301 – Q&A Episode: Morning Routines, Mantras, and Quarter Life Crisis

This week I sit down and answer listener questions. I talk about how to apply Stoicism on morning routines, what mantras I use in my life to help keep me in the right mindset, how to detach from abusive people, and advice for managing a quarter life crisis.


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 aspects of Stoicism and do my best to break them down to their most important points. I share my thoughts on Stoicism and share my experiences, both my successes and my failures, and hope that you can learn something from them all within the space of a Coffee Break.

This week's episode is a question and answer episode. I've got a couple of questions that you sent in to me and I'm going to just Sit down. It's going to be me on the mic, just talking about some of the questions that you asked and do my best to get my Stoic perspective on them and how you might be able to improve some things in your life.

So let's start off with question number one, which was all about morning routines. So the Stoics didn't have any particular morning routine, although Seneca did advise that we take time to journal every single morning, and I'm sure that he did. He was a very prolific writer, writing to his nephew, Lucilius, in the letters of Lucilius.

I think there are 112 or 120 of those. Plus he wrote a number of plays, a bunch of essays, a bunch of treatises. And, so we, we know from that, that he wrote quite often, Marcus Aurelius did talk about, making sure that when you get up in the morning, that you prepare yourself for the day. And so obviously we have Meditations.

We didn't know if he initially wrote them in the morning, but there was a pretty good chance that he did before he started his day to help get his mind focused. So my personal routine is that I get up every morning and I do yoga. So I find that as I get older, making sure that everything is well stretched out, just makes me feel better all throughout the day.

And normally after I do yoga, I will do some weights. Unfortunately, I've had to take some time off because I have stitches in my left hand and I have to wait for the cuts that I have to heal up. So, yeah. But I found that physical exercise in the morning is probably one of the best things you can do. It gets your blood flowing, it gets a good start to your day, and you generally just feel better all throughout the day when you do that.

Some other things you can definitely add into your routine, like I said before, journaling is a big one. I struggle with this sometimes. I forget to write in my journal for a couple of weeks and then I'll get back to it. But I do find that it helps to focus my mind on the day and get some of the, the chatter that is going on a little more under control.

I also think that meditation is incredibly important. And again, I've kind of fallen off on this at different times and then I'll go back to it. But meditating is how you get to really pay attention to the thoughts that are going on in your head. While journaling is, is a good way to do that as well, depending on how you, you kind of operate, but I find that meditation is very powerful. And a few years ago I did a, a morning routine where I got up and I meditated for 60 minutes for 60 days in a row. And it was quite an experience. And I found that. It really changed my brain, for lack of a better term. It kind of rewired how things worked for me.

And I found that I was better able to be aware of my thoughts. Not just when I was meditating, but throughout the day when I felt something was, was frustrating me, or I was feeling anxious about something because I had practiced for 60 days for 60 minutes of just paying attention to all the thoughts going on in my head.

It makes it much easier for me to identify the things that are distressing me and to slowly kind of move those thoughts in a better direction, which helps improve my mood overall. So I think that a morning routine for each person is individual. You need to find what works best for you. But I would recommend, like I said, something athletic in some way, whether that's going out for a short run or a walk in nature or jumping on your Peloton, or if you have a rowing machine, whatever it is, just 20 to 30 minutes.

Every single morning of good exercise is a fantastic thing. And then do something for your mind to get it going. And that's where journaling and meditation come into play. I'm sure there are other possible routines that you can add into it, but, but at the bare minimum, doing at least 20 minutes of each of those things, I think is a great way to jumpstart your day and keep you going.

So let's move on to the next question. Next question is, do I have a daily quote or mantra that helps me to stay on my Stoic path. Hmm. And I thought about this when I read this and I don't necessarily have a particular mantra, but as I've been working on this book for, on Stoicism, that should be coming out in the fourth quarter of 2024, one of the things, the ultimate theme that keeps coming up with the Stoics was this focus on living in accordance to virtue. And what they mean by that is they have four cardinal virtues, which are wisdom, courage, justice, meaning how we treat other people, and temperance, which is roughly translated in different times to mean moderation and self discipline.

And what I like about, that idea and constantly thinking, you know, is this me living according to virtue? Am I living in a way that I feel good about in my life? Am I living with integrity? And that focus on virtue that the Stoics have, the reason why it is so important is because when you live according to virtue, when you are judging every single action that you're doing against: “Is this the right thing to do?”, then you can feel good about anything that you do because you are always living according to your values and principles.

So I think that might be probably my, my mantra, if you will, that helps keep me on that path is living with integrity: “Is this the right thing to do?” There's some others that are always very, very helpful, like Amor Fati, you know, when, when things are, when things are going not in the way that I like and I'm stressing about them.

It's just to remember that “What is this that I am trying to control that I can't control?”, because usually anxiety, stress, anger, those types of things come up because we're trying to control things that we can't. Whether that's things that are just happening to us, you know, external events, natural disasters, those kind of things. Or if it's other people, and I think that most of our, most of our frustrations come with dealing with other people.

And again, those are things that are outside of our control. So for me, just remembering that, you know, I need to love my fate. I need to love everything that happens to me. I need to just relax and kind of go with the flow of things because if it's something that I can't control, then why should I stress about it?

So I think that's another one that's incredibly helpful for me. I know that a lot of people also, for them, memento mori is a big one, because it reminds them that at any moment they could leave this life, and that they should remember death. And some people think that's very morbid, but I've found in most things in Stoicism that there's always two sides to everything, and with Memento Mori, it's not just that you remember death and you could be dead at any moment, you could be dead tomorrow, it's that, while it's important to live really well right now, and to do things in the right way, and to do things in a way that you are proud of, if you also take the longer view of that, it also means that you're going to be dead soon. So why are you stressing about this thing? Because in the long run, in the universe, the, the, the expanse of the cosmos and the timeline of the universe, we're just a tiny blip. We are nothing. We are incredibly small and that's incredibly empowering.

So I have this cartoon that I've found, and I sent it off to my kids because I really, I just thought it was so perfect. And in the first frame it shows this person and they have this sad face on and they're, you know, they look very distressed and it has a, you know, the caption underneath that says, “No one gives a shit.” And then in the second frame, it showed the same person but with more of a happy face on and like with their hands raised up and they were joyous and it's saying, “Nobody gives a shit!”, meaning, well in this case, we are so worried about what other people think and we're so worried that people don't really care about these things, but, you, if we frame it, you know, it's the same thing, just in a different perspective. That in one case, we look at it, oh, nobody really cares about this. But then when we think about it, well, nobody really cares about this.

So we can make mistakes, we can do things wrong, and we can just be free to be who we are. And so I think that learning how to reframe things, and in this case, reframing memento mori, and that this thing that I'm so stressed about in a hundred years, in a thousand years, it's not going to mean anything.

It's not going to be anything that maybe anybody will remember. But then on the flip side of it, how we live each and every day and being present is incredibly important, even though in a thousand years it may not be. But having that two sides on that perspective, I think is also very helpful for me to make sure that I'm, I'm doing things in the right way and that I'm doing things that I'm going to be proud of throughout my life and my career, also, living in the present.

Alright, on to question number three. How do you detach from others who have abused you and are destructive to you? This is a tough one. So, I had a friend of mine recently who we sat down and we chatted because They broke up with their ex a while back and they have a kid together and they're really struggling, or he's really struggling with it because, she's incredibly selfish. And because she's always kind of manipulating him around and she gets angry at him over all kinds of things because she knows that that's a way to control him.

And the reason why it's hard to detach from people who cause these problems for us is that we love them, or at least at one time we loved them and we were close to them. And because their opinion to us and their opinion about us mattered. Because we wanted their approval. Because we wanted them to love us. We wanted them to care about us. And I know this is something that I've struggled with in my life.

My last relationship was tough in many ways. And, I didn't always act in a way that I was proud of. And it wasn't necessarily always because of my partner. We had issues that, that, a lot of them stemmed from problems that I had – the trauma that I grew up with in my life. And so, learning how to have a healthy relationship where I could trust that another person had my best interest at heart was something that I wasn't very good at.

And I didn't really realize a lot of that until later. We kind of reached a place in the relationship where things were just not really repairable and the reason why it's hard to detach from these people is because like I said at one point we did love them. We cared about them very very deeply. But if there's one thing that I've learned in this world is and this may sound incredibly selfish, but it's not, is that the only person who is truly truly looking out for you is you. Everybody in this world is selfish in their own way.

They're looking out for what they think is in their best interest. And you need to make sure that if you're in this kind of dynamic with somebody that continues to manipulate you or harms you in some way or the relationship, maybe they aren't manipulating you. Maybe it's just that…how to put it?

Often times, people act in ways, like I said, that they think is in their best interest. And that's not always in our own best interest. And you can't be the best person that you want to be, if you are constantly feeling like being around another person, being around a certain person, sets you off. And even when you try to be Stoic, it can be very, very challenging, just because we don't just have emotions based upon the thoughts that we have, we have all of this unconscious stuff that's been going on and has built up over years and decades.

And so, oftentimes we get into patterns with people that we don't even recognize. And so, how do you detach from them? I think physical distance obviously is something that is, is important if it's a relationship that's not working out for you. And that sometimes can be challenging because you care about this other person.

And they could be a family member, they could be somebody that, you know, you were a partner with. It could be a kid that you, that you helped raise. But making sure that you take care of yourself is the most important thing because that way you can be the best person you can be and then you can be helpful to others.

But if you constantly feel like you are not being your best self and that anytime you're around this other person, you start to behave in a way that isn't good for you. Taking that space can be incredibly important. And if you are in a place where you're around somebody who's toxic for you, then you need to make sure that you do the things you need to, to step away from that.

And that's kind of what setting boundaries is. So in a physical space, you need to step away and set boundaries physically. And that usually means getting away from that person. In a mental space, it means setting boundaries on that. And setting boundaries is very, very challenging, and it often times upsets the status quo of a relationship.

Because you're stepping in and saying, “Hey, you can't treat me like this anymore. This is how I need to be treated. And if you don't…”, then you let the other person know what your response will be. That may be that if you're around them and they start behaving in a certain way and you've asked them not to, that you get up and leave.

But communicating those boundaries is important. And it doesn't mean though, that the other person will follow them. It's just you simply saying, this is how I need to be treated. And if you're not going to treat me this way, then this is the action I'm going to take, all with the assumption that you cannot change them, and they still have the choice to still act that way or not act that way. That's kind of up to them, because they're not something that you can control. I know that was a little bit rambling, but I hope that was helpful to the person who asked that question.

Okay, my last question. How do you use Stoicism in managing a quarter life crisis?

So I'm kind of at the opposite end of that. I'm at my midlife crisis, if you will. But looking back on where I was when I was 25, I was in college. I was just about to, I think I was in my junior year by that point. Maybe my senior year. And, yeah, it would have been my senior year. And, yeah. Yeah, it's, it's an interesting time. There's a lot of change going on through that.

Because while you're no longer a teenager, you're not being taken care of by your parents anymore, you are expected to be an adult. You're expected to get out there into the world and to find your way. And that's an incredibly turbulent time. Oftentimes you're getting married at that time or finding a more long term relationship.

You're thinking about possibly having kids in the next few years, if that's something that you want. So Stoicism isn't something that is just you, you know, just applicable in only certain times of life. Stoicism is something that is applicable for all stages of life, and I think that the challenges you're going to be dealing with at that point.

You know, like I said, finding a partner, possibly having kids, getting your first job, or your first important job. Stoicism is there for you in all those situations. So I think if you work on making sure that you practice the basics, that you understand what you can and can't control, will help you dramatically.

And again, the only things you really have control over are the way that you think about things, your perspective, your thoughts, your opinions about things, your judgments, your choices that you make, and the actions that you take. And that's it. And I know that that's a really hard thing for a lot of people because it feels like you have no control in your life.

But I like to think of it in the opposite way. If you only have control over those few things, that only gives you a few things to worry about. It allows you to focus on the things that you can actually do something about and let go of all the rest. So, if you get a job and maybe you don't do your best at it and you end up getting fired, okay, what can you do in that situation?

You can just, you know, you can look at the way that you handled yourself at the last job that you had. You can think if there are things that you might do in the next job you would have. Maybe you, maybe you ruffled some feathers. Maybe you didn't put in the time necessary. Maybe your skills weren't up to par.

So those are all things that you can control. You can control how you interact with your coworkers. You can control your skill set. You can control your expertise on things. Maybe you're in the wrong industry. And maybe that's a time for you to reevaluate that and decide that you want to try something else.

The nice thing is, when you're at that age, it's a lot easier to kind of pick up and try different things. So, my oldest kid is 22 and is trying out different jobs and has had several jobs over the last few years trying to figure out what it is that they want to do. And they may not know for another few years, and that's okay.

They decided that that was the route they wanted to take in their life, and I'm very proud of them. My other kid is going to college, because that's what he wants to do. And he's really pushing forward on that, and he's got two more years to go. And I'm really proud of both of them, and they're on very different paths right now.

But they're both good people, and they're both trying to do the best that they can, and explore this world without fear, and recognizing I did my best to teach them Stoic teachings. Unfortunately, I found them later when they were a little bit older, but talking with them through these things and helping them to understand what it is that they have control over and what it is they don't, I think is one of the most important things.

The next big thing, at your age is that as you grow in your career and you make choices about partners and things like that, is that there's going to be plenty of opportunities for you to do things that maybe aren't the best for you and that maybe aren't the best for the world. So I think recognizing that living according to virtue, you know, are you being wise? Are you being kind? Practicing justice in the way that you treat other people?

Doing the right thing all the time and getting into that habit when you're at that age, rather than allowing yourself to do anything that's questionable in your business or in your relationships. You know, being very honest with your partners, not, not cheating on them, I think would be obviously a great place to start, but trying to be as honest and candid with people as you can, I think is also something that's very helpful rather than hiding behind the facade that you have of how you think you're supposed to be in this world.

Take the time in your twenties to discover who you want to be and be that person unapologetically. Be honest, be not just honest, but practice candor. Meaning don't just say that everything I tell you is true, but everything that I tell you is true and is vulnerable. And learning how to be vulnerable like that takes away a lot of fear because if you can learn to be vulnerable with people who care about you and people around you, then you don't feel like you have anything to hide from other people.

And I think that that's, that's why a lot of people, you know, really respond to other people who are authentic and who don't put up a front of what other people want to see all the time, but work hard to just be exactly who they want to be. And if you're not sure about that, that's okay.

Choose some role models. Find some people that, that you look up to and respect. And figure out what it is that you look up to them for, and what it is that you respect about them. What attributes do they have? How do they handle themselves? I think that's a good way to start to develop your character in your 20s, is making sure that you find good role models and good mentors.

I think that would be my best advice. And there are lots of really amazing people out there in this world. And as divided as the world feels right now, and it feels like everything is chaotic, because in many ways it is. But the world has always been a bit chaotic. It's just now we're much more exposed to it.

And we just have a lot more things going on in our lives. So I think figuring out who you want to be at this time in your life is probably one of the most important things. And Stoicism is a great framework to figure out a lot of those things.

So, this is, like I said, this is the Q& A episode. I don't do these very often. Mostly because they become a little unstructured and that's a bit challenging for me. I would much rather…, there's a safety in having a structure of a regular podcast episode that I write out. But I'm trying to get better about just being able to take ideas and sit down and talk about them with you, like I would talk with a friend. So if this feels a bit rambly, this is me testing some things out and trying to find a different way of doing the podcast in some ways, because I want to make it more personable, I guess. I mean, I think it is pretty personal because I'm pretty open about most things in my life.

But going forward, if there are questions that you would like me to answer in episodes, I would really appreciate it if you would comment on this. This will be on a video on YouTube and some, you know, there'll be clips of it on other social media. And you can find me on those platforms and pop me a question.

I would love to hear if there's anything that I can answer with my 52 years of experience, because I've been through a lot. And I've learned a lot. And I've been really working hard to do what I just gave advice to the 25 year old who's struggling with the quarter life crisis, is figure out the kind of person that you want to be and be that person.

And I wish that I'd had that courage back at that age to really do that because I was really living my life for other people all the time. And that was part of being in the Mormon church, because there's a way that you're supposed to live that people want. you to fulfill all of these specific requirements, and it wasn't really what was going on inside. It was much more about, “did everything look a certain way? Did you check all these boxes?” And I was pretty unhappy and I didn't know how to break free of a lot of that. And it's been a long journey for me to get to this point, but I feel like I'm working hard to be the kind of person that I want to be.

And at this point I, I like who I'm becoming. And it's been really quite a journey. And I'm glad that you out there in podcast land have been along this journey with me for the last six years. So this is episode number 301, and it's still amazes me that it's still going after this amount of time. And that's really because of all of the joy that I've gotten in making this, and all the comments and emails and messages that I get from you guys about how this has helped you. And I, that really touches me and it makes it feel like this work that I'm doing of trying to talk with people about these things is really working. And I'd love to hear it from you guys. I know that probably maybe one or two percent of you actually write me messages, but I would love to hear more.

So find me on social media and let me know what you think. Alright, that's the end of this week's Stoic Coffee Break. As always, be kind to each other, be kind to yourself, and thanks for listening. I also just want to remind you, like I said before, follow me on social media. If you're watching this on YouTube, go ahead and subscribe to this. You can find me in on Instagram and threads at and TikTok and Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, and YouTube at StoicCoffee.

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