us is worthy of love.

Purpose

“The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.”

— Emerson

I read an essay a while back from Darius Foroux and he proposed that life is not about being happy, it’s about being useful. That idea really struck a chord with me, because when I really think about it, the times in my life when I’ve felt the best are when I’ve taken on the challenges that I’m facing and I work at them, and I make some headway. When I’m serving other people, and I’m trying to help others through their challenges, I feel energized. When I’m working on creating something, whether that’s music or writing or this podcast, I feel like there’s purpose to my efforts. When I’m challenging myself in some way that somehow adds value to the world, I feel like I’m contributing, and that I’m helping move the world forward in some way.

Service

“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

I think the last, and most important part of allowing happiness to find you, is serving others. When we focus on ourselves and only look after ourselves, we miss out on adding to something to the world. When we only look after our own happiness, remembering that happiness is a byproduct of action, the more we can give to the world, the more chances happiness will have to show up in our lives. Rather than complain about all the things that are wrong with the world, what can you do to be part of the solution? We all have something to offer, some unique talent that the world needs. Even if it’s just showing up and supporting causes that you believe in. Every good movement in the world needs people that are willing to show up.

I know that it seems like there’s so much wrong in the world. I think every age has had its struggles with problems that seem insurmountable and it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. But remember, you can only do what you can do, and that will be enough. Don’t get discouraged because you can’t save the world in a day. But add something good, be on the positive side of the equation, and know that you’re being part of the solution.

Hey friends, thanks for listening to the podcast. If you like what you hear, I would really appreciate it if you could help support me by making a pledge on Patreon. You can find me at patreon.com/stoiccoffee. Even just a small amount helps in keeping this podcast going. Also, head on over to my website at www.stoic.coffee and sign up for our weekly newsletter. And lastly, if you know of someone that might like or could benefit from this podcast, please share it with them. Word of mouth is one of the best ways to help this podcast grow. Thanks again for listening.

Categories
Anger Awareness Coffee Break

149 – The Vocabulary of Anger

The Vocabulary of Anger

I talk a lot on this podcast about anger because it’s something that I’ve been working to manage in my own life. And today, I want to talk about the language of anger, and about learning to redefine and talk about anger in a different way.

For those that struggle with anger, we often get stuck in a bad pattern of mismanaging how we deal with strong, negative emotions. Something comes up and kicks off your fight or flight instinct kicks up and you find reacting in a way that is way out of proportion to the situation. And the worst part is that we often feel so helpless like it’s a split second reaction to things that are happening around you. You often go from 0 to 60 in just a moments notice. Often, that response is left over programming from things that you had little control over as you were growing up. Trauma can miscalibrate our ability to read a situation properly. Something that might just be annoying or frustrating gets treated with the same level as something more threatening.

And it sucks.

Once you finally get back in control of yourself, you feel like shit and feel ashamed of your behavior. You feel like you’re a bad person. You feel like you’re broken. You feel like it’s just one more instances showing that you fail at being the kind of person that you want to be. You feel unworthy, unlovable, worthless. That your failing as a human being.

And it sucks.

And after you blow up, you just want to hide. You want to push everyone away because you don’t feel worthy of being loved by others. You feel damaged at the core. Maybe even irredeemable.

So what do you do?

“When you have been compelled by circumstances to be disturbed in a manner, quickly return to yourself and do not continue out of tune longer than the compulsion lasts.”

— Marcus Aurelius

You listen to that anger. You sit with it and listen. You can question it. “Am I doing this to cause hurt, or is it really what I feel about this situation?” Because if you really feel that strongly about something, then maybe that anger is telling you something important. It is something that you should listen to. Maybe it’s anger at injustice. Maybe it’s anger at how someone else it treating you, and you really do need to take some action. If something upsets you that much, it should not be ignored.

Part of the problem, when we ignore our anger and feel bad about feeling any anger, at least for me, I feel terrible after I feel angry about anything. Even when it’s something that is probably okay for me to feel angry about. Because there are things that we should feel angry about, but when we blow up at seemingly trivial things, we start to feel shame towards any anger. Appropriate anger and inappropriate anger get lumped in the same pile.

And it’s hard sometimes when you’re caught up in it to know the difference. But when you’re in an argument and you feel that urge to just lash out, and you can catch it, count to 5 or even 10 before you say it. And ask yourself, “Do I REALLY mean what I’m going to say?” And if you do, then say it. Maybe try to say it in a way that is not confrontational. Maybe try to say it softly.

But if the compulsions that you have are things that you are doing or saying only to cause harm or to push someone’s buttons, then it’s probably better that you stop and sit with them a while. Give yourself some time to cool down. Take a break.

Being a stoic about anger doesn’t mean that we don’t feel it. It means that we learn to manage it. That we don’t let it ruin our lives. That we learn how to communicate what we feel in more productive and helpful ways. That we find new tools to talk about these things.

“For if anger listens to reason and follows where reason leads, then it is already not anger, of which obstinacy is a proper quality; if, however, it fights back and does not become quiet when it has been ordered, but is carried forward by its desire and ferocity, then it is as useless a servant of the soul as a soldier who disregards the signal for falling back. And thus, if it suffers a measure to be applied to itself, then it must be called by a different name, and it ceases to be anger, which I understand to be unrestrained and untamable.”

— Seneca

And what I think Seneca is telling us here is that we should learn how to label things better than just anger. It’s kind of like the old saying, if you only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. If you only know how to be angry in one way, or to express distress, irritation, annoyance, sadness, depression as anger, then you can’t deal with these strong emotions in an appropriate and useful way.

So what are some of the tools that we have? I think the biggest thing is to expand our vocabulary on our emotions. Rather then everything boiling down to anger, can we learn to identify more nuanced emotions. Maybe what we’re really feeling is frustration, or humiliation, or rejection. If we can learn to better identify what we’re really feeling, then we can start finding different ways of viewing the feelings we’re having.

When we can identify our emotions better we can see that dealing with annoyances is different than how we deal with frustration or resentment. But if we only have one word for it, then we don’t deal with effectively.

On my website, I created a worksheet that I’m calling the emotional vocabulary worksheet and basically what it is, it’s an exercise you can go through when you’re dealing with the strong emotion. And maybe you are in a situation where you didn’t deal with things very well. And it kind of walks you through trying to identify some of these different emotions and look at how these emotions maybe were appropriate or inappropriate for the situation. And if our reaction was appropriate or inappropriate for the situation.

Dealing with strong emotions in life is something that all of us have to do. But in order for us to actually deal with these different emotions that we have, we need to be sure what we’re actually feeling. So expanding our emotional vocabulary will give us the words to be able to really identify what it is that we’re feeling and then respond appropriately. So if you’d like a copy of this worksheet, if it’s something that sounds interesting to you, you can go to my website and download it from there will be a link on the front page. My website is www.stoic.coffee and I’ll have the link sitting there on the front page.

And that’s the stoic coffee break for this week. Remember, be good to yourself and be good others, and thanks for listening.

Categories
Coffee Break stoicism

148 – Comparison and Self Judgment

Comparison and Self Judgment

 

Be the best version of yourself!

How often do we compare ourselves with others? Why do you we get down on ourselves when someone is better than us at something? This weeks episode is about comparison, and how to get past the need to compare ourselves with others, and change the inner critic.

In Episode 146, Fear is the Killer I touched briefly on how one of the biggest fears in life is the fear of judgment. And while I was mostly referring to the judgments of others, in this episode I want to talk about self-judgment and comparing ourselves to others.

For most of us, the person that judges us most harshly is ourselves. When we want to try something that is outside our comfort zone, that voice in our head may tell us that it’s a bad idea or that we’re stupid for even trying. Why is that? Why would sabotage ourselves? I think it’s because our brain’s job is not to help support us in our growth, but to keep us alive. And because so much of our society has been based upon our station in life and being better than others, we equate not being as good at something as someone else as something that might cause us harm. And that fear can stop is from accomplishing so many great things.

“No person has the power to have everything they want, but it is in their power not to want what they don’t have, and to cheerfully put to good use what they do have.”

— Seneca, Letters From a Stoic

When I started this podcast, I was often worried that people would think I was an imposter. I thought that if I put out a podcast about stoicism that others might put me down for it because of my lack of credentials. My wise partner reminded me that if all I’m doing is talking about how these things impact me and what I learn from it, then there was no expertise needed beyond my own experience. Thankfully, I listened to her and here we are 148 episodes later, and thankfully, you have supported me and listened to my podcast each week.

What I had to do was to be better about what I defined as success and not compare myself against others. I mean, if I was worried about trying to be as successful as Tim Ferriss and be upset that I’m never going to hit 300 million downloads, then I would never be successful. So I learned to be happy with what I have – a podcast that I can feel proud of, where I’m improving every week and I’m learning and growing each week, and I’m connecting with more and more people each week.

I know one impact of being so self-critical for me was that because I didn’t think I was all that great of a person, I would try to talk myself up to other people. Because of that insecurity, I would tell all these stories about how great I was, because I really wanted them to like me. Deep down inside, I felt like if I were just good enough at all of these things, I would be worthy of their love.

So how do we move past comparing ourselves with others?

I think the first step is finding ways to look at the success of others is not a judgment on us. The world is not a zero-sum game. Just because someone else is successful, doesn’t mean we lose. Contrary to what others try to make us think, the world isn’t made that way. We need to celebrate the success of others. We need to let go of the striving and the posturing, and the ego that makes us think that if someone is doing better than us then we’re doing worse.

William Irvine, the author of A Guide to The Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy says that we should be okay with our mistakes, and learn to give out praise for the admirable traits we see in other people. He says, “You may be extremely reluctant to do that, because in some way, they’re your competitors, but sometimes people do things that are worthy of praise, and to openly praise them in a certain culture is an act of courage because you’re admitting that they’re outplaying you in some way.”

When you can be honest about someone else’s success, then it makes it easier, to be honest with yourself. When you can remove your ego from the equation and be honest about your own skill, you can look at it as simply a measure of skill, not a judgment of whether you’re a good or bad person.

The next big step, which is still a hard one for me, is to remember the only person that you should be comparing yourself to is yourself.

“Your potential, the absolute best you’re capable of — that’s the metric to measure yourself against. Your standards are. Winning is not enough. People can get lucky and win. People can be assholes and win. Anyone can win. But not everyone is the best possible version of themselves.”

― Ryan Holiday, Ego Is the Enemy

I love that part – be the best possible version of ourselves. We need to define our own version of success that is not dependent on things outside of our control. You can’t control how good someone else is going to be at something, and when you compare yourselves with them, you are tying your success to something we can’t control. You can only control yourself and your own skill, so the only real measure should be, are you improving. And remember, failing can be improving as long as you are learning.

Lastly, we need to have self-compassion. When you screw up, don’t look at it as a failure of character, look at it as being a fallible imperfect human. Your skill at something doesn’t make you more or less worthy of love.

Be good to yourself. Be good to others.

Categories
Coffee Break philosophy stoicism wisdom

147 – Look Within