299 – Imposter Syndrome: Who do you Think You Are?

Do you suffer from imposter syndrome? Do you often feel like you’re just faking your way through life? Today I want to talk about how Stoicism can help you overcome imposter syndrome and live a more authentic life.

“Failure to observe what is in the mind of another has seldom made a man unhappy; but those who do not observe the movements of their own minds must of necessity be unhappy.”

—Marcus Aurelius

We all have times in our lives when we feel like just faking our way through the day. We often have this nagging feeling that we’re “just not good enough”, even when we achieve some success. Imposter syndrome, the persistent feeling of being a fraud despite evident success, is a common struggle among many of us, especially high achievers. Stoic philosophy, with its timeless wisdom, offers profound insights and practical strategies to overcome this debilitating mindset. By applying Stoic principles, we can cultivate a more resilient and confident self-perception.

In my own life, imposter syndrome is something that I’ve struggled with. For example, early on in making this podcast, I often felt like I was an imposter because while I understood a lot of the Stoic principles I was discussing, I didn’t feel like I lived them very well. But one of the things I’ve learned over the last 8 years of studying Stoicism is that the Stoic taught and wrote about these ideas not because they were bragging about how perfect they were, but it was also their way of working through these ideas for themselves. It was their way of reminding themselves of the way that they wanted to live their lives. Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations were his personal thoughts and reminders for himself so that he could work through the challenges in his own life. Creating this podcast has been very much the same. I do it so that I can help others and so that I can constantly work through my own struggles. I’ve joked with friends that this podcast is my “public therapy”.

Understanding Imposter Syndrome

Imposter syndrome manifests itself as a fear of being exposed as incompetent or unworthy, regardless of our achievements or external validation. This fear often leads to anxiety, self-doubt, and a constant sense of inadequacy. By applying the principles of Stoicism, we can develop our own inner strength and equanimity, which can help counter these feelings.

Principle 1: Focus on What You Can Control

One of the core tenets of Stoicism is the dichotomy of control, as articulated by Epictetus in his Enchiridion:

"Some things are up to us and some things are not."

Imposter syndrome thrives on focusing on what we cannot control—other people's opinions, the outcome of our efforts, and external recognition. By shifting our focus to what we can control—our thoughts, actions, and responses—we can reduce anxiety and build confidence. For example, instead of worrying about whether others perceive us as competent, we can concentrate on doing our best work and continuously improving our skills. As Marcus Aurelius reminds us, “It never ceases to amaze me: we all love ourselves more than other people, but care more about their opinion than our own.”

Principle 2: Embrace Your Humanity

Marcus Aurelius, the Roman Emperor and Stoic philosopher, reminds us in his "Meditations":

“Do not be disgusted, discouraged, or dissatisfied if you do not succeed in doing everything according to right principles; but when you have failed, return again, and be content if the greater part of what you do is consistent with man's nature.”

Here Marcus is reminding us of the importance of accepting our imperfections and shortcomings, and focusing on our actions. Imposter syndrome often stems from an unrealistic expectation of perfection. By recognizing that everyone, including ourselves, has flaws and makes mistakes, we can alleviate the pressure to be flawless and instead strive to be our best selves.

Principle 3: Reframe Your Perspective

Stoicism teaches us to reframe our thoughts and perceptions. Seneca, another prominent Stoic philosopher, said:

"We suffer more in imagination than in reality."

The Stoics taught that negative emotions were created from misperceptions or incorrect judgements about an external events and circumstances. When we experience imposter syndrome, we often exaggerate our perceived shortcomings and failures, and get stuck in ruminating on them. Often times, even when do achieve success, we let perfectionism get in the way and look for all the ways that we should have done it better. By practicing cognitive reframing, we can rationally challenge these distorted thoughts and view them more objectively. For instance, instead of thinking, "I don't deserve my success because I cold have done it better,” we can reframe it to, "I have worked hard to achieve my goals, and I continue to learn and grow."

Principle 4: Practice Self-Reflection and Acceptance

Self-reflection is a vital Stoic practice. Marcus Aurelius advises:

"The happiness of your life depends upon the quality of your thoughts."

I think that the biggest creator of imposter syndrome is that often we really don’t know ourselves. We may think things like, “I’m not good enough” or “I’m not worthy enough.” But what does that really mean? Good enough for what? And who decides if we’re worthy enough?

So what keeps us from really getting to know ourselves? Fear. We’re too afraid of looking at the things that we don’t like about ourselves because it’s scary. But until we are willing to face that darker and less likable parts of ourselves, then we’ll be constantly running away from them.

In episode 218 Accept Yourself, I talked about how I had to really take a deep look at why I thought I was not a very good person. I felt like I needed to have validation from my long term partner in order to feel better about myself. When she was upset with me, I felt awful about myself. My sense of self, and my self esteem were so tied up with what I thought she thought about me, that I made us both miserable. We would get into arguments because I would try to change her opinion about me so that I could feel better about myself.

As Marcus Aurelius reminds us, “Things do not touch the soul, for they are external and remain immovable; so our perturbations come only from our inner opinions.” It is the opinion about ourselves that causes us the most distress, and what we think about ourselves is something that we can control.

Regular self-reflection helps us identify irrational beliefs and negative thought patterns that fuel imposter syndrome. By journaling our thoughts and experiences, we can gain clarity and perspective, recognizing our achievements and progress.

One journaling practice that I recommended in episode 218 is to write down everything that you don’t like about yourself, and practice accepting those things about yourself. I know that it may sound counterintuitive, but until you’re willing to face up to negative opinions you hold about yourself, they will continue to drag you down. And to be honest, I think you’ll be surprised at how trivial most of those things really are, and you’ll recognize that most of the things on your list are probably on the lists of those closest to you. But more than anything, it’s a way to be honest with yourself, own up to the things that scare you, and accept yourself for exactly who you are.

Principle 5: Cultivate Inner Resilience

Stoicism emphasizes resilience in the face of adversity. Marcus Aurelius encourages us to build inner strength:

“Remember, too, on every occasion that leads you to vexation to apply this principle: not that this is a misfortune, but that to bear it nobly is good fortune.”

Imposter syndrome can trigger intense emotional responses, but Stoic resilience teaches us to manage these emotions and remain steadfast. By practicing mindfulness and being aware of our own thinking, we are better able to regulate our emotions, and we can respond to self-doubt with calm and rationality, rather than letting it overwhelm us.

When we do suffer setbacks, then we can look for the opportunity that comes from it. How we respond to a failure is place for growth to become something even greater. If everything worked out exactly as we wanted all the time, then life wouldn’t be very interesting. When we have challenges and the risk of failure then it makes it all the more rewarding when we succeed. As Seneca wrote, “A setback has often cleared the way for greater prosperity. Many things have fallen only to rise to more exalted heights.”

Principle 6: Seek Wisdom and Support

The Stoics valued wisdom and learning from others. Seneca wrote:

"Associate with people who are likely to improve you."

Seeking guidance from mentors, colleagues, or trusted friends can provide valuable perspectives and encouragement. Sharing our struggles with imposter syndrome can also help us realize that we are not alone and that others have faced and overcome similar challenges. Also, by understanding that you don’t have to be perfect, and accepting the areas where you are weak gives you insight into knowing when to ask for help.

Principle 7: Live with Integrity

Living according to our values and principles is a cornerstone of Stoic philosophy. Marcus Aurelius urges us:

"If it is not right, do not do it; if it is not true, do not say it."

By aligning our actions with our values, we can develop a sense of integrity and authenticity. This alignment helps us build self-respect and reduces the likelihood of feeling like an imposter. When we act in accordance with our principles, we can take pride in our efforts and trust in our capabilities.


Imposter syndrome is a pervasive issue that can undermine our confidence and well-being. However, by applying Stoic principles, we can cultivate a more resilient and grounded mindset. Focusing on what we can control, embracing our humanity, reframing our perspectives, practicing self-reflection, cultivating inner resilience, seeking wisdom and support, and living with integrity are powerful strategies to overcome imposter syndrome. By integrating these Stoic teachings into our daily lives, we can navigate challenges with greater confidence and grace, ultimately leading a more fulfilling and authentic life.

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Thanks again for listening!


287 – Interview with Constatin Morun of Unleash Thyself Podcast

Episode Transcript:

Erick: Hello friends, my name is Erick Cloward and welcome to the Stoic Coffee Break. Stoic Coffee Break is a weekly podcast where I take aspects of Stoicism and do my best to break them down to the most important points. I 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.

So this week's episode is an interview with Constantin Morin, and Constantin has a podcast called Unleash Thyself. And Constantin and I had a great conversation a couple of weeks ago and he's just a really warm and very insightful guy and I really enjoyed the conversation with him. We had talked before that as well and I really appreciated his insights into developing the type of person that you want to become and getting over those internal blocks that keep you from.

From reaching your full potential. So his podcast again is, is called Unleash Thyself and I highly recommend it. Like I said, Constantin was, is a great guy and we just had such a wonderful conversation. So I hope that you enjoy this conversation with him and we'll see you at the end of the podcast.

Constantin: Hello. Hello everyone. We have with us today Constantin Morun from the Unleash Thyself podcast.

We're about to have a beautiful conversation around many, many amazing topics that are important in today's day and age and one that's very dear to my heart and for those that are able to see this in video format, I have a sign to my right here that says follow your heart. And what it really means to me is essentially not just following what's in your heart, but starting with knowing what's in there and allowing it to come up.

And I also equal that to finding your why, finding your purpose, finding what it is that you want to be doing and then pursuing it. Like that's the last thing you'll do in your life so that you can ideally find joy, fulfillment, success, abundance, and whatnot. And I know Erick, you and I had a beautiful conversation last week on this topic and so many others.

So I thought, why not start there? Maybe we'll, we'll start with you and say, well, how has your journey led to this point and how are you seeing this idea of potentially following your heart further down? whatever paths you decide to go on.

Erick: Yeah. So the last, uh, year for me has been, wow. I mean, actually, yeah, basically the last two years, but especially this last year has been, uh, massive amounts of changes.

So I'm currently in Florida right now and I don't have a house and I don't have a car and I got rid of most of my possessions. I have some things in my brother's place. Uh, Bicycle, keyboard, guitar, some clothes, old yearbooks, pictures, those kinds of things, but just a few bins over there and. What I have with me is a, a checked baggage, a carry on bag, and my backpack, and that's all that I have, and it feels very freeing to be in this situation.

One of the things that I did find interesting was that even though I've gotten rid of all of this stuff, My level of happiness, levels of anxiety that are part of everyday life haven't changed much from when I did own a house and I did have all of these things. And so I was talking the other day with, uh, so I'm staying with my friend Shana here in Florida, and we're talking to a good friend of hers who is just Went through a really, really nasty divorce and her ex was talking about, she was telling me about how he is always looking for things outside of himself to find his happiness, you know, he bought this new big truck, you know, that he was hoping, you know, so we could be like, I'm, you know, this big manly man kind of thing and all of these things that he does and he's so miserable and he, he tries so hard to have all of these things outside of him to make him happy.

And, you know, he's always, You know, he goes out of his way to make other people unhappy, thinking that by diminishing their happiness, it will make him somehow happier and have control over them. And it was just fascinating because I, you know, as I was talking to this gal and I just mentioned how, you know, the external doesn't necessarily change the internal.

It can be helpful for sure. If you're in a really bad situation, like if you're in a war zone and you get out of a war zone, that can be incredibly healing for sure. But for the most part, so much of our external doesn't change our internal. So I'm just as happy as I was before, I have just as much anxiety about what I'm going to do with my life as I did before, but I definitely feel a bit freer because I don't have all of these things that I have to worry about, and that right there has been, been really, really good for me and very healthy for me, um, but I still, like I said, I still worry about what I'm going to do with my future and where I'm going to go, so I'm.

Yeah. I'll be flying out to Amsterdam next week, which will be very interesting and very exciting. So I'm really looking forward to that. I'm going to move this mic here so I, uh, so I'm really looking forward to that. Um, but I think on, for the most part, uh, yeah, this next few months are going to be very much about discovery and trying to figure out what I can do and what I want to do with my life.

Constantin: Yeah. That's a beautiful spot to be in. If you can be there. And the story you shared from your friend and. the discussion you had that resonated so deeply with me because honestly, that described me a few years back before I really made a decision and said, well, I need to understand why this brings me joy, happiness, fulfillment, because like the person described, I tried all the external things, shiny toys.

Hanging out with the wrong people, doing the wrong activities. And I say wrong because they're wrong for me, not necessarily because they weren't good activities. And the putting down of other people. And what I have found that's very interesting that in all that process, Erick, is that it's usually like what you do to others and how you perceive others.

It's a big reflection of who you are internally. And perhaps in his case was about putting people down so he can feel better about himself. But that also can tell me, and based on what I know now, is that likely he was putting himself down internally. Because I was doing the same thing and I come from a place where like, oh yeah, that makes sense.

That's what I was doing. I was putting myself down. And I thought that's normal, which meant that why would I be doing anything else to other people? To me, that's normal. I'll put you down. I'll make you small because I make myself small all the time. And for me, the biggest catalyst, the biggest change was realizing that I was living a life that pretty much everyone else Painted for me in a way.

They're like, this is what you should do. This is what's gonna bring you, happiness's gonna bring you money. This is what's gonna bring you success, blah blah, blah. Fill in the blanks. And it wasn't until I was like, oh yeah, you know what? That's what happened. I lived someone else's life. Let's actually take a step back.

I want this constant in one. And that process took a while for me. 'cause I wanted it myself. with my own knowledge, following books, following podcasts. And eventually I came to the other side and I said, Oh shit, this is my, this is my passion. This is my, why this is my purpose. And since that day, everything became more clear.

Like in your case, nothing changed overnight. It's still a process. It took me in fact, six months to really do something about it. But then once I took that action, so I went from like awareness, I became aware of what it is because I did the work to action. That's when everything changed. That's when my, I came out of depression and moved on the other side.

That's when I, my anxiety reduced to the point where it's mostly gone now. That's where burnout pretty much. And all of these things start to happen in, in our lives when we align ourselves more with who we are. And that's what I found from my own life, the people I'm fortunate enough to, to coach and mentor and other people in my life that, that I've seen go on similar paths.

And it sounds like you're on the path, Erick, right now where you have left behind the things that you don't need anymore, that don't serve you anymore. And now you get to pave a new path and finding out. What really makes you tick?

Erick: Yeah, for sure. And yeah, it's, it's going to be an interesting path for sure.

There's so many roads and, and things I can take. Uh, as most of you know, I've been in tech for at least my listeners. I've been in tech for 24 years and that was something that I fell into. It wasn't necessarily what I wanted to go into. It just more of, I was just stumbled into it, found I was good at it.

And as people kept paying me more and more money to do it, it was like, okay, I'll, I'll keep doing this. And, um, you know, not the worst thing in the world, but by realizing that. It's probably not ever really been my passion. So I wasn't one of these people who came home from work or finished up work and then jumped on a, you know, my own project.

So I jumped on an open source project to work on it. You know, it's just like, I would find it interesting and I would read up on new technologies and I would find those things, but I found that. That it just wasn't, I just wasn't one of those super geeks that loved, you know, sitting down and programming all day.

I mean, I, I did it for work and what I found, yeah, what I found was that I love creating and that was really important. Uh, so having, uh, having a job where I was creative and I always need to be creative with everything I do is really important to me. I need to create things for other people, whether that's podcasts, whether that's writing a screenplay, which I did one time, uh, about 25 years ago.

For competition. I thought I wanted to be a screen player, screenwriter at one time. Uh, I've written music. So in fact, the, the theme for my podcast, if you listen to that piano theme, I wrote that it's actually a much longer composition and I took a piece out of that. So for me, it's, it's all about creating things and what I'm going to create next.

I'm not sure. And, you know, I, I definitely have lots of ideas, which makes it challenging to winnow those down and to, to really pick on those things. And I wish, I guess I don't wish, but for me, it's, it's a place of discovery. And so that's, that's always exciting. I like to explore as I like to discover things.

So I don't have a problem with getting out there trying to discover these things. I know a lot of people want all the answers now and they want to know exactly what they should be doing. And I. Over the last few weeks, I've been struggling with that. I have these moments of, of kind of almost panic or a little bit of anxiety of like, crap, what am I supposed to be doing?

Am I supposed to be working on music? Am I supposed to focus more on my podcast? Am I supposed to write a book? What is it that I need to be doing? And because I don't have an answer for that right now, there's, there's quite a bit of anxiety. And, you know, like text my friends, I'm like, ah, am I making the, making the right choices?

And they're just like, you're on a good path. Just follow this path out and see. Where you can go and where you can get to. And so I sat down last week, I think it was, and read The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. That's something I like to do every now and then because it reminds me of remembering that you need to follow the path through and do your best in every situation.

And what was, there was something I was reading where, uh, no, it was actually, uh, uh, what's his name? Uh, Josh Terry on, uh, Instagram. I don't know if you've ever seen him. It says his Instagram thing is Josh Terry plays or something like that, but he, he gives inspirational videos. And I really liked one the other day where he said there are two different ways of following a path in this world or of… of finding your purpose in this world. One of them is to have a clear vision of where it is, and then you, you create a plan and you work relentlessly towards that vision. And plenty of people do this, and they, they mold their circumstances themselves around to try and reach that goal. And then there's the other side, which is, excuse me, which is where you live in each moment the very, very best you can, and you make a choice in that moment.

Do I want to go this way, or do I want to go that way? You try one of those, and you see how it fits, you do your best in that situation, and if it works for you, you continue on down that path, if not, you take some steps back, and then you change your path a little bit, and then you try the next thing. And again, but each moment you are trying to live that moment most excellently as possible.

And you said, either one is fine, but knowing how you work with things might be a better thing. It might suit you better. And for me, I recognize that I'm definitely more of the latter. I'm more of that person who gets in, experiences it, tries it, and then see if I like it, see if it works for me. If it doesn't, then take some steps back.

I've never had this grand vision of what my life should be. And I've been a much more of a, an experiencer of life, but it's hard sometimes to recognize that. It's okay to be an experiencer of life. I don't have to have the grand plan, especially in a world where they're always telling you, Oh, you have to plan your goals.

You have to have these big plans to do all of these things. And you have, you know, in order for you to reach your goals, you have to, you know, make smart goals and all of these different things with that. And I think that's true, but I think that not everybody works that way. And I, I, I oftentimes feel like I'm very disorganized in my life because I don't, you know, I'm not a project manager.

I don't plan things out in a big old project, uh, per se. But I'm able to manage things pretty well and get things done. I mean, I, my friend Lisa pointed out that I cleared a six bedroom, 3, 800 square foot house in just a few months when I was selling my house and got rid of all of this stuff that I accumulated for over 13 years.

So it was. You know, it was definitely doable and I'm definitely recently good at planning like that. But I don't feel like I'm a good planner like that because I don't have like a long term vision of like, in five years I'm going to be here, in 10 years I'm going to be doing this. You know, I don't even know what I'm going to be doing in three months.

Constantin: So here's the funny thing though, right? The definition of a planner that you might be using is someone else's definition. And that's what I have found on this journey as well is that we tend to jump on definitions that other people make for things. That's fine, right? Because you got to start somewhere.

But at one point we have to take control and say, well, what's my definition? Do I feel like I am a planner? And like you said, you give good example as to why you are one, maybe you're not one by the standard definition of the definition of those that you have had in your life as people to follow. And that's always interesting to look at because everything can be looked at the same way.

And you talked about this as well, about being okay with the unknown. And one of the biggest fears, if you talk from a psychology point of view, one of the biggest fears that people have in life is the fear of the unknown. And there's a good reason behind it when you look at how we evolved as human beings, right?

Unknown is what could kill you and in many cases it did back in a hundred years plus. So fear of the unknown is something that most people innately afraid of and then that gets built up with our society and whatnot. So it's beautiful to see that when we can be a bit more liberated and say, you know what?

I've been okay till now. I've made it to here. Let's allow some unknown to pour in. It's like, I know I want to. Like in your case, for example, explore music or in my case, explore public speaking, not be so rigid on how that's going to happen because that's when you miss out on opportunities. And that's how I was by the way, because I'm a project manager at heart.

I have the certifications. I had to like, Oh, I want to public speak. This is exactly how it's going to happen. And when you do that, you're essentially, it's almost like you're swimming upstream or you're swimming against a tide. You may get there because you're working really hard, but it's going to cost you.

Meaning your health, your mental health, your emotional health, all those things may come into play and some will not make it. Or you can allow a bit of the unknown to come in and they will show you a path. It's like, oh, if you go left here a bit. It's going to be less current than if you go right, it's going to be even less, right?

So all of a sudden you see opportunities, you see new experiences, new people come into your life to guide you. And then the end goal is like so much more beautiful and that's been very, very hard for me to do. And it sounds like maybe a bit for you also, but for me as someone with a mathematics degree, being analytical.

Trusting in anything other than my brain has been difficult, but once I start doing it, it's so much more liberating and so much more powerful.

Erick: Mm hmm. What's been the most interesting surprise that is, that's come about or opportunity that's come about when you've been less analytical?

Oh, that's a, that's

Constantin: A, that's an amazing question.

And so one of the things that I've come to learn, this is the last six months maybe, is that I've always had an intuitive sense. What it's like, it's not coming from here. It's coming from somewhere below, right from your heart, from your gut. People call it gut feeling, intuition, inspiration. And the more I get out of my head, meaning that I don't jump on a conclusion or use my analytical mind through meditation, through other practices, I have these, I want to call them voices, but inspiration coming up.

And when I listen to it, it seems to be guiding me on a good path. When I don't listen to it, I'm reminded, well, you probably should have listened. And I'll give you a silly example. Over the holidays, I wanted to buy some new couches off of Facebook marketplace. I find some I liked, go to buy. I have a chat with the person, everything seems all right.

And in the past, if I didn't jump on a sale on my Facebook marketplace, they would sell pretty quickly. So we arranged to do a deposit of 50. So not a huge amount. As I sit down at the computer to do the transfer, to put a deposit so I can pick the market the next day, I literally have this gut feeling that something is not right.

Literally, I'm like, this, this seems off. I look at their profile a bit. I see that they have some items listed in literally in Canada and one in the US. And one across from what I was in Canada. I'm like, that's odd. But instead of asking them any questions, I continued to look. I saw a couple more fees that seemed off, but I'm like, you know what?

I really want this couch. I'm just going to send the money. But the entire time I had the feeling that this was off. This is not good. As soon as I send the money and this is the way you, when you send the money, you cannot get it back. You're pretty much. Then I get up. I remember going upstairs. Telling my, my parents, my partner, it's like, you know what, I feel like this was a mistake, but let's sit with it.

And of course the next day comes up, I get ghosted and you know, I never see the coaches. And that's a great prime example where like, I'm just using, I wouldn't even say my analytical mind cause even my analytical mind could have seen this coming, but more like letting emotions to get the best of it.

Cause it's like, Oh, I really want this. Yeah. And not listening to the voice. And I've had that happen a lot more, but now because I'm getting out of my head, meaning that I'm not allowing my head to jump in as much, finding that balance, I get to hear that voice a lot more often. And it may show up as a feeling, it may show up as a something, you know, like a hormonal imbalance maybe.

I don't even know. It's very hard for me to explain, even though I look at it from a psychological and from a, I don't know, let's say science background.

Erick: Yeah. I've had that same thing happen to me before. So I get you. And as soon as I sent the money, it was like, wait a second. That was, ah, yeah, that was a bad idea.

And I knew that I knew that I didn't want it, but I was so excited about the thing that I didn't take that moment to pause and go, how does this feel? Does this feel right? No. Yeah. And that's the

Constantin: thing that people talk about. And it took me a while to really grasp, which they say, you can look at life as things happening to you.

Right? My car broke down. This person broke up with me. This experience was not good or good, whatever you want to label it. Or there's the other side, we can say, this is happening for me, meaning that, okay, I gave the money where I lost it. I could play the victim and be like, Oh, I can't believe I got swindled.

I can't believe these people did this to me. Blah, blah, blah. Right. And you become the victim and you beat yourself up. And there are other things happen there. Or you can say, this happens for me. Meaning it's like, okay, what lessons can I take out of this? What can I learn and why did this happen to me?

And for me, looking back at that, it's like, well, perhaps that lesson in my life came because It reminded me that, hey, you have another way to not just use your analytical mind or your emotions to make decisions. You have another way. It was shown to you. You didn't want to respect that. Well, here's what happens.

So that's a piece of a lesson. The other lesson could be is I don't trust people so easily. Do your due diligence at the very least ask them some questions. Hey, why do you have, you know, three listings all in different places in the world type stuff, right? So that's a big, a big, big, big lesson for me in the last few years.

It's like how you look at life. Are you the victim? So you look on the negative side or are you, is this happening for you and you look on the positive side?

Erick: Absolutely. Yeah. Think of it as a 50 lesson that you learned. Exactly. Exactly. Yeah. Yeah. And that was the price you had to pay to learn that lesson.

Yeah. I think that's a much better way to look at it is, yep. I had to pay a price for this, but if I don't learn that lesson, then I wasted my money. Whereas now you, you had that 50 and you gave it away and you learned a good lesson from that. It's like, okay, I can learn something from this. Yeah, that's very, very true.

Yeah, the Stoics are, are very big on making sure that we were able to take that step back and look at things in the, and be able to analyze them that way. But it takes that self awareness, which I think is, is very, very challenging. It takes a lot of work. It also takes a bunch of humility because. It's, it's much easier to play the victim.

It's much easier to be like, Oh, like you said, you know, the world happens. Things happen to you. And I actually did a podcast episode called that to you or for you a while back. And it was all about that. It's like, is life happening to you or is it happening for you? And the thing is, is that life just happens.

And your choice on that, whether it's you decide is good or bad, it's, that's your choice. You can say this was the worst thing that ever happened to me, or you can say this is the best thing that ever happened to me. You can have no opinion on it. You can just be like, this is what's happening to me. And you have to accept it because it is what is happening to you.

But your judgment on that, and how you perceive it, and how you let it affect you, that's always your choice. You know, when something happens Yeah, and that's really hard for a lot of people because they'll be like, Oh, this horrible thing happened to me. That's why I feel this way. And it's like, no, this thing happened to you.

You made a decision that it's a horrible thing. And so you are acting like a horrible thing happened to you. And maybe it was something that was hard. Maybe you were in a car accident and you're in a lot of pain. But the more that you, your perspective on it adds. Even another layer of misery onto it if you do it that way, because I mean, there are plenty of people who have good things happen to them and they're still miserable about it.

I was listening to Tim Ferriss's podcast with Morgan Housel, who's a financial guy. He wrote, he writes about the psychology of finance and stuff like that. And he was talking about, um, back in the 60s, there was an interview with like the richest man at the time. I cannot remember his name at all, uh, cause I'd never heard it before this point, but he saw this documentary on this guy and it, they showed him and he was like the richest man of the world at the time.

And he was one of the most unhappy people that this guy had seen. And, and they asked him, they said, you know, what? You have, you can get anything that you want in life. What, what do you want most in life? It's like, I want to be someone who's happier than me. And he didn't know how to do that. Like he had all of this money, all of these things, but he had this perspective on things that even with all of this money, he was still miserable like that.

Because of his perspective, because of the way he was viewing the world. And it was really, it was really interesting to see that. You know, cause like they say, money simply magnifies who you are. And so if you're a miserable person to begin with, you just often will make you more miserable. Yeah. So you're circumstantial.


Constantin: love that. I'll give you an example. I mean, it's happened over the weekend. I'm still pondering over it and I'm curious to see your take on it with a stoic background and what you've gone through life. And this is pretty much on theme right here with like life happening for me, to me, and also reminds me of how it would have reacted in the past.

So, I have a fairly new vehicle, a 2023 GMC Yukon, and in Canada where I live right now, it's been literally snowing in the morning, freezing in the afternoon, raining in the evening. On this particular day, which was this past weekend, I get in the car to go to some, a friend's house and I get in the car and as I begin to drive down the road, I hear some water pouring in the background.

And I'm like, man, I hope that's not inside. And I hope that's on the outside. I didn't pay much attention to it. All of a sudden I stop at a stoplight and water starts pouring through the main console of the car. Inside, all over the dashboard, everything else. Then I see water pouring all over my leather seats in the back and I'm like, wow, I can't believe this is, this is a one year old car.

I have like 10, 000 miles on it. And I remember in the moment I had this biggest aha moment and I'm like, huh? I did the old things that I would normally do is like, I was like, why does it happen to me now? Like I have such a busy week coming up. I don't have time to deal with this. It's the weekend. All those old narratives.

But because I've done a bit of work and I, by a bit of, I mean, quite a bit of work lately, I was like, huh, you know what? Those thoughts are not going to be conducive because I know the path they're going to take me down on. I was able to interrupt them. I was able to put our thoughts in and say, you know what?

It's Saturday. This happened. There's a reason. We'll figure it out later. I have a night, a night with friends coming up. I don't want to ruin that. So all I did is I got to my destination, right? I wasn't thrilled about it, but I was like, whatever. I got out, messaged my friends and said, Hey, I'm going to be 10 minutes late.

I had some paper towel in the car, cleaned up the car. And between walking between what I part and their apartment building, I practiced my tools on how to essentially interrupt those thought patterns and replace them with good ones. And for the rest of the night, I was able to ignore the situation completely, which my old me, I would have turned around and I would have tried to deal with the issue on a Saturday night, been pissed off, called everyone I know to complain about, Look, poor me.

This happened to me. How can this happen? You know, I paid this much money for this card issue. Anyway, down the path. I had a conversation, I had, you know, five hours with my friends, got back down, left, more water was pouring. I'm like, okay, I'll deal with this on Monday. It's not a big deal. Practice my things.

Another moment of realization came up. I was like, Oh, let me call my parents or let me call a couple of friends and tell them what happened. Right? So we can all sulk in the misery and be like, ah, you know, bad GMC or bad this and bad that. And then I realized, you know what? I'm not. Because there's no point in focusing on the negativity.

There's no point in doing that. I'll take care of the problem. Like I always do, right? Looking back, I've taken care of everything I had come up in my life. And then it's going to be a fun story. And the beautiful part for me was that as I started meditating on this and when I got home, right? And the next day I was like, okay, so why did this happen for me?

And then it poured in. It's like, well, it becomes a great story to tell on a podcast like we're doing now. It's the first time I shared this. It can become a great story when I go and public speak about how my old self would react. and lead life and how my new self is doing it. There could be many other reasons that I haven't figured out yet, but we can always look at the positive.

And of course, Monday came, I went to the dealership. They're like, yeah, that's a pretty big issue. We'll take care of it. Come back in a few days. We'll get you in right away and we'll get it fixed. Right. And it took an, what, an hour of my time to get the dealership and back. They'll give me a rental car when I take the car in.

It'll be fine. It's not a big deal. It's just a car. And like you talked earlier about, like, they're just things. They're not gonna really do much other than amplify your situation. And that's been my experience. And when I sat with that, and I still sit with it every day in meditation, the more I do that, the more I realize, wow, if this was five years ago, I don't even know how ballistic I would have went.

Right. Like I would have been aggressive with the people at the dealership, maybe. And I would have been crying at everyone that would listen and it would derail my entire week. Right. Cause then you're in that negative mindset that it's not going to lead you to anything positive because you and I talked about last week, how your thoughts lead to your feelings, lead to your actions, lead to your results.

So my thoughts, all negative, negative feelings, which amplify more negative thoughts. Then my actions are not going to be positive and then my results are going to be exactly what you'd expect.

Erick: Yeah. Yeah, exactly. Yeah. No, that's a great story. I, uh, and obviously a great learning example for sure. And one thing you mentioned in there, which I really, uh, I hadn't quite thought about it this way, but that.

You talked about how you didn't want to complain because you didn't want to suck people into the misery and you'd all feel crappy about that. And I'd never quite thought of it that way because oftentimes, you know, you feel like, you know, I need, I need to get this out. I just need to vent about this thing.

And I think that in some cases that is important. You know, when something crappy does happen, you want to be able to just want to go and let that out. Um, But I think that even then you need to be very careful about that. And the Stoics, you know, Marcus Aurelius, he talks in there, it's like, don't ever hear yourself complaining out loud.

Not even, not even in private, you know, and it's that same thing. But I was, but I hadn't, I hadn't quite thought about it yet. It's that whole thing of misery loves company. And a lot of times people will talk about all the miserable things that are happening to them because they want to pull people in.

They want to have that. People would feel sorry for them and they get that attention and stuff like that. And I've known, I've had plenty of friends and relatives and who've done that and it gets exhausting. And I hadn't realized that I hadn't really thought about it like that. So clearly the way you said that, you know, suck them into the misery.

And I was like, Oh, that's really, that's very, very poignant. But I mean, for

Constantin: me, that was a, that was a fairly new realization. I'll be honest, I haven't considered it like that. And then I asked, okay, what would the purpose of me calling be? Other than to perpetuate misery, if it's like you said, if it's to get a second opinion, be like, Hey, what should I do about this?

What happened? There's a different purpose. But I knew in my, in my mind and my heart and my body, that the only reason I would call is to complain and be like, Oh, how could this happen to me? Because I already knew what I was going to do. I mean, I had to take it to the dealership. It's on the warranty.

There's not really like I have 10 choices. I knew what had to be done, which meant I'm not going to call about opinions. I'm not going to call about anything else other than to complain. But there will be situations in which you find yourself or like something bad happens, like you said, and you do need those people in your corner.

But then I guess we have to check ourselves and see, are we calling to really complain or are we calling to say, Hey, this is what happened for me. It's not great. What is your opinion? What can I do? And then you kind of brainstorm back and forth. Yeah.

Erick: And I think that, I think that you can, in some instances with the right person, vent.

Because sometimes you just need to let that frustration out. And, and sometimes I've done that where I'm just like, Ah, this is the thing that's going on. This and this and this and this and this. And, okay, whew, all done. And it's just like, it's letting that energy out. But letting that person know, hey, I need a second to vent here.

This has nothing to do with you. This is not me dragging you down into the suck. This is me just, I need to let this energy out because it's spinning around in my head and once I say it out loud, I get that out. I think that's a very, very different approach because you're not necessarily complaining there.

It's more of like you're almost factually explaining the situation out loud just so you can put your story together in your own mind. And I think that there's, I think that there's a big difference between that, between complaining and venting. And I think that. I think they can be very interesting. I had something similar like that happened to me a while back, not nearly as, as epic as that, but, uh, I, I had scheduled to get my booster vaccine and my flu vaccine for this year and had it all scheduled out.

And before I was going to it, I had a doctor's appointment and then I had an hour in between the doctor's appointment. And when I was supposed to get my vaccine, the vaccine was on the far. It was the only one I could get, and I just wanted to get it done and out of the way. And so I finished up my doctor's appointment, walked to my car, and I couldn't find my car keys.

And I was like, what is going on here? And I look inside and they're sitting on my chair, like great. So I had to call an Uber to come pick me up, take me home, get my spare car key, bring me back. I drove all the way out there. I mean, just barely made it in the nick of time and it was at one o'clock and I said, okay, I'm here for my appointment.

They said, Oh, I'm sorry. The software double booked to you. Somebody's already taken that slot. We don't have vaccine for you today. And like, I was like, and I was so mad. I'm like, what? You expect me to suffer because your system screwed up. This is, and I just stopped right there. Cause I could feel myself getting so heated and I was like,

I'm sorry. I'm, I'm acting out of line. I'm really sorry about that. I know there's nothing you can do about it and I know it's not your fault. Have a good day. And I turned around, I was walking down the aisle and I was just like, and you know, one of the other people at the place was like, Hey, is there anything I can help you with?

And I was like, well, no, because this is what happened. I explained the situation really quick. And she was like, Oh, I'm really sorry about that. That kind of, that sucks that you drove all the way out here for that. And I said, yeah, but I'll just get some chocolate and go home. So I, I got some chocolate, went across the street, grabbed some lunch.

Cause I could tell I was getting really hungry, which makes me a little bit moody and angry. So I was like, okay, and went and did that. But I was. I was very proud of myself because like you said, you know, five years ago, I'd have been snapping out a pull to Karen. I would have been like, let me talk to your manager.

This isn't fair. You know, and I would have tried that and nothing would have happened. And I would have just been angry and pissy and moody that whole day, uh, you know, and it would have ruined my day when I just caught myself and was like, yep, there's nothing you can do about this. You're not doing this to be malicious.

You're not doing this to be mean at all. You're simply doing your job and there's simply the way the cards fall that day. It was like, okay. And so I just let it go and that for me was like, when I reflect on that later that day, I was like, yes, yes. And you know, pat myself on the back because before, because before, like I said, a few years ago, I would have just been, the claws would have come out.

And so it was, but I mean, I was still slightly disappointed with myself because I still did get heated right at first, but I was glad that I was able to pull back quickly enough and be like, Hey, I know this isn't your fault. Have a nice day. I love

Constantin: the story, Erick, and what I like about that is your realization there that you are aware that that's not who you are.

And looking back at myself doing that in the past, even though I realized I'd be like, I'll continue through with it. And you realize you stopped yourself and that's the power of what we're talking about here because with all the work I've done, with what I work with my clients as well on essentially reprogramming.

their mind so you can do stuff like we just said on a consistent basis. It's not that negative thoughts will not come up. I mean, you still live in an environment that has a lot of negative stuff happening. They will come up, but now you have the tools. So first awareness and then the second, the tools to stop that from getting anywhere big, right?

So as you work through this, you know, there was a few months ago now. You, because you celebrate, because you reinforce it with your mind, likely if it happens again, you might not even get to the point where you blurt anything out. You might catch yourself before you even say anything else and you walk away and say, thank you.

You know, it happens. And that's the power of repeating something that you want to instill within you because all those negative reactions like you and I had in the past, I mean, those are not just there all of a sudden. They were things that we repeated all our life or we were shown by others in our life.

So that means that the opposite is true too, which means that if you have a reaction, that means you likely repeat it often, either to yourself or to others, and you can overcome that and put something better in its place.

Erick: Yeah. And it's taken a lot of work because my example was my father and my father was highly reactive and he was very quick tempered and not all the time, but a good portion of the time.

So when something happened in a way that he was unhappy with, it was just. Bam, that temper come out really, really fast and it took, it took a lot, it's taken a lot of work to be very, very cognizant of that. And part of that, I think also is that because we often feel like if we have a good excuse for why we act a certain way, then it excuses that behavior.

And, and so one of the things that stoicism has really helped me with a lot is to actually take responsibility for those things that I do that I, rather than coming up with an excuse for it and being, Oh, it was okay that I acted that way because of X, Y, or Z, I take responsibility for it, which that was the other thing I tried to do here was I said, I'm sorry, I'm, it.

I'm acting out of line, and I shouldn't, you know, I shouldn't be acting this way, and I apologize, and I hope that you have a nice day. I didn't say, oh, you, you screwed up, I can't believe you did this, and, you know, and, and, because I did, I could have used that as an excuse of why I'm allowed to be angry.

But I didn't. I recognized that I needed to take responsibility for my behavior and the way that I was acting and what I was doing. And stoicism has really helped me with that, like I said, because I used to always have excuses. If I had a good excuse, a good rationalization for it, I then I was, I was totally justified.

And that's our ego talking, because what it does is it makes it so that we We feel okay with our behavior. We justify our behavior. And I think the more that we can look at those things and take responsibility for them, then we can, it makes it much easier to improve our behavior. Because if we're actually taking responsibility for it, we want to be sure that we don't continue that behavior.

We want to show that we don't repeat that behavior. And so when we actually step up and take responsibility and say, yep, I, I did that, I don't like that I did that, but I did that because it's, it's reality. It's what actually happened. And so. You know, in this case, yeah, I got heated. I got, I got started a little bit, get a little bit angry and I took responsibility for that.

I got angry and that wasn't very cool of me and I don't want to be that kind of person. So I own that responsibility. I own that, or I, I own that behavior and I'm responsible for my behavior. And so it helps to, it helps to take that away from our egos because we're not trying to soothe our egos and say, Oh, I'm okay.

I was justified in being upset. Yeah,

Constantin: beautiful, beautifully said that. And if you look at both of our stories there, right, something negative happens and everyone has a different definition of negative, right? Both of these situations are cool because they're negative across the board. And then we looked at it and said, okay, what's the lesson in this?

That's the positive side of it, because it doesn't remove the fact that you still had to go somewhere else and spend more time and energy and do that. It doesn't take away the fact that I have to now deal with this issue. We don't know the damages inside. It doesn't take away any of that. It's not about negating the negatives.

It's about not focusing on them, which is what you emphasize so beautifully here as well, because we, I guess, because of culture and how we learned in school, but also our human physiology and evolution, We are prone to focusing on the negative. You and I talked about the negativity bias, which is the idea that anything negative makes it to your brain, to your conscious mind, a lot quicker, either from your memories or from what happens in the environment, because it was a defense mechanism as we evolved to keep you alive.

So you knew about all of this, which is something that we have to work against. That's why it's so hard to actually get a hold of it. And then once you become aware of that, then the next part is you have a choice. Do you want to do something about it because you have the knowledge? Or do you continue to be the way you are?

And I don't believe there's a wrong or a right answer. Some people choose to continue even though they know better. And some say, like you and I in this case, is like, you know what? We know better. Let's take an action. And the action is to, well, feel our feelings as we both, you know, I was angry as well in the moment I felt those feelings, but then I chose to let them go, let go the negative thoughts and move on to the lesson piece.

It's like it happens for me. What's the purpose and the reason they happen in your case? I'll give you like my two cents. It may have happened to teach you, not to teach you, to reinforce the lesson you just knew you learned. How can you learn something if you don't practice it over and over? So if this keeps showing up in your life, it's not that the universe doesn't like it.

It's like, well, let's get you better at dealing with the situation. So in your case, Erick, it could be like, well, you might not even have the outburst. It's going to get to a point where it could be like, you'll be frustrated. You might let. My event, when you get back to the car or in a private space, be like, okay, you know, that's unfortunate.

What can we do about it? So that's, that's, that's beautiful to see.

Erick: So do you think that most people fall into a negativity trap like that or fall into things being negative because they assume that these things shouldn't happen to them as if life should be great all the time. And so when bad things happen, they feel like, like the universe is out to get them, if you will.

That's a

Constantin: great question. I love the question. I'll say a few people might be like that, right? Because, uh, I can only give myself an example because I know myself really well. I've been like that many times in my life because I'll be like, I have a good stretch and then something negative happens like this.

I'm like, but I've been doing everything right. Why, why is this negative thing happening? Like, why is this being thrown my way? Why is this happening to me? Why, you know, like, and we get into that. And some people unfortunately have lives that are a bit tougher and then negative things keep piling up. But here's what I've come to realize.

Once you get yourself into a negative state, you're much more likely to attract more negativity into your life because if you can't appreciate the positives, then why would those be reflected back to you? Is if you look at just from a psychology point of view or from a physiology point of view or anything that's, let's say science based more, right?

Look at what happens. You and I both know the example, I think we talked about this. If you think about a red car, cause you want to buy a red car, when you go out on the street, that's all you're going to see. You're going to see a red car here, a red car here, a red car there. And that's the power of your focus where you put your focus.

That's where your subconscious mind will and with your conscious material will try to make that a reality for you. So if you focus on the negativity and say, I can't believe this is happening to me. I can't believe life is so unfair. I can't believe this, this, and that. You're telling your brain to bring more of that because that's what you're asking.

That's what you're talking about. But if you focus on the positive, that's more of what's going to come back into your life. So to answer your question That's part of it for sure. I have seen it show up in many different ways, right? People have had bad luck their entire life. And then that keeps building up because that's all they can focus on.

Other people have been mistreated and they take the mistreatment as a reflection on who they are versus on who the person doing the mistreatment was. And that was me earlier in my life because I was bullied and then I became the bully a bit. And I'm like, It was never about me to begin with, about what the person was going through.

And then when I was a bully to, let's say, my younger brother for, for a few months before I learned better, it was also because what I was going through, it was nothing else. Yeah, yeah,

Erick: I do find, yeah, and I do find that though, that often when people do get stuck in that negativity, that it seems like their life continues to be negative.

And I don't know if it's that they necessarily have more negative things actually happening or if it's just that they draw attention to those negative things far more than your average person does.

Constantin: Great, great point. And I can see, I can see it's both because So there was, there were studies and there's this paper coming up on this, but I'll tell you a couple that fascinated me.

So there, I don't know which part in the States, there is this beautiful road in the middle of nowhere, simple road. And it has like telephone poles every a hundred or so yards or meters and no trees or anything else. And then there was this stretch of road where there were a lot of accidents and like 80 percent of accidents.

The people that essentially just by on their own, they were hitting the telephone pole, but there's like a hundred yards between them. So like, they were wondering like, how can you hit a telephone pole when like literally you have so much space to like, just not hit anything. And what they've realized is that the people that got in those accidents, they would be like, you know, the car was swerved.

And then we're like, Oh, don't hit the pole. Don't hit the pole. All your mind gets there is like pole, pole, pole. And then that's the direction you're going to go into. And if you think about that, like take an abstract back and say, okay, how do I apply that in our life? If your focus is on the negative, Oh, I hope I'm not going to catch all the red lights on my way to work.

I hope. My manager is not going to be pissed off at me today. Like all those negative focuses that we have, well, that's what you're asking your mind to bring into your existence. And we're not talking about spiritual stuff here. We're talking about how our body works. And obviously if you take it to the spiritual side, that's how manifestation and law of attraction technically works because you put your focus on something and that's what you attract into your life.

And that's what I see when I go to your question or some people will technically have more negative stuff happen because their focus is so much in the negativity that that's all they can see because I, I'm not sure about you, but I have friends in my life that essentially I go to any party, I go to any gathering, all they can talk about is, Oh, this bad thing happened to me and this bad thing happened to me.

And this happened to my mom and this happened to my father. And you're like, wow, that person must have a really unlucky life. And then you realize, wait a second, maybe it's not that, because you know what? I've also had a lot of these things happen in my life, but I chose to focus on the positives. And then there were less of those things happening in my life.

Huh, I wonder if there's something there. Yeah, yeah,

Erick: I can see that very much happening. Yeah. Yeah, well, kind of back to what you said about the telephone poles. Uh, so I actually got my motorcycle license a number of years ago, and mostly because I'm terrified of riding motorcycles, and so I was like, okay, I want to, I want to, I want to do this to get over that fear.

Um, but what I found, what was interesting is they teach you in, in this, like if you're riding on your motorcycle and you see a pothole, you focus on away from the pothole. You don't focus on it, you focus where you want to go because where you're is like where your focus goes, that's where you go. And so that is one of the things that they, they specifically teach, you know, especially on a motorcycle because you, you are carrying.

In a car, it's, you can turn a lot quicker and with a motorcycle, so much of it is momentum so that you stay upright. So you can't turn nearly as fast, otherwise you lay the bike down. And so it's like, look where you want to go. And that was really a very important lesson like that. And I think, yeah, so basically you hit it right on.

Yeah. So people will, when they're sliding off the road, don't hit the telephone pole, don't hit the telephone pole. Bam.

Constantin: Well, there was another study. I don't remember where, this was in Europe somewhere, where they took a class of kids and they told them to run around the class, but avoid hitting any other kids.

And then they took another class and they told them, just run around the class, have fun, do whatever you want. Well, which group do you think had the most collisions?

Erick: Probably the first one.

Constantin: Yeah. Yeah. Right. Because people are like, Oh, I want to make sure I don't hit this, this. Like you said, your focus is on like what to avoid.

And then that's what's going to come into your life. It reminds me of school sometimes, right? I was an A plus student up to the university, then I didn't care as much for school. I still graduated with a math degree. I still did well, but I remember when I was going in and I was afraid of, I cannot fail this test.

I don't want to fail this. Let it not be this, this, and this negative questions, and then they would be on the test. I'll be like, did I manifest that? What happened? Looking back now, I was just focusing on the negatives. Right. And I couldn't allow anything else to show up in my life.

Erick: Exactly. Okay. So we had talked earlier about kind of making the theme about this of, of finding your path, what advice or what are some experiences you want to share along that?

Cause I know that your podcast is about Unleash Thyself, which is very much driven with helping others find their path. So for you, what. I guess what are the top three things that you can put out there that you find are the most helpful for people trying to figure out their path and, and, and to head the direction of that their life should go or that they want their life to go?

Constantin: I love that question, Erick. And um, the way I look at it right now is I looked at how I've done mine and I did a lot of research. I did a lot of studies. It took me months to uncover it. Now the process I've streamlined it and it came down to like three big categories really, which is the uncovering. What it is that your why is your purpose doing a quick inventory where it shows up in your life.

And then for most of us, it doesn't show up much for me. It was like less than 10%, meaning that pretty much one in 10 actions I was taking was not driven. By this why, by this purpose, which meant, of course, I wasn't really happy because that's my why in the end is what drives that happiness, joy, fulfillment, abundance, all of it.

And then once you have that inventory taking action, because we talked all after doing this entire interview and conversation about the importance of action and putting your focus on something, right? But you can't do the last two steps unless you do the first one. So the first one, let's break it down a bit.

The way I see it when it comes to uncovering. your why, your purpose. It starts with who you are after the day, meaning that what I do with my clients and what I do myself as well is I look back at stories of my life. I, I will tell you, Hey, if you came to do this with me, it's like, Hey Erick, bring 10 stories.

Don't think too much about that. Think about stories that are important to you. Maybe the first time you got your first job, maybe summer camp when you were 12 and some cool stuff happened. Maybe, uh, uh, you know, the incident you had that, uh, with the vaccine, right? And the flu shot, that could be a good story.

And the idea is that then you have someone else, a coach, a mentor, a friend that doesn't even know you intimately to really influence you to, to negatively. You, you tell the story and as you go through the story, You allow the other person to ask you questions, not why questions. Why did you do this, Erick?

But more around what questions and how questions to try to get the feelings, to try to get to the bottom of it and showing who Erick actually is or who this person actually is. And what you will see come up from, it's actually phenomenal. For me, when I do this with my clients, it takes about three hours to go through 10 stories because you want to go deep.

You'll see patterns form up and most people will have anywhere between three to seven different patterns to form up. And that will lead you to seeing which one shows up more in these stories because you'll have stories that have nothing to do with each other. In fact, some are. Five years apart, decades apart, one is a school, one is a family.

And all of a sudden you see, whoa, there's a pattern there, there's a pattern here. So that might mean that that's more who I am. And from there you start to work with the person that was helping you do this, facilitate, you find out honing on a statement. Like for me, my statement that I came to, and by the way, this is always evolving because you evolve as a person.

But mine right now is, so actually before I even share mine, there's two pieces to it is what you do and the impact you have with what you do essentially. So mine is to inspire, empower, guide and support individuals. So that's what I do. So that they, so they too can find joy, fulfillment, success, abundance.

in life and their world becomes a better place, right? So that's the impact I'm having on their life specifically. So once I found my why, there's a second element to it. So that's the first part, right? The best, the biggest theme is usually your why. And the idea here is you don't want to be spending too much time on the words.

It's whatever sounds well for you, right? Mine, that's what sounded good to me. To you, it might sound different if that's your theme as well. But keep in mind, that's very genErick, right? You could take that, Erick, someone else can take it. And it's, it doesn't really tell you how you're going to do it, what type of, um, work you're going to do to fulfill that.

You then go to the next part, which is the how. So the other themes, because as I mentioned, there's like usually three to nine teams coming up. The other ones usually become your how, like how you're going to actually execute on this. So if I'm talking about inspiring, that's one of the things I want to do.

It's not that, Oh, I'm going to do a podcast. That's the, what the, how is, what actions do you take on a daily basis or want to, or rather. are taking on a regular basis to execute on your why, right? So maybe it's the way you talk. Maybe it's the way you listen. Maybe it's the way you reach out to people. It could be a million different things.

And you find those themes. It could be anywhere from three to five themes from what I have seen. So three hows. And now what do you have? You have a why, you have a how, or multiple hows. And the last piece is how do you actually, or the what rather, which is. What do you do with that? Meaning how does it show up in your personal life?

How does it show up in your professional life? So for me, it was, Oh, okay. The one of the Watts is the podcast. A second one is social media posts. A third one is how I show up in my personal life. A fourth one is how I show up in my coaching and mentorship practice. A fifth one is how I show up in my corporate life.

I don't know why or how I execute on my, on my, why in my

Erick: house. Can you explain the house a little bit more? I'm, I'm not quite catching that. So, yes. So

Constantin: let's, uh, let me actually, I have a, give me one second. Okay.

I have, uh, one of my journals here in which I, I work on on my own ideas. Other things. So I'll give you some examples from how I brought this down with a couple of clients recently. And, uh, when it comes to the house, let me, let me get to it and we can cut this out from the episode. Um,

because I want to be giving you a great example.

Okay, perfect. So your house, uh, here are a great question. Couple of things. Your house are essentially your strengths. What are you graded and how does it match with your why? Because it's part of your themes. Now this is a big one for me was that this is not necessarily how you want to be, but rather how you show up because we looked at little stories from your past.

So how did you show up in those, in the stories? So how you actually behave is from the themes we discussed. Now, let me give you an example. Um, and I have, I have a few here that we can go into. So let's say a theme comes up that you had that. You know, you are optimistic, right? I'm someone that's always optimistic.

That's one of mine, right? What does optimistic mean for someone? Optimistic means that you're someone that always looks at the glass half full versus half empty. You're someone that always looks at the positive versus a negative, and there's other definitions you can use. Okay. Now that's one of my hows, but it's not really a statement now, is it?

So you want to actually look at it and go a bit deeper into it. So looking at my notes here, where's my optimistic one is about finding the positive in everything. So what does it mean that I make a statement that says, okay, I'm optimistic. How do people see me? Well, I find the positive in everything.

When something is wrong, I look for what's right. That's actually part of mine. Okay. So what does it mean? So now I have an interaction with you or like this, what happened this past weekend, right? Or I have an interaction at work, a project might be derailed. Might be not going well, I could become pessimistic.

Oh, we're going to lose this contract or this is not going to happen. Well, I could look at it and say, you know, I acknowledge that there's negatives, but what's right, what's going well, what's positive in this, why is this happening for me? It's kind of the same thing we were discussing earlier, right? The, another one that I had done with a client early, um, yeah, this was earlier this month.

They, a theme for them that came up is that they, uh, are someone that want to make others feel safe. Okay. Right. And well, then the, the how becomes the idea that you are making others feel safe, secure and heard. So what do you do? You extend trust to others. This is breaking it down further, right? You let people know you have their back.

You allow them to know you're there to support them. You make them aware of the fact that, hey, you're here for their benefit. So if that's me, let's say that's one of my house, that means that every interaction I, I come up with, it could potentially show up in that. I have a conversation with you and I say, Hey, Erick, it doesn't matter.

You know how this conversation go. I have your back. We'll go to the bottom of this. It could be a stranger on the street, right? And it's, it, it frames it a bit. But so what you do then is you have your why, then you have your hows, and then you look at, okay, so how many, how does, how does this how show up in my life?

Am I making others feel safe, seen and heard in my interactions? If that was mine, for example, and I look back at my life. I wasn't doing that. Let's look at the optimistic one because that's mine, so I can speak to it a bit more. So if it's about finding positive in everything. Erick, I was doing quite the opposite.

I was exactly the person that we were talking about earlier. I could not find the positive in anything because, oh my God, this happened again and this happened again. Now, I, I'm excited if I say anything, you know, like let's say 90, 10%, 90 negative, 10 positive. Yup. And here's someone, you know, AmErickan dream, beautiful home, cars, loving dogs, partner, family, great job, yet I'm always miserable.

It doesn't make sense. Yeah. Yeah, for sure. Yeah. And when I found that and one that became the, wait a second. In my earlier years, I was able to find the positive in everything. I was always able to be optimistic. And that came up as a theme in my stories. Why did I unlearn that? Why did I stop doing it?

Because you see the idea of the stories that we look at is that they, it's not about. What happened in the story in the sense of like, Oh, this was the outcome, you got a job, or you lost a big game. It's actually how you acted throughout it. So who you are actually shows up even if you don't realize it.

Yeah. So a comment I have from a client of mine recently when we did Herds, she was like, Wow, I couldn't believe. how much I actually learned about myself in the process of going through the stories because she thought she knew everything about the stories because they're her stories, not mine. Yeah. It's just about like, when you go deeper, you realize, wow, the power of reflection and introspection.

Erick: Yeah. And for, yes, absolutely. I think it's more of the, uh, yeah, so it's like the attributes or the process of, of the thing. It's all

Constantin: the strengths. I call them the strengths. And this is what Simon Sinek is. A lot of this, some of, I mean, a lot of this, a lot of what we talked about comes from Simon Sinek as well.

He talks about, uh, finding your why or start with why rather, and then he has a book on working through it. And that one, parts of it came from that, parts came from my own personal experience and other books I've read. But it's really about. Understanding at the core of who you are, what motivates you, what are your strengths and doing more of that into your life?

Yeah. Okay,

Erick: good. Yeah, that was helpful. I'll

Constantin: give you another one that's, that's mine that maybe will ring more true for you or for the audience to, to connect here. So I told you my why it's about inspiring, empowering, all that stuff. This one is growth mindset. That was the theme that came up for me because you see growth mindset means that you're always willing and open to learn from every situation.

to grow, to, to, to realize that, wait a second, what you know is not the end all be all. You have opportunity to grow. And now when I say growth mindset, that's not really a how, right? I have to convert it into a action. What do I do? And mine was like, I learn from everything and everyone. So that's my how I learn from everything and everyone.

What does it mean that I am open to the ideas and points of views of others? Or everyone I interact with, it doesn't matter if it's the janitor in the office or the CEO of a company, they all have something to teach me. It doesn't matter if I'm driving to a friend's house or I'm having a party, there's something that I can learn from it, right?

Or we have a podcast episode. And that, that was a big one for me when I realized that was the case. So what does, what did it do to me? Well, you see, even though that there was something that I always did, it didn't mean that I was doing it all the time. I was doing it some percentage of the time. This allowed me to have clarity.

And now literally I approach every situation, this conversation with you, Erick, now, now it's like, before I start, I have my own mantras and things I go through. And one of the things is I am open to learning new things. In fact, I can even read it from my mantra here, but. If I can get to my screen up, but essentially it's all about being open to learning, right?

Learning and growing and growing. And that's, those are two of five I have, right? Some people have three, some people have four. I've seen some have six, but usually three to five is. enough to put you on a path and then your life can be guided a bit better. It's not about being rigid and saying, Oh, this needs to happen because realistically you'll have things you need to do in your environment.

They have no control over. So you can do all of these, but you can do some of it. Like in the example, like if let's say optimistic was yours, Erick, and you had the situation come up with your vaccine and you knew that that's who you are. Not just who you want to be, but who you are, then you can approach the situation a bit differently.

Erick: Yeah. And I think that optimism is definitely one that I try to incorporate better. Um, I did actually did a podcast episode a couple of months on that because, because of the background that I have, uh, growing up in a very strict religion and a very dysfunctional family with a lot of trauma. My, my natural tendency as a kid was, was very optimistic.

I was a very happy kid in many ways. So very, you know, And I remember that. I remember feeling like life is wonderful, except when my dad would, you know, lose his shed and, and smack us with his belt. But otherwise life was full of a lot of joy for a lot of time. Then as I got older and got to be a teenager, it was much, it was much harder.

Um, and I remember specifically making a choice when I was younger that I knew people who were truly happy. And I'm like, if they can be happy, I can figure out how to be happy because I'm not happy. And I, I, I can tell that they're not faking it. I'm not, they're not walking around going, yeah, I'm so happy.

Life is great. You know, but they, they honestly were just genuinely happy people. And because they came from good homes, they had good parents who loved them. Their families were strong and supportive. And so for me, I have always had a lifelong quest to get to that point. So because of that goal. I've had to actively choose optimism and it's hard sometimes because my, my history makes it so that I tend to want to be a little bit more on the downside and find that negative and worry about the thing.

What's, when's the other shoe going to drop and that type of situation or that type of outlook. And so I've actively tried to. Make sure that I don't do that or at least move towards a different direction. And oftentimes I do what I call nudging, which is the idea that if you wake up and you're in a bad mood or you're having a tough time about something and you're upset, that I don't try to immediately change my mood.

I don't go, ah, you know, try and, try and will myself into a better mood because that's really challenging to do that. But it's just more of like taking a step back. And kind of nudging my mood into a different direction. It's kind of like if you're on a boat. I mean, it's, it takes a lot of work to turn a boat around when you're sitting on, on a lake.

But it doesn't take a lot of work just to nudge it the right way and keep it going and then slowly turn it the direction you want to go. And it's just micro, and it's just like micro nudges. I mean, you can just micro thing and, you know, yes, it takes long. It's a longer arc to get there. It's not as sudden.

But it's much, much easier and it's a lot less effort and it's, the idea is I don't want to change my mood right now, but I want to make sure that my mood in an hour is a little bit better. And so you slowly kind of nudge it that way and you think, okay, I can choose to be a little bit happier about this.

I can choose to let go of this. I can choose to take a deep breath and let some of this out. I choose to focus on something that's a little bit better. But it's not like an immediate, like, you know, flip a switch because that, that almost seems, uh, you know, sociopathic or something like, Oh, I can just turn my emotion off and there we go.

Constantin: But, Well, yeah, that's, that's funny you mention that because to some of those things it can be like that, but there is also a thing where you want to let your emotions happen and then feel your feelings and then be able to let them go. And you touched on something very important there, which is the power of knowing who you are.

And you said, you know, you're someone that's optimistic. So let's say you go to this exercise, you found, find your why, find those house of strengths. Well, that's the power of knowing who you are. Most of us go through our life without knowing who we really are below the surface, below all this negativity.

So then at least you have the awareness, but can you imagine how you can navigate your life? If you know this, cause you're living, you're living proof, you at least know some of it and you choose the optimist side. Is it not, is it going to happen every time? Not yet, but through practice you can get there.

Because guess what? That negativity that you're talking about, so the reverse, the pessimism and when the shoe, the other shoe is going to drop, that's also a learned behavior. So that means that you can unlearn it and bring something else, something called brain plasticity that some people may be familiar with, right, from psychology.

And this is actually funny enough from a science point of view, it's only fairly recent that they've realized that, wait a second, your brain. Not only can adapt to new situations, but can also change old patterns and beliefs and whatnot. Because in the past, they believed that once you're a certain age, that's it, it's game over.

What you know, you know, and nothing changes. But now science is catching up and saying, you know what, no, you have the power. You have the power to change everything and anything about your situation. It's up to you.

Erick: It takes a lot of work to do that, for sure. Oh, it does. And I think they

Constantin: I guess, for the interest of your, uh listeners.

Some of my listeners may have seen this already or not. But let's talk a bit about the process of interrupting thoughts, right? Because I feel that that's a powerful tool that people can use right now. And as I tell people in my life, as I tell my clients, as I tell people on shows, the feedback I get all the time is like, I can't believe this actually works and it works as fast as it does.

And for that, Erick, let's preface with this. There are five stages, right? So you have the environment. Which is anything outside of you that causes something within you. So like, let's take my example, my car, right? My car is my environment. The negative stuff happens, then what's going to happen? A thought or a belief is going to pop into my mind.

Ah, not this again. Why does this always happen to me? AmErickan cars are useless. You can name it. You can be, that's a belief, right? Or a thought. Yeah. That could be in my mind. That's negative, right? That's going to then go to what? Emotions and feelings. I'm going to start to feel a certain way again, like that.

Why is it always me? The victim is going to come up. You allow that to happen, which is what we, most of us do, then your actions will get impacted. So the actions that night was I'll drive to my friends. I'm going to have a good time. So there's a couple of things that happens in impacts in all me would be like, turn around, cancel the party.

I disappoint my friends. I disappoint myself. I'm going to sit in misery. That's pretty bad action. Right? And then from that action, a result comes, but what would the result be if I turned around and I settled my misery and called people up? I mean, it's not going to be good at all, right? Probably not what I would want.

So that means that in the process, there are five stages. Look at what we can control a hundred percent. My actions, we try really hard, but really they're influenced by. Everything out. Sorry, not my actions, what we have in life is influenced by our actions, right? You can't control your actions fully, you have some control, but if your feelings, emotions are a certain way, then you can't really control that.

Because I remember when I was depressed and suicidal, I wanted to get better. I wanted to do more, but I couldn't, I couldn't take the actions. I couldn't bring myself to, nor could I touch my emotions and feelings. I mean, sometimes you can change it, right? Some external force can come in and can make you happy temporarily.

For example, I always look for escape in food, sex, gambling, gaming. It brought temporary satisfaction or buying a new shiny toy. But again, temporarily, then I'm going to jump the thoughts for a second. We'll go to the environment. What can you control in your environment? You have control over who you choose to hang out with, maybe what job you have, but a lot of stuff in your environment, you have no control over.

Like I'm going to jump in my car and drive. I have no idea what anyone else is going to do on the road. I'm at the mercy of anyone there as a quick example. So then it leaves us with a thought and beliefs, which we know from brain plasticity, we have a hundred percent control over. So that's what we should be focusing.

Yeah. So let's talk about that really quick, but I'll pause to see if you have any questions or you want to add anything in there.

Erick: No, that's exactly the same pattern that I, that I follow and I use. So, um, and that's very much informed by Stoicism because it talks about really the main thing you can control is how you think about something that the misery that you feel in a situation isn't the event itself, but your perspective on that event.

It's how you think about it. So yeah, so I find that to be very true. Um. That if you can focus on how you think about something, not just, and I think there's kind of multiple parts to that. I think that there are the things, the actual subject of your thoughts. So the stuff that you're focusing on is very, very important, but there's also the perspective that you hold about those thoughts, kind of your attitude about those thoughts.

If you want to, for lack of a better term, that if you always, you can look at the same, you can have two people looking at the exact same situation, the exact same facts. If one has more positive outlook on it, they're going to describe it very differently than somebody who has a negative outlook on it, even though it can be the exact same situation.

So your circumstances, your facts, everything can be the same. Their thoughts could be similar, but their attitude, I guess, would be the best way. Like their attitude and their thinking. Can be very important and it's interesting for me when I find people who are extremely negative like that is just that there, it's that perspective on everything.

It's just that they have this dark filter over everything. And so anything that comes in when it could be taken as possibly positive, they find the negative in it. You know, it's, you know, it's kind of like, wow, here's a sunny day, but it's so hot out there. Well, yeah.

Constantin: Okay. I mean, you're right. I mean, like I said, the environment influences all of that.

So if you grew up in a house like that, or some negative things happened to you in your childhood, and all of us have had negative stuff. Some traumas are deeper than others. That's going to shape up your life. So of course. You may have more negative thoughts for you that, like you said, half of those may be positive to me, but for you, that will be negative, which will trigger the entire chain again.

So that's beautiful. Absolutely. A hundred percent.

Erick: And for me, one of the things that was the biggest shift for me, um, was about, I a year and a half, two years ago, um, I had a podcast episode that I'd taken a break from the podcast and I came back and this was kind of my kickoff again for this last stretch for the last two years.

And it was really important for me because what it was about was recognizing that in order to In order to be happy, I had to learn acceptance and there's Stoics talk about that a lot. They have a term called amor fati, which means accept your fate, meaning accept everything that happens to you because it happens and you can either love it or hate it.

Universe doesn't care. It's still going to happen. So acceptance is a big part of them. And I had a situation where I. Somebody that, that I really cared about hurt me very deeply, and I was very, very angry, and I was just, I was absolutely furious at this person, and I recognized that the reason why I was so angry was because their opinion of me mattered so much to me.

That if they, you know, whatever that opinion was, that influenced so heavily on how I thought of myself. And I was like, this is ridiculous. Why do I base my own self esteem on somebody else? Because then it's not self esteem, it's other esteem. And I'm like, this is, this is really interesting. So I did a really deep dive into this whole thought and this whole area because I was like, how do I take that back?

How do I take back my self worth, my self esteem? I've outsourced it, I've outsourced it to somebody else, and it was making me incredibly miserable because anytime this person would be upset with me, I thought I was a horrible person. And so I, I did a lot of reading on different things. I, I studied some young and some Freud, you know, thinking about maybe identity and roles in life and, you know, just trying to.

Trying to figure out how I could take this thing back and why, why it was this way anyway and what I, what I realized was that my opinion of myself was so bad that I needed that validation from somebody else that I thought I was not a very good person and so if I needed somebody to tell me and reassure me that I wasn't a bad person and obviously somebody is.

You can't outsource that to somebody else because sometimes they're going to be mad at you. They're going to be frustrated with you. They're going to be annoyed with you. And so I was like, okay, well, what is it about myself that is so awful that I have to be validated by somebody else? What is so bad?

What is it that I, that is terrible about me that I think I'm such an awful person? And I was like, I really don't know. And so I sat down and I wrote a list of all the things I didn't like about myself. And it's funny because I'll tell that to some people and they'll be like, what, why would you do that?

Why wouldn't you write down all the nice things about you? And I'm like, no, if I'm going to practice self acceptance, I need to go down there and figure out what are all the crappy things about me. And I went through this list and I realized that. It kind of fell into two categories and there were the things that I truly didn't like about myself that attributes and things that I just, I thought were weren't great.

You know that I could be a bit selfish at times, you know, but the other things fell into things that I thought other people didn't like about me. So there weren't even things that I didn't like about me. These were projections that I was putting on other people. Now they're important because that often tells you when you're projecting these things onto other people, that that's really how you feel about yourself.

But I had to, but some of those I could look at and go, Oh, okay, that's just an insecurity. I can, that's something I can dismiss. But by going through that exercise of just writing down everything that I didn't like about myself or that I thought was awful about myself, I realized that most of those things, that all of those things were things that were completely acceptable.

They were problems that everybody else had, they were problems that, that weren't really that far out there and I was not as awful as I thought I was. And that for me was a giant pivot point in my life where I went, okay, I can just, I don't have to love everything about myself. But I can at least accept everything about myself.

I can accept that I can be selfish sometimes. I can accept that, that I get annoyed and frustrated at people. I can get, I can accept that I lose my temper at times, and that I get a bit overheated, and that I'll start yelling because I'm just so frustrated. I can accept those things. Do I like them? No, but they're part of me.

So I'm just accepting reality. And from that point on, it made it a lot easier to work on my thinking and those kind of things because I could take responsibility for. My selfish thoughts. I could take responsibility for my angry thoughts. I could take responsibility for all of those things that our egos like to push off and go, Oh, you're, you're not a bad person.

You're, it tries to protect us from that. But if you can recognize, yeah, it can be selfish sometimes. Okay, when you do something selfish, you can go up to it and go, yeah, I was being selfish there. I can be angry sometimes. I can be jealous. I can be all of these things. If you own that, then it's much easier to take responsibility and accept that.

So it's easier to actually deal with that. You're like, wow, I was kind of, I was being really self centered here and I was being kind of a jerk to mom that day or whoever. And I wasn't, you know, I wasn't acting the best that I could have. But you can own that a lot better and that allows you to deal with those thoughts much, much better.

So for me, that's, that self awareness was a really big turning point in my life.

Constantin: Ah, thank you for sharing that powerful, vulnerable story. I couldn't agree more. And as you were sharing that, you, you came up with two things, like you said, self awareness and acceptance. And it's funny when I talk about integrating your why into your life.

I use a framework I came up with and awareness and acceptance are the first step. If you cannot do that, there's no way you can go to implement anything else. Because now look at what you did. Let's say you discover that you could be a bit selfish. Let's take that one as an example. And selfish has a negative connotation in life, but really it's not because is it selfish for me to take some of my money and invest it in myself, give myself a coach, give myself a course.

Some people will see it as selfish because I could be giving that money to someone else. I could be buying my partner something. It's selfish because it's for you. So there's a definition there. But now, at least, what do you have? Awareness. You can make a choice and say, well, do I agree with this part of me?

You can say, you know what? It's not that bad. You accepted it. You healed it. You allow it to keep. But if you say no, then guess what? You have the power to change. And say, you know what? I'm going to keep an eye out for this. When it comes up, I will interrupt this thought, this belief, replace it with something else.

And maybe in six months, maybe in three weeks, maybe in a year, I won't be selfish anymore. Or whatever the negative aspect of yourself you want to change. And that's, I believe, the biggest power that essentially you're talking about because that allowed you to not be on this path. We will now have choice, but before you may have felt like you didn't have choice because like you, and the example you used is so powerful because I was also seeking validation externally because I was feeling so bad about myself internally without realizing beating myself up that I was just looking externally for all the validation and what does external validation do?

Like it feels great in the moment, right? It makes you feel so good, but it doesn't stick because you don't have self validation. Yeah. If you don't have self validation, then it doesn't matter. Like, I could think that you're the most amazing human being on this planet, Erick. And that's going to stroke your ego.

That's going to make you feel good. But if you don't have the same feeling, tomorrow you'll forget. And I do something that maybe you interpret as me not being happy with you. And like you said, then you go down the spiral where like, Oh, you know, but why does Constantin not like me anymore? What, what, what's going on?

And I've been there myself so many times. Yeah.

Erick: Yeah. It's amazing how, how much we twist and turn and try to become something that we're not because we want that external validation. And I noticed that for me, a lot of that, that That unwillingness to look at myself and to look at the things I didn't like about myself for so long was because I wanted to believe that I was a good person.

And so, I thought that if I looked at these things, it would show me that I was wrong. And so, and So there was an unwillingness to look at that, and when I would do things that I wasn't necessarily happy about, or I would do things that were not in line with who I thought I should be, I could come up with all kinds of rationalizations internally about why I did that thing.

Oh, well, you know, she really upset me, and so she deserved for me to yell at her, all of these things. And we, we rationalize these things to ourself. Because we don't want to believe that we're not a good person. So everybody thinks, I mean, I think most people think they're a pretty good person, but they're afraid that they're not.

And which is where a lot of insecurity comes from. Which, if somebody truly believes that they are a good person and that they are, Then they are comfortable with themselves, then anybody can say anything about them and they just, they can just be like, okay, that's your opinion about that. And okay, it doesn't, it doesn't have that much of an impact.

It's, it's a way of just being able to, it's not even bulletproofing yourself. It's just because you recognize that who you are, your self image can't be moved by what other people think of you. Yes. And that is an incredibly powerful and powerful place to be. And I've worked really hard to get there. And so like sometimes I'll get negative comments on my, you know, Instagram or whatever like that.

And it used to kind of set me off a little bit. And now it's just like, I look at him like, Oh, okay. Interesting opinion. You know, next, next, yeah, next. It's like, I don't have time to deal with and, you know, to spend on. That type of negativity and it's really surprising to me because, you know, my podcast is about stoicism.

It's about, you know, you taking control of your life and being responsible, being compassionate, being kind to other people. And so when I get people who throw trashy things on there, it's just like, are you, are you actually understanding stoicism? Plus you're wasting all of this time throwing this negative energy at me.

Why? You know, it's like,

Constantin: you mentioned it really well earlier, it's like, it's a reflection of who we are inside. Right? So that person might be going through something tough. They have a poor opinion of themselves and they take it out on others. And I know I speak from firsthand experience because I've been there myself in the past.

Not necessarily comments on social media, but comments in relationships and in friendships and even work sometimes, right? Because you're so frustrated at yourself without realizing it and because you have no awareness, right? And especially you don't have acceptance, it's hard to fix anything. Yeah. And before we, we jump off of this topic or um, go anywhere else, let's, let's go back for a second to the thoughts, um, to share this tool with people that they may find beneficial.

And this is why I mentioned to you that I'm using it every day. I'm using all my clients. My mentor is the one that taught me this. I'm using it in my professional life, my personal life, and I've shared it in my podcast as well. So it's like this. You have a thought come up and because like you were saying Erick, you can become aware of these things.

The first step is awareness. So you have a thought come up or a belief. It's about catching yourself and saying, Oh, do I really believe that I'm a procrastinator or I'm stupid? I'm fat? Whatever the case may be. You're like, you know what? That's not something I agree with. I want to interrupt the thoughts so it doesn't come up again or it doesn't turn into a much bigger problem than it impacts my emotions and then my actions and whatnot.

So what I do in that is simply the following. And before I share this, I will ask you a question. I know I asked you this question last week, but play along with me. Okay. Every human being has this scenario where they'll be working on something or they'll be doing something. And then they have a thought come up and they say, Oh, I need to go pick up something from the kitchen.

They get up. They physically move themselves from where they were, maybe on the couch, maybe on the chair and they go to the kitchen and by the time they get there, they forget why they got there to begin with. I'm assuming that happens to you. Yeah. Happens to everyone. That's, and the funny thing is if you look from a physiological point of view, that's a natural reset that we have built into us as humans.

So what happens essentially. Because you physically removed yourself from the place, you interrupted whatever thought patterns you're, you're having, a vacuum got created called the scotoma. And like anything else in nature, when there's a vacuum, it has to get filled up and it got filled up with different thoughts and beliefs.

So by the time you got to where you wanted to go, you forgot where you got there because that was on top of mind. Now if that's automatic, that means we can harness it and make it or put it on manual control. So coming back, I have a thought, let's say I'm ugly. Let's use one that I used in the past. Okay, that's a thought I don't agree with because I already became aware of this in the past.

I accepted the fact that, you know, that's not true. I don't allow, I don't want to entertain this thought or belief, really, because it's a belief. I then want to do, the first step is do something physical. Remove yourself from whatever you're doing. If you're sitting down, just stand up. If you're in with a group of people, And a thought comes up or you're in a meeting, excuse them and say, hey, I need to go use the washroom.

My apologies, I'll be back in 30 seconds, a minute, whatever. You remove yourself. That creates a scatoma. Now, as soon as you do that, what I do is, and for those that are not watching, is essentially I'll be taking a deep breath while putting a big smile on my face.

Big, big smile on my face. And I'll explain in a second what it does. And the next step to that is to celebrate, and you talked about this too. You celebrate that you caught yourself, that I caught the negative thought. So you're celebrating something that actually happened. You're not making stuff up.

You're celebrating the fact that you caught yourself. And the way I do it is I. hit my chest and I say, yes, Constantin, we caught it. While I have a big smile on my face because I just took a deep breath. And what am I doing with all of that? So the deep breath continues to reset, but it also brings in fresh oxygen into your body.

The big smile moves you instantly into a state of happiness, even though you might go back to negativity in a few seconds, doesn't matter. It brings you there. Celebration also enhances the happiness and guess what? It starts to release Dopamine and other good feel hormones in your brain, your brain is gonna go like, what just happened?

Why are we happy? And it's gonna look to find clues. And, and then the next step is to replace the thought with whatever, you know, it's like, Oh, I'm not ugly. I'm beautiful. And here's the proof for it. Right? So what you've done there is interrupted the thought, brought in joy and happiness and all that with it and the good hormones and then replace it with a positive thought.

You do this once, it's not going to have much of an effect other than pull you out of that. potential negative scenario you're about to go in. But you do this multiple times, you start training yourself. There's exercises you can expand from here where you do it on purpose, where you start thinking about negative stuff on purpose and interrupt it.

You're going to see that after a few days, after a few weeks, it's going to become more and more on autopilot to the point where the idea is that It's not like you're not going to have negative thoughts come up. We talked about that. They will come up because your environment is your environment, but you're going to train your brain to be like, nah, that's not what I want to entertain.

I want to go through a good thought and belief. And then that says a train. And for me, what has it done? It allows me to literally, when something bad happens, yes, I can see the negative side of it, but I'm not going to spend hours and days and weeks in it. It's going to be momentary. And I'm like, you to spend time there.

I go here. And that's a strategy that I've seen work with pretty much everyone that's willing to try it. I haven't seen it fail yet. Now, sample size, obviously, it's always a question, but I've seen 100 plus people use this within my own circle and from my mentor as well. It's working. Yeah.

Erick: No, I can definitely see that.

That's, it's very much, it's, it's a bit more intense than what I was talking about with my nudge, which is, you know, just like, Hey, be aware of that. But basically it's, it's, it's a nudge. It's a, it's just a short little exercise to interrupt that, that pattern and, and just move it up in a much more positive light.

So yeah, I can see how that would be very, I can take

Constantin: a whole lot, 10 seconds. That's it. Right. Yeah. It doesn't have to take a long time. Now, obviously if you're at home working from home and you, you have the luxury of taking a bit more time, sure you can, but there's no need for that, right? Just interrupt every time it comes up.

And I was talking to a nurse friend of mine the other weekend, we're having dinner and she's having a harder time because it's winter here in Canada, the winter blues, she's from a warmer country. And she was talking, he's like, what, what do you do? What, how can you overcome this? And I gave her the exercise.

This was in the evening of our dinner. And then the next day she messages me cause she was a skeptic before. He's like, you know what? I've tried it and it actually really works. I have no idea why, but it works. And I'm like, okay, try it and see. And I'm always of the opinion, don't take my word for it. Or don't take Erick's word for it or any expert in the world.

Try it. Do your own research. If it works for you, keep it. If it doesn't, toss it away. Now, of course, don't try it. You know, don't do it halfway there and then toss it out. Try it maybe for a week. Because like I said, it takes you 10 seconds, 15 seconds, right? And it doesn't do anything negative to you. Yep.

Erick: And then on the other side, how you mentioned that there's a, you know, How you often do negative visualization, the Stoics have a term for that is called premeditatio malorum, which means premeditated malice. And so it's, but yeah, it's the idea that, um, if you, if you put yourself in a safe space, you sit down and you think about what's the worst things that can happen, then it makes it much easier to face those things because you've already faced them in your mind, which is incredibly powerful.

And that's a tool that I've used and I stumbled on it accidentally. Um, After my divorce back in 2006, where I was divorced, I was getting divorced. I was working for a startup and they bounced a whole bunch of my checks. And I reached a point where I basically had 17 to last me for a week. So it was really, really tough.

I was riding my bike into work every day. I cycle a lot. So that was fine. So I didn't have to pay for gas, but I was just kind of panicking because I'm like, okay, what happens if I run out of money? And. I went through this whole exercise of like, okay, well, if I wasn't able to get another job, I guess I could move back to Salt Lake, move in with my mom or move back to Minnesota, move in with my mom for a bit, but then I wouldn't be able to see my kids for a while.

That would really suck. But, you know, then I could look for jobs, you know, There were just all kinds of things that I went through of like, how would I handle that situation? And for me, it was really, really helpful because I was like, well, if I needed to, I could live in my car for a bit. You know, I mean, that wouldn't be fun, but I have a gym membership that I can go to the gym and I can, you know, I can take a shower there and you know, I can do all the things that I need to do.

I go into work. Okay, yeah, this, uh, I'll figure this out, but it really took that power of money away from me. That power of that fear of not having enough, it was just like, oh, well, it's just a, it's just a resource. And if I don't have enough of it, okay, I'll have to figure something out, but I can do this.

But it, it changed my attitude towards money, which was helpful. And it took away a lot of fear because it was like, yeah, I could survive even if things got really, really crappy. They didn't get that crappy, but, but it was, it was just a thing that I kind of went through. And I was in a way, I was kind of forced because like I said, the company I was working for was bouncing some checks, found out later on that the president of the company had been, um, embezzling money.

So that's why they were bouncing checks because he was, he was basically pulling money from the coffers. And so, yeah, that turned into a whole messy scenario, but for me, it was, it was, it was very powerful. And I was really glad that happened at that time because it made it so that I was less worried about money overall in my life.

And I was like, I can live on so much less. I can live off of little, I'll be able to, I'll be able to make things happen. And I'm luckily I've never had to since then. And uh, I'm doing okay as far as things go, but uh, yeah, it was, it was a really powerful lesson for me. Exactly.

Constantin: And it's really what, if I understand you correctly, what you did in the scenario as well as essentially realize that nothing holds power over you.

It's your perspective that does, it's your beliefs that do. So if you believe that if you don't get money now, you're going to be broken out on the street, you're going to have that because you're not allowing any other opportunities to show up in your life. What you did is realize, yeah, I mean, I'll always be okay.

Yeah, it's not going to be ideal, but that's temporary. If, if we allow it to be temporary, because what happens in the case, if you don't do what you did or other, because there's many other exercises one can do. You end up in a situation and then you're going to play the victim and not say that you're not a victim, right?

Because, you know, you could be the victim of something, but I'm saying playing it to yourself, meaning that you over emphasize it and all of a sudden it becomes a chain effect where you can't pull yourself out of it. And that's what I was with my depression for the longest time. It's like until I really hit the rock bottom, I couldn't get up because even though certain things were bad, I was so over emphasizing them.

And I wasn't allowing the positivity to shine through.

Erick: Yeah, yeah, that can definitely happen. So I'm glad you were able to pull that out. So

Constantin: yeah, absolutely. And I, funny enough, I had that reflection on that too, a while back now. And I'm like, with the knowledge I have now and the tools I have now, can I see myself?

And I couldn't visualize, I couldn't see a scenario in which I would, not because I'm someone that cannot get depressed because I still have days when I'm not as happy or you know, I still have some thoughts that are not the best in the terms of like, let's say depressive thoughts. But now I have tools where I can get to feel my emotions, which is the one thing I didn't know before, like you actually can feel your emotions, I can feel your feelings.

And then I have tools to pull myself out and say, well, once that happens, there's no point in wallowing in it. How do we change those thoughts and beliefs and move myself over? So that's why one of my mentors says, knowledge is power, right? Then you hear people say, ah, you know, that's not great. It's not true because knowledge is, doesn't give you anything.

And technically it's true because knowledge gives you a choice. So meaning if I have the knowledge now, I still have a choice. I'll do, I use the knowledge. Or do I actually decide to go against the knowledge and that's a choice that anyone can make and you know what's right and wrong. And we talked about that at length.

Erick: Yeah, for sure. All right. Well, we're coming up on an hour, a little over an hour and a half here. Um, is there anything else that you want to bring up before we close out this conversation? Well, I think

Constantin: we touched on so many important points here, Erick. So I want to thank you for your time and energy and everything else that we've shared, the space we've shared.

I think I'm good. How about yourself?

Erick: Yeah, this has been a really great conversation. I've enjoyed what we've talked on. So we're going to cross post this on each of our different podcasts. So if you're listening to it on Constantin's, then you'll be able to find me at stoic. coffee. That's my website is, yes, stoic.

coffee. And go ahead and give a shout out on yours. Yeah,

Constantin: absolutely. And if you guys are watching this on Erick's show, then you can find me at unleashthyself. com. Or you can find us on social media, on YouTube at Unleash Thyself, me personally on LinkedIn under Constantin Morun. And we'll both have these in the show notes as well, respectively.

But yeah, come check out our work. I mean, Erick is doing a fantastic work for those listening on my show and definitely go check out his stuff. All right.

Erick: All right. This has been a great conversation, Constantin. Likewise, Erick.

Constantin: Thank you so much.

Erick: Thank you.

And that's the end of this week's episode. I hope you enjoyed this conversation that I had with Constantin, and I hope that you check out his podcast. Again, that's Unleash Thyself podcast, and I think you could really learn a lot from it. Like I said, Constantin is a very insightful, very thoughtful, very warm person, and I think you could get a lot from that.

As always, be good to yourself, be good to others, and thanks for listening.

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280 – Interview with Author Ryan Bush

This weeks episode is an interview with Ryan Bush. Ryan is the Author of several books including Designing The Mind and Become Who You Are. He takes a design approach to structuring your thinking to help you approach your life in a more logical and rational way. I really enjoyed our conversation and hope you will as well. The following is a transcript of our conversation.

Interview with Ryan Bush

Erick: Hello friends, my name is Eric Cloward and welcome to the Stoic Coffee Break. The Stoic Coffee Break is a weekly podcast where I take an aspect of Stoicism and break it down to its most important points. I talk about my experiences, both my successes and my failures, and hope that you can learn something from it all within the space of a coffee break.

Now this week's episode is a little bit different. This is an interview episode. So I spoke this week with Ryan A. Bush. Ryan A. Bush is the author of the book, Designing the Mind, and also of the upcoming book, Become Who You Are. I had a very interesting conversation with Ryan. We talked about all kinds of things, like how the mind works, how to change how you think about things, and also how self esteem and lower self esteem can be actually a good thing to help you recognize when you are.

in a space where you need to re evaluate who you are. I also talked about depression and what that means and what depression can teach us. So I hope that you enjoyed this conversation. I really enjoyed my time with Ryan and here we go. Welcome Ryan. Welcome to the podcast. So, um, I received a, I guess an email from your partner a couple of weeks ago about doing actually a couple of months ago when I was able to get this organized and thank you for allowing me to push it off from last time.

That was the day they were doing the inspection on the house. And so, it's, it's one of those things where they, they don't, you don't schedule an inspection, they schedule you for an inspection, and you go, yes, sir. Okay. Um, so, I pretty much didn't, I didn't have much of a choice on it, so thanks for being flexible about that.

I really appreciate it.

Ryan: Yeah, no problem. And, and thanks for having me. I'm excited to talk with you.

Erick: So, I'll do the intro. Uh, for this and, uh, kind of talk about your books and stuff like that. Um, but the one book that we have, that we've been discussing, or at least I've been reading and was sent to me by you, was Become Who You Are.

Um, so we're going to discuss, obviously that's, I think will be the main point of discussion today. Um, but before we get started, uh, go ahead and tell us a bit about yourself. Yeah,

Ryan: so I'm the founder of Designing the Mind. My first book is a book of the same name, Designing the Mind, The Principles of Psychitecture.

And so I kind of write books and programs and products all centered around psychological growth, self mastery, wisdom, drawing from a lot of ancient philosophy like Stoicism and also modern psychology. Um, and then, uh, you know, my formal background, I guess, is in product design. So I've worked with a number of startups designing physical products and, and, uh, software and that kind of thing.

Um, but I've kind of brought a lot of that design thinking and mindset to, uh, psychological design or what I call psychitecture. So that's kind of how things started out. And then, uh, this new book, Become Who You Are sort of started coming into view a few years ago, uh, based on. Both a lot of years of research and some of my own experiences that kind of, um, you know, put some new things into perspective, clicks, clicked a few puzzle pieces in place about why happiness works the way it does and, uh, connected in with a lot of, a lot of these philosophical and psychological perspectives.

So I'm excited to get it out there and share it.

Erick: Very nice. So one of the things I did notice about it is that, um, there's definitely, definitely kind of an architectural feel to this. Um, I think you're a bit like me in that you have a very strong analytical side, but also a highly creative side at the same time, which makes an interesting balance.

And that's, that's why software development for me, when I fell into it actually worked surprisingly well because I was always good at math. And, but I was also big into music and so I found that throughout my career, if I found somebody who was good at math and a good musician, they were more than likely going to be a good programmer.

It was kind of those things because you need that analytical side of being able to organize things you need to understand variables, you need to understand logic, but then you need to be able to understand abstract thinking in a way that if you're too literal, software development can be incredibly challenging.

Ryan: Yeah, you know, that's, that's one of the reasons I kind of have taken the path that I have, because I thought about, you know, going into academia based on my interest in philosophy and psychology. And I ended up deciding now that that gets the analytical part, but it doesn't really get the creative part.

Uh, and I really need both to thrive. And so that led me into product design, but it's also sort of led me beyond there. Uh, to a way I could integrate those kind of philosophical, intellectual interests with the design thinking. And so my work is very visual, typically I use, uh, visual metaphors to explain ideas and create a lot of illustrations for it.

And in this one, I'll go ahead and say that the core visual, uh, centerpiece of the book is this, uh, sort of dimensional framework that I use to talk about our. Wellbeing. And so you can imagine, uh, there's like a chessboard sitting in front of you. And it's, you know, basically a two dimensional thing where you've got this, the, the X axis, which is, uh, pleasure and pain, where you're trying to navigate your life, maximizing pleasure in the moment, minimizing pain.

And then you've got the y axis, which sort of refers to loss and gain. Um, and so, basically what I argue is this is the map that we naturally use to navigate our lives. We try to maximize pleasure, but sometimes we'll sacrifice pleasure and go through some pain in order to experience more long term gain.

And that, um, sometimes serves us well, and other times we end up getting what we wanted and saying, oh, this doesn't really make me any happier. right? People win the lottery and they say, Oh, this didn't really change anything for me. Uh, or even something terrible. Seemingly they lose their legs and they end up adapting very quickly and saying they're just as happy as they were before.

Um, so, so why is it that we're following this map that seems to be good, uh, for navigating our lives? And it keeps kind of, uh, surprising us at important times. I kind of go back to. the Stoics in, in talking about this because the Stoics made this very important distinction, I think is often neglected in a lot of modern Stoic work.

Uh, we talk about how, you know, you, you don't have to worry about the things you can't control and that's very therapeutic. But we don't talk as much about this virtue concept that was really at the heart of the, the Stoic work. Um, I mean, really, they argued that all of these external circumstances in our lives are indifferent.

They don't actually improve our lives, and we mistakenly believe that they do. Um, and so they create this distinction, and they say virtue is what actually matters. And, and while my virtue theory differs in some smaller ways from that of the Stoics. Ultimately, it's that same core distinction between virtue and what is indifferent to us that's really at the center point of my philosophy.

And so if you imagine taking that two dimensional chessboard and extruding mountains and valleys out of it, so that now it's like a three dimensional topographical chessboard. Essentially, what I argue is that virtue or even, you know, admirability, since virtue kind of has this outdated, preachy connotation today, if you think about the kind of actions that make you proud of who you are, that you would admire in someone else, this is essentially what I argue is the third dimension.

This is what moves you higher up in the mountains of virtue or lower in the valleys of virtue. And this is what's actually pulling the strings of our happiness. When we think that it's, you know, the pleasure and gain that, that sort of describes our lives on paper, uh, or our lives on paper, uh, it's actually not even Closely related to that.

It's all about how well we're able to bring out our unique personal virtues and embody the person that we would most admire through our actions that we actually get happier or less happy. And I actually extend this all the way down to clinical depression, uh, and sort of a sliding mood scale and up to eudaimonia or that peak mental state that the Stoics and other Greek thinkers wrote about.

Yeah, there was one thing I did

Erick: notice in there and I kind of circling back on something you said that oftentimes in modern stoicism, they do focus just on, you know, avoiding, it's a lot of avoidance as opposed to what you're talking about is we're not just supposed to avoid these things and, you know, avoid trying to worry about the things, you know, that we don't have control over.

We try to avoid all, you know, Yeah. Rather than just doing that, it's like, how do you, how do you step forward and actually be, be proactive in those regards? Um, so the Ariete, you know, also is that same idea that don't just avoid vice, practice virtue. And, you know, yeah, and I think that that's been very interesting.

And that's one of the things that, um, I know from my podcast, you know, I, I. I try to imbue that a lot as well and talk with people about, you know, Hey, you actually have to be proactive in your thing. You know, you can't just be like, Hey, okay, I don't, I don't feel pain. So I'm happy. Well, it's like, yes, you don't feel pain.

So that, that makes you feel happy. You might have some pleasures that does make you feel a little bit happy, but when you get asked, when you get out there and you actually do something and you're productive in your life, um, there was one guy, I I'm blanking on his name, but there was an essay that I read and it said, The purpose of life is not to be successful.

The purpose of life is to be useful. And it talked about how people, some of the most oppressive things that happen to people are the things they have the hardest time with, they're like when they lose a job because they don't feel like they are useful in the world anymore. And that, that almost more than divorce, almost more than almost anything else can, can drive people to actually commit suicide, you know, at higher rates.

And I thought that was really, really fascinating. It was like, I had never really thought of that, but he just talked about like, everybody wants to feel useful. And yeah. And I know that. That for me, when I do something, uh, and when I do something well, when I, you know, I finally get up and go, okay, I don't really feel like working out, but then I do the workout.

I always feel great afterwards. And it's like, ah, you know, you feel all the muscles strained and, and they're sore afterwards. There's such a, a stronger sense of accomplishment from doing that than like, oh, you know, I slept well. And, and. And not doing something or at least avoiding pain. Um, Yeah, but yeah, so go ahead, go ahead.

Ryan: Well, just, just kind of going off of that, I think the useful, uh, successful distinction is really valuable. I think, you know, if you think about certain activities, like, uh, you know, sitting around a pool, playing video games, uh, you know, getting high, a lot of these things are pleasurable, but I kind of argue that, um, they don't really require any of your personal.

virtues to do. You can, you can, you know, stream a show without having any personal strengths. And this is why when we get through a day of doing this kind of thing, we don't actually feel good about ourselves, even though it felt good at the time. And if we spend a whole year doing, you know, nothing that that's useful and that requires any, any kind of personal strength to do.

Uh, then that we don't end up reflecting back on that as a good year. And I think the same can go for our lives. We don't want to live a whole life that we look back on and say, I don't really admire anything that I did, even though, you know, it maybe felt good at the time. I think, uh, part of what you're talking about with the.

you know, the Stoics and avoiding things that are painful. I actually, um, this is a little more speculative, but I talk about, uh, eudaimonia and equanimity, which are both these sort of mental states that the Stoics talk about. And I have speculated that Eudaimonia corresponds to serotonin in our brains, and equanimity corresponds to a lack of cortisol.

Or in other words, you know, when we use a lot of these stoic principles to reduce these negative emotions, we're lowering our cortisol and creating a stable state of low cortisol. And similarly, when we do things that we are actually proud of, that demonstrate our virtues and sort of exercise our greatest strengths, we're elevating and stabilizing serotonin levels.

Uh, I know how complex neuroscience is, but this is sort of the, the way I've come to map this out in my mind. And so there are two different states that I think are both important for achieving, you know, the optimal mental, um, state. But I think it is, uh, a mistake to just focus on eliminating negative emotion and not creating this really positive state of mental health.

Yeah, I really like

Erick: that. For me, the image when you were talking about that is kind of like, uh, the, uh, the lack of cortisol would be, you know, building a good foundation or having a net underneath you. Like that's your, that's your thing that keeps you from sliding down too far. But then the, uh, I guess the serotonin, you know, is kind of the thing that boosts you up, which helps you move out and actually continue forward in your life.

So yeah, I really like that. I like that idea on that. Um, so one of the ideas, so I did write down a few things when I was working on that, um, would you say that, uh, this was an interesting idea and I want you to speak more on this was that the idea that when you hit a depressive state or some low self esteem, that it's a regulator for social behavior.

I thought that was a really fascinating idea. And I, I never, never thought of it phrased that way, but it reminded me of. And as I thought through that, I thought, you know, when I was in high school or middle school, especially because I think those are some of the roughest times where your self esteem, you know, is careening all over the place.

Like, yeah, John, who's the most popular guy in school said, Hey dude, what's up? And oh my God. He actually noticed that I exist. Oh my gosh. Or, you know, or Jill, you know, the cute girl that she had a crush on says, you know, hi to you as you're walking to class and, you know, you're through the, through the moon.

And then, you know, somebody gives you a dirty look at lunch and you're like, Oh my gosh, I'm like the worst person in the world. And that bouncing around. But, um, but I'd never thought anyone, I always thought of, I never really understood why that was the case. And when you talked about it as a regulator for social behavior, I was like, Hmm, I got to think about that for a bit.

So is that something that I, I made some notes in the book, so I'll have to go back and look at that. And was that something that they've done testing on or is that just kind of more your theory of how you came up with that? I mean, I find it fascinating. So yeah, so a

Ryan: few things the other day I was, um, I was watching a show that.

Uh, you know, I had a character who overheard some other people saying some really good things about her and she got this huge smile and like was clearly very excited about this. And it sort of caused me to reflect once again, like this is such a foundational part of human psychology that we don't even take note of it most of the time that we pay attention to and care very much about our personal esteem and worth.

It's like just such a given that we rarely examine it and say, why is that actually true? We could imagine a human race that didn't actually care what anyone thought about them or what they thought about themselves and just focused on, you know, what they were doing in their external environment. But humans care very deeply about ourselves and our worth and anything that indicates that worth in terms of, you know, the people around us and our tribe.

And so, yeah, that question of why. So, so there's a thinker. Uh, named Mark Leary, who is a evolutionary psychologist, and he proposed a theory called sociometer theory, which says that, uh, basically self esteem is not something in our brain that is malfunctioning when it's low. It's, it's designed, if you will, by evolution to correspond to something, to be either low or high, based on whether it will produce, uh, adaptive behaviors or not.

Um, and so, essentially the, Self esteem is sort of like a simulator for social esteem in our brains. That's what it's built to be. It's like the fuel gauge Whereas self social esteem is the fuel tank It's meant to indicate to us how we're doing in this arena that matters a lot in terms of our reproductive success and survival and so essentially your Self esteem goes up when your brain gets evidence that you are a person who is Likely to be approved of and it goes down when your brain is not seeing that evidence or it sees contrary evidence to that and This I think can take into account You know what people say to our face or what they indicate through their body language But a big part of it is simply our brain observing our own actions, right?

And so it's looking and saying do I admire the things that I am bringing out through my behaviors if I'm Going to the gym and working out if I'm doing, you know, really creative work Right, whatever it is, if I'm really funny, that's sending a signal to my own brain that I do have these traits that humans tend to value, and so I'm likely to be approved of, and what your brain does, I think, is it regulates your mood according to, uh, what it finds, and this is the part where I'm sort of building on these existing theories and combining it with others.

Uh, I think this whole self esteem system is a mood regulator meant to induce behaviors that would be adaptive, uh, or at least would have been adaptive for our ancestors in a very different world. And so, you know, when we are in a really good mood, that makes us want to take behaviors that put us out there.

It makes us, you know, really energized. It makes us want to, uh, be really socially active and put ourselves on display. Play and take advantage of social opportunities, uh, to sort of show off these strengths when we're in a really bad mood, particularly when we're like clinically depressed, it makes us want to withdraw, stay away from other people.

It makes us really socially risk averse when we are in social situations. Basically avoid doing anything that might offend someone or, you know, interpret everyone's. Reactions towards you in a very defensive way so that you don't damage your social standing Based on the place that you're at mentally and the the virtues you're able to bring out and so I'm essentially combining these different theories and ideas about welling well being to suggest that there is this Mood state in our mind that goes all the way down to depression and all the way up to something very close to eudaimonia Based on what this self esteem mechanism, I call it the self appraisal system, is finding about us and our behaviors.

Erick: Yeah, and I, I find that it's, it's, for me, it's fascinating because it's, the whole thing is such a, an interesting balance, because it's, it's a combination of what we think other people think of us, is our self esteem, not truly what other people think of us. And so, which definitely fits in that stoic idea of, it's not, you know, it's not what happens that upsets you, it's how you perceive what happens upsets you.

And it's that same idea, so I think it fits perfectly in with that. Um, but I think it's interesting that So it's interesting because it definitely fits with that and I think as you get older usually, not always, because I've seen plenty of people who are, you know, I'm 51, I see plenty of people my age who are still very insecure about a lot of things, but I find as you get older, you can, you Through experience, you get a bit more wisdom to be able to judge those things a bit better and not to care what other people think.

And yeah, so it's that it's that really fine balance. It's like you, you're judging yourself based upon what you would think other people would think of you and that's where your self esteem comes from, but you shouldn't care what other people think of you. And so it's a, it's a fascinating balance. Um, but I think part of it, at least for me, what's happened is as I've gotten older, I've been able to be wiser about those things.

And so I can say. You know what? This is a value that I think is important. This is a virtue that I think is important. I'm going to live this and this is the way I'm going to live it. And if people don't like it, you know, screw them. It doesn't matter because this is something that I know through my all my years of experience, I know this is a good virtue.

And I know that this is something that is worth holding on to and if people are going to complain about it, oh well, it, it doesn't, you know, it just rolls right off of me because I see that as being an admirable virtue, even if other people around me don't see it as an admirable virtue. So when I read that, it definitely clicked for me.

I'm like, oh yeah, this makes sense. And it was, It was very much what I thought to begin with, but this was just a kind of like clarifying it a little bit more, a little more fine grained thing, rather than just saying, Oh yeah, this is generally where it is. It's like, let's pull that apart and let's look at each little pieces.

And I was like, that, that's, that's a really fascinating idea. So I really appreciate that.

Ryan: Yeah, no, and you get a big, you know, important point. Yes, it is what you think other people would think about you, but it's also with preference toward your particular values and the values of those whose value you value most.

I mean, it gets kind of complicated, but when you remember the person you're most trying to appeal to is yourself. It's someone identical to you with your own unique. Uh, set of values. And so really that's the ultimate metric. I find the same thing that, that as you get older, you get, uh, you know, more secure in these things.

And I think a big part of that is you learn some people are just, uh, different. Some people are not going to like you because they have different values from you. It's really only when you aren't living according to your own values, uh, that you've got a problem. And this, this was kind of the problem I struggled with back in 2020 is that.

Um, you know, these, I, I was facing kind of some social ostracism from people. I was cut off from a lot of social domains for obvious reasons during the pandemic. Uh, so all the signal my brain was getting is that I really wasn't living up to, you know, my own values. And in some ways I really wasn't. I, you know, at my work, I had sort of shifted out of the roles that I normally, um, you know, thrive in.

And so I was in a place where I was, I was doing things every day that I wasn't particularly good at. I was questioning my interpersonal virtues and, uh, had reason to, you know, so I was, I was wrestling with a lot of these things. And I think other people who have experienced periods of depression will say the same thing.

It's like, it's, it's a, it's an identity. grappling issue. A lot of people think it's just a like serotonin deficiency, uh, chemical imbalance. I think it, it really only makes sense to look at depression in terms of our identity and our beliefs about ourselves. And this is what we find in cognitive behavioral therapy as well, which is, you know, deeply influenced by stoicism.

Erick: Yeah, very much so. I like that idea of, uh, I guess you could say in a way depression is almost an identity crisis. Interesting. And yeah, that's that kind of pulled it out for me. One of the other things I also appreciated was that, you know, you, you talk and actually, now that I'm looking at some of the notes that I wrote in here, I was talking about being useful.

You're like, you know, you say our status isn't determined by dominance is determined by contribution. And I found that to be really, really helpful because, um, I think one of the things that people forget is like, you know, you shouldn't care what other people think of you, but that doesn't mean you don't care about other people.

And there's oftentimes there's that disconnect. And I've, um, I was on a stoic Facebook group, um, of pretty popular one. I won't say what it was because I haven't done much on it lately because I was really, it was really surprising to me to watch some people take stoicism and use it as a way to justify really shitty behavior.

Uh, this one guy was with a couple of people actually piled on and we're using it to justify racism, saying that the reason why black people weren't as successful as white people were because they just were. You know, too lazy and didn't take responsibility for themselves and it was all their fault. And I was just like, okay, so slavery and subjugation of people based on their color of skin has absolutely nothing to do with why they are, you know, they struggle in society in ways that you don't have to, you know, it's like, so I tried reasoning with him and it was just like, nope, he would have none of it.

And it floored me how somebody could use stoicism to do those types of things. Oh

Ryan: yeah, people will use these, uh, these pure philosophies as a way to do all kinds of, I was just talking to someone about like the, the Mick mindfulness and like the Mick stoicism, the sort of modern corporatization of these, uh, philosophies, you know, they're, you know, well known thinkers who are basically treating stoicism as a tool to achieve more external success.

For example, um, When really that's exactly what the Stoics said doesn't actually matter to your happiness. So, um, no, that, that's horrible that people are making that kind of argument. That's not even worth, uh, really paying attention to, I think. Yeah.

Erick: And I think it really came down to because it was like, It came with this idea of if you are unsuccessful in your life, it's your fault and that's it rather than going that's not what stoicism about stoicism is about recognizing what you do have control over and taking control of that.

And if you don't have control over these things, there's nothing you can do to change that. But it's it's being able to recognize what you actually have control over and taking those steps to do that. And if somebody has opportunities or somebody has things that they can do and they refuse to do them or.

And or they just go, well, I, I'll never, you know, I can't be successful because of X, Y, and Z. And it's like, well, but you still have opportunities, A, B and C, why aren't you doing those? And they're just like, they're so focused on the things they can't do. And it's like, well, you know, when you don't take action on the things that you can do, you make yourself a victim.

Now, if they said something like that, like, Hey, this person had this opportunity. Um, but they decided that they would rather do something else and they didn't take that opportunity and then they complained they weren't successful. That's you know, then I think you might have a coach and argument, but it was just fascinating to me the way that people can twist things around.

Ryan: Um, yeah, it's worth noting that there have been a lot of. People who have managed to thrive in very difficult, uh, situations with the help of stoicism. I mean, Epictetus was a slave, uh, and then, you know, you got people like Viktor Frankl, who I recently re read, who employs a lot of the same, you know, mental techniques and mindsets, and who comes out of it saying, you know, life really isn't about the absence of pain or, uh, you know, pleasure or gain or whatever, you can find meaning or happiness even in really difficult struggles.

And I think that's an important thing to keep in mind, but it doesn't necessarily mean that you can control everything and find a way to be successful in your circumstances no matter what. It's that you can find ways to exercise your virtues in spite of, you know, all the things you can't control.

Erick: Exactly. I definitely agree with that. Um, so one of the things that you said in here that I, I underline this because I thought this was really interesting. Um, and I think this is, this spoke incredibly well for me because I was, I'm a recovering people pleaser. So I grew up in. Mormon Church, and you know, my dad was pretty violent growing up at random times, and so there was always this need to be on the lookout to do and say the right thing so that I didn't get in trouble, whatever that was.

And the right thing wasn't the truthful thing, it was the what is going to make sure that I don't get in trouble in this situation thing. Um. Right. And I really like this. I want you to speak a little bit more to this. And you say, other people will affect your self esteem to the extent that you agree with them.

Mm hmm. That to me, I just was like, oh, hmm. Because again, like you were saying earlier, that it's, what we're doing is we're trying to judge, we're self judging ourselves on what we think other people think of us. And so it's that interesting balance. But I, I found that. I think the tricky part for me, and this is what this kind of why this checked a box for me, was that oftentimes when I would be in an argument with somebody, um, especially in, like, in, you know, personal relationship, um, because I'd been such a people pleaser, there was often when somebody was upset with me.

I felt like I was in the wrong simply because the other person was mad at me rather than going, they can be mad at me and I can still be right. It was as soon as they were mad at me, like, oh crap, I did something wrong. I need to fix this thing. I'm the one who's always in the wrong. So I always assumed that I was the one who was doing something wrong in the situation, no matter what.

And so I guess, how do you find that you balance that? Or is, is that not an issue for you? No. So,

Ryan: so here's what I sort of argue to that point. Um, I say kind of imagine that you overheard a group of people talking about you. Um, and it's a group of people who, you know, aren't necessarily good at things that you care about, um, or, you know, pretend to be good at.

So for me, if a group of like professional basketball players, https: otter. ai That I am a basketball, right? Uh, I would I would have a chuckle at that, but it wouldn't hurt my self esteem because that's not something I pretend to be To be good at it's not these are not people that I admire most and um, you know They're not criticizing something.

I really pride myself on uh, but you can imagine people, you know who you do really admire, um, and where you take pride in the thing that you do. Uh, if they're talking shit about you and they're saying you're no good at this thing, that guy's a joke, right? That is going to really hurt. I mean, that could affect your self esteem long term hearing something like that.

And so it just shows how much it is about your own self approval at the end of the day. And other people's approval sort of is just an indicator of that for you. Um, but I do think it's important to note, and you hinted at this earlier, Um, you know, it's not about, uh, status in the sense that we're sort of used to talking about.

When someone says social status, you think about like a ranked hierarchy, um, like a linear thing, like who's higher status, me or this other person. And it amazes me to that, that people still sort of compare human, Uh, social arrangements to this because we're so much more complex in this way. Uh, we don't just have linear rankings.

We can approve of people in one way, but not in another way. We have these, uh, you know, multitudinal evaluations of one another. They're far more complex and, and very often it does relate to Um, how we contribute to the lives of others, you know, we admire people who are generous because, uh, they're contributing that to help someone else who needs it.

We admire people who are creative because they're creating work that goes out and impacts, uh, other people. And so I think it is right to think about social status or social esteem or whatever, as the ways that you contribute to your tribe or, you know, to humanity or whatever. And, um, and asking yourself, how do I.

How do I contribute to this? And what would I most admire in terms of another person's contribution? Making your decisions around that instead of asking just what does this one person want me to do? I think, um, that focus on your own admiration, your own values. And I think there are good exercises for really mapping this out.

Uh, I think that can counter some of the people pleasing. tendencies. If you've already mapped out, these are the things that I care about. These are the things I don't care so much about. I think, I think you can weaken that desire to please everyone. And you can say, well, I've already mapped out right here.

The P the person I will most want to please. And that's me. And so, um, yeah, trying, trying to just live according to those values, I think is the key. Yeah.

Erick: And for me, my, my biggest struggle, like I said, was often that whoever, whether it was next partner or whatever, um, Oftentimes, they would, like I said, they would be mad at me.

And so I would assume I did something wrong. So I couldn't look at it objectively because I was like, oh crap, I'm in the wrong no matter what. And so I couldn't look at it and go, wait, no, no, I w I was handling myself. Well, I'm okay with this. And so for me, learning to, to get that sense of judgment has been challenging.

And kind of like I've had to. Had to be better about setting some boundaries on situations and go, you know what? I'm not, or even just say, I'm not sure here. I'm just going to walk away from this because I'm not sure if I'm doing the right thing. I'm not sure if I'm acting the way that I want to, or if I, if I have the right to be upset, you know, oftentimes I didn't feel like I did because growing up, I was on the receiving end of most of that.

I didn't have the right to get upset and stand up to the things that I thought were unfair because if I did, right. And I pushed back then oftentimes I got beat up. So it was like, yeah,

Ryan: go ahead. Yeah. I, I, uh, luckily didn't have that challenge growing up, but I did have a lot of, um, you know, social difficulties, particularly starting in middle school that, um, I think, you know, I don't know if it made me a people pleaser, but it definitely made me.

insecure in, um, my social presentation and gave me a lot of anxiety around that stuff. And so I think, uh, one of the keys comes down to like CBT and the cognitive restructuring processes there, because a lot of us do have some really distorted. beliefs. I think the modern world in particular is conducive to a lot of these distorted beliefs.

And so going in and finding that distortion, like, Oh, someone's mad at me. I must have done something wrong, writing that out and, and actually examining it and saying, is this actually a balanced view? Or can I improve it or, you know, assuming that everyone around you thinks you're weird and, and, you know, doesn't, doesn't respect you is one that I, you know, once struggled with going in and mapping that out and saying, Oh, that's mind reading.

That's a well known fallacy that creates this type of emotion. Can I make a correction and improvement to that belief? Um, and this is one of the. Those really, really important exercises I think everyone should be starting doing in kindergarten, you know? Agreed.

Erick: Um, so curious kind of your take on this. I know that, um, I would say that most of us, at least, at least people like me, and I would assume you just, you know, we're very much in the question ourselves, question reality, question things going on around us, um, making sure and looking for those ways to improve and to become, uh, I guess, uh, just better people overall and to work through those things.

Um, but it feels in our, at least our political climate here in the States is that there's this massive, you know, divide between the two political sides. And it seems like, but it's really hard because, uh, There's, there's almost a false equivalency of like, well, each side is just as bad as the other, you know, and, but it seems like there's nobody trying to, trying to articulate this in a way that, it's like I had the thought, the thought and the idea of it trying to actually articulate it seems a bit challenging, um, I guess my question is, How do we, is there a way to help those who, who in, I guess, in my purview are kind of blind to these things and they don't, you know, they're so sure of their point of view that they don't take that time to question and they don't have that ability.

I mean, I guess. I guess it does fall a little bit into Dunning Kruger effect, a lot of confirmation bias and things like that going on. Um, do you see a way that you could somehow inspire people or help bring them along in those ways and find ways to reach out and communicate? Because it often feels like, um, And this is something I've noticed because my politics are, I'm center left, you know, compared to, compared to where I was, you know, you know, 20 years ago, because I grew up Mormon and you're pretty much conservative from birth, you're Mormon, um, but I would consider myself to be center left, but it feels, but to a lot of people on the right, they would think that I'm basically almost a communist at this point because it feels like they've moved so far to the right that I'm You know, I've saved, my politics have stayed pretty much where they are.

And so I find it very challenging to talk with people like that because there's this sense of, of an unwillingness of this is the truth and this is my truth and fuck you for not believing what I believe in. And so, so I guess in your travels, in your experience of working on books and talking with people about these things, are there ways that you've found that you've been able to kind of bridge some of those gaps?

Ryan: Yeah, this is a real challenge. I will say first that I've got, um, I've got this online community or currently, currently online, hoping to get it offline as well before long, um, but it's called Mindform and, uh, we've created a culture that's very much centered around not, you know, taking these polarizing political stances, uh, really, you know, if we talk about politics, we're sort of talking about metapolitical perspectives and we're looking at how to Uh, improve our mental systems for examining these issues and it's, it's been a really successful experiment in creating an environment where you're not incentivized to, you know, pick this really heated, strong, often oversimplified stance and just turn everyone else into the enemy.

So I do think this is something that can be done culturally, but I will say. Uh, the internet's very much not conducive to it overall, and it's very hard to maintain that mindset. Um, I think we've had kind of a similar arc in that I grew up, I went to a Christian school initially, um, so I had kind of conservative Christian views.

I went to college. I was, you know, getting exposed to more like libertarian perspectives. Then I started having more libertarian leanings. Then I went to another school in a very creative program that was very much left leaning. And I started having more left leaning perspectives. And then I started to notice a pattern.

Oh, look, my, my political views somehow adapt to my social environment and find a way to do that. And I started. examining what's really going on in my head when I find myself attaching to political views. I remember at one point I was on the Wikipedia page for like libertarian socialism, which apparently is a thing and not an oxymoron, but um, I, I was looking at it and I was kind of paying attention at the same time to what was going through my own head.

And I'd already latched onto this term and the way it would sort of fit onto my identity. before I even started reading the article. Like, I didn't know what it was, and I was already thinking about myself, you know, telling people at dinner parties, I'm a libertarian socialist, or something. Like, uh, so much of the way we choose our political views is this very tribal, social, emotional thing.

We really don't reason our way into them. We use reason later to build up arguments that we can use to defend them. But ultimately, it very often is, uh, this emotional thing. And so, I I'm always trying to remind myself of this fact that other people arrive at their views through different social emotional pathways.

They seem just as, you know, real and true to them as my views do to me. And I try to, try to take a step back and there, there are a number of sort of exercises I tell people to do. I encourage people to, you know, write down your political beliefs and your levels of certainty of all of them, and then map out your motivations to hold those beliefs.

Because very often, our biases are motivational in nature. We want to believe certain things, and that's why we continue to selectively interpret the evidence and all this stuff. So if you actually map out how badly do I want to believe in this view, if you can get yourself to cultivate like an equal and opposite desire, uh, not to believe it to the point where you have no preference one way or the other, then you're actually in a position to evaluate.

evidence, uh, you know, accordingly. I will just add to that, that, uh, political views are particularly complicated and that they typically require prediction of unprecedented complex systems. Uh, I think when it comes to what is true of the world now, uh, we're in a much better position and we have much better Uh, systems like science and, and expert consensus to decide, but when it comes to prediction, none of us really know what's going to happen.

So we should always lower our certainty in these matters. Um, in general, I think lowering your certainty and actually mapping out this is what percent sure I am instead of just saying I'm on this team, right? I think, I think all of these are good exercises. I really recommend the book, the scout mindset, which talks about.

Adopting this healthier relationship to our views, trying to actually figure out what's true and what's most accurate instead of just picking a team and trying to defend it later.

Erick: Yeah, and I think that's, that's kind of how my, uh, politics or political view on a lot of things, uh, evolved. So like I said, grew up Mormon, very conservative, you know, just because, and it was in the eighties with Reagan, you know, we're all like, yeah, we're all for Reagan.

I had no idea what that meant. It was just, my parents voted for Reagan. So of course I, you know, um, but I served a mission in Austria, which is very socialist democratic society. And really saw a very different side of life. I saw lots of people who had much less than I had. Uh, most people didn't live in homes.

They lived in apartments, condos, whatever. Um, but on the whole, we're much happier than most of the Americans that I knew. And here I am trying to come over here and teach them this way of life, you know, you, you accept this version of Jesus Christ gospel, then you will be happy and it felt very hypocritical because they seemed much happier than I was at the time.

So here I'm trying to tell them this, um, but I found that I found that I appreciated their time. Their way of living much more than I than I did my own and it was, you know, you didn't see anybody. You saw people who were poor, but you never saw homeless because everybody was given a place to stay and everybody had enough money for food.

So you didn't have beggars out there because everybody had enough. They were just taken care of. It was just part of society. It was the social contract they had with everybody. And I found that to be much more appealing than the homelessness that we see here in the United States. And, you know, for them, it, it also, by doing that, it helped reduce their crime rates, it helped reduce, uh, death rates, it reduced their hospital bills of having to take homeless people in, and so on.

And so, just the, The betterment of society was much more important to them than holding on to their money, which I find we find here in the States, you know, the first thing people do when you talk about homeless programs is they complain about, I don't want to spend my money on these people. They don't deserve it.

It's like, well, they deserve it because they're human beings. And that was the appreciation that the thing that I appreciate over in Austria was they just said, well, they're humans. We take care of them. It doesn't matter if they deserve it or not. They deserve it because they are human beings living in our society.

So that's why they deserve it. And I appreciate that approach much more. It was a much more expansive view of what, what humanity was. It wasn't just my, like you said, it wasn't tribal at all. It was like, well, everybody's part of my tribe. So let's make sure that we can take care of everybody.

Ryan: Yeah, the couple challenges, um, one is that getting people to, uh, understand that idea that someone doesn't have to earn their right to, um, you know, you don't have to earn a certain amount of points in order to just be able to survive in this world and meet your basic needs.

Uh, that requires a certain level of wisdom and empathy that not everyone's going to have. And so how do you get that idea across to, um, those who just can't wrap their heads around that? Another is simply that we. We have economic systems and really their global economic systems that are centered entirely around maximizing capital and profit and, you know, maximizing human well being is really secondary in terms of the system, right?

And so, uh, what do we do when we've, we've built a machine that's, You know, bigger and more powerful than any of us that is really not designed around human well being and really that's a distant second concern to it. Um, I, I don't know the answer. I, I have, I follow a lot of thinkers who are. Working on that, but it's, it's probably the hardest, most important question that humans can be asking right now.

Uh, and it's just, it's such complexity that we're dealing with that, um, yeah, it's hard to even envision the solution to it. What's most amazing to me is that you do have these, uh, other countries that seem to be doing it. What is it about their culture that has enabled them in some ways to resist the incentives of the economic systems, go against that to a certain degree?

Um, and how do you shape culture in that direction? Yeah, yeah,

Erick: that's a very, it's a very difficult problem. Um, like I said, for me, it was helpful because I lived in a society that was built around those principles. And so I saw firsthand how helpful it was. And how much more useful that was. And then, you know, then coming back to the states and then seeing the exact opposite of that.

And so for me it was, uh, it was direct exposure, which made it much easier. Um, and so in a way I, you know, that was kind of a shortcut for me. And what was interesting is because of that, because I went on a mission Austria because I was exposed to this very different way of, of living, um, that was kind of the beginning of the end.

of me being in the Mormon church and being a conservative. And I just found that over time, um, because of that, that I was much more about evidence based approaches, what is going to work best, not ideological approaches. Um, so I was, you know, even when I was in college going to Salt Lake Community College, you know, I was listening, it was during the, uh, the Bush Gore election and everything that I kept hearing from Gore just aligned Well, with my, my way of thinking, evidence based approaches, talking about climate change, other things like that.

And it was very scientific based and yes, he was kind of a policy wonk. And that's what I appreciated about him is he was a very smart guy and he thought long and hard about a lot of these hard problems. And was really working hard to have evidence based solutions of things. And so I guess that's just kind of how I've always approached it.

And I, so for me, once I found stoicism, it was kind of like that, it just, that idea of philosophy was like, you know, question everything, question yourself, make sure that you try to think rationally. Um. You know, understand what's in your control and what's not. I mean, just all of these things, just like, oh my gosh, this is an amazing, uh, an amazing, uh, framework for me to view the world from where it just made sense.

Um, I kind of describe it also, there are times when I almost feel like Neo in the matrix. It's like when something happens, I can take a step back and I can look at it and go, oh, okay, this is what I thought was happening. But just having that moment and going. this is more what really happened behind the scenes.

This is why this person probably said this thing. I didn't have to sit and guess and go, why is this person upset at me? I'm like, oh, they're upset because they probably think this. And then I can approach it in a very rational sort of way. You know, it's like, I see why the bullets are flying. I can see the code of the agents and that kind of thing.

And I can actually do something much more effective about that. And yeah. And it was really, really fascinating and it, it felt like it opened up a lot of the world to me and took away a bunch of blind spots that I had because of the culture that I grew up in, which was, you know, which ascribed why, uh, which ascribed motives to people that I didn't think were fair.

Um, you know, people do these things because they're evil. Or people do these things because they're bad people, you know, very simplistic motives of why, why people do things and people are much more complicated than that. And for me, stoicism was a way to, to filter that and understand more of that complexity in their behaviors.

Even though they are simple tools, they're very There's a lot of nuance and semantics that go along with that, even though some people are like, well, these are very rigid tools and it's like, no, they're not, they're, they're clear principles, but they, but because they are principle based, that leaves a lot of room for you to be able to work off the principles.

It's not a, here's the answer is here's the principle, and I think a lot of people, a lot of people get, get those two mixed up, you know, because they're used to being given answers. They're used to being spoon fed, which is why a lot of people like religion.

Ryan: Right. Yeah. No, I, um, I definitely think you should read my first book, Designing the Mind, because it's very much that, uh, that kind of Neo and the Matrix kind of mindset of stepping back and looking at the code that your own mind is running and examining and saying, how can I reprogram it?

How can I change this emotional algorithm or this, you know, belief, this bias? Um, that's kind of the whole theme of it is this changing the software of your mind and Um, and I've personally used that same comparison to the matrix and talking about these tools mindfulness these different ways of actually examining your own mind, and, and in some ways how it takes you out of what evolutions have kind of built your brain to do, which was just to accept all of your thoughts as reality and not actually question any of them.

Um, yeah, in terms of the, uh, the societal stuff, I think that, you know, the other, of course, another challenge you have is that, um, everybody would say they're You know, adopting evidence based approaches to their beliefs, uh, a lot of people are getting fed, you know, deliberate misinformation, uh, and they don't have the critical thinking faculties to really know the difference.

And so we're, we're still dealing with this big system that, um, yeah, the, the problem remains when we talk about the evidence and, and stuff. Cause, um, yeah, it's, it's just not a priority of our, school systems or our culture to teach people how to think better. Uh, scientific literacy is, is extremely low, not just in knowing, uh, you know, what science says, but also just knowing the systems of how science operates and the reasons why we should generally trust scientific consensus instead of, uh, trusting some random guy who said all the scientists are wrong.

Right. I mean, uh, so I think it is. It is an educational thing, but it's, it's even bigger than that. And that, um, you know, our, our education systems aren't really oriented toward building the best humans, the best thinkers, the best citizens, uh, either. And so, uh, you know, I'm trying to, in, in, uh, in the biggest way I can, but ultimately.

I think a, a relatively small way to, uh, teach people how to improve their minds and make that a core focus, trying to create a new institution that actually is centered around creating people who are better at thinking, regulating their emotions, behaviors. Uh, that, that's, uh, the future I hope to achieve with MindForm.

So, um, yeah, it's very much a mission

Erick: of mine. So what would you say is, has been your most, uh, most influential thing that you've You've come across that helped kind of guide you towards this. Is there any particular book any particular thinker?

Ryan: Yeah, there's a ton. I would say I got a few over here that have been very influential in their own ways.

I've got meditations, of course The Tao Te Ching. I got Nietzsche. I also have Maslow. I love Maslow's work and feel like he's underrated as the you know, the pyramid of human motivations when he really was just this brilliant visionary of kind of the future of human health. And so, uh, I love his work.

I've got, um, got a reading list on Goodreads under designing the mind that has about 400, maybe 500 books now that have been really influential for me. And, and, uh, Ranging from, you know, ancient philosophy to evolutionary psychology to, you know, neuroscience, right? But, um, yeah, there've been, there've been a lot of really influential thinkers and I'm, I'm citing a good chunk of them in the 400 or so references in this new book.

Erick: Excellent. Excellent. Uh, one I would definitely recommend if it's not on your list is the Finite and Infinite Games by James Carr. It's,

Ryan: yeah, I actually quoted in the new book. I don't know if you've gotten that far yet, but, uh, it is a really good one.

Erick: Yeah. That one for me was, um, so I ran into it because I was at, uh, the World Domination Summit, which was a conference that was put on up here for a number of years by Chris Gillibeau.

Uh, author, world traveler. Yeah, I know him. And, uh, I was in line at one time for something we were going into, and I was standing next to a guy named Chris Adam, um, and we just got on the topic of books and I asked him, I'm like, so what is, what is the Most influential book. What is the book that you would recommend to somebody that would, is just like, this is a book everybody should read.

And that was the book he recommended. He's just like, this book changed my life. It changed the way that I viewed the world, changed the way that I just viewed everything. And you know, he was so passionate about it. I'm like, okay, I just pulled out my phone, ordered it on Amazon right then. And I'm like, okay, it's ordered.

And I got it. And it's just like, yeah, it's one of those things. You read a chapter, which is maybe only two or three pages and you get done, you're just Yeah, think about that for a while. My brain hurts just from that, those few pages. So that was definitely one for me. Um, and so I recommend that onto other people, but yeah, it's definitely a heavy meta book, even though it's, I think it's maybe a hundred pages long.

It's, it's amazing how just dense that thing is.

Ryan: Yeah. I love it. And I feel like it relates, um, to what I'm writing about in this book too. I mean, this idea that. The things that we sort of set our hearts on, the particular goals or outcomes or accomplishments or possessions that we want, um, really don't deliver.

Those are like finite games where I want to get to this thing and then I'll be happy. Anytime you're saying that, you're wrong. You're never going to be happy when you get that thing, right? But you can create games for your life that are ongoing processes that actually will make you happy. So it's not ever the thing that you get to that delivers.

It's the process of getting to engage and do the thing. Um, so, so for me, this process of Uh, you know, building out, designing the mind and writing my, my books, I remind myself regularly. It's not, uh, it's not hitting the New York times or giving a Ted talk or that finite thing that my brain wants to tell me will actually make me happy.

It's what I'm already doing right now on a daily basis. And I'll never be happier by, you know, accomplishing that future thing than I am right now. So I need to enjoy the process in itself and make sure I'm building it into my life. Right.

Erick: Yeah. Yeah. That's something that has taken me a bit, uh, to kind of adapt that same approach to things and recognize that, that, yeah, it's not the, it's not the end game.

That's the important thing. It's not the getting or the winning or whatever it is. It's how you're playing it because if you're not having fun playing it, if you're miserable doing it, you know, you really need to rethink why you're doing it. Yes. There may be something that you need to get and so you're, you have to slog through it because it, you know, it's going to be that thing that will propel you on.

If you're looking at that as, as going to be your source of happiness, you know, and they've shown that the hedonic treadmill, so, you know, yeah, I, I got a 50, 000 raise at work. Yay. I'm so happy. Then, you know, a few months later, you're, you're back where you were before. I mean, yeah, you might be able to buy more stuff, but your happiness level definitely has not really increased or stated at an appreciative level.

Yeah. Yeah. So I find that to be very, very true.

Ryan: Well, and what people get wrong about the hedonic treadmill, they often say things like you can't actually make yourself happy Because anything you do that makes you happier, right? You still stay on that treadmill, right? Well, that's not true at all. And that's what I try to get across with this dimensional model It's that there's a certain nature of things that are not going to bring you happiness that are going to keep you on that treadmill.

But there are other things that very much can make you happier. Uh, they can take you all the way from severe depression to being deeply fulfilled and satisfied in your life. Uh, but, but looking past those decoys of, of your external gains and saying, uh, you know, how can I exercise more of my personal virtues on a regular basis?

That's what gets you off the treadmill and onto the escalator, if you will.

Erick: Yeah, very much so. But, and I, I really liked your, at first when I was reading in there, kind of back when we were talking earlier about the admirability kind of index, if you want to call it that. At first I was like, well, I don't know, because that, that, that seems like you, you're looking at ways to be admired from things.

And then the more that I thought about it, I was like, well, no, it's actually, it's got a good point there. Because if you. If you emulate somebody that you admire, so if you look at somebody and you're like, oh my gosh, this person is great and you emulate that person and you start becoming kind of like that, not like, not in a creepy sort of, you know, single white female sort of way, but in the, the, uh, in the way that this is a role model, this is somebody that I want to be like, and the more you become like that person, the more you like yourself.

Because of that because you're you are becoming somebody that you admire and I really like the way that you said that I'm like, yeah, I think that's very true because I know for me oftentimes when I was younger when I would get called out on bad behavior on things, you know, I get angry that somebody was calling me out on that, you know, and as I got older, I recognized that the reason I was angry about that was because they were holding a mirror up to my, up to me and showing me that I was somebody that I didn't like.

Yeah. And I was like, Oh, okay. So I'm not really mad at them. I'm mad at me, but I'm mad at them for showing me who I really,

yeah, but as you get older, you get wiser about that and you're able to approach that in a way where you're actually able to step up and go, okay, I'm not acting in a way that I'm proud of. Um, that was one thing my last partner taught me a lot. We talked a lot about that. It's like that idea of integrity that you walk the walk and you talk the talk, you don't just say, yeah, this is who I am and then do something completely different.

And so that if you say this is who I am and you acting that exact way and somebody doesn't like it, somebody gets mad at you, somebody hates you, whatever. That's okay. As long as you are living your principles, it doesn't matter. Yeah. It can be as mad or as furious as they want, as long as you're okay with who you are.

And that, that's a hard thing for some people. It's like, well, what if you're a sociopath or what if you're a complete asshole to people? Well, if you're okay with being an asshole to people, then, you know, I, you're not going to have a lot of friends. But if that's who you want to be, then be that person.

That's okay. Yeah. You know, as long as you're not harming others, that's, that's really the only thing to, to kind of look at, at least, you know, from that perspective. And it's, it's a hard thing to accept because some people will be okay with being assholes. But the thing is, is usually those people aren't very happy.

And they, you know, because they aren't maximizing those virtues and you know, the people that I knew who were often the most abrasive and the most rude over time, you know, they come back years, you know, you run into them later on when they've kind of changed some things in their life and they're like, yeah, it was because I was, I acted this way because this is who I was at the time.

These are the things that were going on in my life. I didn't like that. Even though I acted like I was fine and that was totally okay with me, over time they recognized, yeah, the reason why I was so angry at this was, you know, like in my case, sometimes I'd be an asshole to people because, like I said, they were reflecting a mirror of my bad behavior and I didn't like that.

Ryan: Yeah. And this, um, you know, this topic of integrity, it's one of the most, Like one of my favorite parts of this system, because I think humans have always recognized on some level that there is some kind of natural punishment reward system, uh, for our actions. And so you have, you know, Christianity saying, Oh, it's that there's a God who's going to judge you and determine your afterlife.

You've got Buddhism saying there's a karmic cycle of rebirth and you have to pay attention to karma in order to, you know, do this. And so they invented these external. systems that make it so integrity matters to us. Well, I suspect there is an internal system that makes it so it already does matter. We don't need an external judge or a karmic cycle.

The system's already built into our heads. And if we do something Uh, to try to get away with it because we think no one's going to watch if we take the, the wallet instead of returning it when we find it. Um, someone is watching, someone is finding out, it's the most important person who can find out and it's you.

And so there, there is a real selfish reason to live with integrity and to do the quote right thing even if no one's watching because the most important person is always watching. Yeah.

Erick: Yeah. Um, this reminds me, uh, back in the, I think it was the late nineties. Uh, no, it was, yeah, late nineties, early 2000 when the whole Enron thing was going on.

And I remember, um, I was driving along in my car and I was listening to NPR and they were talking about that and they talked about how. Uh, Ken Lay and Jeff Skilling had, even though they already had tens of millions of dollars at this time, you know, they basically from being, from running the company and, and all kinds of bonuses and all kinds of things they had done, they ended up stealing from the pensions of their employees.

I mean, they were, it's like, they've already got tens of millions of dollars. And so they go and plunder this to pull even more money out. And, and, you know, I was thinking about that. I'm like, how could you be such an awful person that you already have so much and yet it's not enough. I'm like, what kind of a hole do you have inside of you that you could do that?

And not even that it just, you know, no conscience about that at all. You could just be that way. I'm like, I'm like, I feel sorry for them. I really did at that moment. It was a. Wow, if you are so empty that you have to behave this way, what kind of a person are you? What, what, what does that say about, and you, you are the person you have to live with.

And so I'm like, wow, that must be miserable being that person. Yeah,

Ryan: well, and unfortunately, I, I think this is kind of how we're wired to be in some ways, uh, you know, our brain wants us to just do the thing that will get us more now. And so we got these chemicals that, that reward us for just doing that in the short term.

Um, and I think in some ways, wisdom is about learning to. Resist the urges of your own biology and, and, and resist doing the thing that you want now, because you, you learn more about how it affects you in the long term. It, it doesn't help either that, um, again, getting back to what we're saying about society, that we've got Systems that reward being as selfish as you can, I mean, there are CEOs who truly can't choose to do the right thing, even if they want to, they can't choose to benefit their actual customers well being as much as they could, because it would be, it would be putting it secondary to.

Profitability and their board of directors would say you're not serving the shareholders get out. We'll hire a new CEO. So, you know, this is not only built into our biology, but it's built into our society. And so there's a lot working against us and actually living the way that will make us the happiest and, you know, help serve others as much as possible in the process.

But I do think there's a bigger reward than you could possibly get from these gains to be had from going against the grain and doing what is actually. the virtuous thing to do.

Erick: Yeah, I think it was, it was the Marcus Raelish that said, as long as it doesn't harm your character, it can never harm you or something along those same lines.

Yeah. And yeah, and, and that's very true. And as you get older, you recognize that. And, uh, at least I, at least I have, I can't say that everybody has, cause I've met plenty of people who are older who I'm like, Yeah, how have you gotten to this age and yet you are, my teenage, you know, my, my kids, one is still a teenager, but, my, my kids are more mature, more thoughtful than you are, how, I,

Ryan: Yeah, it is amazing and it's one of the things I'm trying to do is I feel like people don't have a map for this And so they'll they'll read a quote like that Marcus Aurelius one and they'll say oh, yeah, that's good I should try to remember that more and they instantly forget it or they'll you know Have a moment of wisdom or enlightenment and then they continue on with their lives and five minutes later.

It's gone And so I'm trying to actually replace the map that most people are navigating their lives with and giving them a visual representation and saying, look, this is how it actually works. Burn this into your brain and don't forget it. Right.

Erick: Yeah. And I think for me, that's part of why the podcast, you know, it seems the podcast has been so good for me is because it has been that thing that has allowed me to really dig into a lot of these ideas in a way that I never did before.

Um, so, which is part of why, like when AI came along, everybody's like, Oh, you can use it to write your podcast episodes and all this stuff. I'm like, no. They're like, well, why not? Then you can get them done faster. You could do more episodes. I'm like, that's not the point. Right. Right. Right. The point of the episodes is it's an exercise for me to sit down and really consider these topics and I have to work for it.

I mean, I, in a way I kind of stress out a little bit for every episode because I know I'm going to have to sit down and write for at least a day. You know, anywhere from six to 10 hours of just writing and thinking and putting these ideas together. But that's that exercise that my brain needs to be able to really process these ideas.

And that's why I've been able to make a lot of progress in my own life is because every week I sit down and write something on this, on a topic. I would say probably about 70 percent of the episodes are based on something that I was struggling with at the time. And I was just like, okay, I'm really struggling with this.

Let me sit down and write about this so that I can understand this, so that I can actually make some good decisions and work through some of these things. Um, others have just been fascinating ideas or things that I heard in another podcast or I read in a book or, or whatever. And then I was like, Oh, that's a really good idea.

That's something that again, I want to explore. So I dig deeper into that. I explored a bit more and then try to broaden that out and, and bring some real meat to that and hand it off to my listeners and be like, Hey, here's an idea. Here's something that you can do. Um, and so I, I do some of that heavy lifting for my listeners, which I don't have a problem with, you know, but it was interesting for me, like I said, when AI came along and everybody's like, Oh, you should use it to do this.

I'm like, you're missing the whole point. This is me building my brain. Yeah,

Ryan: no, AI is yet another layer that's going to complicate this for us because it's getting to a point where it can, uh, eliminate the need for a lot of these human virtues. Um, and that is going to, I, I predict hurt the well being of a lot of people if, if they don't actually feel the need to demonstrate these strengths themselves and they can just outsource it all.

Well, you're not doing the thing that, your own brain needs to see you doing essentially. Um, and so that's one complexity of, you know, the emerging like exponential tech we're facing. Uh, but I also would say that a big part of that too makes me think about what's lost through, um, you know, the decline of, of like traditional religion and that kind of thing.

Having a place where you go every week, in this case, Church that reminds you of your values and the things that you care about most. Most of us don't have a secular equivalent to that. And so, you know, we have to deliberately design something into our lives that will remind us of our own values and what's most important to us or else we'll gradually have society rub off on us and turn us and our goals into whatever, you know, we're, we're socially rewarded for whatever society tells us we're supposed to care about.

Um, so we, we really need something like that and most of us don't

Erick: have it. Yeah, that's interesting. It reminds me of, uh, Rainn Wilson. Uh, he was, he played Dwight in the office. Yeah, yeah. Uh, just wrote a book a while back called Soul Boom and he talked about that. And basically his, it's about, uh, In a way, it's almost like if I were to create a secular ish religion for a renewal of community in America or in the world, this is what I would do.

And it's a book along those lines. And he grew up Baha'i, which is a very interesting faith, which is, I don't know if you know much about it, but basically what they do is they take They take the religious texts from most of the major religions and they pull the pieces out that they feel are good and important.

So it's, it's almost a cherry pick, hodgepodge kind of religion, but it was just like, based on what are the wisest things that we can find in all of these religions? You know, they, they have bits from the Quran, they have, you know, from the Bible and other things like that. So it's not just a purely Christianity based religion, which is what we tend to find in the U.

S. Um, so I thought that was a really interesting approach and But I really appreciate kind of his his spin on that of like, hey, we need we need kind of a spiritual thing We need something where we're consistently looking at building community where we're where like you said We're reminding ourselves of our virtues and our values on a weekly or daily basis because if we don't take that time Then we just start falling into the default, which is, you know, mainstream society and that's not always the best way and, and, and now with having so many influences, there's not even really a single one.

I mean, back when I was a little kid, we had, you know, four or five TV channels. That was it, you know, it was like we had ABC, NBC, CBS, and then I think Fox came around and we had PBS and that was it for a long time. And so because of that, there was a mainstream culture that most people could agree upon. So even if you weren't religious or even religious in your community.

You still, you know, your neighbors probably watched at least one of the same TV shows that you did. So you guys could talk about that. So you had something in common. There was kind of an agreed upon reality that we have. And now with so much choice, we almost, it's almost gone the opposite. There's, it's really hard for people to kind of agree on reality at this point.

And I found that, I found that really interesting that. With, well, I think it's great because we have so much diversity. We have so much choice. We have so much interest, but in a way that has fractured us as well. And so there's, there's not a lot we can agree upon, even just in our entertainment and being able to sit down with the neighbor.

Hey, Joe, did you see, you know, the show last week? Yeah, that was really funny when so and so did that. And you could actually have a conversation with somebody, you know, he might be a Democrat, you might be a Republican, but you found somewhere that you had a common ground and we don't really even have that anymore.

So, yeah.

Ryan: Yeah, no, um, I've, I've been thinking a lot about this because we're doing like mythology month in, uh, in Mindform right now. So we're reading some Joseph Campbell and we're looking at, uh, religions, how religions actually evolved in the first place or, you know, what their origin is. And specifically the function of religion, which is an interesting idea for a lot of people who think they're just kind of fictional belief systems that they would have a function.

But I think there's a very important. Psychological function that they address and it's kind of unfortunate that all the options we have right now are are kind of, you know, clearly outdated, you know, not really scientifically accurate versions of this technology. It's like kind of like the fact that most of the automobile functions we are options we have today are all gas powered and so they're putting out harmful fossil fuels.

We need an electric vehicle version of religion in some ways, and that's a big part of what I'm. trying to do is, is, uh, you know, through all my work, it's not, uh, complete by any means, but I want to create a comprehensive system that can serve as a religion or a, you know, modern practical philosophy, similar to Stoicism and Buddhism.

But, um, you know, really, thought out on the level it needs to be in order to guide not only individuals to a good life, but a society that's facing, you know, unprecedented, exponential times, um, to help us navigate to a good, healthy society. And so, uh, That, that's, uh, one of the more ambitious ways of framing what I'm trying to do in my work in the longterm.

Erick: Yeah, that's definitely an ambitious goal. I'm not sure if I yet know what my, my vision on that is. I, I started the podcast as just a way to, to kind of work through these ideas on my own and to share them with other people. So I, you know, I, my first, I think 50 episodes were just done on my iPhone.

Because even though I had all this audio equipment, because it was too intimidating to sit down and actually record my voice and do all the editing and everything. So Anchor was an app that was on the iPhone. Then they got bought by Spotify and then shut down, uh, or kind of folded into Spotify, but. I could just record it on my phone, do a light edit and then put it out there.

And it was just because I'm like, I'm reading these ideas. I'm trying to understand these ideas. I want to create a podcast just as a, as a test in a way of like, you know, a practice. I mean, the podcast was really just me practicing making a podcast. I had no idea it was actually going to take off. And then suddenly next thing I know, I have like 10, 000 downloads.

And I was like, Wait, people are actually interested in what I have to say, you know, right. Okay. So, yeah. And then I found, you know, but it originally was just a practice for me to, to kind of work through these ideas and to understand them, um, in a, in a deeper way of rather than just, well, I read about that.

That's kind of cool. Okay. But when you read about it and you have to teach it to somebody, you definitely learn a lot more. And so I found that was, that was really helpful for me.

Ryan: Yeah. Well, and, and I think it's similar with me in many ways, my work is something I'm, I'm doing for me. I mean, you know, ever since I left my like traditional religion, I've felt like I need to build a new one for myself because I think there are important functions that it serves in our minds.

And I, you know, I felt that when I left that being able to you know, go through something difficult and tell yourself like, Oh, it's a part of God's plan. Like this is, um, you know, everything happens for a reason. That's very comforting. There are a lot of these emotions, um, that, that religions provide tools for.

Um, and, and one of the biggest ones is just a general compass for navigating your life. Like you said, there's so many. Influences competing for our attention and telling us to live our lives in different ways, it can be impossible to navigate if you don't have some central compass that tells you which way is up.

And so I have gradually constructed my own version of that, but then I'm, I'm, to use the car analogy, I'm like the DIY car enthusiast who built my own car. You know, most people aren't going to do that. And so as we build our own. People like you and me, I think, need to find a way to mass manufacture them so other people have better options too.

Erick: Yeah, that's an interesting metaphor. Yeah, I definitely like that. So do you find that you miss the spiritual side of things, the mystical side of religion, or is that something that never really worked

Ryan: for you? No, I don't think, um, I don't think you actually need beliefs in, um, you know, the supernatural in order for these things to work.

I think you just need to go through and address all the things that, you know, maybe religion was once addressing. Right. I mean, I'm very comfortable with my own mortality now, for example, um, but I think. I think work has to be done to get to that place. And so it, you know, believing that, that you're not really going to die and there's an afterlife that you're going to get to enjoy for eternity.

That's one solution to the, uh, problem of mortality. Another one is to confront it, you know, philosophically and, and understand it to the point where you're no longer afraid of it. So I think there are lots of secular solutions that don't require these kind of, um, you know, really out there beliefs. I think we can.

Believe in the very awe inspiring world that we really do live in and that science tells us You know we can understand in a lot of ways But I think we need to integrate these beliefs with the philosophical ideas that can you know create the right? Psychological functions for us. I do think there's certainly something to be said for like spiritual experiences and I think Uh, you know, things like psychedelics and mindfulness can give you some of these peak experiences that get you out of your normal way of thinking.

And some would argue this is how religions originated, is through like psychedelic rituals and stuff. So, uh, I think this is an important part of it. I think that that kind of spiritual experiences, uh, can be a really, uh, powerful thing, but I don't think it needs to be done in the context of these specific, like monotheistic beliefs or, or anything like that.

Erick: Yeah, I can definitely agree with that. I, I've thought long and hard about the kind of the place of religion in there. And I think that it's been interesting this, the different things that I read for me, kind of the, the one idea that I kind of glommed onto is that oftentimes religion, at least in its early days, was kind of in the place of science.

It was just trying to explain the world as best it can. And so, you know, that's, you know, thunder is this amazing thing. How does that happen? Well, there's gotta be some type of being up there that's creating thunder and lightning. And this is what's going on, you know, rather than understanding that it's just, you know, you have a cold front and a hot front coming together.

And as these molecules smash into each other, they create friction. And therefore we get to thunder and lightning coming from that. So, yeah. Yeah.

Ryan: And you really can't fall to them for that long ago, grasping for answers to these questions. And so it's not, it's not a problem that they built religions around these.

outdated ideas. The problem is that we haven't innovated since we have a better understanding. Religious innovation sounds like an oxymoron to a lot of people, but I don't think it, uh, I don't think it has to

Erick: be. Well, it's, it's kind of learning to update the map. You know, we had a map before that was okay, and it was, you know, simple line drawings from getting us from point A to point B, but now we have a much more Complex map.

And we have, you know, different layers of topography that we can, are able to see. And if we don't update that map, then we're doing ourselves a disservice. You know, we still might be able to navigate at least okay, but we can do so much better and we can know where we're going and have a much richer way of viewing it.

If we have a much more integrated map, at least that's kind of the way that I, I look at it. So it's been an interesting evolution for me too. Leaving the church was a, was a big thing. Was there, so in my case, it was, it was definitely a big thing. It took quite some time to get there. I didn't leave until I was in my early 30s.

What was it for you that, that was kind of the kicker? The big thing,

Ryan: um, it was, it was pretty shortly after I left my, you know, Christian school and went to college for me. Um, I think it, it really gets to that, what I was saying about politics, being like socially emotional in origin. If everyone around you has a certain.

Um, you know, belief system, not only are you more likely to sort of inherit it from them, but you also end up having, uh, you know, hidden motivations that, that reward you for sticking with it. I mean, uh, if all your friends have a certain worldview and if you changing worldviews would alienate them, um, particularly if, if more in your life has been designed around it, if, if your life partner has that worldview, if you're, if a part of your career and your work is to.

Uh, in some ways serve that worldview, right? You've got a lot of motivation Not to question that worldview and not to switch to something else And so in many ways I had fewer motivations now that I was off at a different school making different friends To stick with that old view and now I had more motivations as I was coming to pride myself Uh in being a critical thinker And I got to a point where my identity as a critical thinker kind of outweighed my identity as a Christian.

And, and then I was no longer so motivated to maintain my old beliefs. And then I could sort of examine the evidence and say, Oh, well, of course this doesn't make the most sense. I think that's the conclusion you come to when you don't have those motivations. So it speaks to the importance of really taking an inventory of your, Motivated beliefs and saying what, you know, would it be so bad if I believe something different and then, uh, really examining the evidence without any preference one way or the other.

Erick: Yeah, I think that and that's, that's a hard thing to do. I know for me, um, what it really came down to was just. I learned a bunch of stuff about Joseph Smith and the history of the church that I recognized as no, that's just wrong. That's just what they were doing there is wrong. There's no, and was, uh, was fake, you know, like he said he could read Egyptian.

Well, he couldn't, you know, and he translated this whole scroll. And then they found the scroll, you know, in the sixties and were like, Hey, we found the scroll that shows one of the scrolls that Joseph Smith translated and now that we can actually read Egyptian because we have the Rosetta Stone, let's, let's send it off and get it translated.

And it came back and they went, well, this isn't what it says. And we're like, yeah, that's exactly what it said. You know, we've done this, this is very similar to thousands of other scrolls that we've found. And the church was like, Oh, well, nevermind. Nothing to see here. Nothing to see here. And I found out about it.

you know, around 2004, 2005. And it was just suddenly like, wait a second. So if it was just like a house of cards, it's like, well, if, if he lied about that and that was like one of the foundational things in the church, that foundation thing, just that comes apart. So everything else falls apart. And so I just, so for me, it was just like this whole giant transformation in a very short amount of time, because it was suddenly like, I was able to see truth that had been hidden from me for, you know, decades.

And yeah. So, for me, it was, it was a very different approach in that it wasn't that I had a different identity. It was just simply that I recognized that this was fake, that I had been, you know, it was just a fraud. And so I couldn't, because of my own moral compass, I couldn't believe in something that was fake.

And so I couldn't believe in this anymore. Mm hmm, and there was just no it didn't didn't have much to do with God or Jesus or any of that It was simply that I had been lied to for decades and so if I've been lied to then that means this whole thing was fake and I've been told this was the Unvarnished absolute truth for my whole life.

And so then I recognized well if this isn't if I could be fooled like that What else could I be fooled by? So that's me, I looked at other religions, went, well, it's just the same thing, that you're just as fooled because there's so many holes in all of these things. And so I just, I pretty much walked away from it at that point.

Ryan: Well, I would just say there are a lot of people who make similar realizations, uh, about the evidence and about the rationality of it. And they end up going in a different direction and saying, oh, well, it's not supposed to be rational. It's about faith. Faith isn't rational. Um, you know, your, your love for.

Uh, God or whatever needs to surpass your like rational questioning or whatever and so that's why I say it goes back to motivations and identity because the fact that you were able to listen to that evidence you were finding speaks to the fact that you weren't so deeply motivated to continue believing it that you found some reasoning to, to push away what you were finding.

Um, I mean, I know of people who, you know, recently have like converted to these. worldviews for what to me seems obviously because there is something about their, their former worldview that wasn't serving them emotionally in the way it needed to. Uh, but to them, they've got all these like really out there, like philosophical arguments that able to trick their own brain into thinking it makes sense.

I mean, you see this in a lot of thinkers who are arguing, um, for these views today, um, that they just have to come up with something smart enough to trick their own brain and then they can believe it. And so you can always find a way to believe what you want to believe. Um, but if you have You know enough confidence that you'll be okay without those beliefs and you'll still be happy and you know You won't be without friends and without all these other things then you can really look at it a little more carefully and say oh this was You know, this was a lie.

This really isn't true. There's not evidence for this I know for me one of those was just thinking about the fact that or having it pointed out to me that like yeah It makes sense that I was a Christian because I was born in You know Southeast United States If I was born in, you know, the Middle East, for example, I'd be a Muslim and I would be just as confident in it as I am in this.

And so, uh, taking a step back and looking at it sociologically, uh, I think for me it was, was one of the things that helped it click. But I think it, it was important that my identity wasn't too attached to that former belief system. Yeah.

Erick: No, I can, I can definitely see that. And yeah, and I, I've thought about that as well as like, you know, when people are like, no, this is, you know, I'm a good fearing Christian and that's the only true religion.

And it's like, well, if you were born in the Middle East or you were born in India, you wouldn't be a Christian. You'd be something completely different. So if you're where you were born and who you were born to has more to do with your religious preference than almost anything. You know, most people don't, most people don't get to a certain age and go, okay, now I'm going to choose a religion.

Most people just inherit the religions they were given by their, their culture or their parents. And, you know, getting people to see that sometimes is really, really challenging. Because people would be like, no, no, but this was, I was born, but then they rationalize it by saying, well, I was born into this family because I was chosen by God.

And so he put me in a family that. that had this religion because he wanted me to have the truth because I'm one of his chosen people. And it's interesting that the logical or illogical loops that people have of, or hoops that they jump through to, to justify certain things like that.

Ryan: And the same goes for politics too.

I mean, people, everybody talks about the importance of like becoming informed and they, they talk about this process, like it's some kind of reliable. Uh, thing that you need to go through, but the truth is like whether you become informed and lean right at the end of it or become informed and lean left at the end of it is pretty much determined by your, you know, location and your social ties.

Like, you know, there's no reliable result of this thing called becoming informed. When you decide to do it, it just means you're going to take whatever beliefs you already. Have some attachment to or want to believe in and you're going to build up your confidence and your kind of emotional outrage And some of your like talking points and arguments around those things and so it's um You know I have to question the idea that we all have this duty to become informed and then you know vote according to it because you Might as well say we have a duty to flip a coin And then vote according to that if it's not a really reliable process, then we haven't really developed a system for leading people to more accurate political views.

And we need to be thinking, how can we build something more like science that really will lead you to a more accurate worldview instead of this, uh, politics that I think is still in the dark ages in terms of how we form these, uh, beliefs and, and latch onto them.

Erick: Yeah. Something you said back there really struck with me as well, because I was reading a while back this, they were doing a study where people, I can't remember what kind of like bias, whatever they call it, but people believe that if people on the other side are exposed to the right information, then they will make the same choice as them, you know, and, and, but then, then they're flabbergasted when, um, Yeah.

Somebody, you know, well, yeah, I read the evidence and I'm still on, I'm on this side and they're like, but I read the same evidence. I'm on that side and it, it does have to do a lot with our biases. Like you said, in our, our social standing of things and, and our social groups and stuff like that. So I found that very, very interesting and I'm sure that there's plenty of beliefs and ideas that I hold on to because of where I live.

I'm up in Portland, Oregon and stuff like that. You know, it's a very liberal place, very open, um, and so most of my friend group is very much along with that. But I, I find it interesting how everybody has this belief of like, well, if they're just exposed to the truth and they'll believe the same as me. Um, I had a buddy of mine years ago who, who, you know, pinged me on telegram and went down this dark thing of all of these wild conspiracy theories of things.

And he's like, I worked in Washington DC. I know all of these things. And I was just like, Okay, well, give me your sources and he'd be like, do the research you'll and you'll, you know, inform yourself. And I'm like, well, what are your sources? And he'd be like, go do the research. I'm like, okay, I want to know what your sources are so that we can be on the same page.

And he couldn't offer me any reliable resources. I mean, they were these really fringe wacko websites. And I was just like, dude, give me something that's legit, that has some science behind it, that, that shows me what's really going on. And he just getting, kept getting more and more frustrated that I just didn't take his word for it.

I didn't go down the same rabbit holes that he did. And I was just like, I'm willing to entertain anything, but you got to give me something reliable. And we finally reached the point where he just basically rage quit and then blocked me. So I was like, okay, sorry. I was just asking questions. You know, I, I'm not saying you're wrong.

I'm just saying. I'm not going to take your word for it. I need real, solid evidence and solid proof from legitimate sources that can be verified. And he couldn't give me any of that, and so he just got mad.

Ryan: Yeah, and not only will, will uh, exposing people to the evidence for your view not change their mind, it'll actually cement them further into their existing beliefs, the backfire effect.

So if you try to prove someone wrong, you'll just make them more convinced that they're right. Um, and so that's really, uh, tricky, but something, um, something you said too, I want to kind of circle it back a little bit because, um, talking about the way our beliefs, our political views relate to our identity, um, Sam Harris, like the author, podcaster, he did a study, uh, with a number of other, um, contributors like, uh, long time ago, you know, shortly after I think he got his PhD that found that the default mode network in our brain Is active when we think about our political beliefs.

Um, now for some background on that, the default mode network is the part of the brain that is, or the network in the brain that is active pretty much anytime we're not engaged in another activity. Um, so it's always sort of running unless we start doing something else. And what we found. Is that it's also active when you have people do, uh, self referential mental activities.

If you ask them to think about themselves, or their social standing, their value, their moral values, Um, or, you know, fantasize about something involving themselves, they, um, That part of the brain will be active too. And so, um, we also find that when people have been meditating for a long time, their default mode network is less active.

They have less self referential thoughts. Uh, if you do psychedelics, it disrupts connectivity in this network. And so, all this leads me to conclude that this system in the brain that I've Talked about that's sort of behind our self esteem. That's regulating our mood is approximately located in this default mode network.

And so the political thing kind of demonstrates that a big part of why we have the views we have, whether political or religious, is fundamentally not about truth. It's not about seeing more clearly. It's about reinforcing our identity. And that's why we get defensive and latch on even more when we get attacked, because it's an attack of us as far as our brains are concerned.

Um, but this is, you know, it's also further evidence for this claim I make about self esteem that that we do have this default mode network that is constantly running in our head. It's the central component and I think it is taking in these virtues that we demonstrate and it's regulating our serotonin and other chemicals accordingly and basically determining our mood and whether that's going to take us down into depression eudaimonia.


Erick: very well said. Yeah. Like I said, uh, that, that idea of that low self esteem as a regulator for social behavior and stuff like that was, yeah, that idea really like popped for me. I'm just like, Oh, that makes a lot of sense. Okay. So rather than looking at it as this bad thing, look at it as a moment of reflection and a way to be able to go your, like I said, you said it was kind of a protective mechanism.

Like don't get out and be social because you might do something that will make things worse. So take some time, figure out, and can you, yeah. Right. The ship a little bit, or can you steer towards something that, that will make you admirable in your own eyes. So therefore you start to build up your self esteem.

Um, and I thought that was, that for me, I think was the biggest thing that I got out of the book so far that just really like cemented that, that thought. And then that helps you as well, to be able to look at, at what aspects of your identity you hold on to too tightly or that you identify with too tightly like politics and stuff like that, that when somebody, you know, disagrees with you, that you get defensive about that.

And so then you're able to start looking at that and go, does this really matter? And is it really that important or do I really care that much about it? Does it really mean what I think it means about me? Um, and I think, I think understanding that system can be incredibly helpful for people to be able to evaluate things more clearly and make conscious choices and reach that point where I was talking about it earlier of that integrity of being able to know, know what it is you truly believe and being able to say that and being able to actually follow that and not giving a crap what anybody else thinks about it, because.

You've, uh, you've thought through these things, you've expressed what's truly there, and you're comfortable with being exactly who you are and you, and because it is somebody that you admire. And I think that that's been something that. That, that fits really, for me, that kind of makes that picture just a little bit sharper of that idea that I had before.

Sorry, I really appreciate you writing about that and putting those things in there. Um, is it, I know we're coming up on almost two hours here, so, uh, is there anything that kind of last thing that you want to discuss, you want to get out there that, that you want people to know that, that I guess. Yeah, kind of a last 10 minutes.

What's, what is something that you think we should bring up that has been brought up?

Ryan: Good question. We've covered a lot of ground here. Um, I would just say on, on that last. point you made. Um, it would be nice if this, uh, if this theory does turn out to be true, if only for the fact that it would validate a lot of these ideas that, uh, thinkers were saying a very long time ago that the Stoics have argued.

Um, it's very easy to Look at someone who is writing thousands of years ago who was saying, you know, virtue is really what matters to your happiness and say, like, that's a nice idea, you know, that's very quaint. It's a good little fairy tale to keep in mind, but if there really is a mechanism in our brain that works this way, it'd be very cool to be able to say the Stoics were really right about our psychology and there is a You know, a very good reason to live according to these basic principles, um, and it's not just to be, you know, to do the right thing according to some old guys, it's, it's because, uh, your happiness really does work this way, and so, that's, uh, that's the theory at least, so, um, you know, we'll have to wait a few decades of research to see if it holds up, but, uh, I'm excited to get it out there and be having more discussions like this.

Um, as far as kind of closing, I'm Things go I do want to offer your listeners a couple of free books if you go to You can join the email list you can get the psychotics toolkit and the book of self mastery, which is kind of a quote compilation and commentary And, uh, the new book should be available for pre order very, very soon and, uh, should come out late February for the official release.

So be sure to look, uh, look out for that. All right.

Erick: Yeah, I appreciate it. So like I said, I'm about halfway through this book. I'm going to finish it, uh, because they, like I said, there are enough of those like light bulb moments that I keep having going, Oh, okay. And for me, I guess what's helpful is that like I was saying earlier, there's a lot of ideas that aren't new to me, but it helps clarify them.

It, it, you know, it's, it's kind of like a microscope on, on, okay, this was an idea or, uh, that I already had. And this kind of zooms in on it and, and breaks it apart and digs a little bit deeper into it. So it's, for me, it's kind of like a deep dive into a lot of ideas. And, but also, like I said, some, some newer ways of looking at things are like, Oh, okay.

And to kind of to your point of, uh, of, you know, trying to back these up and, you know, maybe this is the way that our brains really work and so on. Um, it reminds me of something that Derek Seavers talked about with Tim Ferriss a while back. And I mentioned this in my last week's podcast was there are plenty of times where things can be not true, but are useful.

And so, for me, I look at this and go, even if this is not true, it's incredibly useful and it's effective. And so, I think more than anything, that's what Stoicism has been for me, and that's what some of the even Buddhist ideas have been for me, is even if they're not true, they're very useful and they're very effective.

So, I will believe and hold on to them because when they, when I do follow them, they make my life a lot better understanding what I can and can't control has made my life so much better because I stopped trying to control all these things that I'm just going to waste time on doing so, even if it's not true, even if there are them.

You know, there is nothing that I really do control, and that we are really just kind of automatons, which is a theory that a lot of people have, that the way our bodies and brains are programmed, we have no real free will, we just do what we do based upon all these things. Even if that's true, the illusion of free will is still worth it to me, so I'm going to believe that I have free will so that I can continue to try to do things right.

I'm not just going to go, oh, well, this is just how I am, and not do anything with it. So You've,

Ryan: uh You've opened a couple of very big philosophical cans of worms at the close of two hours. So I will propose, uh, that we, uh, you know, once you finish the book, I would, uh, be happy to have another one of these.

We can, uh, dig into some of that if you want, but, uh, sure. No, I, yeah. Yeah. Cause I really enjoyed it. So. Great, uh, good stuff and great conversation.

Erick: Well, thank you. I'm, I'm still learning the kind of the ropes of, of interviewing. I know that oftentimes I don't ask as many questions as I should. I, I, and I interject kind of my own story.

So I'm trying to get better about that. So for me, that's great. That's a good thing. Well, for me, this is helpful because I'm trying to be better about asking questions of people because I know that I, I have plenty of ideas and I share them all the time. And my podcast is me, it's a one way conversation.

So two way conversations are something that I'm working on trying to be better about. So I appreciate you coming on my podcast. Uh, this is a good practice for me, not just practice, but it's a good thing for me because I really want to expose people to. Um, ideas that aren't just my own. And that's why I try to try to bring these on here.

I know some people don't like it when I have the interviews and I'm like, eh, you need more than just my voice. There's plenty of great information out there. So I'm trying to help surface that information for the people that I listen to. So I really appreciate, appreciate you guys contacting me and getting on my podcast and yeah, uh, let's, let's look at probably doing something in a few months after the book comes out.

I'd really enjoy that.

Ryan: Sounds great. And I appreciate you having me. It was great. All

Erick: right. All right. So that was our conversation with Ryan Bush. Um, I really appreciate you guys listening to it and make sure you go to his website. Uh, go ahead and throw the, uh, website out there one more time,


Erick: All right. And I will make sure that I put that in the show notes, uh, so that you can reach that. And the name of the book that will be coming out soon is becoming who you are, or I'm sorry, become who you are. Can they pre order that on Amazon yet?

Ryan: Or. Probably by the time this airs, they will be able to so go find it.

Amazon Barnes and Noble. All

Erick: Right. Sounds good All right. Thanks again, Ryan, and it was great chatting with you and we'll talk with you later.

Thanks, Erick

And that's the end of this week's Stoic Coffee Break. I hope that you enjoyed this conversation that I had with Ryan I really enjoyed talking through a lot of these ideas with him And I hope that the some of the ideas we talked about can be useful and helpful for you again in the show I will make sure to put the information about his book and his website in the show notes And as always, be kind to yourself, be kind to others, and thanks for listening.

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265 – The Road to Growth: Why the Journey Matters More Than the Destination

Why do you set goals? Why is it important for you to accomplish those goals? Today I want to talk about why we should try to accomplish goals, even we never achieve them.

“That which we desire lies across an ocean of hard won knowledge.”

— @TheStoicEmperor (twitter)


Because we live in an achievement driven culture we often feel like if we don’t achieve certain things that we are falling behind. Whether that’s getting a college degree, making a certain amount of money, or achieving a certain amount of fame, there are always areas where we may feel like we’re not accomplishing what we think we should.

But, let’s stop and think for a moment. Is there anything in this world that we actually have to accomplish? If you think about it from the most basic level, the only thing you really need to accomplish in this world to be a successful human is basic survival. Everything else is just things that we choose to do. There is nothing that we actually have to do.

So if that’s the case, why do anything?

Because part of being a human being is to learn and grow. It’s fundamental to our nature. It’s hardwired into us. I mean, just look at a baby. They can’t help but learn and grow. They’re always curious about everything and trying to learn and understand anything they come in contact with. They’re always making noise as they figure out how to speak. Curiosity, learning, and improvement are very natural things.

Process vs. Outcome

“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.”


Have you ever had a time when you accomplished an important goal? Maybe you worked hard for a promotion at work, or you got a car that you had always dreamed of only to find that you were happy about it in the moment, but a few weeks or months later, you were at the same level of happiness as before you achieved you goal? This is because far too often we get stuck on the outcome, of thinking that the actual achieving the goal that will make us happy.

In study after study, scientists have found that even when they achieve some goal, people find that their happiness only lasts for a short period of time, then they find themselves at the same level of happiness as before they achieved it. This is called the Hedonic Treadmill, meaning that in order to sustain the same happiness, we have to keep achieving even more because we are never satisfied.

So if this is the case, if we are not happier after we achieve out goals, then why should we even try to achieve or accomplish anything more? Why not just coast along and do the minimum in life?

We work to achieve our goals not for the outcome of the goal, but because of the person we will have to become in order to achieve that goal.

We go after goals because of the growth and change that will happen when we try to accomplish them. The work that we put in to achieve those goals stretches us in ways that otherwise would not occur in our everyday life. The skills we have to learn and the processes we have to put in to place will help us become a better person. The journey to a goal is far more important than the goal itself. A goal is something to give us a direction.

Man on the Moon

In 1969, the US landed the first manned craft on the moon. This goal had been started years earlier when President John F. Kennedy challenged NASA to put a man on the moon before the Russians did. While part of the reason for this goal was to prove military superiority over the Russians, Kennedy also knew that to land a man on the moon was an audacious goal.

In a speech to Rice University in 1962, Kennedy said:

“We choose to go to the Moon… We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win.”

Kennedy knew that work needed to get a man on the moon would be the organizing principle behind great advances in humanity. The technology that would have to be created to accomplish such a goal would need to be invented. He knew that discoveries in mathematics, engineering, material science, and many other fields would need to happen before we able to successfully have anyone striding on the lunar soil. He knew that even if we failed, the progress that we as a society would make in trying to reach the goal would be incredible.

From that one goal, we now have all kinds of amazing technology. Things like improved fireproof gear that was created for astronauts is now standard in fire departments around the world. Other inventions that are in wide use include water filtration systems used to purify water, freeze dried food, camera technology for telescopes that is now used in mobile phone cameras so you can thank NASA for your selfies. We have integrated circuits that are in almost everything tech based, and even ski goggles that filter out blue light so that you hit the slopes without being blinded. These are just a few of the myriad technologies that came from trying to hit an audacious goal.

So what are the stumbling blocks that can get in the way as we work to achieve our goals? What can we do to be sure that we’re getting the most out of our journey on the way to accomplishing what we set out to do?


“People are always looking for shortcuts. The only way to achieve greatness in life is to have patience, consistency, and discipline.”

— David Goggins

Because you are trying to live the stoic ideals, the stoics believe strongly in justice as one of the four major virtues. Cheating to win or to accomplish your goal obviously doesn’t help you live the virtue of justice. You should hold yourself to high standards, and to achieve your goals ethically. Doing so is an important part of building your character.

But the biggest reason why cheating is a waste, is that if you cheat to get your goal, while you may actually get the outcome you want but in doing so, you miss the growth that comes along with it. Remember, the goal is not the point, it’s what you become while trying to achieve that goals that matters. Even if no one else knows that you cheated, the person who loses is you. You may have the outcome you want, but deep down it’s a hollow victory.


“True success is achieved by stretching oneself, learning to feel comfortable being uncomfortable.”

— Ken Poirot

So what happens if you work really hard but never achieve your goal? I know plenty of people that won’t even set goals because they feel like they will never reach them. Even if you never actually accomplish the goal, you will still grow in trying to accomplish it. You will learn something. You will still grow and gain skills in whatever area you are working on. These things matter far more than actually achieving the goal.

This is why setting a challenging goal that seems like it’s out of your reach is still a great thing to do. The trick is to not focus on whether or not you achieve the goal, but that you are continually moving towards that goal. Making progress is far more important than the actual outcome. Defining yourself as a failure simply means that you haven’t achieved some expectations that you set for yourself. If you are making progress, you are not failing.

Set Worthy Goals

“So, concerning the things we pursue, and for which we vigorously exert ourselves, we owe this consideration – either there is nothing useful in them, or most aren’t useful. Some of them are superfluous, while others aren’t worth that much. But we don’t discern this and see them as free, when they cost us dearly.”

— Seneca

Because we want goals to help us grow, we need to set goals that challenge us. If we set easy goals that don’t challenge us, then they aren’t really helpful. We might be reaching and completing goals, but if the goals don’t help you grow then they aren’t really helpful.

If you want to be better, set goals that scare and excite you.

This is something that I’m experiencing right now. As I’m working on attracting coaching clients for my mastermind and other programs, it often produces anxiety because I’m having to learn all kinds of skills such as how to create courses and masterminds that are helpful for others. I’m learning how to write copy that explains the value my programs offer, how to create videos that are entertaining, and how get better at posting on social media. I’m learning to manage my time better and how to get more organized.


“Show me someone for whom success is less important than the manner in which it is achieved. Of concern for the means, rather than the ends, of their actions…I want to see him. This is the person I have looked for a long time, the true genius.”

— Epictetus

Another aspect to think about when you work on achieving your goals is to not take shortcuts or scrimp on the quality of your work. Remember, the reason for the goal is for you to grow, so part of that growth is learning to do high quality work. Just as with cheating, the more you slack on how well you do something, the more you cheat yourself by not learning how to do things at a high standard.

Now, doing good work does not mean that you have to do it perfectly. Perfectionism is the killer of great things. Perfectionism is born out of insecurity and a need to please others. We feel like we have to get it just right in order for us to feel like we are good enough for other people to appreciate us. Doing good work means that we do the best that we can, at the level we are able to work at, and take into consideration any other circumstances.


Goals are something that are important for us to set, but we need to understand that achieving the goal is probably the least important part of the process. Goals are something we need to use because of the growth that they will bring. We need to set goals that will help us become the people that we want to be. They need to be challenging and uncomfortable. While the outcome of the goal might be something great, the person you’ll be on the other side of that goal will be even greater.

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.


264 – Personal Maintenance

Are you always looking for the lazy solution? Do you try to find “one and done” solutions to the problems in your life? Today I want to talk about how most progress is not just about knowing what to do, but about doing it consistently.

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

— Thibaut

Personal Maintenance

The other day I was talking with my therapist and she mentioned how some of the issues that I’ve been struggling with were things that I knew and could do, but are things that I needed to be better about continually applying what I already know. As we discussed it a little further, the thought occurred to me that most things in our lives are not about a big breakthrough idea, but the consistent application of things we already know. It’s about personal maintenance.

This kind of maintenance is something that we all need to do, but is not easy to because it feels like they’re just small things that we have to do over and over again. But, it’s kind of like showering – it might be annoying that we have to do it regularly, but if you don’t you really notice it.

But we often just want the easy solution or we want something that we just do once and never have to do again. There are very few things in life that are just one time things that once they’re done you never have to work on them again. As I was working on this episode, I struggled to think of anything in life that falls into that category.

I mean take for example, when you have a kid. When the is born it’s not like that’s the end of it. In fact, that’s just the beginning of a whole endeavor of bringing up a kid to adulthood.

When we have this kind of mindset, then it makes it challenging to make progress because we’re too focused on just getting through whatever it is that we want. This creates a feeling of impatience because we place our satisfaction on the end goal.

When we get too focused just getting through to the end of what we are doing, then we are often unhappy while we’re doing it. We want the outcome so bad, that we miss the journey. When we can learn to appreciate the process of what we’re doing then we can really enjoy it, and since life is all about the process of living, we can apply it to anything in life.

Never Done

“Progress is not achieved by luck or accident, but by working on yourself daily.”

— Epictetus

I think the biggest thing that comes to mind is that we are never done with personal improvement. You never reach a place in your life where you can say that you are done growing, learning, or improving. And for me this is a beautiful thing. I love the idea that we always have space to grow and to learn.

In fact, when I was a teenager and the Mormon’s talked about how when you die and go to heaven, if you have been righteous enough that you’ll be perfect and be like god. This always troubled me because I realized that if I knew everything and was perfect, I would get bored because I have such thirst for learning. This was actually terrifying for me. I get a dopamine hit when I learn something new and interesting. When I have those moment when something clicks for me on an interesting idea, it’s like a rush. It’s honestly a big driver for why I do this podcast.

Doing > Achieving

Because we live in a goal oriented and achievement based culture, we need to be careful with making our happiness dependent on our accomplishments. When we set our worth based on outcomes, we are putting our happiness and worth on things outside of our control. This could be something as basic as needing to own a certain size of house or model of car as a symbol to show others our value.

Often, we get stuck in the idea that we need to be achieving and accomplishing things in order to feel like we are a productive human. And while accomplishing our goals is good, our goals should be the things that we aim at because they are the things that will help us create processes in order for us to grow. But let me state this clearly, we don’t need to accomplish anything to be a good human. We use goals to set a direction for us because we know in the process of trying to achieve that goal, we will grow and learn.

Now, just because I said we don’t need to accomplish anything to be a good human, most of us feel better about ourselves and about our lives when we are contributing to something. We don’t have to have massive achievements. We just need to be contributing to something in some way. We want to feel useful.

Big Effort, Little Maintenance

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”

— Lao Tzu

Sometimes we do need to take big actions to get things to where they need to be. That may be a project at work, a personal breakthrough, or some other big a change in your life like getting married or having a child. While the big event took a lot of effort, after the big event, there are usually things that need to be done on a continuing basis.

For example, when you get married, it’s not like you suddenly live happily ever after and never have to work on your relationship again. I know from my own experience and discussing this with friends that it’s really at that point that things are going to be a lot more challenging as you work to create a healthy and supportive relationship. It takes daily effort to help the relationship grow, and even then people can grow in different directions and desire different things in life. But for there to be a chance that the relationship can grow and be beneficial for both people, it takes every day work.

Another example is that I just spent a few weeks getting my house ready so that I could put it up for sale. It took a lot of effort. I had to get rid of a lot of stuff that I don’t need anymore. I had to organize areas of the house that I had let slide, and make repairs that I had put off.

By the time I got everything done for the house to be ready to show, I was exhausted, but having done that it’s been pretty easy to keep it clean and tidy. Now it’s just maintenance work. It’s simple things like just wiping down the counters after a meal. It’s making my bed when I get up in the morning. It’s putting clothes away rather than letting them sit by the side of the bed.

With personal maintenance it’s the same thing. It takes work to get to where we make a breakthrough, but after that it’s just being mindful and being consistent. It’s about creating systems or processes to continually apply what you have learned.

Do It Well

“How you do anything is how you do everything.”

— Ancient proverb

One thing we can do to help us maintain what ground we’ve gained, is to continually do something well. If we can appreciate mastering something simple and doing it well, then we make it in to something greater than just the task.

An example of this is a Japanese tea ceremony or chadō. Doing something as simple as making tea is done with a sense of mindfulness, elevates it from the mundane, to something beautiful and artistic. When we can find ways to be mindful and present with what we’re doing, it’s no longer just something to get done and out of the way, but can be thought of as a practice of how to do something, anything, well.

The reason why we should practice this with normal everyday tasks is that when you have a mind to do simple well, it becomes a habit in everything else you do. It’s more about developing the skill of discipline than simply improving the skill you’re practicing.

It also turns something you’re doing as a practice in mastering something, and for me, the feeling that comes from having done something well, even if it’s something trivial still feels good. As silly as it seems, this is why when you see those videos of people tossing a water bottle and landing it feel so satisfying. Applying this kind of thinking to other seemingly trivial tasks can help develop a work ethic of excellence. Need to prepare dinner? Can you find a way to make the process into a performance? Have to do the dishes? Do them like a dishwashing guru.

Do Hard Things

“There is no better way to grow as a person than to do something you hate every day.”

— David Goggins

I’ve often spoken on this podcast about doing hard things or things that are uncomfortable and there’s a reason for that. In our culture of convenience we get too comfortable. We reach a point where we only do things that are easy or pleasurable. Life is not always pleasing. Life has a lot of hard challenges that plenty of people avoid. If you want to make progress, you have to do things that are hard or uncomfortable. The more willing you are to push yourself, the more progress you’ll make.

In my own case, as I’m working to create a mastermind group and work on finding coaching clients, I have to do things that are new and uncomfortable for me. I have to stretch myself in ways that I’m not used to, like creating a social media calendar or recording videos. But I know that if I want to be successful I have to do them. I have to work on being more organized and follow up coaching clients. I have to try things that haven’t tried before.

Doing all the small things we need to do can sometimes feel very challenging, which is why sometimes we just need to have the courage to push through. Usually we find on the other side of it that it wasn’t nearly as scary as we thought it would be.


“It is not daily increase but daily decrease, hack away the unessential. The closer to the source, the less wastage there is.”

—Bruce Lee

One of the best things that we can do to help us be more effective, is to reduce what we do. There is so much in modern day life that can take up our time. Trying to remember to do all the things we need to become who we want to be can be daunting. There are plenty of thing in our life that want our attention, but don’t really bring much value to us. When we take the time to figure out what is truly essential we will also get a lot more done on the things that truly matter.

Are there things you can remove from your life because they bring little value or take up your energy for other more important things?

What holds value is totally up to you, but for me, things that help you physically and mentally, or help you connect with or serve others are things that should be a priority. For example, as much as I enjoy video games and shows on Netflix, I make sure that I don’t waste too much time on them so that I have energy to work on the things that are really important to me.


So the real question is, what are you doing each and every day to apply what you know? Are you practicing meditation and writing in your journal? Are you aware of the thoughts in your own mind and recognizing when you fall into thinking traps like catastrophizing or all or nothing thinking? Are you being mindful about how you treat other people? It’s creating systems that help you achieve these small things that you do every day that lead you to a better life.

Just as wiping down the counters or making your bed or vacuuming the floors helps keep a house tidy, it’s the little things that keep us on the path to improvement. It’s being aware of your moods. It’s making sure that you are taking care of your health. It’s practicing mindfulness and making intentional choices each and every day that helps you progress. The little things are far more powerful to improving your life over the long term than grand gestures.

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.


227 – Self Commitment

Self Commitment
Demand the best for yourself!

Not to assume it’s impossible because you find it hard. But to recognize that if it’s humanly possible, you can do it too.

— Marcus Aurelius

How often do you find yourself starting something only to notice a few weeks or months later that you let it fall by the wayside? Today I want to talk about why we have trouble keeping commitments to ourselves, and some ideas about how we can get better about keeping those commitments.

If you’re like me, you are always interested in improving yourself. Maybe that’s cutting down on your drinking or losing weight. Maybe it learning a new skill or starting a new business. There are all kinds of goals and things you want to do to enrich your life. We approach these things with gusto and excitement as we look forward to how much better our lives will be as we implement these changes in our lives.

Fast forward a few weeks or months later and many if not all of those resolutions are just a distant memory. Our good intentions have given way to our default way of life, and we return to the way things were. We may not have even really noticed when it happened. We may have been on track for weeks, only to find a short time later we have dropped our plans as if our resolutions never even existed.

Part of the reason why I wanted to make this episode is because this happened to me recently, and I’m trying to get back on track. I was doing great with meditating every day for at least 30 minutes, but about a month ago I severely sprained my ankle and was in a lot of pain for a while. I was also having trouble sleeping, and found my motivation to keep up with things beyond the basics was pretty low. I subtly used my injury as an excuse to quit my daily practice.

So why does this happen? Why is does it seem so hard to follow through on these commitments we make to ourselves? What is it in our makeup as humans that we get pulled back to the status quo even though we really do want to make lasting changes in our lives?

For much of evolution, humans struggled to have enough to eat. Because food was often hard to come by, survival depended on smart management of energy. Expending energy when you didn’t have to could mean the difference between life and death. Luckily, for must of us, food insecurity is no longer an issue. While we may not be able to afford prime rib every night for dinner, most of us are able to buy healthy food to feed ourselves. But these habits that served humanity over thousands of years are still engrained into us. This is why for most of us our bodies are more interested in sitting down for a show on Netflix than going for a run.

When we try to change something about ourselves, our minds often struggle to adapt to the new changes that we are trying to make in our lives. Our brains work really hard to keep us safe. We’re still alive in our current situation, so our brain will naturally gravitate to what it knows. Losing weight, taking up a new workout, learning a new skill all require effort and work. We may also fail when we try to do these things, so we’ll stick with what we know because it’s safe.

Another challenging aspect in our quest for self improvement is our desire for instant gratification. We get a dopamine hit when we do something that is pleasurable now, and have a harder time imagining the payoff we’ll get in the future. Some examples of short term pleasures that hit that dopamine switch include alcohol, entertainment, drugs, social media, and plenty of foods that are tasty but are not good for us.

There is nothing wrong with some of these short term pleasures in moderation, though one problem with chasing these short term pleasures is that that the effect is also short term. If we constantly chase after these short term pleasures, we also find that each subsequent time usually is less pleasurable than the one preceding. I learned this as a young child when I had my very first piece of cheesecake. I loved it so much that I happily took a second one, only to find that rather than enjoying as much as the first, it had the opposite effect and I started to feel sick to my stomach.

These short term pleasures often have long term consequences. For example, if we eat too much unhealthy food, we put on extra weight. If we spend too much time playing video games we don’t spend time on relationships or hobbies or other things that enrich our lives.

When we don’t keep these commitments to ourselves, there are a few things that happen. We develop a habit of breaking our word to ourselves. Often we’re much better about keep our commitments to others than we are to ourselves. If we were to behave this way towards our friends, we would erode their trust in us. The more we do this to ourselves, the more we erode our trust in ourselves.

We also create inertia that moves us in the wrong direction. We might think to ourselves, “I can’t keep my commitment to eating healthy, so why bother cutting down on alcohol?” This kind of self-sabotage is often the main reason we don’t accomplish the things we really want to. We will often use this setbacks as proof that we just can’t do it.

Doctors won’t make you healthy. Nutritionists won’t make you slim. Teachers won’t make you smart. Gurus won’t make you calm. Mentors won’t make you rich. Trainers won’t make you fit. Ultimately, you have to take responsibility. Save yourself.

—Naval Ravikant

How long are you going to wait before you demand the best for yourself?


So what can we do to help us get better about making the changes we want in our lives and avoid self-sabotage?

It comes down to self discipline. It’s about being able to get yourself to do the things you want to do for you.

Self discipline is the ability to make and keep commitments to yourself.

Self discipline is taking responsibility for your actions and choices, and not blaming them on things outside of yourself.

Now I know that self-discipline kind of gets a bad wrap because we think it’s too hard. And yeah, if we’re not in the habit of keeping commitments to ourselves, it is hard. Often though, it comes down to changing our perspective on things and what we make it mean.

For example, committing to eating healthy food is much easier to do if we look at it with the perspective that we are nourishing our bodies so we feel and think better. It’s much more challenging if we look at it as if we’re being deprived of all this other food that we can’t eat. Having a clear idea of why you’re working on changing something will go a long way towards helping you stay on track.

One of the stoic tools that we have is negative visualization, or premeditato malorum. We make a list of all the things that can go wrong, and how we’ll solve each of them. For example, if your are trying to lose weight and you are following a specific diet, you list all the things that could derail you from eating healthy. Maybe going out to dinner with friends is challenging because you always get dessert, so you decide to find a few restaurants that have healthier options that fit with your diet. Maybe you hate shopping for food, so you have your partner do the shopping or you pay a delivery service to do it for you. Anything that might be an issue, you find a solution to work around it.

Since many of our goals are things that just fall by the wayside, another way that we can help ourselves it by giving ourselves a way out. Yes, that’s right, you decide under what conditions you’ll allow yourself to quit, and commit to yourself that you can only quit if you make a conscious decision to do so. You are not allowed to just let it fall by the wayside. For example if you are trying to lose weight you decide that you will quit the diet you’re on if you follow it successfully for 6 months and you don’t lose any weight. And if you reach that point where you make that conscious choice to quit, you also commit to finding another way to lose the weight you want.

Learning to keep commitments to ourselves is for me, the ultimate expression of self care. It’s about you deciding that you are important enough to keep those commitments to over all else. And the better you are about keeping your word to yourself, the better you are about actually reaching the goals that you set out, and ultimately have the life you want.

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.

Coffee Break philosophy self-improvement stoicism

191 – Get Busy With Life’s Purpose

Get Busy With Life’s Purpose

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

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

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

— Marcus Aurelius


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.

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 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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Coffee Break philosophy self-improvement stoicism wisdom

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

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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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170 – Boundaries


Today I want to talk about how Stoicism can help us set healthy boundaries. Learning how to set healthy boundaries is not easy. I was never really taught how to do this, and so I’ve been learning how to do this over the last few years, and honestly, it’s been a challenge.

“To achieve freedom and happiness, you need to grasp this basic truth: some things in life are under your control, and others are not.”

– Epictetus

The first and most important teaching of Stoicism is that there are things that we control, and things we cannot and that we should focus on the things that we can control and let go of the rest. This seems like a very clear concepts, but is one of the hardest things to master. Truly understanding and taking responsibility for the things that you can control is hard. It is much easier to blame our misfortunes and unhappiness on things outside of ourselves. But every time we do this, we allow ourselves to become a victim, and come no closer to solving the issue we’re dealing with.

But how do we deal with things that we can’t control, but have a big impact on us? For example, we can’t control what other people do or say. Does this mean that we have to just let them do what they are going to do and just live with however their actions impact us? I think that Stoicism gives us some tools to handle these situations.

First lets talk about what a boundary is. A boundary is a clear statement about what your actions will be in a given situation. It is letting the other person know what you will do. It is not telling someone else what to do. Setting a boundary is not the same as an ultimatum.

When we set boundaries we are acting on the things that we control, namely, what we say and what we do. We let others know how we will respond in a given situation. We don’t tell others what to do, because that is not within our control.

This is really hard for most of us to do. We want to control the things and people around us. But when we try to control others, we are not taking responsibility for the things that we can control. We often try to do this through all kinds of ways – manipulation, coercion, threats, ultimatums. All of which are trying to control the actions of others, most of which generally fail.

Why is it important to set healthy boundaries? Figuring out your boundaries helps you understand what you want, and how you want to be treated. It is a way for you to define your values. It is how you stand up for yourself. Setting boundaries is how you let other people know how you want to be treated. It improves relationships because you let the other person know how they can respect and support you.

Setting boundaries, especially where you haven’t before, can be very challenging. Often when you start to set boundaries with people that weren’t there before, there is resistance. The other person might get upset because they like how things are. They might try to test the boundaries that you have set up, which is why it is important that you hold your boundaries. Maintaining your boundaries is how you respect and take care of yourself.

How do we set healthy boundaries?

There are a few steps to creating healthy boundaries.

First define what is acceptable behavior. Decide what things uphold your values and what things do not. Decide what you will and won’t put up with.

Second, decide what action you will take in response. Remember, this is about you and your actions. It is not telling the other person what they have to do.

Third, communicate this boundary to the other person. You don’t have to explain yourself. You don’t have to justify why you are setting this boundary. You have the right to determine what you do and do not want to do. Also, remember that this is not an ultimatum, but a statement of what your actions will be.

Fourth, hold up your end of the bargain and take action when necessary.

In some cases, setting a boundary is as simple as saying “no”. Whether in relationships at work, or with family and friends, a clear and concise no is often the best way to create healthy relationships. It lets others know how they can respect your space and time. Remember, you do not have to explain yourself. For some people this is hard, and as a recovering people pleaser, doubly so. We each have the right to determine what we will or won’t do.

Sometimes setting and maintaining boundaries is a little more involved. Lets say you have friend who frequently gets drunk whenever you go out together and it bothers you. When they’re drunk, they get loud and obnoxious. Maybe it’s led to some uncomfortable situations. Setting a clear boundary would be letting them know that if they continue to get drunk when you are out together that you will excuse yourself and head home.

In this case, you made it clear what actions you will take in that situation. You did not tell your friend that they have to stop drinking. You just make it clear what you will do. The next time you are out with your friend, and they decide to get drunk, you politely but firmly excuse yourself.

The last aspect I want to discuss is making sure that we respect the boundaries of others. When someone else has set a boundary, do we acknowledge it and to our best we respect it? Do we try to persuade or talk them out of it? Do we get frustrated and try to bully them? Recognizing and respecting the boundaries of others is a clear recognition that we can’t control other people.

Learning how to set boundaries is a process of defining your values, and understanding your value. It is how you let others know how you want to be treated. Think of it as creating a guide book to you.

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169 – Why Do You Care What Others Think?

Why Do You Care What Others Think?
Why do you care what other people think?

“I have often wondered how it is that every man loves himself more than all the rest of men, but yet sets less value on his own opinion of himself than on the opinion of others.”

– Marcus Aurelius

“How much time he gains who does not look to see what his neighbor says or does or thinks, but only at what he does himself, to make it just and holy.”

– Marcus Aurelius

Marcus Aurelius warned us worrying about the opinion of others is a waste of time. But, if we live with other people and are social animals, shouldn’t we worry about what others think?

No, because what others think doesn’t change the intrinsic value of who or what is being judged. It’s just a thought in their mind. That is all.

While this is an easy concept to grasp, it is a hard thing to implement. From the day we’re born we seek the approval of other. Our parents and family at home. Our teachers at school. Our friends and co-workers. We all want to be liked.

But does someone’s opinion of us change our intrinsic value? Does someone else’s thoughts make us a better or worse person? No, it doesn’t. What other people think doesn’t have any bearing on whether you are a good or bad person. Whether you have value or not.

So what happens if we stop worrying about what other people think?

We save ourselves a lot of stress. We focus on how well we’re are doing in our personal growth. We stop worrying about what other people are doing with their lives. We stop focusing on the faults of others. We don’t worry about who others think we should be. We focus on becoming the person we want to be.

Because in the end, you’re the one that chooses who you are. You’re the only one who can decide who you want to be. If someone disapproves of you, or doesn’t like you, it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t change who you are.

Now, does this mean that we should completely ignore the opinions of others? No it doesn’t. I know that I just got done telling you the opinions of other shouldn’t matter to you, but we should listen to others to see if there are any facts or truth to what they have to say.

So how do we do this? How do we listen to the opinion of others, but not let the sway of it impact us? If someone disparages us, how do we let it go? If someone praises us how do we not let it go to our heads?

We do this by being curious. We listen for what is fact, and what is opinion. We leave the opinion for the other person. We verify the facts and use them to our benefit. We try to find the data, so that we can learn from it.

Let’s take an example. If you’re singing a song at a performance, and afterwards you overhear someone mention they didn’t like your performance. Should you be offended? Does it change your value? Does it change the performance? No.

Now let’s say that you go up to this person and ask them why they didn’t like your performance. They may mention something like the prefer a different kind of voice for that song. Maybe they didn’t like the style it was played in. Maybe it was their exes favorites song and it brings up bad memories for them. Most of these things are just their opinion. All of them are things that you cannot change.

But, if they were to tell you that a few notes were  flat, or you flubbed some of the lyrics in the second verse, these are factual things that you can verify. These are things that you can do something about. You can practice those tricky passages. You can work on memorizing the lyrics. In this case, you should be grateful for their feedback because others may not feel comfortable being that honest with you.

Learning to separate fact from opinion is a very powerful skill but it something that most of us are not very good at, but there are some ways that you can practice this. The next time you’re watching the news, pull out a sheet of paper, and split it in the middle into two columns. Label one column facts, and the other opinions. Pay attention to what the speaker says and write down which things are facts and which are opinions. Also notice how many things they state as facts but really are just opinions.

When you start to master this, try this in a conversation with someone. Think about what you are saying. Which things are facts and which are opinions?  How about the other person?

The buddhist’s teach that all suffering is caused by attachment. Attaching our self worth to the opinions of others is a way to truly suffer. It gives the other person control over you, and you become a victim. Learning how to let go of the opinions of others gives you the strength to stay true to your core values.

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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.

Coffee Break self-improvement stoicism

157 – Don’t Feed the Trolls

Don’t Feed the Trolls


Don’t be a dick.

One of the hazards of being alive is the fact that we’re never going to please everyone. We’re going to have people that will not like what we do. People are going to criticize whatever it is we’re doing. And in the 21st century, this is nowhere more apparent than in social media. This weeks episode is about how to be your best online.

I’m always amazed and saddened by the vitriol and hate that I see online, especially towards women. It’s as if the anonymity of being online, that separation of the digital world, they aren’t talking to a real person. I read comments and the like from others saying things that they would probably never say in person. That social pressure to not be an asshole somehow gets ignored. That distance gives them license to express their most vulgar selves with no repercussions.


So how do we deal with criticism? How do we deal with vitriolic tweets and Facebook trolls?

“When someone criticizes you, they do so because they believe they are right. They can only go by their views, not yours. If their views are wrong, it is they who will suffer the consequences. Keeping this in mind, treat your critics with compassion. When you are tempted to get back at them, remind yourself, ‘They did what seemed to them to be the right thing to do.’”
— Epictetus

What Epictetus is reminding us here is that someone else’s opinion is just that – their opinion. It has very little to do with you but says volumes about them. What they are expressing is their view of the world. Often, they don’t have anything to truly criticize other than they don’t like your point of view. They may feel insecure about themselves, and they don’t like the facts presented because it threatens their worldview. I see this a lot in political areas. People often adopt an “us vs. them” mentality where anything that doesn’t come from their “team” is wrong. Often all they can do is threaten or insult the author because they can’t offer up any real counter-arguments.

The next thing Epictetus advises us it to have compassion for our critics. And why is that? Why should we be compassionate towards someone that says mean, cruel, vulgar things to us? Because they are the ones that suffer if their views are wrong. The fact that they can be so cruel tells you that they are pretty unhappy people if they can get so easily riled up and jump quickly to insults.

The easiest way to do this as well is to simply look at the facts. If all they have to offer is insults, then you can easily dismiss it because there are no facts involved. If they actually have something factual and logical, you should be delighted because then you have something you may able to learn from and improve yourself.

Confidence in Yourself

“I have often wondered how it is that every man loves himself more than all the rest of men, but yet sets less value on his own opinion of himself than on the opinion of others.”
— Marcus Aurelius

When someone does disagree with us, how do we react? Do we get riled up? Do we dash off an angry tweet to our critics? Why do we feel angry anyway? If we are acting in a way that we are proud of then nothing that someone else says should upset us. Usually, when we act in a way that comes from anger, we are insecure about something. If we are secure in who we are, if we are holding to our values, then others opinions don’t matter.

When we get into a flame war with a critic, we are no longer in charge of ourselves. When we let the opinions of others dictate our actions, then we are giving them control of us. If we get mad or get depressed because of the criticism of others, we have given them control over our emotions. We become the victim.

Being the Critic

So how should we act online, and in real life when giving criticism to others?

“If it is not right, do not do it. If it is not true, do not say it.”
— Marcus Aurelius

This simple maxim should be our guide in what we say and do. As Jiminy Cricket once said, “Let your conscience be your guide.” Or put more bluntly from Will Wheaton, “Don’t be a dick.” Most of us know when we’re being an ass and when we’re not living up to our best selves. If we have something honest and helpful to contribute, then do so. If not, it might be best to leave well enough alone. Spending time arguing with online trolls is pretty much a waste of time, and you really don’t change anyone’s mind. Usually, you end up getting dragged into a bunch of shit, and each side gets more and more dug in and convinced that they’re on the right side.

The world is full of haters. As we spend more time online and less time in person, and as political divisions become wider, I think we’re only going to see upticks in the vitriol. We need to be sure that we don’t get sucked into the vortex of online hate. By taking the time to be compassionate towards our critics thoughtful on our responses to other people and realize that they are coming from a place where they think they are doing what is best, then we could be part of the solution, not the problem.


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