235 – Interview With Tanner Campbell from The Practical Stoic

Interview with Tanner Campbell
Interview with Tanner Campbell

I had the pleasure and privilege of speaking with Tanner Campbel from The Practical Stoic. Tanner is sharp, warm, and kind and I really enjoyed our conversation. I hope you enjoy it as well.

Hello friends! Thank you for listening. Stop by the website at where you can sign up for our newsletter, and buy some great looking shirts and hoodies at the Stoic Coffee Shop. Want to help support this podcast? Become a patron on patreon! Like the theme song? You can find it here from my alter ego. 🙂

Find me on instagram or twitter.

Lastly if you know of someone that would benefit from or appreciate this podcast, please share it. Word of mouth is the best way to help this podcast grow. Thanks again for listening.

philosophy stoicism

217 – Interview With Donald J. Robertson

An interview with Donald J. Robertson about his new graphic novel about Marcus Aurelius called Verissimus. We talk about all kinds of stoic history and the politics of his day.

philosophy stoicism

216 – Give yourself fully to your endeavors

Photographer: 919039361464473

Forget everything else. Keep hold of this alone and remember it: Each of us lives only now, this brief instant.  
—Marcus Aurelius

Don’t let fear, low self-esteem and the negative voices hold you back from your true destiny. 
—David Goggins

One of the hardest things for me, and I’m sure that many of you fall into the same category, is to know what you want and have the courage to go after it. There are plenty of reason why this happens, and for the most part it comes down to fear, and the two biggest are fear of failure, and fear of disapproval of others. Today I want to talk about some changes I’m making in my life, and how I’m facing these fears.

First, I want to let you know that I’m putting the podcast on indefinite hiatus. While the podcast has been one of the greatest things I’ve created, it’s also helped me realize that I need to stop procrastinating on pursuing the things I really want to do. I need to face those fears, take those risks, and use my time in a way that will make me the happiest.

Sometimes the worst thing is to have something that is moderately successful, but ultimately doesn’t take you where you want to go. It becomes an excuse to hide behind. While the podcast has been successful with over 4 million downloads and 3 million of those downloads in just this year, it is also something that takes up a lot of time and focuses my energy away from the things that I really want to do. It has become an excuse to avoid going for what I really want and avoiding the possibility of failing.

How I Got Here

The meaning of life is just to be alive. It is so plain and so obvious and so simple. And yet, everybody rushes around in a great panic as if it were necessary to achieve something beyond themselves. 
—Alan Watts

The careers I wanted to go into when I was younger were theater, film, TV, video games, and music. I loved acting and singing and thought that if I could make a living doing any of those, I would have my dream job.

So how did I end up as a software developer? Because I was afraid that wouldn’t be able to make it in the arts. I started out with good intentions and at one point did have what I see now was my favorite job. I had a part-time job at a financial firm making videos and graphics, recording audio, and even making music videos for a rap artist that the owner was supporting. I loved that job, but it was only part time and rather than figure out how to make it in that arena, I got a job in tech and learned how to program. I was afraid so I took the easier path.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’ve had a pretty good career as a software developer. It pays well and I’ve been able to support myself and my family. I’m not complaining by any means. But often when we are successful in something, we’re afraid to step onto a different path because we’re afraid of failure. We get so used to being successful, that failing at something, even though we expect it because we’re just starting out, is often too much to bear. This is what has kept me from stepping up and pursuing the things I want. bcause I won’t be nearly as good in other areas as I am in programming, at least not for quite some time.

This happened to me a few years ago when I decided to learn to play cello. I’m a pretty decent pianist and singer, and in my mind, I thought that I should be able to pick up cello pretty easily. When I found that it was far more challenging that I had thought and I was not making the progress I thought I should, I gave it up. That failing at the time was just too much for me. I had become so used to being good in other areas of music that when I failed to live up to my expectations, I couldn’t handle it, and because our minds don’t like failure, rather than changing my expectations and putting in the work to become good, I just decided it wasn’t for me.

Lessons Learned

With all of that said, I’ve learned a lot of lessons from working on this podcast. I’ve learned a lot about myself, and how to apply stoicism in my life. I’ve learned that consistency is the key to any success. That putting out work, even if it’s not great is how to learn and get better, and then your work will be great. And even then, you’ll still put stuff out that’s not as good as you want, but you put it out anyway. I’ve said before:

Consistency is the killer of fear.

I’ve learned how to put together a good show with good content. I’ve become a better writer, and learned how to communicate difficult ideas and express them in a way that others can understand. I’ve learned how to dig a little deeper into things and have found that often times the better and more useful answer is counterintuitive and non-obvious.

I’ve learned how to speak better and use my voice to effectively convey my message. I feel more comfortable with being in front of the mic than I ever thought I would. I’ve learned how to record and master and put our episodes that wound up being close to professional level.

Creating this podcast has certainly been a good thing in my life, and I’m grateful for all the lessons I’ve learned and all the support of received from you along the way. But even with all those good things that have come from this journey, we always need to be re-evaluating what we are doing with our lives and make sure that we are on a path that we want to be on. We need to have the courage to step up and take risks for the things that will bring us closer to our true goals. We also need to have the courage to let go of the things that no longer serve us.

What’s Next?

You can accomplish anything if you can: 1) prioritize ruthlessly 2) control your attention. Both of these have become particularly hard in the present age. As such those who can control these two critical factors will rule the world. 

For the past few years I’ve been dabbling in VR/AR/3D design. I find it exciting and a little scary because it’s not my area of expertise in the world of programming. But the more I dig into it, the more I see the possibilities for using this medium to create films, games, and musical experiences. I’m an artist at heart, and I love creating and exploring and finding ways to bring the things I dream up into existence. I know there’s a lot to learn, and I’ve been working up the courage and resolve to pursue this dream.

But to pursue this dream, I need to focus my time and energy on learning the tools of the trade and adding skills to my toolkit. In order to do this, I need to bring my focus, discipline, and dedication to this new venture, and let go of other distractions or I’ll burn myself out trying to do too much. If I don’t walk this path I’ll feel the same frustration that I’ve felt for much of my life, of knowing what I want, but not having the courage to step up and do what needs to be done.

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. 

So where does this leave the podcast? I plan on leaving the podcast up with my podcast host. I put a lot of time and energy into it, and I want to leave this out there as others may find them useful and helpful in understanding and applying stoicism in their lives. It’s possible that I may relate a book or an audio course at some point in the future, but for now, I need to focus my energy, time, and talents on becoming on what I’ve titled an “Immersive Experience Creator”.

If you enjoy this podcast and find value in it, I would really appreciate it if you would make a donation on Patreon. I have put thousands of hours of work into this podcast, so just as you would pay for an audio book, donating on Patreon would be helpful in offsetting hosting fees, and help fund my new ventures. You can find the page at


Learning to let go of things that distract us from our path, especially things that are good, is really challenging. This is not a decision that I’ve come to lightly. It’s been filled with all kinds of second-guessing and trying to find ways to keep it going while I work on my other pursuits. But in the end, I realized that if I want to be successful in pursuing my dreams, I have give them my full attention. It has been a wonderful trip to share my thoughts and experiences with you, and I’m so grateful for all your support and wonderful emails. I hope that you have learned something from my experiences and insights, and I hope that when the time comes for you to have to make a hard choice of letting go of something good to go for something better, that you will have the courage to do so.

Hello friends! Thank you for listening. If this podcast speaks to you, please consider give a donation on Patreon at
You can also swing by the and pick up 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.

Thanks again for listening.

Hello friends! Thank you for listening. If this podcast speaks to you, please consider give a donation on Patreon at
You can also swing by the and pick up 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.

Thanks again for listening.

philosophy stoicism

215 – The Space Between

"When force of circumstance upsets your equanimity, lose no time in recovering your self-control, and do not remain out of tune longer than you can help. Habitual recurrence to the harmony will increase your mastery of it.”
― Marcus Aurelius

Over the past few weeks, I've been thinking a lot about equanimity and how it may be the most important idea that the stoics came up with. And the more I look into it, the more I see that this is the one of the most important principles, and a foundation for being able to apply the other principles more effectively. We can also see how important this is in other traditions such as Buddhism, especially Zen Buddhism, also promotes the idea of calming the mind as one of the highest virtues.

So why would this be the case?

I used to think that equanimity was a byproduct of following stoic principles. That if you learned to control what you can, and let go of the rest, then you could find more peace of mind. But the more I dig into it, the more I find it is almost the opposite. The calmer your mind, the easier it is to see what is under your control and what is not. The more you can keep an even keel, the more you can make better decisions under pressure.

Now don't get me wrong, practicing stoic principles can certainly help you have a calmer mind. When you learn to identify what you can't control and let go of those things, it certainly can reduce stress in your life. But if you are constantly feeling stressed, this process is much harder because you're starting out at a disadvantage.

Taking the time to practice mindfulness puts you at an advantage because you're already in a state of mind that is helpful. It's like the difference between preparing for a fight versus just being tossed into the ring at a moment's notice. Equanimity, mindfulness, meditation… all of these should not just be an afterthought, or "nice to have", but should be considered essential tools to your stoic practice.

Stimulus and Response

Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. 
—Viktor Frankl

When you are upset, you are likely to sacrifice the wellbeing of tomorrow to appease the hurt feelings of today. Not a good trade. Subject your emotions to a cooling-off period before you allow them to guide major decisions.

One of the most important things that being mindful helps us do is think long term. If we are able to take that space between stimulus and response, and choose our response rather than just react, we are able to choose things that will benefit us better in the long run. If we are constantly in a space of reactivity, we let our emotions override our rationality and often do things that might feed whatever we need in the short term, but can have long term negative consequences. We are also less in command of ourselves and are much more easily controlled by others.

When can learn to take that moment to make a choice rather than react is one of the most powerful things that we can learn to do in our lives. Giving ourselves the power to choose how we respond in any situation is the ultimate expression of self control and power. The fact that we are always looking to make a choice, means that it's more likely we'll respond in a way we are proud of, and that ultimately leads to better outcomes for ourselves and those around us.

Monkey Mind

Peace. It does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble or hard work. It means to be in the midst of those things and still be calm in your heart. 
— Anonymous

Meditation and mindfulness are not the easiest things to do. Our minds are always on the run. The Buddhist have a great term for this called the "monkey mind". For many of us, when things get quiet, we get anxious and it feels like our minds are spinning even faster. What's really going on is that when you are not focusing on something, you see how busy your mind actually is. There is nothing wrong with this, it just is.

The most important thing that you can do with meditating is not to try and not think about anything, but to become more aware of what you're thinking. Meditation and mindfulness are just practices in awareness with each breath being like an anchor to maintain your state of observation. You take a breath, you notice a thought, you breathe out and just watch where the thought goes. Repeat.

Meditation and Mindfulness

Meditation is intermittent fasting for the mind. Too much sugar leads to a heavy body, and too many distractions lead to a heavy mind. Time spent undistracted and alone, in self-examination, journaling, meditation, resolves the unresolved and takes us from mentally fat to fit.
— Naval Ravikant

A skilled warrior controls and tames their anger and uses it as fuel when necessary, but never lets it drive their choices and actions. They know that letting anger or fear drive their actions is more dangerous than any enemy they may face. Doing our best to cultivate a mind that is thoughtful, calm, and patient prepares us to be more resilient when we feel anger or fear and want to lash out and say or do impulsive things.

Like most things, it's always challenging to take what we know and turn it into what we do. Turning our daily practice of mindfulness into something that we do as a habit is something we need to practice as often as possible. And the thing is that we will fail, because if we never failed, we would never need to be mindful because we would just be mindful all the time. We will fail in our practice, and then we'll remember to be mindful, which we will do for a while, until we forget, and then remember to be mindful…and repeat.

This never ending cycle becomes part of our practice to be a little better each day. To be a little more present each day. To live up to our ideals a little more closely each day. This is one of those ideas that is obvious, but still not easy to always follow. A good way to help set the stage is making a practice of meditation each morning to or journalling start the day off are always good ways to set the stage for the day. Then it's just about refocusing your awareness throughout the day with being mindful.

So what’s a simple way to practice mindfulness? Think of it like this: Just as a normal meditation practice is all about awareness of your thinking and bringing focus back to your breathing when your mind wanders off, mindfulness is a reoccurring meditation that you do throughout your day, to bring your awareness to your thinking. When you do this, you remind yourself to be as present as possible, to not worry about things from the past, because they cannot be changed, and to not stress about future events because they are unknown and have not yet arrived.


When you can be better about living in the present, which is what mindfulness is all about, you will be more attentive and deliberate about what you are working on. When you are more deliberate, you bring more of your faculties to bear, you do better work, and you make better decisions. When you practice meditation, you deliberately choosing to develop equanimity rather than just hoping that it just happens.

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

philosophy stoicism

214 – Embody Your Philosophy

Don’t explain your philosophy. Embody it. 
— Epictetus

Events in life mean nothing if you do not reflect on them in a deep way, and ideas from books are pointless if they have no application to life as you live it. 
— Robert Greene

The hardest thing about any philosophy is being able to apply what you learn in real life. We can read all the books, watch all the videos, follow all the gurus, but until we actually apply what we've learned, all of that learning is worthless.

Developing a practice of reflection and thinking deep about your life experiences and philosophy is a challenging endeavor, because it is often difficult to actually apply what we know. We know what we should and shouldn’t eat, but we struggle to eat a diet that is healthy for us. We know we should work out and keep ourselves in shape, but getting out of bed for the early morning run is not easy when you want that extra bit of of sleep.

So how do we live our philosophy? How do we move past just book learning, and into application of what we have learned? This is something that has been a real challenge for me, so I’m guessing that it’s a challenge for others.

Learning to reflect on what life brings our way, what we can learn from it, and how we can grow from it is something that take effort and thoughtfulness. Connecting what we learn to how we act is always an ongoing process, but unless we figure out how to do that, then our knowledge is wasted, and we continue on as before.

To be honest, I don’t have some perfect way to apply philosophy, but it’s something that I think about every day. Every time I fail to keep an even keel when things are challenging, it’s always a struggle to slow down, breathe, and let go of the feelings that were so strong and overwhelming just moments before. But lately, I’ve been practicing a few ideas to help keep me in a mindset that has been more helpful and more aware.


Peace must be found in the imperfect present.
— The Stoic Emperor

One of the most important things that I’ve been working on is acceptance. Life is never going to be exactly the way that we want. Ever. There will always be something to complain about. There will always be wars, natural disasters, turmoil and chaos somewhere in the world. There will always be something "wrong".

Often, I have found myself feeling irritated or annoyed because things aren't the way that I want them. When we spend time wishing for things to be otherwise, we are refusing to accept reality as it is. Getting into a mindset of accepting things are they are and not as I wish is always a challenge.

The more I practice acceptance of what is, the easier it is to work with what is. Acceptance is not the same as resignation. We don't despair, but we don't also don't see the world through Pollyanna eyes. It's not that we give up trying to find positive elements in our situation, but find peace in the imperfectness of life.

Facing Challenges

Failure and deprivation are the best educators and purifiers. 
—Albert Einstein

If everything is life was easy, there would be little incentive to improve and grow. Facing up to, and overcoming challenges is what brings the greatest pleasure in life. When we are simply given something with no effort on our own, we are robbed of the chance to learn and grow. I know for me, the things that I earned through hard work and persistence always feel more rewarding than things that I was just given.

When we face a great challenge, we get the opportunity to bring all our skills, wits, and wisdom to bear, as well as acquire new strengths and skills. If we are never tested, never challenged, then we stagnate or even atrophy. Muscles and skills that go unused are pretty much worthless unless we actually use and develop them.

Learning to view challenges as the key to growth is hard! We want things to be easy and go our way. I propose that we work on getting better at the meta-skill of seeing challenges as the path to growth not the obstacle. Then we can face any challenge with the right perspective.


The wise man is neither raised up by prosperity nor cast down by adversity; for always he has striven to rely predominantly on himself, and to derive all joy from himself. 
— Seneca

Life is always going to be throwing you curveballs. Sometimes you're ready for them and knock it out of the park. Other times you can be as prepared as possible and you still falter. Still other times, you're caught completely off guard. There's no such thing as getting what you deserve (or not), because the universe doesn't really care. Life happens not as we want, but as it will, and we’re just along for the ride.

If we are wise, we recognize this truth and understand that our happiness should not be dependent on external things. If we attach our happiness to our careers or possessions, what happens when we lose those? You could get fired tomorrow. Your house could burn down. If your self worth, your pride, are wrapped up in those things, you are handing over your control to things outside of yourself.

When we recognize that we have control of our happiness by appreciating the good AND the bad, and recognize that this is just how life is, we are better able to take what happens in stride.

To be calm is the highest achievement of the self.
—Zen proverb

The more we learn about the brain, the we learn that we are constantly bombarded by stimulus, and everything that enters our conscious awareness impacts us, no matter how small. Add in the noise of the modern world and finding some peace of mind is becoming more and more of a challenge. Being calm is not just a matter of will, it's a matter of practice. The more we practice, the stronger our ability to call upon our ability to be calm.

And why is developing the skill of calmness so important? If we are constantly being buffeted about by every stimulus, sensation, or emotion, we are never really in control of ourselves. We are also easily manipulated by those who can arose our anger or fear.

Calmness for me does not necessarily mean quiet. One can practice mindfulness in the middle of chaos, which is one of the most important places to be calm. Equanimity is about the internal calmness, not about what is happening outside of ourselves. We need to be that calm in storm. The quest for equanimity is always an ongoing practice, and one of the most important skills we can develop.


I think the best way to live your philosophy is to cultivate a mindset or calmness . It’s taking that time each morning to set the mood for your day. Meditation, journal writing, exercise – these are all things that help us to get in the mindset that works to find that equanimity, that balance, that helps us in our daily lives. And when we practice meditating in the morning, it makes it just a little easier to be mindful throughout the day. That mindfulness can be that bit of awareness that we need that buys us those moments between stimulus and response that allows us to choose for ourselves and make wise choices, rather than just reacting.


Developing a useful mindset of equanimity is not something that just happens. It’s something that you have to cultivate and work on each day. It’s something that takes effort and constant reminders. You may remember to be mindful and aware of your thinking and what’s going on around you, only to forget again a few minds later, and have to bring your focus back to being mindful. But each and every time you fail, and remember, and bring your focus back to being mindful, then you have strengthened that mental muscle just a little more. And it’s the thoughts that count.

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

philosophy stoicism

197 – What’s Your Excuse?

What’s Your Excuse?

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

— Epictetus

We all have events and challenges that happen in our lives. That what life is all about. When the stoics use the term Amor Fati, what they mean is to love your fate, to love and accept what life sends your way. How you feel about the events that happen to you in your life will not change if they are going to happen or not. They will happen. What thoughts you have around these events, how you feel about them, and how you respond to them are the only things that you have control over.

If this is the case, why do we make excuses? Why do we come up with rationalizations about these how we do or don’t, especially when the rationalizations just make us feel worse about the actions we want to take anyway?

In the 1983 film The Big Chill, Jeff Goldblum and Tom Berenger have this great exchange:

Michael : I don’t know anyone who could get through the day without two or three juicy rationalizations. They’re more important than sex.

Sam Weber : Ah, come on. Nothing’s more important than sex.

Michael : Oh yeah? Ever gone a week without a rationalization?

— Jeff Goldblum & Tom Berenger, The Big Chill

Why We Make Excuses

Part of the reason why we rationalize is evolutionary. On its surface, when we make excuses, part of it is that our brain might honestly be trying to figure something out. It might be trying to find reasons to do or not do what we want. If it is after the fact, we might be trying to understand why we did what we did. So what is the difference between a cause and an excuse?

A cause is a fact that can be proven.

An excuse is an explanation designed to avoid or alleviate guilt or negative outcome, perception, or judgement.

So what would be an example of a cause? The cause of why I cannot slam a basketball is because I cannot jump high enough to reach a basketball rim. My physique is such that I do not have the height or muscle to get even close to the rim. It has nothing to do with my desire to or how much I “want” it. It has to do with physics.

A rationalization on the other hand might be blaming a bad mood on getting bad sleep or that traffic was bad on the way to work. We use rationalizations to justify our own behavior and avoid taking full responsibility for our choices and actions.

The reason why this came up is because I mentioned to my partner about how I was feeling like I was not able to get myself organized because was in survival mode because of my incessant insomnia. I explained that I wanted to get more organized, but I was always so tired. I also talked about how working on mindfulness was too challenging because I was so tired all the time, and that I felt I needed to get my health back online so that I could focus on those things. She said those were just excuses, and that I was always going to be tired or have something that could be used to rationalize to myself or others why I did, or in this case did not, do something.

She was right.

This does not mean that I should forgo working on my health. Being healthy certainly helps with focus and the ability to think more clearly, but that I recognize I can find a way to get organized even when these things are happening. It might be more challenging, and I may not be able to do it how I want to, but that I can get it done. Simply put, you’re rarely going to have ideal conditions to accomplish your goals or develop your skill. Life happens, and if you wait around for things to be just perfect, you’ll never accomplish anything.

Personal Rationalizations

How often do we make excuses of why we do/don’t do the things we “should” do, such as cleaning the dishes, organizing our desk, or eating healthier food? We consider our actions wrong in this case because we have somehow decided that our actions are wrong. We have decided that eating that piece of carrot cake is wrong. Not doing the dishes right away is wrong. Having a disorganized desk is wrong. We make up excuses because we think we should do something and we don’t want to do it.

I think that if we aren’t honest with ourselves about why we do things, then it’s harder to be honest with others about things. If we practice giving ourselves excuses all the time, why would we suddenly be able to be more honest with others?

External Rationalizations

Why do we make excuses and and rationalize our behavior to other people?

When we choose something and it doesn’t work, we look for reasons outside of ourselves because of our ego. We don’t like to be wrong.

This begs the question: why are we so afraid to be wrong? What is it about being wrong that makes us avoid it so strongly? That we will double down in an argument, to prove our point to our detriment, ignoring facts and even logic, just to not be wrong?

From an evolutionary standpoint, it does make sense. In ancient times, if you made a wrong decision and you died, then the rest of your tribe could die because you were not able to bring back food. Our brains are wired for that kind of survival, where if you were wrong it could have ended your life and the lives of your family. By upsetting the wrong person, or choosing the wrong plants to eat, or not having the right weapons when you were hunting. Any number of scenarios that we rarely, if ever, need to face in our lives, but our brains are still wired for a different set of dangers. Luckily for us, our brains are also quite malleable, and we can learn how to recalibrate our responses to recognize what is truly dangerous and what is imagined.

We’re also afraid of the opinions or reactions of others. We’re afraid of being shamed or humiliated. This can have some pretty big consequences. For example, if we are wrong about something in our career and have to own up to it, it might mean that we lose credibility in the eyes of our colleagues. We may not get the promotion we were working towards. We might get fired.

Politicians and leaders are often afraid to admit they were wrong about something because people might no longer support or follow them. They try to spin things in such a way that the fault is on some other circumstance or some other person, or group of people, all in an effort to try and preserve their reputation.

We also make up excuses to avoid conflict.  Growing up, I was afraid that if I was wrong, I would get beaten by my dad. If I had a good enough excuse that could mollify him, then there was a good chance that I would be safe. Basically, I learned to be deceptive to be safe. I did it with the church as well, because if I did something that the church didn’t like, I could be shunned by my community. I could anger my father if I was kicked out of the church. I might not be able to get jobs in Utah if was not longer a member.

We aren’t necessarily afraid of being wrong, but we are afraid of the consequences of being wrong.

What Can We Do?

The more we can be honest with ourselves about what we really want to do, the better off we’ll be. The more we can be okay with the choices we make and decide what is a priority and what is not, the more we can let go of feeling like we have to justify our actions. You don’t have to justify your actions, you just have to own them. If you are in a grumpy mood, own it. Don’t make excuses why. Just own that you are, and figure out a solution to change it if you want, or just sit with that mood. If you don’t want to clean your desk, don’t come up with all the reasons why you can’t. Just decide you want to, and do it, or decide you don’t want to and don’t. Get rid of all the guilt and shame around it.

When dealing with others, be mindful of when you make excuses. Are you coming up with reasons so they don’t get upset? Then just stick to the causes of something. When you make excuses, you are trying to place the blame on someone or something else. If you just stick to the facts of what happened, you are more likely to understand the actual cause of something. Remember, a cause of something is a fact. An excuse is way to try and avoid the consequences.

Learning how to be honest with ourselves is very challenging. We rationalize our behavior to ourselves on a daily, if not hourly, basis. If we take the time to be intensional about our choices, we can get rid of a lot of guilt and shame for doing the things we already want to do, and we can be better at owning our choices and actions around others.

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

Anger conflict philosophy stoicism

196 – How To Win An Argument

How to Win an Argument
How to Win an Argument

How do you win an argument? All of us have to deal with conflict in our lives. To think otherwise is completely unrealistic. But when we have an argument, what is our goal? What do we hope to achieve? To change the other person’s mind? To prove that we are right?

Today I want to talk about why we argue, and the best way to win an argument.

It is possible to curb your arrogance, to overcome pleasure and pain, to rise above your ambition, and to not be angry with stupid and ungrateful people — yes, even to care for them.

— Marcus Aurelius

Why do people argue? If you asked most people, they would probably tell you that they don’t like to argue, that they don’t like conflict. But if this is the case, why do we have so many arguments as humans? But so much of what we read, see, and hear in our media is people arguing about what they see as the “right way” for things to be done or how someone else is wrong.

The nature of conflict

At its core, the main reason we have so much conflict is that we each experience a distinct reality. Every person in the world has a unique perspective on reality. This is a combination of so many factors including their past experiences, biological makeup, current state of mind, education, and general outlook on the world. External factors include the culture they live in, the culture they grew up in, the language they speak, the country they live in, and their physical environment, to name a few.

Because of the large number of variables to go to make up a persons perspective on reality, no two people are ever going to see the world in the same way, and there is bound to be conflict in any area of life as people interact with each other. The only way to completely avoid conflict with others is to completely avoid all contact with any other person.

In religion, people have settled on a set of beliefs that strongly influence what they believe about the world. Some believe that there is a grey-haired man in the sky who is watching every action you take and knows every thought you think and is judging you for every thought and action, and will punish you once you die. Some claim that because of thoughts and actions of others, bad things happen as a punishment from god. Hurricanes, tornadoes, and even earthquakes are a manifestation of this god’s wrath upon one part of humanity for the alleged sins of another part of humanity. This capricious nature of some higher power that would punish people for the sins of others is one thing that drove me from religion.

When it comes to politics, peoples political views are strong enough for them to take actions that can be highly detrimental to those less fortunate, have the wrong skin color, or speak a different language. We find people on opposite sides of the political spectrum holding wildly different ideas about how things should be run. Often we see how people will often oppose an idea, not on its merits but because the other side supports the idea. They may even believe the idea is good, but are completely unwilling to support it simply because their side did not propose it.

Some people believe that there is a certain hierarchy of humans based upon factors such as education, family, class, money. Some believe that there is a ruling class and that others are simply meant to be ruled. Some believe that others are born inferior, based upon their family, race, sex, or gender identity and therefore are lesser beings. This often leads them to act in ways where they feel they have privileges not afford to others. When someone fundamentally believes that they have the right to control another person without their consent, there’s bound to be conflict.

In our personal relationships we find that most of our conflicts arise from when we believe that the other person’s ideas or actions are incorrect and we try to change them. When we feel like we have the right to coerce others to change their opinion or change their actions, we’re going to have issues. We are trying to control something that we do not have control over. We might think that because of our relationship with this person we have that right. This happens frequently with romantic partners. We might find that we disagree with our partners on something that we find troubling. Maybe they have a point of view about something that we think is just plain illogical or frivolous. Even so, we do not have the right to coerce them either through arguments or physical means into chaining their minds simply because we disagree with them.

In the case of parents, depending on the level of maturity, we have the duty to take care of our children. We need to take care of their physical needs, and do our best to teach them how to manage in the world. But even though we are in charge of them, we do not have the right to force our children to change their opinions to suit us. Our job as parents is to teach them how to form their own opinions and teach them the skills they need to survive in the world. The less we focus on making sure they have the right opinions, and help them understand how to form opinions and apply critical thinking to the world, the better they’ll be able to cope with the challenges of life. They may have less experience, and may not have skills in many areas, but this does not mean that we have the right to violate their personal autonomy. When you beat your kids or verbally abuse them, your are violating their person, and trying to force them into conforming to your will. You are trying to control something you cannot control. Think about how many times your parents told you something, and you just agreed with them to avoid an argument, even though you did not agree with them. Beating your children as punishment causes trauma in your kids that is not easily remedied. As the provider and protector of children, your children should not fear you, but should be able to lean on you to get their physical, mental, and emotional needs met, and to help them learn how to navigate the world

“As you move forward along the path of reason, people will stand in your way. They will never be able to keep you from doing what’s sound, so don’t let them knock out your goodwill for them. Keep a steady watch on both fronts, not only for well-based judgments and actions, but also for gentleness with those who would obstruct our path or create other difficulties. For getting angry is also a weakness, just as much as abandoning the task or surrendering under panic. For doing either is an equal desertion— the one by shrinking back and the other by estrangement from family and friend.”

— Marcus Aurelius

How To Win An Argument

First and foremost, we need to accept that we all have a different version of reality.

Second, we need to recognize that we do not have the right to force anyone else to agree with or believe in our version of reality.

Third, we need to understand our goal for the argument. Are we trying to convince someone of the rightness of our position and the wrongness of theirs? I know that if someone if trying to push me over to their opinion, I almost automatically resist. If they aren’t interested in why I hold the opinion I do, then it makes it really hard to want to listen to what they have to say. It says right off the bat that they think I’m wrong and they’re setting out to prove it. No one likes to feel this way.

The other thing is that if you don’t understand why a person believes what they do, you won’t be able to address the factors that caused them to believe it in the first place. Often, when you listen and try to understand why they hold their opinion, they may even discover the flaws in it, and you may discover flaws in your own thinking.

I propose that the goal of any argument you have is that you act honorably. That upon reflection, you can feel good about your behavior. For me, that includes not yelling or name calling. It means listening to why they feel the way they do. It means that I care that something bothered the other person. It does not mean that I have to do anything about it. It does mean that I have concern that something bothered them. That’s it. I don’t have to agree with them, but I should care.

If you are unwilling to be open to changing your opinions, why should you expect someone else to be willing? Remember, the only thing you can control is your thinking, your opinions – not anyone else’s.

Any time we deal with other people in any situation, there will be conflict. We will never agree with someone else 100% of the time. It’s just not possible, nor is it going to help you grow. If your goal is to act honorably, with compassion and caring and not just to change another person’s mind, then you can win any argument.

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


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 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 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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192 – 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.


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.


“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.


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 and help support this podcast by becoming a patron. Also stop by the website at where you can sign up for our newsletter, and buy some great looking shirts and hoodies at the Stoic Coffee Shop. 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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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


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.


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 and help support this podcast by becoming a patron. Also stop by the website at where you can sign up for our newsletter, and buy some great looking shirts and hoodies at the Stoic Coffee Shop. 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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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?


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 and help support this podcast by becoming a patron. Also stop by the website at where you can sign up for our newsletter, and buy some great looking shirts and hoodies at the Stoic Coffee Shop. 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.

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?


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 and help support this podcast by becoming a patron. Also stop by the website at where you can sign up for our newsletter, and buy some great looking shirts and hoodies at the Stoic Coffee Shop. 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.

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 and help support this podcast by becoming a patron. Also stop by the website at where you can sign up for our newsletter, and buy some great looking shirts and hoodies at the Stoic Coffee Shop. 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.

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 and help support this podcast by becoming a patron. Also stop by the website at where you can sign up for our newsletter, and buy some great looking shirts and hoodies at the Stoic Coffee Shop. 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.

Coffee Break other people philosophy stoicism

185 – Needy

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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 and help support this podcast by becoming a patron. Also stop by the website at where you can sign up for our newsletter, and buy some great looking shirts and hoodies at the Stoic Coffee Shop. 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.

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.


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.


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.


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 and help support this podcast by becoming a patron. Also stop by the website at where you can sign up for our newsletter, and buy some great looking shirts and hoodies at the Stoic Coffee Shop. 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.


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 and help support this podcast by becoming a patron. Also stop by the website at where you can sign up for our newsletter, and buy some great looking shirts and hoodies at the Stoic Coffee Shop. 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.

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?


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.


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 and help support this podcast by becoming a patron. Also stop by the website at where you can sign up for our newsletter, and buy some great looking shirts and hoodies at the Stoic Coffee Shop. 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.

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 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:


  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.


  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.


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.


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.


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.


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:

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.


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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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.


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.


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?


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.”


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

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

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:


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 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.


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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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.

philosophy self-improvement stoicism

168 – Self Acceptance

Self Acceptance
The relationship you have with yourself is the most important one of your life.

“Equanimity is the voluntary acceptance of the things which are assigned to thee by the common nature.”

– Marcus Aurelius

How often do we hold ourselves back because of our inner critic? What if instead we practiced self acceptance, and treated ourselves like we treat a good friend – with honesty, kindness, and forgiveness? The relationship you have with yourself is the most important one of your life.

In today’s episode we talk a look at how we can stop being our own worst enemy, and how being a friend to yourself helps you grow into the person you want to be.

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147 – Look Within

How often do we look outside of ourselves to know what to do? How often do we doubt ourselves and look to others to find a solution to a problem? How often do we seek the opinions of others to feel like we’re on the right path? This weeks episode is about learning how to find the wisdom in yourself.

“Dig within. Within is the wellspring of Good; and it is always ready to bubble up, if you just dig.

― Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

The culture that we grow up in can have a huge impact on us as to how we view the world. If we’re lucky, we have parents, teachers, and friends that teach us how to listen to our own voice and know what we feel, and what is right for us. Many of us don’t get taught these lessons of self-reliance and self-confidence. We’re taught to please our parents, please our teacher, please our church leaders. Paying attention to what we feel and what we know is right for us is highly discouraged, or at the least given little attention. We grow up relying on the opinions of others to know what we should be doing. We look to see what kinds of relationships we should have. If and when we should get married. What kinds of jobs we should take. What kinds of shows to watch on Netflix.

The thing is, society doesn’t want you to stop and think for yourself. People who take the time to truly know themselves, are no longer easy to control. They are not easily manipulated. They are often poor consumers because they know what they want and don’t waste time or money on things they don’t.

In my case, the church taught me what I was supposed to want. So much of my life was wrapped up in pleasing the leaders and the members of my church. So much so, that I often didn’t know what I really wanted, or how I really felt about things. Even as a grown man, I often find it difficult to know what I really think or feel in a given situation.

When I’m working through what I want in my life, I will find myself looking for the right answer outside of myself because I don’t think that my own opinion is worth anything. I don’t trust that I’m smart enough to figure it out on my own, or that I have the right to decide what I want. To think for myself and do what is right for me, rather than what I think others think is the right thing.

To listen to yourself, to recognize your own wisdom is a scary thing because it means that you are responsible for the results you get. You are responsible for all your failures. You are blazing your own path, rather than parroting what someone else does. You are claiming your life as your own.

It’s also hard because when you decide what you really want to go after, it’s really scary to think that you might not get it. Often you choose someone else’s dream because if you fail, then it’s not that big of a deal.

“When you confine yourself to only those things that are under your control, you cannot be defeated. Don’t be fooled by outward appearances. People with more prestige, power, or some other distinction are not necessarily happier because of what they have. There is no reason to be envious or jealous of anyone. If you lead a rational life, the good lies within you. Our concern should be our freedom, not titles and prestigious positions. The way to freedom is not to be too concerned about things we don’t control.”

— Epictetus

What does Epictetus mean by we can’t be defeated? If we only measure success by the things that we can control, we can never lose. We should never measure success based off of something that we can’t control, in this case gaining a powerful position. He also warns us not to be fooled by what others have because they may not be happier. This means that we should not define our happiness based on what others think is successful.

For example, if I measure the success of my podcast based on how many people are listening, then I will always lose. But if my measure of success is that I put out an episode each week that is important to me, then I am successful. If I feel like I’m improving, that I’m growing personally, then I’m successful.

Epictetus reminds us that if we do our best to be rational, to act on the things that we have control over and let go of the rest then we will find the good inside of us because we will see no need for jealousy or envy because we pursue what we deem as good and important. When we care less about the opinions of others, then we are free from all stress and striving and competition. We don’t care what others think so we do things that are good for us, not what others think we should do, and this is where true freedom lies.

Learning to listen to and trust yourself, and to think critically is a very important part of living a good life. It means that we learn to let go of what everyone else thinks is good for us, and we act on the things that we have control over, and trust that if we do our best, to be honest with ourselves we’ll make good choices. We may make mistakes from time to time, and we’ll fail, but we’ll learn and we’ll grow, and we’ll be free because we are living the life of our choosing, not someone else’s.

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146 – Fear is the Killer

Fear is the Killer


Fear is the Killer

How many great things have never happened because of fear? How many times did you give up on a dream because of fear? This weeks episode, we’re going to talk about fear, what it is, what it does, and how to move past it.

This last week, I had the good fortune to be in the studio at the filming of Creative Live’s podcast week. It was one of the most inspiring and amazing growth experiences I’ve been at in years. The energy that present and the generosity of time and knowledge from so many creatives has truly rekindled my own creative juices.

But even as I think about all the creative projects that I’d like to complete in the next few months, I kept feeling this fear rise up in my chest. It was a literal feeling that I could feel. A kind of crushing anxiety.

“There are more things likely to frighten us than there are to crush us; we suffer more often in imagination than in reality.”

— Seneca (Letters from a Stoic – Letter XIII: On Groundless Fears)

My life has been full of a lot of fear. For the most part, I grew up in Salt Lake where your whole life is judged about how well you hold the Mormon church’s standards. I grew up with an abusive father who himself was plagued by his own fears about his own sexuality. I grew up steeped in fear.

I wanted to be a musician and an actor, but I didn’t follow through because was so afraid I would fail. I would ask myself, “What if I never make it into a single movie or write a single song?”, “What if I am a poor actor or musician my whole life?” It was just too much for me to consider so I got a degree in business and became a programmer. In my spare time, I would skirt around the edges of my art, talking about the things I wanted to do. I would buy music gear that would get used for a short time, then sit unused on the shelf for months or years. When I did pick things up and work on them, I could never even finish a song because I was so afraid that nothing I wrote would be very good. I have dozens of half-written songs that I was too afraid to finish.

“The three biggest fears in life are: The fear of success, the fear of failure, and the fear of judgment.”

— Lewis Howes

One of the days at Creative Live included an interview with between Chase Jarvis and Lewis Howes. If you’re not familiar with either of them, Chase is a photographer at the top of his game and the founder of Creative Live, and Lewis Howes has a very successful podcast called The School of Greatness. So much of the interview was truly inspiring, but there was a moment where Lewis said, “the three biggest fears in life are: The fear of success, the fear of failure, and the fear of judgment.” When they talked about this, I felt that same nervous anxious feeling because I could recognize exactly what each of those felt like.

I remember those fears that plagued me every time I thought about being an artist. If I succeeded, could I handle it or would I implode? If I failed, could I handle it? Could I be a poor artist? What if I wasn’t very good? What would people think of me? What would I think of myself?

“Remember, however, before all else, to strip things of all that disturbs and confuses, and to see what each is at bottom; you will then comprehend that they contain nothing fearful except the actual fear.”

— Seneca (Letters from a Stoic – Letter XXIV: On Despising Death)

When I get to the bottom on what scared me, I really found that there was nothing there. If I was successful, I had a good head on my shoulders and trusted that I could make good decisions. If I never became a successful actor, I would survive, even if it meant that I lived a more frugal life. But I think it was the judgments of others that was scared me the most. What would they think if I failed? What if they didn’t like my music or my acting? And it’s taken me decades to realize that what others think about my art doesn’t matter.

“Many of the anxieties that harass you are superfluous: being but creatures of your own fancy, you can rid yourself of them and expand into an ampler region, letting your thought sweep over the entire universe, contemplating the illimitable tracts of eternity, marking the swiftness of change in each created thing, and contrasting the brief span between birth and dissolution with the endless aeons that precede the one and the infinity that follows the other.”

— Marcus Aurelius (Meditations – Book IX)

What Marcus is telling us here is the anxieties and fears that try to crush us are not only not necessary, but they are simply creations of our own minds. And when we get rid of those, we can free up the resources of our minds to think about the most amazing things, and create the most awesome vision of the universe and our own lives!

I think this fear failure is what’s at the root of so much of our suffering, so I think that it’s a really big part of why we’re often unhappy. So how do we deal with this fear of failure?

First, you need to let go of the outcome and focus on the process. When we are so worried about something not turning out how we want it to, we start to question why we’re doing what we’re doing. We start second-guessing the choices we make. We may even decide to give up on the whole venture because we can’t control how it will turn out. If we can let go of trying to create a specific outcome, and be okay with whatever the outcome is (there’s that whole stoic thing about controlling what you can and letting go of the rest), then we can start to let go of the worrying, and put that energy towards creating.

Second, when you start to feel that fear, you acknowledge it. You recognize that it’s just your brain trying to protect you and the more that you run from it, the scarier it seems. For me, I found if I say it out loud, usually to someone I trust, it’s like shining a flashlight on a shadow. It loses its power.

Third, you can play the worst case scenario game. What happens if I write a song no one likes? What’s the worst that can happen? No one listens to my song. Does it physically hurt me or am I going to die from it? No.

The next time you hit that anxiety and the fear starts to creep up in your chest, don’t run from it, make peace with it. I’ve heard from creative people all the time, that feeling of fear usually means you’re heading in the right direction.