282 – Timeless Principles For Handling a Changing World

Far too often we’re focused on the things that change in this world and in our lives. But what are the things that don’t change? Today I want to talk about things we can build on that can help us through the ever flowing tide of changes that happen in our lives.

"Everything is in a state of flux, and nothing remains the same. So be prepared for change, and embrace it as a natural part of life."

— Marcus Aurelius

What Doesn’t Change?

The other day I was listening to Tim Ferriss’ podcast and he was interviewing Morgan Housel, a personal finance expert who just finished up his book called Same as Ever: A Guide to What Never Changes. In the interview, Morgan tells a story about how a CEO was chatting with Warren Buffet, arguably the greatest investor of all time. The CEO was asking him back in 2009 if America would be able to recover from the financial crisis.

Warren turned to the CEO and asked him, “Do you know what the best selling candy bar was in 1962?”

The CEO responded, “No.”

Warren said, “Snickers. Do you know what the best selling candy bar is right now?”

The CEO responded again, “No.”

Warren said, “Snickers.”

Now, this story is emblematic of Warren Buffet’s investing philosophy: find the things that don’t change and invest in those. Far too often investors are betting on what they think will change in the future. Because there are so many factors in our lives and the world that impact how things will turn out, humans are not great at predicting the future.

The reason this story struck me is because this is very much how I view stoicism. Stoicism for me is about focusing on the things that don’t change, so that you can handle the things that do. Stoicism is not a set of rigid prescriptions that you need to follow. It is not dependent on a charismatic leader handing down dictates of how you should live. It is based on tested and timeless principles and ideas that have lasted through the ages and can be applied to every aspect of your life.

So today, I want to go over some of the principles that I find useful in my own life, and hope that you can find them as useful as I do.

Understanding What is Within Our Control

"The only thing we can control is our own actions."

— Epictetus

In our daily lives, we encounter situations that are beyond our control, like traffic jams, bad weather, or the actions of other people. Because they are outside of our control, the more we try to control them, the more we stress out and create unnecessary anxiety. Instead of fretting over these, Stoicism teaches us to focus on our reactions to the things that are outside of our control.

For instance, we can use the time in a traffic jam to listen to a podcast or audiobook, turning a frustrating situation into a productive one. We can enjoy and appreciate the storms or heat waves that nature brings our way. We can improve our communication skills and our patience when others make choices that impact our lives in a negative way.

Accepting Change as Inevitable

“Change is the only constant in life."

— Heraclitus

Change, whether it's in a job, relationship, or environment, is inevitable. The more we try to resist change, the harder we make things on ourselves. Change is going to happen whether we like it or not and we have the choice to embrace it or resist it. If we look at change as the thing that makes life interesting and worth living, then we stop fearing it, and embrace it.

Seeking Growth Over Comfort

“What stands in the way becomes the way."

— Marcus Aurelius

Challenges are not roadblocks, but pathways to personal growth. If there were no challenges in your life, you would never grow. The way to get better at something is working through it. Avoiding challenges doesn’t teach you how to get better at something. If you are constantly avoiding anything that is challenging or uncomfortable, then you are passing up opportunities to grow. This is why courage is one of the foundational stoic virtues because it take courage to forsake comfort and seek growth.

Practicing Gratitude

"It is not the man who has too little, but the man who craves more, that is poor.”

— Seneca

Much of our unhappiness comes from our feelings of what we think is lacking in our lives. We think that by changing our circumstances we’ll be happier. We often think about how much happier we’ll be when we get the house or the car or the new gadget that we want. Our whole consumer culture and the marketing behind it is based on making you believe that your life will be so much better if you go out and acquire all these new and shiny things.

But the thing is, our our circumstances and possessions don’t change who we are as a person. Sure, some circumstances are more comfortable than others, but we can’t always change our circumstance, and our possessions are mere objects and in the longer arch of our lives we are simply borrowing them since we can’t take them with us when die. When we learn to be grateful with whatever we have and whatever our life situation is, then we are able to feel content with our lives at any moment.

As an example, I recently got rid of most of my possessions and sold my house. I gave away most of my possessions to friends and others and I’m currently traveling and living out of two suitcases and a backpack. My level of happiness is very much the same as it was when I owned a house and had lots of stuff. I do feel a greater sense of freedom not having all those possessions, but I still worry about many of the same things in my life that I did before. Having more or less possessions hasn’t changed me as a person.

Embracing the Present Moment

"The present is all we have; live it fully."

— Marcus Aurelius

When we worry to much about the future or the past then we are missing living in the present moment. The past is already gone and cannot be changed. The future is unknowable and will more likely be nothing like what we thought it would be. When we worry too much about the future, we create anxiety over things that may not even happen. If we dwell too much on the past, we live in regret about things that we can’t do anything about.

This has been especially important for me to practice over the last few weeks. Like I said, I sold my house and I’m traveling and trying to figure out what to do next in my life. Other than plans to head over to Europe and see what kinds of opportunities I can make for myself, I don’t have a clear idea of what my future will be. It’s very exciting, but when I dwell too much on trying to figure out what my ultimate direction and goals should be, I get anxious and a bit stressed about it. When I focus on relaxing and enjoying where I am and what I’m doing in the present moment, I keep myself in a better mindset knowing that I don’t have to have it all planned out. I know that I can handle whatever comes up, when it comes up.

Cultivating Inner Resilience

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

— Marcus Aurelius

Life will invariably present challenges, but our inner response to these challenges is key. Cultivating a resilient mindset helps us bounce back from setbacks. Having this kind of inner resilience helps you to take in challenging and frustrating setbacks with calmness and a clear mind. You’re able to step up and take action rather than fretting or losing you cool. When things go wrong, you’re able to roll with the punches and make the best of any situation.

For instance, if you fail to achieve a goal, instead of being harsh on yourself, analyze what went wrong, learn from it, and prepare to try again with a stronger, more informed approach.

Practicing Compassion and Understanding

"Be tolerant with others and strict with yourself."

— Marcus Aurelius

Stoicism teaches the importance of empathy and understanding towards others. When dealing with difficult people, try to understand their perspectives and circumstances. Far too often we’re quick to rush to judgements or make assumptions about others intentions. And even if others have bad intentions towards you, it doesn’t mean that you need to treat them poorly.

Part of living a principled life is to live your principles not just when it’s easy, but when it’s hard. This could mean being patient with a friend who is struggling, offering help instead of criticism, or simply listening without judgment. Practicing compassion not only aids in personal peace but also fosters a positive environment around you.


The world is constantly changing and it often feels like the pace of change is increasing. It’s easy to feel anxious about the overwhelming flow of information and bad news. This is why it’s important to anchor yourself to principles that stay the same over time. Since it’s very challenging to accurately predict what impact changes will bring, the more we are grounded in the things that don’t change, the better we’ll be able to handle the things that do.

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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.

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

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

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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.


277 – Embracing the Unexpected: How to Handle Life’s Plot Twists Like a Stoic

Do you fear the unexpected? Do you stress out when life throws you a curveball? Today I want to talk about how to handle, appreciate, and even look forward to the unexpected events that life brings your way.

“All greatness comes from suffering.”

— Naval Ravikant


Life is full of surprises. When we think that we’ve got things figured out and that things are going our way, something or someone pops up and throws a monkey wrench into our day to day that disrupts our lives and sends us spinning. Things like getting laid off, getting in a car accident, or even a critical diagnosis are all parts of daily life that we think will never happen to us, until they do.

When these things happen to us we may get angry or stressed out, or feel like life is unfair. But the thing is, the unexpected challenges that happen often end up being the best things to happen to us. They might send our lives in a completely different direction. We might meet others who impact our life in a deep way. We could even discover our life’s purpose. The challenge is that it’s hard to see any of this when you’re in the middle of it. It is only through hindsight that we can go back and see the connections of the events that lead us to where we end up.


“Life is a storm that will test you unceasingly. Don’t wait for calm waters that may not arrive. Derive purpose from resilience. Learn to sail the raging sea. 

— @TheStoicEmperor (twitter)

There are those that think that the universe or god is sending you what you need to learn. That the challenges that happen in your life are happening because you need it. I don’t hold to this idea. Mainly, because it assumes some sort of intelligence that is making choices for what you need to learn in life.

If this were the case, if every struggle that came someone’s way was a lesson for them, it would be given to them in a way that they would have taken the opportunity to learn and grow from it. I have seen time after time in the lives of people I know, and even in my own life, that when hard things come along, the lessons are more often than not just ignored.

For me, I see that the challenges that come up in our lives are opportunities for us to take or reject. It is always our choice how we want to deal with them. The universe is indifferent. We can love the things that come our way, or hate them, but it doesn’t change that the fact that we have these challenges. The only thing that we can control about the unexpected things that happen to us is our attitude about them and how we want to deal with them.


“I’m not a coward I've just never been tested
I'd like to think that if I was I would pass
Look at the tested and think there but for the grace go I
Might be a coward
I'm afraid of what I might find out”

— Mighty Mighty Bosstones

The main reason why the unexpected is so uncomfortable is that it feels like a loss of control. Because it was not what we’re were expecting, it’s most likely something that we haven’t prepared for, so it can disrupt our sense of stability and security.

It can be hard to let go of the way things were before the unexpected event occurred. We are comfortable with how things are and find ourselves resisting the changes that we have to make. Unexpected events force us out of our comfort zone.

Often, it can be difficult to adjust to a new situation or circumstance. It can even reach the point where it  feels overwhelming and stressful. We may not have the skills we need to navigate some unexpected events. We feel out of our depth and unsure of what to do.

Because we had expectations of how we thought things should be, when unexpected events happen, it can cause us to feel uncertain about the future. We get stuck in the idea that tomorrow will be the same as today.

But nothing in life stays the same. Nothing is certain. Life is change.

Wars, disasters, illness, accidents, losing a job, and breakups are just a few unexpected things that we have no control over. These things are life changing and in the moment, the uncertainty can feel overwhelming.

But this is when we need to remember the only things we can control is our perspective on the events that happen in our lives, and how we want to respond to them. In short, our will. To hate the unexpected is to hate life because in truth, everything that happens is unexpected.


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

—M. Scott Peck

So what are the positive side of unexpected things that happen to us?

They can shake things up and lead to new opportunities or experiences. Often our lives are just going along and we fall into ruts or are stagnating. We may not seek out the things that we need to grow. We may be always seeking comfort or safety. The unexpectedness of life is the thing that gives us a chance to step up to challenges and see what we’re made of. It calls upon us to step out of our comfort zone, to change our perspective, and try new things.

Often times, the unexpected and challenging things that happen to us are the things that help us find our life’s purpose. For me, a great example of courage in the face of the unexpected is Malala Yousafzai. At the age of 15, she survived an assassination attempt from the Taliban because she was advocating for education girls in her region of Afghanistan. Rather than letting her life threatening injuries scare her from her mission, she used what happened to her as a way to draw attention to the treatment of girls in her country. Through this terrible event, she found her life purpose.

Unexpected challenges can help us appreciate the good things in our lives that we may have taken for granted. As humans we get used to the routine of daily life. We get used to things being a certain way. When things get shaken up, we may find appreciation for the things in our lives, or we may even recognize that we just put up with things because that’s just how they have been. When life is shaken up a little, we may reevaluate things and get rid of things that don’t serve us, but we wouldn’t have even noticed that if our life hadn’t been knocked out of balance.

“The path to success will leave you callused, bruised, and very tired. It will also leave you empowered.” 

— David Goggins

The unexpected can challenge us to grow and develop new skills or perspectives. If we never had unexpected challenges pop up in out lives, then we would never gain new skills. Without challenges outside of our comfort zones and realms of expertise, we’ll never learn how to deal with anything new. If everything stays the same as it is, we never develop a new perspective on life, and honestly, we’d get bored.

The unexpected can foster resilience and adaptability. Learning to deal with the unexpected helps us to roll with the things that life sends our way. It helps us to develop courage to face things that are uncomfortable or scary. If we’re only dealing with predictable problems then we lose our flexibility and adaptability. Life gets pretty boring if nothing changes.

“Why does he smile when misfortune strikes? He knows it is an opportunity to cultivate virtue. Death, loss, decline. These things come for us all. Facing pain is how we make ready. Adversity sharpens the blade of will. Greet the test gladly. Endure.”

— @TheStoicEmperor (twitter)

The unexpected can provide a sense of adventure and excitement. Life is change. Even when you think things are stable, they are always changing, we just aren’t noticing it. It is dealing with change that makes life interesting. If we never had anything unexpected and everything went according to plan and stayed the same, life would be incredibly boring and we’d fail to grow. We’d stay in our comfort zones and never have anything exciting or interesting happen in our lives.

When you think about it, the best movies and books are about everyday people who have something unexpected or interesting happen to them. We get to see how they try and fail and get up and try again while dealing with the with the twists and turns that happen in their lives. The best jokes are the ones you hear with an unexpected punchline. The best songs are often the ones with unexpected or dissonant notes. If everything was predictable, then it would be extremely boring. There would be no reason to watch or listen or read anything.

Dealing With the Unexpected

“To bear trials with a calm mind robs misfortune of its strength and burden.”

— Seneca

So how do we deal with the unexpected? How can we take steps to manage things in ways that we not only get through them, but thrive because of them?

First and foremost, take a deep breath. Getting yourself into a space where you can look at things rationally and calmly will help you keep your mind open to more options and better decision making. Panicking never helps, and will most likely make things worse. When you panic, you’re driven by fear, and you start catastrophizing everything around you. Keeping calm helps you weigh your options better, and help you choose what is best for you in the long run.

“It does not matter what you bear, but how you bear it.”

— Seneca

Next is acceptance. When we practice amor fati, and we love our fate, then we are able to welcome the unexpected. We accept that life is never going to go exactly like we think it should. We take each unexpected thing that happens, and see what opportunities are being given to us. It may not feel like an opportunity at the time. In fact it may feel like the worst thing that has ever happened. But sitting around bemoaning how things are not as you would like them to be, wastes time in dealing with things are they are.

By practicing acceptance, we also let go of the things that we can’t control. We stop wishing that things were otherwise, and focus on what we can control. We shift our perspective to help us see things in a way that is more advantageous to us. We look for the choices in front of us and take actions to move ourselves in the right direction.

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

— Marcus Aurelius

Once we’ve gotten ourselves into a more rational and calm mindset, we can prioritize and problem solve. We can look at the most important parts of the problems we’re facing, and focus on what you can do in the moment to deal with the situation. Sometimes the situation is about triage, meaning it’s something that we have to respond to quickly. Sometimes we have time to reflect on the choices we have in front of us. The important thing is to calmly assess our options and begin to take action.

Another important part of dealing with the unexpected is to lean on your support system. Reach out to those you trust for support and perspective. You don’t have to solve everything on your own. Often times when we’re stressed or panicked, having a reassuring friend can be the thing that helps ground you, especially if they are not directly involved. Take advantage of the fact that they have some distance from the problem so they may see things a little more clearly.

Lastly, be kind to yourself. It's okay to feel overwhelmed or upset, so don't be too hard on yourself. Life is going to throw you curveballs, and many of the unexpected things you’ll have to deal with, happen through no fault of your own. Do the best you can, and recognize that you might make mistakes. The goal isn’t perfection, but to make the best choices you can, learn from your mistakes, and try again.

Expect the Unexpected

“This is why we need to envisage every possibility and to strengthen the spirit to deal with the things which may conceivably come about. Rehearse them in your mind: exile, torture, war, shipwreck. Misfortune may snatch you away from your country… If we do not want to be overwhelmed and struck numb by rare events as if they were unprecedented ones; fortune needs envisaging in a thoroughly comprehensive way.”

— Seneca

The last idea that I want to talk about is something that I’ve mentioned many times on my podcast. It’s the practice of premeditatio malorum, which means “premeditated malice”. This is when you take some time to consider the worst things that could happen in a situation so that you can prepare for them. Now, this is not the same thing as catastrophizing, but rather you do this when you are in a good mental space, and you dispassionately consider what you would do if certain things happen. This is what good crisis planners do, which helps them to prepare for as many things as possible.


The unexpected is there to teach us something we didn’t know we needed. The unexpected gives us opportunities that we wouldn’t have found otherwise. We may find a challenging situation which calls on us to rise above what we thought we were capable of. We may meet someone who changes the course of our lives.  Sometimes an unexpected event is the thing that sends our life in a direction that we never could have dreamed of. As much as we want the expected and the routine, the unexpected offers us surprise and joy and pain and anxiety and delight. It’s the spice of life and the thing that makes life interesting.

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

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

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.


273 – The Four Types of Problems

Do you know that some problems are simple, while others are complicated, complex, or chaotic? Do you know the difference between them? Today I want to talk about how understanding the different types problems can help you face up to your challenges more effectively.

"We must not let the impressions carry us away so that we are not in control of ourselves, but we must receive them in such a way as to be in control of ourselves."

— Epictetus

Types of Problems

A few weeks ago I was listening to Tim Ferriss’s podcast and he was interviewing Albert Brooks who is a columnist for The Atlantic and a professor at Harvard who writes and researches happiness. Now I’ve been reading Albert’s column in The Atlantic for years, so I was really looking forward to the conversation. They went over a lot of different topics and ideas, but there was one that they briefly talked about that caught my attention because I didn’t quite understand it.

In the episode Albert talks about how his father taught him about complex and complicated problems, and that far too often, because we don’t understand the difference, we waste a lot of time and energy trying to solve problems in the wrong way. When we can understand what type of problem we’re dealing with, then we can start to apply the appropriate type of solution.

As I began thinking and researching about these ideas so that I could understand the distinctions, I came across some articles that talked about what is called the Cynefin (pronounced “ku-nev-in”) framework which was developed by Dave Snowden in 1999 while working for IBM. The more I read about this framework, it really helped me understand several types of problems, and how to approach each of them. So let’s dive in and discuss the four main types of problems.

Simple Problems

First, we have simple or obvious problems. Simple problems are those where we can easily understand the problem, all issues are easily known, and relationship between cause and effect is clear and obvious. There are well established solutions, and any issues are easily resolved. This would be something like if you were baking cookies, you would need to get the ingredients from the store, follow a recipe, and bake the cookies for a set amount of time, and there you have your cookies

Complicated Problems

Complicated problems are ones that, while they may be difficult and challenging, they are solvable or tractable. It means that there is an absolute solution to them, and they can be completed.

A clear example of some complicated problems would be something like building a bridge, manufacturing a phone, or getting a college degree. There may be a lot of steps involved, and lots of moving parts, but the steps can be mapped out and followed, and the goal is quantifiable and can be reached. Generally, if it is a problem that can be solved, and it is not simple, then it is probably complicated.

Complex Problems

Complex problems are problems that have no known solutions, just best attempts. Complex challenges are creative problems, with many unknown, unpredictable moving parts. When you work on complex problems you often won’t know if your solution is effective until a strategy actually works, and even then there maybe tradeoffs that don’t show themselves right away. Complex problems are dynamic, and there will probably be lots of failure as you try different solutions.

Examples of complex challenges are things like creating a loving relationship, running a campaign, or ending poverty. Complex problems are not problems that can usually be solved, but are problems that are managed on a continuing basis. They are fluid and ever changing, so the solution is always evolving. Complex problems are often confused with complicated problems, and people try to solve them using the same methods as solving complicated problems, which usually ends up failing and often making things worse than they were before.

Chaotic Problems

The last main type of problem is chaotic problems. Chaotic problems are usually ones of circumstances that are out of your control. In these circumstances it is usually important to respond quickly, and the goal is usually to establish order or stability.

Examples of chaotic problems would be emergencies such as a car crash, natural disasters like tsunamis or earthquakes, or chaotic environments like getting caught in a mob of people. There is not a lot of time to sit and think about a solution, and circumstances are often unpredictable or in a state of flux.

While chaotic problems are very reactionary, certain aspects can be prepared for, though they are always just best guess scenarios and are subject to change as the situation unfolds. Creating an emergency or crisis plan can help mitigate some aspects of a chaotic situation. For example, firefighters think through as many contingencies as possible and train for things to go wrong so that they know how to keep calm and respond effectively when they do.

What’s the Problem?

“It is not because things are difficult that we do not dare; it is because we do not dare that they are difficult.”


So why is it important to understand what type of problem we are dealing with?

When we understand the type of problem that we are dealing with, it helps us to be more effective as to how we approach it, and the kinds of solutions we can bring to bear. If it is a simple problem we can find some straightforward solutions and choose one, and have satisfactory results.

The most important thing that we need to understand when dealing with simple and complicated problems, is that we misjudge them. We may have a simple problem that we overcomplicate, or a complicated problem that we think is simple, and we approach it the wrong way. By learning to discern what kind of problem we’re dealing with, we can address it properly and make progress with the right kind of framework.

When we confuse complicated and complex problems and try to deal with a complex problem in the same way that you work on a complicated problem, you’re going to try to manage unpredictable issues as if they were predictable.

A clearer example would be if you tried to manage your marriage the same way you manage building a bridge. There are clear engineering methods and standard practices that have been developed over the centuries about the best ways to build a bridge. By following these methods and standards, given the correct materials, competent workers, and enough time you can get a bridge built correctly.

Whereas a relationship is something that is always changing, and is never the same from person to person, from day to day, or even situation to situation. There is no perfect blueprint to create a good relationship. There’s no perfect formula that you can follow that will guarantee happiness with another person. It is about trying things and seeing if they work. Often, they won’t, and that’s when you have to be willing to be wrong and try something else.

Personal Development is Complex

As I was researching this, it occurred to me that one of the main reasons that self development and personal growth is challenging and often made even harder, is that it is a complex problem but is often treated as a complicated problem. Meaning, that it is not something that can simply be solved with some blueprint like engineering a bridge or a building. While there are aspects of personal growth that this type of problem solving can be useful for, the overarching challenges for growth is a complex problem.

Our physical health is also something that is a complex problem. Our bodies are complex systems which is why diagnosing illnesses or creating an optimal diet or workout plan are not a “one size fits all”v. This is why, for example, some people with cancer may respond very well to a particular treatment while others will not. There are so many factors at play and many of them are unknown.

So how do we approach each of these types of problems?

Obvious Solutions

For simple or obvious problems we should look to find the best or most obvious solution. The thing to look out for when dealing with simple problems is to make sure that we don’t confuse it with a complicated problem. Otherwise we may oversimplify a complicated problem or overcomplicate a simple problem. With simple problems, there are well established and accepted solutions that are known to work. Simple problems are common, and they are easily solvable.

For example, if you wanted to wake up in the morning at a particular time, you would purchase an alarm clock or use the alarm on your phone. If you need to secure your house, you buy a lock and only give a key to the people that need it. If you want to stop drinking alcohol, the simplest solution is to remove all alcohol from your house and do not purchase any more. If bars are a temptation for you, then choose non-alcoholic bar, or find some other place to meet up with people.

Now understand, that the last solution is for a part of what could be a more complex problem. If you are an alcoholic and your body is addicted, then simply removing alcohol from your life is going to be more challenging than just removing it from your home. But I hope you get my point in that in many cases, the obvious solution is often the best solution to simple problems.

Complicated Solutions

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

— Epictetus

From a stoic perspective, simple and complicated problems are ones that we have control over. Complicated problems are often a lot of simple problems wrapped up into a project. By finding and implementing the best tried and true solutions for simple problems, and the various components of complicated problems in our lives, we can reduce the amount of time and energy we spend on them. This frees up our energy for the dealing with the complex and chaotic problems that we face.

Complicated problems are best solved by breaking them down into the smallest tasks possible, and finding the best way to accomplish those tasks. Many problems that we try to solve in this arena have methodologies about how to manage them. This is generally how most construction and software projects are managed. The more problems in your life that you can identify as complicated, will allow you to use existing methodologies to help you solve them.

For example, if you wish to be more organized and declutter your home or workspace, there are solutions as to how to accomplish it. At a very basic level, you get rid of the things you don’t need or use. Then you figure out a place for each of the things that you do own, then make sure that when you are done using something, you put it back in its place. There are of course many variations on this, and there are various solutions that you can use to organize your life. It just depends on finding which one works for you, and sticking to it.

Complex Solutions

“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

The stoics give us guidelines of how best to deal with complex problems by teaching us to know and live our principles. Complex problems are hard because there is often no clear way forward. By having a clear set of principles, we are able to make better choices, try things out, see what works, and make adjustments accordingly. Things like finding your life’s purpose, establishing and maintaining healthy boundaries, or learning to be truly happy, are all things that will vary from person to person because there isn’t a “one size fits all” kind of solution.

Solutions to complex problems are the most challenging, as they take the most creative effort, as well as the ability to try, fail, and keep on trying. Complex problems are ones that change and morph over time. As soon as we think we understand the problem, we may find other issues that we were unable to anticipate because the problem is, well, complex.

As I said earlier, I think that most mental and physical health problems fall into the category of complex problems. We often don’t know or understand the things that hold us back. As we seek to understand the things that keep us from making progress, we are often surprised by what we discover. Our path forward is something that is unique to us and no one else. It takes creativity and resilience for us to figure out solutions for the many challenges we face. We may think that we understand how to move forward, only to find that we missed something that dealt us a heavy setback. What worked for us last week might not be as effective this week. The important thing is to keep pressing forward and keep trying.

Mental health issues such as dealing with trauma or depression, are complex issues that take a lot of work to deal with. Often, as we unravel one issue, we stumble onto another that we didn’t even know was there. We might be making progress in one area, only to falter in another due to some unexpected circumstance that took us by surprise.

Physical health issues are also complex problems. We might want to get in shape, but find that because of injuries or other issues, a specific plan that works for one person may not work for us. In my own case, because of issues with my shoulder, I’ve had to be very careful in my daily workouts not exacerbate my injuries. So as I work through my routines, I’m not able to do them exactly the way I want, but I notice how my body is responding, and adjust as necessary. I also may add or remove some exercises depending on how I’m feeling that day.

Chaotic Solutions

“Everyone faces up more bravely to a thing for which he has long prepared himself, sufferings, even, being withstood if they have been trained for in advance. Those who are unprepared, on the other hand, are panic-stricken by the most insignificant happenings.”

— Seneca

Lastly, the stoics give us lots of ideas of how to work through chaotic problems. Learning to manage our emotions, accepting that there are circumstances that we cannot change, and doing our best to remain true to the principles that we have internalized can help us weather the storms that life throws our way.

Tools like premeditatio malorum, which is imagining all the things that can go wrong can help us figure out beforehand how we might deal with situations that we otherwise never would have imagined. This is what crisis and emergency management is all about. We think about what things that can go wrong, and then we work on trying to prepare how we can handle those situations the best.

Chaotic problems are generally rare and are hard to prepare for. Even with the best planning, we also understand that even if we prepare for as many things that can go wrong, we know we probably won’t get them all. Flexibility, grace under pressure, and the ability to adapt quickly are key attributes needed to handle chaotic problems. It’s really about doing the best you can.


Life is full of problems, but understanding the nature of the problems that we face can help us to apply the correct tools. Some problems will have straightforward solutions or processes that we can apply. Complex problems will take lots of resilience, and a willingness to try and fail, and use our principles to guide us when we are unsure of what the next steps might be. Chaotic problems will call on us to keep control of our emotions, accept our circumstances, and do the best we can. The next time you find yourself dealing with a problem in your life, take a moment and see if you can identify what type of problem you’re dealing with, and take the appropriate action.

Hello friends! Thanks for listening.
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Thanks again for listening.


271 – Cultivating Connection: Stoic Insights on Loneliness

Do struggle with loneliness? Have the last few years of lockdowns and isolation been hard on you? Today I want to talk about loneliness, why it’s something that shouldn’t be ignored, and why it’s important for us to reach out and connect to others.

“We are waves of the same sea, leaves of the same tree, flowers of the same garden.”



The last few years have been a struggle for many of us. With the pandemic having made it necessary to curtail so much of social life, many of us have struggled to get our footing back and reconnect with our friends and community. As someone who is naturally extroverted, the pandemic was really hard on me and I know that I slipped into a bit of a depression. It’s taken effort over the past year to try and get myself out of the house and spend time with friends and family.

More recently though, I’ve ended up facing a more stark loneliness. About a month ago my ex partner moved out, and I’m living alone for the first time since 2011. And even back then, I had my kids with me part time, so I was only alone for part of each week.

Living alone in a house where I’m used to almost always having someone around has been far harder than I expected. Not having someone around to chat with and share both the mundane as well as the fun things of life feels very empty at times. Having no one else around for such long stretches makes it too easy to get lost in the darker parts of my mind. The house I live in is far too large for a single person, which makes it feel even more empty.

As I’ve been dealing with this loneliness, I’ve been doing my best to get comfortable with it. I know that this is not a forever situation. I know that once I sell my house and do some traveling, I’ll face other kinds of loneliness as I find myself in new places and have to make new friends. I accept that it’s a part of my life right now, and I’m taking steps be comfortable with it, as well as reaching out to friends and family to meet up and spend time together.

So it was interesting that last week I stumbled on an article in the Atlantic that talked about how last May, the Surgeon General Vivek Murthy published an advisory about a growing epidemic of loneliness and isolation. According to the report, even before COVID, around 50% of American adults reported substantial levels of loneliness. Over the past two decades Americans have spent far less time engaging with family, friends, and people outside of their homes, with just 16% of people saying they felt attached to their local community.

Then the pandemic hit and pushed the accelerator on our loneliness.

Among my friends it was really challenging for those of us who are extroverts. Since we feel regenerated by spending time with others, not being able spend time with others felt like being deprived of a central part of living. For me, weeks began to blur and feel like they were just repeats of the week before. Cabin fever set in, and even though I would go for walks through the woods near my home, what I missed was spending time and connecting with people.

As the lockdowns continued, and the rates of infections skyrocketed, feelings of isolation felt even more pronounced. Many of my friends who are introverts even talked about how at first they thought it such a relief because they prefer to be less social. But over time, they realized that even though they prefer their alone time, they missed social connections from work and other activities.

According to the surgeon general, when people are disconnected, they have a significantly higher risk of developing heart disease, dementia, depression, and stroke. Research has also shown that loneliness creates anger, resentment, and even paranoia. When you are disconnected from others, you also have less empathy and tolerance for others because you aren’t exposed to other opinions and ideas. Friendships help us support each other even when we disagree on things.

Research over the last few decades have shown in multiple studies that one of the key predictors of living and longer and healthier life is how connected we are to our fellows humans. Having a strong friend group and support system is right up there with eating healthy and not smoking as far as predicting longevity. Community is one of the healthiest things you can have in your life.

We Need Connection to Survive

I remember when I watched Castaway with Tom Hanks, and thinking about how loneliness would be one of the hardest parts of being stranded out on deserted island. If you haven’t seen the movie, I’m going to give you a few spoilers, but they help illustrate my point. Tom Hanks plays a FedEx employee who gets stranded on an island in the South Pacific for 4 years after his planes crashes in due to a violent storm. To deal with the loneliness, Hanks’ character, Chuck Noland, creates a friend out of a volleyball, and names him Wilson, after the brand of volleyball.

When I first saw how they brought in the character of Wilson, I recognized that it was a way for us to have dialogue in the movie rather than just having Tom Hanks walk around in silence for most of the movie. But as the movie progressed, I also began to see how it was a way that a person in such a situation would be able to help keep themselves sane. Besides the procuring the important things like food, water, and shelter, the need for connection with others is one of the most important things that we need as humans.


“Life’s three best teachers: heartbreak, empty pocket, failures.”

— Haemin Sunim

“You don’t suffer because things are impermanent. You suffer because things are impermanent and you think they are permanent.”

— Thich Nhat Hanh

Loneliness is something that we often experience when change is happening in our lives. There’s often a transition that is going on. For me, it was that my kids grew up and moved out, my last relationship ended and my ex partner moved out, and I was laid off a few months ago.

Talk about massive change.

There are plenty of other scenarios where we may find ourselves lonely. We may graduate from school, losing or starting a new job, or moving to a new city or even a new country. Then there’s getting divorced, losing a partner, or the death of a loved one. There are so many things that can disrupt our connections with others, which is why it’s easy to fall into being alone and finding ourselves struggling with loneliness.

So what are the downsides of loneliness personally as well as in society? Why would the Surgeon General, the top doctor in the U.S., think this was so important as to marshal resources to study and to warn us as was done in the past with smoking and heart disease?


One of the most important factors that contributes to addiction is loneliness. People will use alcohol or drugs to escape loneliness in their lives. Then, because of guilt and shame around their addiction, they isolate themselves even more. This becomes a vicious cycle which takes its toll on our society.

Last year around 106,000 people in the U.S. died from drug related overdoses. That’s almost the size of Bend, which is the 5th largest city in Oregon. When you look at the research on addiction, it’s been shown that the biggest contributor to people breaking the cycle of addiction is community. Being connected to a supportive group of friends and family helps people to feel less alone, and have other to lean on when life feels too much.


“Everything comes and goes in life. Happiness and unhappiness are temporary experiences that rise from your perception. Heat and cold, pleasure and pain, will come and go. They never last forever. So, do not get attached to them. We have no control over them.”

— Krishna

Loneliness is also a key factor for those who commit suicide. Around 800,000 people worldwide kill themselves every year, and the rate in the U.S. has been increasing for the last 15 years. To put that in perspective, the city I live in, Portland, Oregon has a population of 600,000.

What surprised me the most when I was doing some research on rates of suicide, is that in the U.S. the group with the highest rate of suicide are men in their 40s and 50s, which is my age group. This is the group who are in the prime of their careers, who have weathered a lot of life challenges, and yet find life too overwhelming to hang on. Men also commit suicide at 4 times the rate that women do, which often has to do with the cultural stigma that men need to be tough, and that asking for help is a sign of weakness.

So how do we deal with loneliness? How can we get better about managing loneliness, and what are some strategies for finding the connection that we need in our lives?

Get Comfortable With the Uncomfortable

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

— Marcus Aurelius

One of the things that we need to learn in this world is how to be comfortable with uncomfortable things. This includes both physical discomfort as well as emotional and mental discomfort. The better we are at not running away from discomfort, the stronger we become. The more we are able to sit with our emotions, the less control they have over us.

If you feel lonely, listen to it. You feel lonely because you’re missing connection with other people. That’s not a bad thing. Emotions are flags, they are guides that help us see where we need to go, and what we need to do. It’s when we try to avoid our emotions by suppressing or ignoring them that we get into trouble.

Often, when we are struggling with loneliness we are hard on ourselves and feel like we deserve to feel awful. We feel like maybe we’re alone because of whatever awful reasons we create in our minds. Treat yourself like you would treat a friend. Be kind to yourself. Be supportive and make sure that your self talk is helpful and not denigrating or harsh.


One thing that I always recommend in any time of difficulty is that you take care of your physical health. If you aren’t feeling well physically, then it’s much harder to feel well mentally. Remember, we experience the world through our bodies and if we’re out of shape, it’s going to impact our mental well being.

Start by doing simple things like getting rid of junk food, making better meal choices, and reducing alcohol consumption. Find ways to improve your fitness by going on walks and doing some basic weight training. Is there a sport that you used to enjoy? See if you can pick it up again. Try to do something that works your body out every day. It amazing how just 20 minutes of physical effort can improve your mood and make the day feel just a little easier.


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

— Seneca

Often times when we’re feeling lonely, it’s because we have extra time on our hands. Time spent with previous partners or at a job is now idle. Take this time to rediscover old hobbies and interests, or pursue some new ones. Did you play trumpet in middle school? Find a cheap one and start to practice again. Maybe pick up painting or woodworking. Doing something creative has been a practice for centuries of dealing with the vagaries of life.

For me, I enjoy making music so I try to play piano for at least 30 minutes a day. I also purchased some gear to make some electronic music because I find that music production engages my mind and my creativity in a way that helps uplift me. Even if I never finish a song, just the act of trying to create something is immensely satisfying.

Reach Out

“Pain is neither intolerable nor everlasting if you bear in mind that it has its limits, and if you add nothing to it in imagination.”

— Marcus Aurelius

The best thing that we can do when we’re feeling lonely is to reach out to other people. This is not always an easy thing, but it is vital if we want to alleviate the loneliness we might be struggling with. Some people struggle with depression or just find it hard to reach out to others when they feel like they are struggling. Even though I don’t consider myself to suffer strongly from depression, there are times where I feel like because I’m not at my best, others might not want to hang out with me. I let insecurities get the best of me and rather than reaching out, I just stay at home and watch Netflix or play video games, which only exacerbates the feelings of loneliness.

Reaching out to friends and family is an important part of pulling ourselves out of loneliness. The problem is that it can be kind of a vicious cycle. We convince ourselves that they don’t want us to bother them, so we don’t reach out. Then we feel even more lonely. But the thing is, others also feel lonely at times so reaching out to them is something they probably need as well. There have been plenty of times where I’ve reached out to friends and they’ve been grateful because the’ve been struggling as well.

If you find that you’re really struggling and it’s interfering with your daily life, then I also recommend that you reach out for professional help. There are so many resources out there, and there is nothing wrong with asking for help. I’ve been going to therapy for a few years now I as have been working through a lot of the trauma I grew up with.

Get Involved

“As long as we live, let us cherish each other. For, when we die, the opportunity of aiding one another is lost for all eternity.”

— Seneca

If we struggle to reach out to friends or family, there are plenty of groups and activities that we can get involved with where we can make new friends. There are organizations that need volunteers such as soup kitchens, youth sports, or visiting the elderly. If you’re looking for something more fun, you can take dance classes, marshal arts, or join an adult sports league.

There are also plenty of groups online that you can join to connect with others. While it may not be as fulfilling as meeting in person, it can certainly offer a place where you can meet others with common interests that you may not have run into otherwise. I mean, during the pandemic, my oldest child was involved in an online Dungeons and Dragons group that met regularly on Discord. Part of the reason why I started the Stoic Coffee House community is to create a space for my listeners to meet and chat about stoicism and how to live the principles a little better. There are so many opportunities both in person and virtually that you can be a part of to connect with others.

For any group activity that you get involved in, I would recommend that it be something that is positive and uplifting. Often lonely people fall into groups where the thing in common is who they hate, and they usually blame others for what is wrong in their lives. Remember, stoicism is about taking responsibility for yourself, and in this case, it’s about taking responsibility for your loneliness. Find a group that brings out the best of you.


Loneliness is something that many of us will face throughout our lives. Oftentimes it happens in the midst of already big changes, which makes it feel like it’s compounding already difficult situations. Reaching out to others whether in our real or virtual lives can help us maintain healthy connections to our fellow humans. If you’re struggling with loneliness, and even if you’re not, reach out to those around you, because it’s not just good for you, but it’s also good for all of us to connect with each other.

Hello friends! Thank you for listening.

Want to make friends while working on practicing stoic principles in your life? The come join us in the Stoic Coffee House!

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.

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.


260 – Suffer Well

Do you give up on things because they’re hard? How willing are you to suffer for the things that you truly want in your life? Today I want to talk about how to get what you want, and why it’s important to learn how to suffer well.

"Suffering becomes beautiful when anyone bears great calamities with cheerfulness, not through insensibility but through greatness of mind."

— Seneca

Life is Suffering

The first principle in Buddhism is that life is full of suffering. It is something that we cannot avoid. But, once we accept that life is full of suffering, it makes it so the suffering isn’t so bad. The idea that there should not be suffering, actually leads to more suffering, because we waste time and energy on what we think should be, rather than what actually is. When we accept that life is full of suffering, it is acceptance of reality.

We can see the importance of suffering in religious traditions. Jesus is said to have fasted in the desert for 40 days and 40 nights before he began to preach. The Buddha spent many years fasting and putting himself through physical hardship to reach enlightenment. Shamans in many cultures must endure physical trials before they are considered worthy to guide others. Prophets and teachers were not considered worthy unless they have suffered.

In our time, so much of our lives are centered around seeking comfort, but what if we took the time in our lives to practice suffering well? What if rather than avoiding uncomfortable things, you embraced them? What if rather than seeking comfort in your life, you sought out things that were hard, things that made you suffer by choice?

Suffer By Choice

The reason I was thinking about this topic is that yesterday I went out for my longest bike ride for the season yet. It was just under 30 miles and was quite challenging because I haven’t been out riding as regularly as I’d like to. As I was out straining and climbing the hills south of my home, I was thinking about how I had missed riding, and how much I loved pushing myself to see how much faster and stronger I could get. I thought about how much I was willing to suffer to become a better rider.

For a little backstory, I started cycling back in 2003. I was living in Minnesota at the time, and I was not in very good shape. I had been overweight for a number of years, mostly out of laziness. I wasn’t in very good health and had all kinds of digestive issues because my diet was very unhealthy.

One Sunday afternoon, I watched the Ironman triathlon that takes place in Hawaii every year. This was the first time I’d ever watched it, and I was entranced. Watching the stories of the participants and what it took to get there was pretty intense, and very inspiring. Here were people who were willing to sacrifice and suffer to see how hard they could push themselves.

It reminded me of how intense wrestling practices had been in high school. I remembered how I looked forward to that intensity because even though it was hard. On the mat, I learned how to push myself further that I thought I could. I learned that even when I thought I was done, I could pull a little more out of me.

So on that day in 2003, watching those triathletes push their limits, I decided that I needed to get off my ass and get back in shape. I decided that I would start training for triathlons. I began attending spin classes at my gym. I hit the treadmill. I even started swimming laps, which was something I had never really liked.

At first, it was really hard. I would finish up spin classes completely drenched in sweat. My pace on the treadmill and my lap times in the pool were embarrassingly slow. But I kept at it. I decided that I was going to be a triathlete, and that was that. It was worth suffering for.

A little over a year later, I did my first triathlon. It was a short course, so nothing near as hard as a full Ironman. I had also lost a lot of weight, and was in the best shape of my life since high school wrestling.

After that I found that I was drawn more to cycling than triathlons, so I changed my focus. Nonetheless, I still appreciated the struggle and was happy to suffer a few times a week in the saddle. There’s just something incredible feeling about pushing yourself to those limits.

Now please note, I’m not saying this to toot my own horn. Over the past 10 years, I let my riding fall by the wayside. I could have carved out time for it, but I found excuses for why I didn’t get out and ride. Even this week, I could have ridden at least one more day, but came up with some excuse of why I should skip it. It’s challenging, and sometimes I don’t feel like I have it in me to suffer that much. Sometimes it’s only after I’m done that I appreciate the struggle.


“Pain is neither intolerable nor everlasting if you bear in mind that it has its limits, and if you add nothing to it in imagination.”

—Marcus Aurelius

So why is it important to suffer for something?

When we suffer for something we learn to be resilient. When other things in our life fall apart, we are able to draw upon the lessons we learned from suffering and apply them somewhere else. We know that even though things seem really bad, that we can keep pushing through till things get better. We can handle uncomfortable things, because we have practiced doing so. We increase our tolerance for the slog. We know that we can continue to push through the parts that suck. We step up and face things that we are afraid of. We learn how to focus under stress.

Embrace Discomfort

When we suffer for something, we learn to not avoid discomfort, but we turn to it and embrace it. We recognize that if we want to grow we need to go towards the things that are hard, the things that we might rather avoid. We can see that these are the things that will make us grow. When life throws challenges your way, because you know how to handle suffering, you are better able to navigate life’s challenges. You’ve already practiced how to keep going and how to manage yourself when things suck.


Probably the most obvious thing we learn from suffering, is discipline. When we have decided that something is worth suffering for, and we continually push ourselves through it, we develop the skills to get ourselves to do what we want to do, even when it sucks. When we look at what we need to do to accomplish our goals, we don’t seek out the comfortable option. We seek out the most effective option, even if it’s hard because we know that we can handle hard things.

Learning to suffer well also helps develop emotional discipline. Because we have increased our capacity to suffer, we are far less reactive. We can sit with discomfort because it’s something we’re used to. We’re okay with not everything being comfortable in our lives.


"The greater the difficulty, the more glory in surmounting it."

— Epictetus

One of the things that happens when we learn how to suffer well is we become more confident in our abilities. We learn where our edges are and that we can push ourselves much further than we previously thought. If we are continually taking the easy path, we never really discover our strength. We don’t know how much we can really take until we push our limits.

We also find inner strengths that we may not have even known we had. We learn how to function well in hard situations. Since we are rarely actually pushed to our limits, when we practice doing so, we’re more likely to keep a clear mind when disasters strike or we find ourselves in challenging circumstances.


Another reason why we should learn to suffer well is to develop a stronger sense of purpose. If you have never worked hard for something in your life, you have never really stretched yourself. You’ve never pushed yourself hard enough to see what you really can do. If you’ve never sacrificed for something you’ve never worked for something that you have found to be valuable enough to sacrifice for. It means that you have lived a pretty unremarkable life.

The harder we have to work, the more we have to overcome to achieve something, the more it means to us. If it’s too easy, it’s boring. If it never tests your strength or stretches you, then it doesn’t feel all that rewarding to accomplish it. This is something that I constantly have to remind myself when I hit something hard that I’m working on. There’s a part of me that wants it to be easy, and to just work the way I want it. But if it’s something that I have to put effort into, the feeling that I get when something finally clicks, or something works out after I put effort into it is very rewarding.

Do I Really Have to Suffer?

Now I know that I’ve talked a lot about physical suffering in the episode, but that’s because physical suffering is a good teacher. Your willingness to push through when something is physically demanding takes a lot of mental discipline to keep at it when your body wants you to turn away and quit. When you can develop the necessary mental fortitude to push through something physical, you can transfer the skills onto other areas of your life.

This is often why people join the military. They want to develop the mental and physical toughness to help them face the challenges of life head on. When you develop this kind of skill, it makes it easier to set goals and to go after what you want. When you hit a roadblock, you don’t just throw up your hands and quit. You know how to stick with things even when it’s difficult.

The other reason why I think physical challenges and suffering are helpful is because progress is pretty easy to measure. When you push yourself physically you will get stronger. You’ll be able to run or ride further and faster. You develop mastery over your body, and since we experience the world in our bodies, experiencing the full capabilities of your body is truly a wonderful experience.

Doing something physical is also really good for your mental health. I know that when I come back from a long ride my mind is usually clearer. I have a sense of calm from both the exertion and the endorphins, which often spills over into the next day.

Pain Or Pleasure?

I want you to consider this idea – that we really only truly suffer because of what we make something mean. When I’m climbing the hills on my bike, I don’t really consider it suffering in the traditional sense. Yes, my calves burn and have to generously use my massage gun on them once I get home, but because it’s something that I enjoy, I don’t really consider it suffering. It doesn’t mean that it’s not hard and at times painful, but I consider it pleasure because I know that it’s making me stronger, and I love how it feels when I’ve finished a ride.

What Are You Willing To Suffer For?

“Start living in discomfort. Gradually increase it little by little, and you will steadily grow. If you want sudden growth, deluge yourself in great discomfort and do not retreat from it. The more discomfort you are willing to bear, the more you can grow.”

@TheAncientSage (twitter)

So what are you willing to suffer for? Is there something in your life that you would like to do that is hard and would push you to your limits? Maybe running or swimming or rowing? If you’re not in good shape, consider just getting outside and walking every day. Do something that challenges you physically, and note how it affects your mental state. I would bet after 30 days of challenging yourself physically that your overall mental state would be much improved. If you’re willing to share, I’ll put post on instagram where you can share with me what you’re willing to suffer for. I’d love to hear what you’re willing to suffer for.


When we seek a life of comfort, we’re playing things safe. We aren’t pushing our limits. We aren’t living our best lives. When we decide to actively push ourselves and suffer for something, we not only improve our physical health, but the mental discipline and resilience we develop spill over to other parts of our lives. We know that we can push through discomfort to reach the the goals that we want, all because we learned how to suffer well.

Hello friends! Thank you for listening. Stop by the website at where you can sign up for our newsletter, and buy some great looking shirts and hoodies at the Stoic Coffee Shop.

Want to help support this podcast? Become a patron on patreon!

Like the theme song? You can find it here from my alter ego. 🙂

Find me on instagram or twitter.

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

Thanks again for listening.

Challenges Change Future

258 – Nothing Endures But Change

How do you handle change? Does it overwhelm you? Do you try to ignore it or do you embrace it? Today I want to talk about understanding change and how we can use stoicism to help us through some rocky times.

“Nothing endures but change.”

— Heraclitus

“There are two of the most immediately useful thoughts you will delve into. First that things cannot touch the mind: they are external and inert; anxieties can only come from your internal judgement. Second, that all these things you see will change almost as you look at them, and then will be no more. Constantly bring to mind all that you yourself have already seen changed. The universe is change: life is perspective.”

— Marcus Aurelius


Change is the only constant in the universe and is something that everyone has to deal with in life. There is simply no way to avoid it. Life is change. When you stop changing, you’re dead.

As much as we like variety in life, most of us enjoy stability or the sameness of life. This is why we don’t get up and move every day. We like finding a place to live, people to be friends with, stores that we regularly shop at.

There is a certain comfort that comes with familiarity. We see this in all areas of our lives. When we go to the store, we like to know where the things are that we want and get frustrated when things are moved to a new aisle. We will often buy the same brand of shoe year after year because we like the fit or the look. We go to the same restaurants or bars because we feel comfortable with the decor, the staff, and the food.

When it comes to work we will often stay at jobs we don’t like because the amount of changed involved feels like it will be too much. Looking for a new job, learning new skills, and possibly moving can seem daunting and cause us to not take action. Starting your own company or working for yourself may be a dream that never gets fulfilled simply because there is too much change involved.

When it comes to people, we have friendships that last for years because they bring us connection and community. We will often hold onto not so great friendships simply because we have had them for a while. People may stay in romantic relationships even when both partners are unhappy simply because making that big of change is too scary. There’s a comfort with what we know, and even if we may not feel that close anymore, there’s a familiarity that is not easy to let go of.

We like things to stay the same.

We always have the opportunity to make changes and choose different things in our lives. This is something that many of us don’t really think much about. We forget that at any time we can decide to change our lives. Often it isn’t until something big happens to knock us out of our comfort zone that we try something new, and that’s often because we have no choice.


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

— M. Scott Peck

The reason that I’m discussing this topic this week is because my life has been hit with a lot of changes over past year. My kids are out of the house and living their own lives. They’re doing a great job being adults, and I’m proud of them, but I’m not longer a caregiver in that sense any more. My romantic relationship of almost 10 years came to an end and it’s been a struggle to process it and move on. I was laid off from work a few months ago and even though my skills are usually in high demand, I haven’t even gotten a first interview. On top of that I’m selling my house because I don’t need this much space for one person. I’ve also decided to move to Europe after I get my house sold, though I’m still unsure where I’ll end up.

Talk about massive changes.

This last weekend I went camping at a regional Burning Man music and art festival. For me, events like this are always a place for reflection and processing hard things in my life. It’s a space to get away from daily life and slow down. It was a hard weekend in some ways because I realized how adrift I felt. So many of core parts of my life have shifted in such dramatic ways that at times I feel overwhelmed. I took the time this weekend to reconnect with friends and really think about my next steps in life.

So, with that said, I want to talk about some of the things that I learned over the past few months about how to deal with with big changes in our lives in the most effective way.

First, I want to talk about some of the challenging emotions that we face when we have big changes that happen in our lives.


“Fear is the basis of all suffering. Both desire and anger are manifestations of fear. Fear itself is a creation of your mind. It does not exist independently. Since it is a fabrication, you don’t have to fight it. Just understand it. Understanding is the key to freedom.”

@TheAncientSage (twitter)

We often feel fear when there is a change in our lives because we were comfortable with the way things were, and we’re scared of the unknown, we’re scared of the future. While we rationally understand that the future is never something we can know, when we are in a comfortable place in our lives, our minds get used to it and we act as if life will continue on the same.

When we start to worry about the future, we will often fall into the cognitive distortion of catastrophizing, which is where we imagine the worse case scenario and believe that is what is going to happen to us. We start to assume that things can only get worse and will never be as good as they were.

If we lose a job, we might worry about how we’re going to pay our bills. We may believe that we will never find another job. If a relationship ends we may feel like we will never find another relationship where we are loved again.


There are many emotions that come up when grapple with change. Grief is probably the heaviest one to deal with. What grief is really about is struggling with change. It’s about recognizing that from the moment of that loss, that life will no longer be the same.

When I talk about grief, I’m not just talking about the death of someone we care about. It can mean any significant loss that we facing. It could be the death of a loved one or even just someone we admire. It could mean the end of a significant relationship. It could mean the loss of a job that we really loved. It could be the loss of a home or a pet, or even moving to a new city.

When there is something that holds importance to us, we feel like it’s a part of our life. When that loss occurs, we feel like we are losing a part of our lives. Since we are social creatures, we integrate people into part of our lives. We know who we are by our interactions with other people. When we lose someone close to us, it can feel like we are losing a part of ourselves, and in a way we are because our lives aren’t just us as a single person, but us as part of a community.

Losing a job can also be something that can cause a lot of grief. We may feel a lack of purpose in our lives if our job is a defining part of our identity. I know some people identify so strong with their careers that they feel like they aren’t themselves if they aren’t dong their kind of work.

When a romantic relationship ends we can often feel a great deal of loss. When we have someone that is so entwined in our lives, they really are a part of us. You feel like you are missing your other half. Loneliness always lurks around the corner. You miss that comfort of the other person that knows you so well and has been your support.

Your social life changes pretty drastically as well. As much as they try not to, friends may divide themselves onto one side or the other. Attending events without your former partner feels strange. You often feel like you will never be loved again like that person loved us.

So how do we deal with big changes in our lives? I think that the hardest part for any of us is to let go of the resistance that we put up when big changes come along in our lives. We don’t want things to change, and the more we can flow with the changes, the easier we’ll be able to see and embrace the opportunities ahead. We’ll be able to take actions that will help us move forward into the future with confidence.

Feel It

“No amount of anxiety makes any difference to anything that is going to happen.”

— Alan Watts

I think the most important thing we can do when we struggle these heavy emotions is to give ourselves time to fully feel them. The worst thing you can do is to try and ignore them or repress them. When the stoics talk about living according to nature, for me that includes feeling your emotions. Every one of us has emotions which is part of our nature. The notion that stoics do not feel emotions is wrong. We just work on trying to manage our emotions in a healthy and productive way.

When we feel fear, we need to lean in, feel it, and understand why it is there. We can talk with our friends about the fear that we are feeling. I know for me I will often feel so much better just talking about the things that I’m afraid of. I talk about my worries of the future so that they are out of my head. Once they’re out in the open it’s easier to talk about what I can do about them. It also makes it easier to see that they aren’t really all that scary, and that people throughout history have dealt with massive changes in their lives and they have not only survived, but plenty have thrived.

“It is better to conquer grief than to deceive it.”

— Seneca

When it comes to grief, I think that it’s really important to let yourself feel it. The more you try to ignore grief, the more it will sink you. When you feel a loss so big that it causes you grief, you really are losing a part of yourself, and you need to mourn that loss. If you don’t process that grief, you are simply delaying something that your mind needs to work through. Talk with a good friend, and if it’s too much for them to handle, find a good therapist. There is no shame in grieving. Even the mighty Spartans grieved over those lost in battle.

Premeditatio Malorum

“This is why we need to envisage every possibility and to strengthen the spirit to deal with the things which may conceivably come about. Rehearse them in your mind: exile, torture, war, shipwreck. Misfortune may snatch you away from your country… If we do not want to be overwhelmed and struck numb by rare events as if they were unprecedented ones; fortune needs envisaging in a thoroughly comprehensive way.”


One of the best ways that we can prepare for dealing with fear, grief, and anxiety about change is to take some time and imagine the worst possible scenario. Now I know this feels like it’s falling into a catastrophizing mindset, but premeditatio malorum is about thinking through all possible cases while you are in a safe place. You prepare yourself mentally to go to a darker place, all from the safety of your own mind.

I recommend either writing in your journal, talking to a good friend you trust, or even a therapist. The more you just let them float around in your mind, the scarier than can seem, so get them out of your head. You can set out a basic format of listing all the things that can go wrong, and then think about ways you could handle them should they arise. You can work backwards and think about ways that you can prepare for them and maybe even see ways that you can prevent them.

Acceptance and Appreciation

“Don’t demand or expect that events happen as you would wish them to. Accept events as they actually happen. That way peace is possible.”

— Epictetus

The next big area I want to focus on is acceptance and appreciation. The stoics teach us that it is important to practice amor fati, that we learn to love our fate. Life is going to throw things at you whether you like it or not. The universe doesn’t care how you feel about it, so doing your best to love what gets sent your way is a way to keep yourself from feeling overwhelmed when big changes come. When you can learn to appreciate the hard things and the lessons they teach you, then you are more likely to see them as opportunities than challenges.

“Change is never painful, only your resistance to change is painful.”

— Buddhist proverb

In many ways, all the hard things that have happened to me have pushed me to step up and take more responsibility for my life. I don’t really have the option to just sit back and coast. Since I’m unemployed, I’ve had to step up and figure out how to cover my expenses. When I lost my job a few months ago, I didn’t stress out about it nor did I get mad at my former boss. I just recognized that it was just a part of life and that now I had time to work on other things that I didn’t have time for in the past.

Since then I created a 30 day challenge stoic challenge course for my listeners. I’ve been working on setting up mastermind groups and private coaching. I’ve been learning about marketing and creating content. I’ve also been practicing piano more often, exercising every day, and taking steps to improve my health. I’ve taken time to grieve over the loss from my relationship ending, and also appreciated the great things that I gained from that relationship.

Another thing I realized with all the big changes happening is that even though I do feel adrift, it’s okay. I realized that rather than feeling anxiety that things are so unsettled and wishing that things were more certain, I decided I to get comfortable with things being adrift and trust that at some point in the future things will be more solid. I’ve accepted that I’m just going to feel untethered, and that I need to stop resisting and do my best just flow with the changes.


“Life is a storm that will test you unceasingly. Don’t wait for calm waters that may not arrive. Derive purpose from resilience. Learn to sail the raging sea.”

— @TheStoicEmperor (twitter)

Life never goes according to plan nor according to our desires, and to be honest, I think that’s a good thing. If life went exactly the way that we wanted we’d be rather bored. It’s the challenges and the hardships that we overcome that make life interesting and exciting. When we have to stretch and work for what comes next, that’s when we grow. That’s when we learn how to accomplish great things. That’s when we feel most alive. When we accept what happens to us and figure out how to make the best of what comes our way, then we are truly living life like a stoic.

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.

Acceptance Choices Circumstances

250 – When Life Has Other Plans

When life throws you curveballs, how do you handle them? Do you freak out? Do you roll with it? Do you look at it as an opportunity or a disaster? Today I want to about how to keep a perspective on life that helps you keep on moving when things don’t go as planned.

We must be willing to let go of the life we planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us.

— Epictetus

First, I want to apologize for not getting last weeks episode out. As you know I’ve been struggling with pretty severe insomnia over the last few months and last week I just hit a wall. I had the episode about 85% finished, but was so wiped out that It was a struggle to just get to the end of the week. The irony of it was that the episode was about dealing with feeling overwhelmed. I was going to make it this weeks episode, but given some big events that happened for me this last week, I felt it was more pressing to talk about how we handle the unexpected twists that life throws our way.


One of my favorite things that has taken place in Portland over the past 12 years was the World Domination Summit. For those of you who don’t know what it was, it was kind of like a TED conference with all kinds of interesting speakers, classes, and experiences for people who want to live differently in the world. It was founded by Chris Guillebeau, who lives here in Portland. He’s the author of several books and writes a blog about travel and living an unconventional life.

A few weeks ago, I was reading one of his posts called “Congratulations On Your New Life”, that really stuck with me. He talked about how a few years ago he was speaking at a conference and someone who was asking a question mentioned that they had just lost their job, and rather than offering condolences, he felt like he needed to take another route. He congratulated them. Since that time, this is usually the response he offers when someone talks about something that is causing a big transition in life, such as losing a job or ending a relationship.

Now this may seem a little harsh to some people, but Chris mentioned that most times when he followed up with the other person, that even if they were a little shocked at first, when they took the time to think about it, they really didn’t like the job or could see that they were better off out of the relationship. In a way, this event was a favor and an opportunity to make a change in their life that they probably wouldn’t have done were it not for this happening.


The obstacle in the path becomes the path. Never forget, within every obstacle is an opportunity to improve our condition.

— Ryan Holiday

This last week, as I mentioned, was exhausting. I decided to take off Friday to see if I could get caught up on some sleep. Even though I knew that I could sleep in, I still only got about 5 hours of sleep. I was able to get a short nap in later that afternoon, but soon after waking up received a call from the owner of the company I work for. He let me know that due to financial constraints, he had to cut my project and was letting me go. I thanked him for letting me know and we talked through next steps of making the transition smoother for the other developers who would be taking up the slack for some of my minor projects.

At the end of the call, he thanked me for handling things professionally and not making it a difficult call. I told him there was no reason make things difficult. He was simply doing what he needed to for his company. For me, it was an interesting moment. There was no real stress about the whole thing. It was just matter of fact like “this is just a thing that happens in life”. I felt very relaxed and stoic about it, and after the called was over I laughed about the fact that my first thought on hearing the news was that now I’d finally be able to caught up on sleep.

Life Happens

So what do you when life throws unexpected things your way? Do you panic? Do you look at all the downsides?

Don’t Panic!

— Douglas Adams

The first and most important thing we can do in any situation is to do our best to stay calm. Part of the stoic teaching of Amor Fati, is that we love everything that happens to us, and that our reaction to anything will not really change what happens. In the case of getting laid off, being rude to my now former boss, would not have changed the situation, and would have only made things worse. In fact, by the end of the call, he asked if, when he had more funding available in the future, I was open to working as consultant to finish the development of the software I had been working on. I told him that I was certainly open to it if my situation in the future made it possible to do so.

No One to Blame

To accuse others for one’s own misfortunes is a sign of want of education; to accuse oneself shows that one’s education has begun; to accuse neither oneself nor others shows that one’s education is complete.


Another important thing we can do is not get caught up in finding someone to blame. It is one thing to understand the root cause of something, but to waste time trying to pin the blame on someone does nothing to help you move forward. It only leads to more stress and worry. Now, this does not mean that if someone is causing issues for you that you simply ignore them. It does mean that you do your best move on and let go of things that don’t serve you. In this case, being angry with my former boss because he didn’t have the funds to continue keeping me on payroll doesn’t matter. It’s simply the way that things turned out. It’s just the way that all the circumstances lined up. Nothing more, nothing less.


There are no problems, only choices.

One of the most important ideas that I’ve been trying to implement in my life over the past few months is that of focusing on what choices I have in front of me in any given situation. Letting go of all the worries and what ifs won’t help me keep moving forward. In the case of losing my job, I’ve been able to apply this by making a list of things I can do, not worry about why didn’t things work the way I wanted.

What Next?

It is not what happens to you that matters, but how you react to it that determines the quality of your life.

— Epictetus

So what comes next for me? That’s hard to say at the moment. This last year has been a turbulent one already, so this is just one more factor in the mix. But right now I have a little more of the most precious resource known to man – available time. And this is something that will allow me to accelerate some things I’ve been working towards.

I find myself in a place full of opportunity.

I’m reaching out to recruiters and others in my industry. Since I’m working on getting my house ready to sell, I’m appreciating the fact that I will have more time available for getting things prepared. I plan on improving my workout regimen and cycling more once the weather warms up a little more. I plan on getting a few more podcast episodes made so I have them ready a week or more in advance so that I don’t run into something like last week. I’m working on some ideas for expanding the reach of the podcast.

But first, I’m going to get some sleep.

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.


239 – Lessons Learned

Lessons Learned
The Universe is Change

Hey everyone, this year has been an especially rough year for many of us. I can honestly say it has been for me. I had another episode mostly written but I decided that I wanted to change things up and talk about what I have learned over the past year, and ask you about the most important things you have learned.

The past few years have been quite a ride for the world. With Covid shutting down so many things and altering our way of life in so many ways, we have all been affected in big and small ways. For me, the company I work for shut down our offices and we now all work remote. Since the company I work for is very small, we all decided that it wasn’t worth the risk since if one of us got sick and came into the office, there was a high likelihood that everyone else would catch it as well.

This has been a mixed blessing. I enjoy working from home and having a lot a freedom and flexibility in my work. But, I’m also an extrovert and a very social person. I really enjoy spending time with others. Finding connection with other people is one of the things that feeds my soul, and Covid made that very challenging. Over time, I found myself retreating more and more and reached out less and less to friends. I think I also fell into a bit of depression because of my lack of time with others, as well as struggling with my own self esteem.

I had also stopped the podcast a while before the pandemic, but a year or so in, I decided for my own sanity to restart it so that I could spend some time each week tending to my mental health by working on the podcast. Each episode that I create is more than likely something I’m struggling with at the time I’m working on it. This helped me focus on the shit that I was dealing with, and try to find some ways to effectively deal with them. I call the podcast my public therapy.

But I think this last year has been one of the hardest but also one with some incredible growth. This year I’ve been working through the ending of my primary relationship with my partner of almost 9 years. In many ways I really put off dealing with it, which unfortunately made things much harder. It hasn’t been until the past few months that I felt like I had the strength and the skills to face it head on. It was why I took a break from the podcast at the beginning of last year, under the guise of spending more time working on learning Unreal Engine to change my career path. I felt a lot of shame over my failure to fix the issues in my relationship, and felt like a failure and a hypocrite if I continued the podcast. I mean how could I tell you, my audience, how to improve your lives when mine felt like a disaster?

But as I’ve worked through the ending of that relationship, I’ve learned some things about myself that helped me make some big strides, and I felt it was important to share them with you. I worked through some big blindspots and learned a lot about myself, and finally felt like I had a grasp on some concepts that could really move the needle for anyone who was trying to improve their lives. Many of those became episodes, and I feel like they’ve been some of my best. So now, I’d like to share some of the most important lessons I’ve learned this year.

Lesson One: Failure is just missed expectations.

I often talk a lot about learning from failure on this podcast, and it’s become very popular to talk about being okay with failure. But, to be honest, I think that even though we say it’s okay to fail there’s a part of us that still struggles to accept that. We don’t like failing at things, even if we say it’s okay to fail.

But over the last year, I finally started to make sense of a quote from Epictetus that took me many years to understand:

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

― Epictetus

The reason why this was hard for me to understand is that when something goes wrong or there is some kind of failure, I used to think there was always someone to blame. But what I’ve come to realize is that we only consider something a failure because we have some expectations around it. When we just accept that something happened the way that it did because that’s how all the circumstances and variables lined up, then there is really no one to “blame”.

When we can simply look at something dispassionately as cause and effect, and release any expectations about what we think should happen, we are able to observe, accept, and deal with what is. We learn to deal with reality as best we can, and not be upset that things didn’t happen as we wished they would.

Lesson Two: You are worthy of love because you exist.

Often, I felt like I had to be perfect for someone to love me. I felt like I had to be perfect for me to love and accept myself, and this is simply not the case. You don’t have to be perfect to be worthy of love and to accept yourself. And there are several things to consider around this that support my opinion.

First, no one can ever be perfect. There is no absolute standard of what a “perfect” person is. And if there was, who would be the one to set that standard? Why should they be the one to set that standard? You have the ability to set the standards for yourself, and part of that standard, in my opinion, should be how kind and compassionate a person can be with themselves.

Second, people will love you because they choose to do so. You have no control over who loves you. As the stoics have well established we can’t control other people.

Third, the stoics recognized that we are all part of the human family and that we are here to help each other the best we can. If we live a life that is only centered around ourselves, then we have missed some of the best things in life. It’s been shown through many experiments and studies that the best way to create joy in your life is to help other people. So do your best to help others, and let them help you.

Lesson Three: The more you run away from the things that you fear, the more power they have over you.

We are more often frightened than hurt; and we suffer more in imagination than in reality.

— Seneca.

Throughout the evolution of mankind, there were plenty of mortal threats that we had to have healthy sense of fear in order to stay safe. For the most part, most of us life in fairly safe places where we rarely have to worry about our physical safety. Most of the things that cause us distress are the thoughts, perceptions, and opinions in our own minds. In other words, we create our own fear. We stress ourselves out. We are the main source of our suffering.

More often than not, when we take the time to examine our own thinking about something, we can see that it is our imagination that is really scaring us. We create the worst case scenario in our minds, and convince ourselves that it is the most likely outcome. Whether that’s a hard conversation with our partner, kids, or friends, or standing up when there is an injustice that we object to, we imagine the worst outcome, and scare ourselves into inaction. We may fail to see that what we consider to be an awful outcome might be a great opportunity.

Lesson Four: You need to be the source of your self esteem.

For a lot of us, especially those who grew up in chaotic and unstable homes, we developed ways to deal with the chaos that, while they were helpful at the time, don’t serve us well in adulthood. Many of us become “people pleasers” in order to stay safe so that we minimize the abuse we suffered from the people closest to us. In my case, this was the unpredictable rage that came from my father. And when I say “people pleaser”, it really isn’t about pleasing the other person. It means that we try to figure out how to keep the other person happy so that we don’t upset the person we look to as our source of love.

When we get into relationships later in life, we will carry these ways of coping with us because it’s what we know. The problem is that if we’re with a partner that has a healthier sense of themselves and how relationships work, these kind of coping skills don’t work. We will try to figure out what we should say or do so this person will love us. We discard our own wants and needs so that this person will still love us. But, to anyone that understands healthy relationships, this is manipulation. We aren’t being honest, we aren’t being our authentic selves. We are trying to be what we think they want to be so that they will stay happy with us and love us.

So lesson number four is that we can’t expect others to be our source of self esteem and healing. We need to be that source for ourselves. To be honest, it is completely unfair that we should expect our partners to be the only source of love for us, and that they should be the ones to fix us. That’s a lot of pressure on anyone. It is also putting our source of self esteem outside of ourselves, so we aren’t in control of it.

When we learn how to accept and love ourselves, we become that source of love for ourselves. We take control of how we feel about ourselves, which means that we can show up in our relationships as a whole person that can accept the love of others, but is not dependent on it. This also means that rather than looking to the other person for what they can give us, we can find healthier ways to give and take in a relationship, rather than just taking.

There are a lot of other lessons that I learned this year, but these are the core ones that stood out to me, especially the lesson of self acceptance. Realizing that by putting that burden on someone else means that it is out of my control was really a life changer. It’s not an easy thing to change your thinking around yourself, and just accept yourself for exactly who you are. There is a lot of pressure to conform to societal ideas of perfection, that no one can ever live up to. There’s a lot of power in accepting yourself for exactly who you are, and extending that to others.

So what lessons have you learned this year? What helped move the needle for you? Are there things that you finally understood that make a big impact on your life? If you’d like to share, please share them on instagram. The account for the podcast is If you’re on twitter, you can find me at @StoicCoffee. I’ll put a post up there about lessons learned in 2022. I’d love to hear what you’ve learned over the last year that really impacted your life.

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.


212 – Friction

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Anxieties can only come from your internal judgement.

— Marcus Aurelius

We all have things in our lives that seems to stop us from completing things that we really want to do. Often, these things aren’t even all that big but end up being show stoppers nonetheless. Today I want to talk about why it’s important to pay attention to the things that get in your way, and some possible ways to get around them.

The other day I was listening to the Hidden Brain podcast and they were talking about the idea that we get stopped from doing things by obstacles that we don’t even really notice. We spend a lot of time and energy on adding fuel to our efforts, such as improving our skills, or spending more time or money, but we miss the small and sometimes seemingly trivial things that are really hammering our progress.

So what do I mean by friction? Friction is anything that slows you down from completing your task. Friction is different than an obstacle in that an obstacle is something obvious and very evidently in the way of completing your task. Friction on the other hand is usually something smaller, subtle, and much harder to figure out.

As a simple example of friction, if you’ve ever been ice skating, a zamboni out on the ice is an obstacle. It is something clearly in your path and something that you’ll need to go around. A rough patch of ice is friction, and while it doesn’t stop you it can slow you down and make your time on the ice much slower.

Why is it easier to add fuel than it is to remove friction? Fuel is obvious. Fuel is resources. Whether that’s time, money, effort, it’s the necessary elements that make up whatever it is you’re working on. It’s things that can be added. If you’re trying to send a rocket into space, adding more fuel to lift you out of Earth’s orbit make sense.

Friction on the other hand is usually something small. They’re usually hard to detect, and may time a lot of time. Often we ignore it as well because each one in and of itself may not be a big deal, but cumulatively several small frictions can add up, and have just as much impact as an obstacle. Back on our rocket analogy, this would be like removing every possible bit of weight that you could from your rocket and payload.

Adding More Fuel

Often times when we’re trying to work on or improve something, we do so by adding fuel. This often is the easiest part because we know what we need to add to something. By this I mean we put more effort into it, push harder, or maybe add more resources. But often times, what is foiling our efforts is not that we aren’t putting enough time or energy or money into something, it’s that we aren’t examining the things that are in the way. It’s not that we need more fuel, it’s that we need to remove friction.

Understanding that sometimes adding more fuel sometimes can actually be detrimental was a lesson that I learned while I was training for short course triathlons. A triathlon for those that don’t know, consists of swimming, cycling, and running, and while I’m not a great runner, I found that swimming was probably the most challenging aspect. When I first started out I could do 500m in about 20 minutes. Just on my own I was about get that time down to about 16 minutes, but it didn’t seem to matter how hard I swam, I couldn’t cut any significant amount off that time.

Then I purchased a book on how to improve my swimming technique, and as I read through all the different pointers, there were two small changes that had a giant impact my time. The first one, was that I needed to reduce the amount of drag that I had in the water by changing my stroke just a little more to the center of my body. Basically, reaching right over the top of my head, rather than to the side. This small change help me be more aerodynamic, and flow through the water a little more smoothly.

The second change, which seemed most counter-intuitive, was that I needed to slow down and use less strokes for each lap. At first I thought, this was crazy, but I tried it and bam! I found that by trying to trying to slow down and use less strokes, my strokes became longer, which helped center my body, and more efficient because less movement also created more flow in the water. By shaving off 2-3 strokes per lap in the pool, I dropped my time closer to 10 minutes.


In his book, The War of Art, Stephen Pressfield talks about the idea of Resistance. Resistance is the opposing force in any creative endeavor, or any endeavor to improve ourselves. To me, Resistance is the mental friction that keeps us from doing our work and accomplishing our task. Whether it’s composing music, writing a novel, starting a company or non-profit, or even just trying to get back in shape, Resistance are the blocks that our minds put into place slow or stop our progress.

Pressfield defines it like this:

Resistance comes arises from within. It is self-generated and self-perpetuated. Resistance is the enemy within.

The thing about Resistance is that it happens to everyone. Those people that are most successful know this. They get that is not something to be feared, but understood. They don’t run away from their enemy, but study it, learn it’s tricks, and find ways to counter every move.

The path of least resistance is a terrible teacher.

— Ryan Holiday

The Path of Least Resistance

Part of why we often make the choices we do is because we tend to follow the path of least resistance. When we come up against a challenge, we tend to choose the easier way through. If you’re walking in the woods, you’re more likely to follow a path that others have already created. When we work on achieving our goals or making personal changes we will also take the path of least resistance, and that’s not always a good thing. If we’re trying to change our diet but we don’t make it easy for ourselves to follow our new plan, then we’re likely going to fall back on old eating habits because they’re much easier and require a lot less work. For example, I know some people who will batch cook meals one night a week so that they have healthy meals every day of the week, rather than trying to come up with some each night that fits into their diet.

Figuring out what is friction in your life is not an easy task. There are so many small things that keep up from stepping up and doing the thing that we want. Sometimes it’s a lack of confidence. Maybe it’s a lack of skill. Maybe it’s a thought pattern or anxiety that keeps us from making the first step. Whatever it is, the more we can do to reduce the friction that we have in our lives, the better off we’ll be when we work on pursuing the things that we want.

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

—Marcus Aurelius


So how can you tell what items are friction and getting in your way of not accomplishing what you want? Often times it can be found when listing out why you are struggling with something. It usually starts with some something like, “I can’t x because of y”. For example, I have friend that gets anxious driving and parking downtown. In their minds they think, “I can’t meet up with friends downtown because parking is so stressful.” In a case like this doing things like finding a parking garage on a map, taking an Uber, or carpooling with a friend is a way to reduce friction of meeting up with friends.


I think one of the most pernicious and most obvious forms of friction is perfectionism. It’s the idea that if we can’t produce something that is good enough or follow our plan well enough that we shouldn’t even try. I know that when I sit down to work on music I will often get overwhelmed because I know that most of what I create that session won’t be very good, at least not at first. This is something that even though I’ve created music that I like, such as the theme to this podcast, I still struggle every time I sit down at the piano because of the pressure I put on my self.


Often we have things that distract us that keep us accomplishing our tasks. There are plenty of things that are easier to do than to put the work in. Our phones, Netflix, email, the internet, are all distractions that can keep us from working on things that we want. These aren’t bad things but we need to be honest about if we are using them to distract us from working on things that we want. Often these are things that feel productive, like answering emails or reading up on something for work. But are they really? Sometimes we do these things because we feel like we are doing work, but we’re not progressing towards our goals. We’re not moving the needle.

Never let people who choose the path of least resistance steer you away from your chosen path of most resistance.

—David Goggins

Social Costs

Sometimes when embark on changing something in our lives we may find that the social costs are something we don’t want to pay. Sometimes this can be our friends or family might not approve of what we want to do, so we avoid doing it, even if we know that it is good for us or it’s something that we want to do. I’ve read that sometimes people are often sabotaged by partners or family members when they want work on losing weight or getting into shape. Other people may not want the us to change, because it may mean that the relationship will change. For example, if one partner is losing weight the other partner may feel threatened because they don’t want to change their eating habits, or they may feel if their partner loses weight and gets into shape, that they may no longer be attractive to the partner that has changed.

Another big example of where let friction stop us from moving forward is our careers. We will often stay at job that we are unhappy with because the friction of finding another job and leaving is too great. We will stay in a field we don’t like because planning out and learning new set of skills can feel overwhelming. It can often be a simple as the idea of taking the time to update our resume seems like too much work, or setting up an account on a job site feels like too much of a hassle.

Reduce Friction

So how do we reduce friction in our lives? I think the biggest thing that we can do is to simply recognize the friction. Once we recognize it, then we can work on strategies to reduce or eliminate the friction. If we suffer from perfectionism, then we can treat our work or tasks as times of play and curiosity, and reduce the pressure to have some to good to just having something at all. If we are easily distracted, we can work to create a distraction free space. If we’re getting friction from our partners or friends, we have frank conversations with them and ask for their support. We do anything that we can to reduce the friction.

When I started this podcast, I found that a friction point for me was that I felt like I didn’t know how to record voices very well. I had been composing music in Logic Pro, so I could use audio software reasonably well, but using a mic to record my voice and make it sound good seemed so overwhelming that it kept me from doing it. So instead of using my expensive equipment, I used my iPhone for significant portion of the first episodes. Once I felt more comfortable with my process, I moved over to recording in Logic, and continued to improve my skills at mixing and recording my voice.


Each of us is going to have different points of friction for the things that we work on in our lives. Often we don’t even recognize what these things are, and in doing so, we may be missing small things that keep us from accomplishing what we set out to do. We may be trying our hardest and putting in extra effort, but finding that we are still falling short, or even digressing. Recognizing and removing the small things in our way can often have the largest impact.

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


206 – The Long Ride

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The greater the difficulty, the more glory in surmounting it. Skillful pilots gain their reputation from storms and tempests. 

— Epictetus

Do you think that life is meant to be comfortable? Do you make choices in your life to take the easy path and avoid discomfort? If so, then you may not be living a life as full as you could.

So much of our lives are built around convenience. This extends to so many areas of our lives – the way we eat and shop, the way we find entertainment, even how we date. We want things to be easy. We complain when things are hard. We whine when things don’t go how we want. So much of the technology that is created and sold in our lives is all about convenience. But are were short changing ourselves by taking the easy path?

Too many people believe that everything must be pleasurable in life. 

— Robert Greene

The Long Ride

When I was really into cycling, I would take off work every other Friday morning and head out on a solo 72 mile ride. I simply called it “The Long Ride”. I would ride out to one of my favorite coffee shops, have a ham, cheese, and egg bagel sandwich for lunch, then head out to finish the long loop all the way home. It would usually take me about 4 to 5 hours, and when I got home, I’d crash for a few hours, then go pick up my kids from school. Some people thought I was crazy, but I loved it. It was right after my divorce and I had little money to take a vacation anywhere, so it was what I used my vacation time for.

Riding like that did several things for me. It was a way for me to push myself to my edge. When you ride a distance like that, you have to know how to pace yourself so that you have enough energy reserved to make it home without calling a friend to come pick you up. You push yourself to your edge to see if you can climb those hills a little faster, or increase your pace across a flat stretch of road by 1 or 2 miles faster than last time. Testing yourself, increasing your strength, or on tough days, just making it back home always created such a feeling of accomplishment.

It was also my Zen time. It was my time for thinking and working through the challenges I was facing in my life. It was also a time when I could just focus on being in the moment. When you’re flying along a country road on a warm summer day with legs pumping, lungs breathing in the air scented with raspberries and clover, you hit this flow state where everything feels perfect. It’s one of the most energizing and amazing feelings in the world.

Start living in discomfort. Gradually increase it little by little, and you will steadily grow. If you want sudden growth, deluge yourself in great discomfort and do not retreat from it. The more discomfort you are willing to bear, the more you can grow. 

— The Ancient Sage (@TheAncientSage)


To get to where you can do a long ride and just take off and ride 72 miles in a few hours, you have to put in the work. You have to build the muscle. You have to put in miles on your bike. You have to be able to climb, and you have to learn to pace yourself so that you can make it out AND back home. It’s not something that you can just pick up and do in a few days or weeks. It’s something that you have put in the miles week after week for a few years. Every time you go out, you have to push yourself a little more. You take those hills that you know will hurt. You drop into the lowest gear, and start pedaling, and when you can, you bump it up a gear. You gradually increase that discomfort by taking the hill a little faster than you did last time. You cut a few minutes off your overall time.

Discomfort is the currency of success. 

— Brooke Castillo

I think everyone needs something like a long ride that they're working towards in their lives. Why? Because when you practice learning how to face uncomfortable situations in one part of your life, it makes it easier to face uncomfortable things in another area. You learn how to find your edge, and how to push past it. If you have been practicing taking on that hill, one pedal push at a time, you will probably be more willing to sit through a tough conversation that makes you feel vulnerable and uncomfortable.

Now it isn’t guaranteed by any means. Just because you’re great in one area of your life doesn’t mean you’ll be great at another area. I think you need to be mindful about applying skills across disciplines. But if you’ve never really had to work for anything, never pushed yourself out of your comfort zone, then you’re probably lacking the tenacity you need to see things through.

In fact, since I’ve slacked off from riding over the last few years, I’ve noticed that my tolerance for dealing with challenging situations is not where it used to be. I’ve started training to get back in shape to where I can take my long rides. It’s not easy. I’m nowhere near the shape that I was in, and I’ve picked up some bad habits, especially in my diet, that I need to change in order to reach that level of performance again. I’m also older and have to make allowances for how my body has aged. But I know that the benefits both in physical and mental health that come with  training for my long rides will be worth it. It will take mindfulness to plan workouts and diet, as well as managing my time in order to fit in the training and rides needed. It will take discipline to make sure that I don’t skip training because “I don’t feel like it”.

Comfort makes you weaker. We need some variability, some stressors. Not too much, but just enough. 

— Nassim Nicholas Taleb

What is Your Long Ride?

So what is your long ride? What is the thing that you want to get better at that you know the only way to do it is to put in the work? Maybe you want to bench press your body weight or break your personal record in running a 10k. Maybe it’s coding your own application or starting a business. Maybe it’s learning how to speak another language or sing in front of other people. Whatever it is, are you putting in the hard work? Are pushing yourself to your edge, strengthening those muscles, whether physical or mental, and building the skills? Or are you just putting the bare minimum, trying to fool yourself that somehow your minimal effort will be enough? Or maybe not even pursuing it at all and leaving it for “someday”?

If there is something that you’ve been wanting to do, but keep putting it off, take a look at why. What is it that keeps from doing it? What are you afraid of? What excuses do you tell yourself so you keep pushing off working on your long ride? Maybe you’re scared because you might fail. Maybe you’re scared that you’ll succeed. And I’m sure, like all of us, you can come up with all kinds of excuses. There is never enough time. There is never a perfect time to get started.

Start with something small, such as setting aside a little time each day to come up with a plan. Once you have a plan, start doing the plan. Make the steps just a little more challenging than you think you can accomplish. Make sure that with each step, you’re just a little outside your comfort zone. Every now and then, really step out of your comfort zone and stretch yourself. Maybe that’s an extra 10 miles on your ride or an extra 5k on your run. Maybe it’s picking out a song that you’re scared to sing because it’s a little out of your comfortable range.


A life in search of comfort is life spent taking the easy path. It is also a life where you never know what your full potential is, nor do you push yourself towards reaching that potential. Find your long ride and working towards pushing to your edges. It’s only when you step out of your comfort zone that you find that growth, and it’s in the unfamiliar that you find new possibilities.

Hello friends! Thank you for listening. If this podcast speaks to you, join us over in the Stoic Coffee House. The Stoic Coffee House is a community built around the ideas of stoicism and the Stoic Coffee Break  podcast. You'll meet your fellow Stoics, and have a place where you can share your life experiences and what you've learned along the way. Also stop by the website at 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.


204 – Blame and Responsibility

If change is forced upon you, you must resist the temptation to overreact or feel sorry for yourself. 

— Robert Greene

How often do you feel that life is unfair? That something happened that you think should not have happened to you? Maybe someone hurt you and you want them to fix it? Today I want to talk about blame and responsibility.

One thing we learn in stoicism is that there are a lot of things outside of our control. In fact, most things are outside of our control, and we have a tough time with this idea. We want life to make sense, to be predictable, and usually, to work out in our favor.

A Just World

One problem this brings up is that we assume that the world is fair. There is actually a bias called the Just World Hypothesis. Basically, because we think the world should be just and fair, we act like it is. This causes issues because then we feel like the world should automatically fix things when they aren’t fair, that there is some magical universal power that will right all the wrongs. But the things is, the universe is not just or fair, at least what we might consider fair, and to pretend otherwise is to ignore reality.

The idea of a just world pops up in a lot of areas of our life. Some are pretty clear, where as others are more subtle. For example, when someone dies, we’ll often hear it said that they died too young, or that it wasn’t fair how they were taken. Why was it too young? Why wasn’t it fair? Is there some prescribed age or way that we are supposed to die? When we think something is unfair, we are really saying that we had some expectations and what actually happened was different that what was expected or wanted.


I think our desire for a just world is part of why we enjoy revenge stories so much. So many of the stories and plays from as early as the Greeks and Romans are all about the villain getting their just desserts. How many Shakespearian tragedies revolve around the desire for revenge? I admit I love a good revenge fantasy movie like John Wick because it feels good to see the hero take out the bad guys who “deserve” it. These all satiate our desire to see those punished who we think deserve it.

You can change it, you can accept it, or you can leave it. What is not a good option is to sit around wishing you would change it but not changing it, wishing you would leave it but not leaving it, and not accepting it. 

— Naval Ravikant

Not Our Fault

In our personal lives, there will be a lot of things that will happen to us that are not our fault. We may get sick. We may lose our job. Someone can break our heart when they end a relationship. Maybe we end up in an accident that leaves us crippled for the rest of our lives. These are all things that are not our fault. The blame for them may well lie outside of ourselves, because we did not have control of all the factors that led to any of these outcomes. We are not at fault or to blame, but it is our responsibility to do something about it.  When we don’t step up take responsibility for the things that we control, then we are victims.


Now when I talk about taking responsibility for things that happen to you, I don’t mean that others should not be held accountable for the things that they do. If someone is to blame, to your best to hold them accountable. We all need to do our best to hold each other accountable for our actions. If someone was driving while intoxicated and they crash into your car and injure you, we should hold them accountable for their actions. If your business partner embezzles funds from your company, we should prosecute them. If there are systemic issues such as racism or misogyny that keep you from advancing in your career, those issues need to be addressed. Taking responsibility for fixing what is wrong does not mean that those who are to blame should not be held accountable.

But with that said, you should not sit around wallowing in your misery, being angry or depressed and waiting for someone else to come and fix things. Don’t expect other people to make your life whole again. Don’t leave it on them to fix what is broken. When you do that, you are giving away your power and allowing yourself to become a victim. Do your best to hold them accountable while doing your best to improve your life and make the best of what you have.


Another example of how we may not be to blame, but need to take responsibility for something, is in areas of our society. This last week, I was chatting with a friend of mine about his efforts to bring awareness of the racist past of his city to help bring diversity and equity so that the minority population would feel more welcome. In doing so, he has stirred up resistance from people who rather that these issues just remain in the past. They don’t want to talk about the explicit racism that was part of his communities’ past. Many feel it is not something that needs to be discussed because they personally are not racist, so bringing up the past is about things that they didn’t do, so they are not at fault.

And yes, it is true it is not their fault. They personally did not do these things that happened in the past. But I believe that being part of a community is to be responsible for doing my best to help right the wrongs of the past of the community that I belong to. Because if I am not responsible, then who will be? Someone else? There are so many things in this world that are not our fault, but if things are going to change, they are our responsibility. Just as when we talked about personal responsibility, we need to understand that there is also communal responsibility. If we are not willing to step up and hold our community responsible for bad actions, then it allows bad things to happen and to be excused simply because there wasn’t a person that could be held individually responsible.

Here is a rule to remember in future, when anything tempts you to feel bitter: not ‘This is misfortune’, but ‘To bear this worthily is good fortune.’ 

— Marcus Aurelius

Bear This Worthily

So what can we do to be sure that we don’t fall into this trap? I think foremost is to separate blame from responsibility. I think the hardest part is that we can get stuck on the idea that because someone is to blame for what happened, we also think that they should fix it. And maybe they should fix it. But if we don’t step up and do what we can do, then we can stay stuck where we are waiting for someone else to solve our problems. We become a victim.

The second part is doing our best to be honest about our situation, and the choices we have. We may not have a lot of choices, but we always have some choices. We can always take some action to move ourselves forward. Our heart may be broken but it’s up to us to grieve and to work on healing. Our lives may be radically altered from a car accident, but we have the choice of how we’re going to face our future. We’re going to have to face it anyway, so why not take ownership of our attitude and our mindset so that we can make the most of what choices we have.


Things are going to happen to us in our lives that are unpleasant, uncomfortable, and often just down right awful. That’s just part of living. Sometimes, it’s just going to suck through no fault of our own. But we always have a choice and take responsibility for our own lives, even when someone else is to blame.

Hello friends! Thank you for listening. If you like what you hear, head on over to and help support this podcast by becoming a patron. Also stop by the website at where you can sign up for our newsletter, and buy some great looking shirts and hoodies at the Stoic Coffee Shop. Also, if you know of someone that would benefit from or appreciate this podcast, please share it. Word of mouth is the best way to help this podcast grow. Thanks again for listening.

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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 wisdom

179 – Do Hard Things

Do Hard Things

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

— Epictetus

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

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

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

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

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

Why Do Hard Things?

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

— Albert Einstein

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

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

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

— Seneca

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

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

Death Gives Clarity

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

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

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

Carpe Diem

— Robin Williams, Dead Poet Society

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

I know for me I want the latter.

Massive Action

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

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

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

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

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

Small Actions

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

— Bruce Lee

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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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Coffee Break

156 – What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

What Could Possibly Go Wrong?


What could possibly go wrong?

What could possibly go wrong? I think one of the biggest mistakes that we as humans make is that we are far too optimistic about how something we’re planning might go. In doing so we often fool ourselves into believing that it will work as planned, and overlook what could go wrong. In this weeks episode, we’ll discuss how we can take steps to avoid the blind spots that can easily derail us.

How many times have you started a project, or tried to start a new habit, only to run into all kinds of unexpected resistance? Maybe you want to start going running each morning or maybe you have a project at work and despite your best-laid plans, things start heading off the rails in ways that you never expected. The optimism and energy you had starts to wane as you deal with one setback after another. I run into this all the time. I think that I have things well planned out only to find that what I thought were conservative estimates and plans were far too optimistic.

When we make overly optimistic plans, we act as if it were a simple mathematical formula that we can plug in the right variables and have things turn out exactly as expected. But as we all well know, the best plans don’t mean anything if they can’t stand up to the reality of a situation. We fall into overly optimistic thinking because our brains are trying to be efficient. It takes time and effort to dig into a planning process and go deeper than our initial optimistic plans. It takes exploring uncomfortable thoughts and ideas and being willing to throw away any ideas that don’t stand up to reality, even if we’re very attached to them.

So why is it so hard to get things nailed down and complete the things we want? First, we’ll look at two of the most common mental traps that we fall into. Then we’ll look at some ways we can work around own limitations, and help mitigate the challenges that surprise us along the way.

Confirmation Bias

“The first principle is that you must not fool yourself – and you are the easiest person to fool.”

—Richard Feynman

Probably the most pernicious enemy of trying to plan for something is confirmation bias. Confirmation bias is when we seek out evidence which supports our decision and ignore evidence that conflicts with our preconceptions. It is the clearest example of overly optimistic thinking, and we are all guilty of it. Confirmation bias blinds us to all kinds of other possible solutions. When are too attached to an idea, when we want to prove that we already have the solution, we miss out on finding better solutions. The more that we can approach something with an attitude of seeing where we could be wrong, the more likely it is that our plan will stand up to scrutiny and be more successful. Take the time to examine your own bias and to ask yourself, “Am I defending this idea simply because it’s mine? Am I ignoring contradictory information because I’m too in love with my own idea?”

We saw this happen in the second Iraq war where, because the decision makers had the idea that there had to be illegal weapons in the country, even the smallest bit of data that could bolster the argument was held up as definitive proof. Anything showing the opposite was simply dismissed and ignored because it didn’t support the idea. Once the country was invaded, it became evident that there were no such weapons and it became clear that the evidence was flimsy at best.


Belief Bias is a concept similar to Confirmation Bias. Whereas Confirmation Bias seeks out information to confirm the decision we want, Belief Bias is when we use an existing belief to support a conclusion that lines up with that belief. When we don’t allow our belief to be challenged, and to be open to the idea that we might be wrong, we don’t allow reality to influence our decisions. We may make bad decisions because they are based upon a faulty belief. Circumstances change, discoveries happen, and being open to new evidence is critical to making progress in ourselves, as well as successfully completing projects that we embark on.

For example, if we believe that women are not as smart as men, then we may dismiss a great idea because we believe that only good ideas can come from men. I’ve heard from a few women about how their ideas were dismissed at work, simply because they were a woman. Once the same idea was presented by a male colleague, it would be given the consideration it deserved. Because of this belief, it’s taken centuries for women to be treated as equals, to be paid the same as men, to be able to vote. As we progress as a society we often ask ourselves how could we ever have held such a ridiculous belief?

So how do we avoid these traps? What are some steps that we can take to be sure that we aren’t fooling ourselves?

Open to Criticism

“If any man is able to convince me and show me that I do not think or act right, I will gladly change; for I seek the truth by which no man was ever injured. But he is injured who abides in his error and ignorance.”

— Marcus Aurelius

One of the most important areas of making better decisions is to be open to criticism. One are where we can see that thrives on criticism is the are of science. One of the reasons why we have made so much scientific progress over the last 100 years is because science is open to the idea that a discovery or an idea is only valid for now. That it is based upon the best evidence available and should only stand as long as withstands review and stands up to criticism.

We should take this same idea and apply it in our own lives. We should only hold onto an idea or a habit as long as it serves us and helps moves us the direction we want to go. When we seek out contradictory opinions, we are taking steps to counter our own bias. When we come upon new information or receive criticism, we should be willing to review it and change direction if need be.


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

— Marcus Aurelius

One of the things that sets us apart from other animals is our imagination. The ability to tell ourselves fictional stories, to think about what-if scenarios is a powerful tool in creating our future. Without imagination, we would not have the ability to create ideas about what we think the future will be like. We would have no way to plan for the future. This singular ability is what helps us to move from being reactionary beings to creators and designers of our future. But far too often we suffer from a failure of imagination and end up surprised that things don’t turn out as we expect.

Because we have the gift of imagination we need to consider the unlikely, to think of the impossible, and be open to ideas that we may not like. This also opens us to a larger pool of possible solutions.


“Nothing happens to the wise man contrary to his expectations.

— Seneca

One of the most important practices that the Stoics have is Premeditatio Malorum, which is to imagine all that possible ways that things could go wrong. I’ve talked about it before on the podcast, and it’s a very useful practice. This is not the same thing as being pessimistic. I like to think of it as a way to test your ideas and plans against reality, by using your imagination. This is not an easy exercise. It takes effort to let go of your wish to have the right solution and to think of all the things that could go wrong.

I came across a similar exercise that psychologist Gary Klein calls a “premortem”, that illustrates this idea rather nicely. As Dr. Klein explains, “Our exercise, is to ask planners to imagine that it is months into the future and that their plan has been carried out. And it has failed. That is all they know; they have to explain why they think it failed.” Just as doctors do a postmortem to understand what happened after the fact, a premortem is a way to truly imagine the most likely ways that a plan could fail.

Being Wrong

A lot of the topics I’ve discussed today revolve around the fact that we don’t like to be wrong. We get attached to an idea and want that idea to be right, and thereby validating ourselves. But the thing is the more try to avoid failure, rather than facing it head on, the more failure we’re going to have. Being able to let go of needing to be right, of validating ourselves, the more we can get out of our own way and make better decisions.

Hey friends, thanks for listening to the podcast. If you like what you hear, I would really appreciate it if you could help support me by making a pledge on Patreon. You can find me at Even just a small amount helps in keeping this podcast going. Also, head on over to my website at and sign up for our weekly newsletter. And lastly, if you know of someone that might like or could benefit from this podcast, please share it with them. Word of mouth is one of the best ways to help this podcast grow. Thanks again for listening.

Coffee Break

155 – Interview with Jeff Emtman of Here Be Monsters

Interview with Jeff Emtman of Here Be Monsters


This weeks episode is an interview with Jeff Emtman from the Here Be Monsters podcast. This is my first time interviewing someone, and Jeff is a very interesting and thoughtful guest. We talk about life challenges, creative challenges, and what it’s like to drag main.

You can find Jeff’s podcast at It is strange, mysterious, and at times very touching.


Hey friends, thanks for listening to the podcast. If you like what you hear, I would really appreciate it if you could help support me by making a pledge on Patreon. You can find me at Even just a small amount helps in keeping this podcast going. Also, head on over to my website at and sign up for our weekly newsletter. And lastly, if you know of someone that might like or could benefit from this podcast, please share it with them. Word of mouth is one of the best ways to help this podcast grow. Thanks again for listening.

Challenges Coffee Break Fate

154 – The Paradox of Change

The Paradox of Change


The only way is through!

One of the weirdest things about being a human is how we get comfortable with our habits, and resist change, while at the same time we get bored when things stay the same. In this weeks episode, we’ll talk about how to deal with the paradox of change.

When one day is pretty much the same as the next, we crave variety. If something is too easy, we get bored and quickly lose interest in it. But when life throws a challenge our way we often complain and whine about how life isn’t fair.

So how do we deal with the challenges that life throws our way? How can we learn to cultivate and attitude of gratefulness for the hard things in our lives, and use them to grow and become better people?

“A setback has often cleared the way for greater prosperity. Many things have fallen only to rise to more exalted heights.”

— Seneca

I want you to think about the last movie you watched or book that you read. Can you remember the challenges the hero had to face? The obstacles they had to overcome? Maybe the hero got knocked down and had to struggle over and over to get back on her feet, and eventually through hard work and determination, overcame a great challenge. This is something that we as humans crave in our stories. I mean how interesting would it be if the story started with, “Our hero had everything her heart desired, and lived happily ever after”? Not much of a story, and certainly not one I would be interested in.

So why do we love this in our stories, yet complain about it in our lives? This is what I call the paradox of change. Life is continually changing and bringing new challenges our way, but we get comfortable and feel distressed when our comfort is disturbed, forgetting it’s the challenges that make us who we are, that help strengthen us into being the kind of people we want to be.

Say that you wanted to start your own company. If you want to succeed, then you have to learn how to deal with difficult people and situations. Because it is impossible to never face a tough situation or to have everyone you deal with simply follow and agree with everything you say. You have to expect setbacks and failures because you are going to have to learn how to navigate difficult situations if you want to succeed. In fact, the more you can anticipate and plan for setbacks, the better off you will be. If you only plan for rosy scenarios, then you will have a much harder time when challenges come your way.

“The greater the difficulty, the more glory in surmounting it. Skillful pilots gain their reputation from storms and tempests. ”

― Epictetus

When challenges come our way, one of the most important things that we can do it learn how to face them, and not shy away. If we make a habit of turning away from difficult situations and challenges, we’ll never get stronger. We’ll never reach our full potential. When we make a habit of leaning into the hard things, even if it scares us, then open the door to greater growth and opportunities. If we only take on the easy challenges, then our skills will never improve. If a pilot only sails their ship on the calmest of waters, they’ll never leave port because they can’t count on always having great weather. If a singer only sticks to nursery rhymes, they’ll never develop the skills to tackle the aria they want to master.

How can we look at something in a way that helps us see it as a tool for growth? I think the biggest thing, and this is something that I struggle with, is to let go of the outcome. When we get so tied to the desired outcome, we often just want to skip the hard stuff and get to the end result. When we’re stuck thinking that we want a situation to be a certain way, we can begin to feel like that’s what we’re entitled to. The problem with this kind of thinking is that we can’t control the outcome of any situation. Life has too many random things that happen that are simply out of our control.

When we develop a love of change, an acceptance that everything and everyone is always in a constant state of change. No one in life is static. Too often we get stuck thinking of ourselves as being a certain way, and what our lives should be. When something comes along and disturbs that, we often resist those changes and ignore the reality of the situation. We do this with other people as well. We decide that a person is a certain way and hold to our judgment of them, we find it difficult to accept that they may have changed.

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

― Marcus Aurelius

When we can look at a challenge, we need to see it as a teacher, as the thing that will actually train us how to overcome it. We need to look at something and ask, “What can I learn? What skills do I need to develop to over this?” When a musician starts a new piece, she doesn’t simply try to play it start to finish and then give up when she can’t play it perfectly. She starts working at a very basic level. She’ll break it down into smaller workable parts. Each passage presenting its own challenges. She will probably run into things that she’s never done before or isn’t very good at. Working on these passages are the very things that will help her to become better. Maybe she struggles with triplets, and rather than wishing they weren’t in there, she doubles her practice on them. Working on the challenges of the piece is the very thing that trains her in the skills to be able to master it.

“Win or learn, then you never lose.”

— Anonymous

It’s been said that those who don’t learn from history are bound to repeat it. And while this was said more as a critique of society, I think that it’s very true for each of us individually, as well as the places we work. If we label our failures as such rather than as something to learn from, we risk repeating them. A client of mine once made a mistake that brought down some of his companies computer systems. The company fired him missing an opportunity to work with that him to figure out how to prevent it in the future, as well as improving their employee training.

When we can learn to be grateful for the challenges that we face, we can approach them more readily, and humbly. We don’t try to avoid them, but rather welcome the challenge and become excited for the skills and the growth that they will bring. Then when things don’t go as planned, we are able to quickly regroup and learn what we can from the experience, and push forward and do better the next time.

Hey friends, thanks for listening to the podcast. If you like what you hear, I would really appreciate it if you could help support me by making a pledge on Patreon. You can find me at Even just a small amount helps in keeping this podcast going. Also, head on over to my website at and sign up for our weekly newsletter. And lastly, if you know of someone that might like or could benefit from this podcast, please share it with them. Word of mouth is one of the best ways to help this podcast grow. Thanks again for listening.

Challenges Coffee Break stoicism

141 – Motivation and Willpower

Motivation and Willpower

I’ve been thinking a lot about motivation and how we accomplish the goals that we set out to do. And I think there’s a bit a confusion about motivation and how it helps us get things done. Let’s take a look at the definition of motivation:

The state or condition of being motivated or having a strong reason to act or accomplish something

And let’s look at the definition of willpower:

Control of one’s impulses and actions; self-control.

Motivation is the reason why you want to do something. It’s the fuel that gets going. It is not the thing that actually propels you. The engine that actually gets you to do something is willpower.

Willpower is “like a muscle that can be strengthened with use, but it also gets fatigued with use,” says John Tierney, co-author of Willpower, with Roy F. Baumeister. If you simply rely on willpower to get you to do something, it’s going to take a lot of effort. According to the authors, the best way to reduce willpower fatigue is to turn something into a habit or a routine, which takes a lot less willpower.

Just Do It

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

– Epictetus

Sometimes we wait until we “feel” like doing it. The problem is, we may never feel like it. Usually, the motivation to do something comes after we get started. The hardest part about working out at the gym is often just getting yourself to go to the gym. The hardest part about writing is just sitting down and getting started. If you can eliminate the barriers to getting started, then your chance of success is far greater than waiting for inspiration.


One the most important factors though is what Epictetus reminds us:

“To make the best of what is in our power, and take the rest as it occurs.”

– Epictetus

Sometimes, we attach some kind of negative emotion to the task we’re trying to accomplish. The task may feel overwhelming, or just plain scary. We may be too focused on wanting a specific outcome and we’re afraid that we won’t be able to do it. By focusing on the things that we can control, then we can focus our time and energy on something that will actually have some impact, and not waste our time on things we can’t control


Most people who are successful create a process for accomplishing what they want. They figure out what they have control over, then put down the steps to accomplish their task, and then they follow those steps every time. They create an environment where it’s easy for them to fall into that routine, and where there are limited distractions.

Marcus Aurelius said,

“If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.”

If there is something that is distracting you, if it is something within your control, you find ways to either take care of it right then or plan time to take care of it later. If it is something you can’t control, you let go of it.

For example, Stephen King sits down and writes 10 pages every day. He doesn’t care if they are good. He writes 10 pages while listening to the same Metallica album at a little desk in his office. He doesn’t wait to feel motivated. He removes all distractions and just does the task he set out for himself in his routine, and he does it every day.

Create Your Plan

You can start off by asking yourself some questions (I’d suggest writing the answers down):

  • What are the things that I can control?
  • What are the steps that I need to take?
  • What are the tools I need to accomplish it?
  • What are the obstacles in my way?
  • Are there other potential obstacles that I can think of?
  • What steps can I take to work through those obstacles?
  • What can I do to create an environment that eliminates distractions and helps me focus?

Once you have those questions answered, you have the start of your plan. Create an environment that is most conducive to helping you accomplish the tasks. The next thing is to just start doing it. Often times, this is the hardest part. If you wait until you “feel” motivated, you probably won’t. Just do it for 3 minutes then quit if you want. You can do just about anything for 3 minutes, and usually, once you get started doing something, it’s easier to keep that momentum going, and you usually feel even more motivated to keep doing it.

Remember, a routine will beat relying on motivation and willpower any day.

Photo by Jessica Lewis on Unsplash

Challenges Circumstances Coffee Break stoicism

140 – Circumstances Don’t Make The Man

Circumstances Don’t Make The Man


“Circumstances don’t make the man, they only reveal him to himself.”

– Epictetus

How do we deal with difficulties? Do we see them as challenges or opportunities? As something that is to be suffered through, or something that teaches us who we are? In today’s episode, we’re going to talk about difficult circumstances and how they are the things we should be most grateful for.

Show Notes:

What does that mean? Aren’t tough challenges supposed to make us stronger?
The stoics remind us that circumstances in and of themselves are neutral. They are not good or bad unless we label it so. It’s our thinking about a situation that makes it a problem – or an opportunity.
The same thing can happen to two different people and one person may see it as an intractable problem, something to complain about or run and hide from. The other can see it as an opportunity to learn and grow, and they dig in and push through.

It’s often hard to prepare for challenges because we get comfortable when things are going well. We like it when things are easy. Professional and personal failures, divorce, even death rarely come at opportune moments. More often than not, they come unexpectedly out of the blue, when we feel least ready.

The author Elizabeth Day in this month’s Guardian wrote a great piece on failure [1]. Reflecting on what she thought of as the greatest failures in her life, she said, “I realised that the biggest, most transformative moments of my life came through crisis or failure. They came when I least expected them, when I felt ill-equipped to deal with the fallout. And yet each time, I had survived.”

Sometimes, we come out the other side not feeling like a champ. We may just survive it. And that’s okay.

Challenges also have a way of humbling us and knocking down our egos.
Our view of who we thought we were can change when seen through the filter of life’s challenges. We can be so wrapped up in something outside of ourselves, that when then identity is threatened, it can be exceptionally scary.

Challenges can change us into a totally new person. Day goes on to say, “Life crises have a way of doing that: they strip you of your old certainties and throw you into chaos. The only way to survive is to surrender to the process. When you emerge, blinking into the light, you have to rebuild what you thought you knew about yourself.”

If we link our identity too strongly to our jobs and suddenly find ourselves unemployed, the blow to our self-image can be devastating. We can give our heart and soul to a relationship only have it end bitterly and leaving us feeling jaded. We can work for years on a creative endeavor only to meet rejection and failure and question whether it was worth our time and energy.

But it through these transitions that we are able to let go of that old version of us, and become who we are meant to be.

It’s not easy to shift your mindset to view challenges as opportunities.
It takes practice to change our instinctual reaction.
It can be difficult to sit with the uncomfortable emotions such as fear and doubt that our thinking brings up. And this is where learning how to view a challenge differently helps. We are able to see how this thing is helping us, rather than looking at it as something to fear.
Maybe it’s giving us an opportunity to learn a new skill.
Maybe it’s giving us an opportunity to grow stronger in an area we shied away from before.
Maybe it’s an opportunity to start something new.
Many startups happen because someone ran into a challenge and looking around they either didn’t find a solution or didn’t like the existing ones, so they created their own solution.

Have you ever been on the beach and picked up a smooth stone? Have you ever thought about how it got so smooth? That stone in your hand started off as a hunk of stone, with sharp edges and rough patches all over. As the waves wash the stone up on shore it bangs up against other stones, sand, and stone walls up on the shore. And as it comes in contact with these, the sharp edges become rounded, the rough patches begin to be smoothed out.

Life is going to throw stuff as whether we like it or not. We can learn to marvel at the changes and embrace the hard things that help us grow into someone new. We can learn to let go of holding to who we are and be excited for who we’re becoming. We can learn, as the stoics ask us, to love our fate.

Help create this podcast.

Photo by John Jason on Unsplash


Awareness Challenges Coffee Break stoicism

137 – Worthy of Your Potential

Worthy of Your Potential


“Tentative efforts lead to tentative outcomes. Therefore, 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. Remain steadfast…and one day you will build something that endures: something worthy of your potential.”

― Epictetus

Show Notes:

  • One of most important habits to cultivate is a strong work ethic.
  • Time and dedicated effort make it more fulfilling.
  • There’s a saying: “How you do one thing is how you do everything.”
  • Often, trying to take shortcuts, we’re often wasting more time going back to fix what wasn’t done well, than if we’d just done it right in the first place.
  • Sometimes, best shortcut is to do good work.
  • And if you’re going to put effort into something, why half ass your way through it? That’s wasted time.
  • If we’re always looking for the easy way, then we may miss out on a more difficult path that has a greater reward.
  • Hard work makes us to get stronger.
  • We’ll never climb a great mountain if we’re only climbing hills.
  • If you’re running a marathon, and you take shortcut and make it to the finish line, then you really didn’t run a marathon.
  • Getting to the finish line and completing the race are two different things.
  • While it’s great to get to the end, how we got there is more important than getting there.
  • And why are we always so focused on getting to the end?
  • When we get to the end, that means the journey is over.
  • It’s the journey, it’s doing the work, it’s the process that’s important.
  • If we’re making only tentative efforts, then we never achieve that mastery which allows to excel at something.
  • Whether we’re building a business, composing music, or writing a book, or training for a marathon, we should dedicate ourselves to our work.
  • And we you achieve that mastery, you’ll be in place where you can create something that endures, something that’s worthy of your potential.

Photo by Andreas Fidler on Unsplash

Challenges Circumstances Coffee Break Fate stoicism

132 – Anything Can Happen

Anything Can Happen


“How ridiculous and unrealistic is the man who is astonished at anything that happens in life.”

― Marcus Aurelius, Meditations Book 12

Show Notes:

– How often do we think that something in life shouldn’t happen to us?
– As if we are somehow immune to the things that happen to anyone else in life.
– How often do we think that we are owed something?
– As if we are somehow privileged above others, that we deserve something
– We may think it’s unfair when something we worked hard for fails to materialize.
– We may think it’s unfair that someone we love gets cancer, that they didn’t deserve it.
– We may think we deserve a perfect partner because go to the gym workout and wear nice clothes.
– The world is full of all kinds of stories about people getting hit with the unexpected and didn’t get what they wanted.
– Who determines what is fair and unfair?
– So much in our lives that is simply up to chance, where we have no control over it.
– We never deserve anything.
– Now this doesn’t mean that all is lost.
– Let go of trying to control the things that we can’t control, and focus on what we can.
– We cannot control the circumstances that happen to us.
– We cannot control the outcome.
– What we can control is how we respond to the things that happen to us.
– If we are diagnosed with an serious illness, we can’t control that it happened to us.
– We can’t control whether we’ll recover from it.
– If we follow the prescriptions of our doctor, we increase our probability of a positive outcome.
– We may not get the job we think we deserve. But we can increase the probability that we’ll get a good job if we put the work in.
– We can also choose our attitude towards towards our situation. We can be angry, we can be sad, we can react in many different ways.
– We’re going to have deal with it anyway, so if we can approach it in the most helpful way we can, we reduce our overall suffering.
– I think that most suffering in the world happens when we try to control the things that we can’t and fail to control what we can.
– Life is full of surprises, but it shouldn’t be.

Photo by Ben Rosett on Unsplash

Anger Awareness Challenges Coffee Break

112 – Anger Always Outlasts Hurt

Anger Always Outlasts Hurt


“How much better to heal than seek revenge from injury. Vengeance wastes a lot of time and exposes you to many more injuries than the first that sparked it. Anger always outlasts hurt. Best to take the opposite course. Would anyone think it normal to return a kick to a mule or a bite to a dog?”

— Seneca


I was talking with a friend the other day about how to deal with anger. He asked me specifically about how to deal with anger in life, so I felt it only appropriate to talk about anger today.

Anger is something that I’ve certainly struggled with. Growing up with a terrible example of how to deal with anger, I would either avoid it, or I would be consumed by it. Finding a way to deal with it constructively has taken years of work, and I still struggle with it.

Sometimes it feels like we live in a world that often seems to be fueled by anger. You turn on the news and it seems that story after story is about some of the worst instances of humanity. Almost any political talk show seems to trying it’s best to whip us up into fearing and hating the other side. So much so, that it seems that we can’t have an actual discussion with those that disagree with us politically. When we live in a society that thinks it’s okay to take down those that do you wrong or disagree with you, it’s hard to stop and take those steps to be kind to those that you feel have injured you.

But the idea of not returning hate with hate is not a new new one.

Jesus taught, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.”

In Buddhist teachings, anger is often compared to an “out of control forest fire” and a “rampaging elephant.” Because reactive uncontrolled anger is so destructive so quickly.

Confucius said, “Holding onto anger is like holding onto a burning ember that you want to throw at someone. You’re the one that gets burned.”

And the Stoics are no different. Seneca is warns us that vengeance wastes a lot of time. It also wastes a lot of energy. When you seek revenge, you injure yourself with your own anger. You often say or do things that make the situation far worse than it was before.

Why do we give into the angry path? Because anger is easy. Because there’s a part of anger that feels good at the time. The desire to strike back at those that you feel have wronged you is powerful.

What if all that effort was put into understanding why the other person tried to injure you? What if you took that same time and energy and tried to heal the situation? What if all that effort was put into mobilizing people for good? For getting people to talk to each other and work on solutions?

How do we deal with anger? How do we train ourselves to not give into our impulses?

The first step, which is often the hardest, is to truly grasp the concept that you are 100% responsible for your emotions. No one else is. Nothing else is to blame. Regardless of the circumstances or the events that happen, you decide to if you want to respond in anger. And just as you have conditioned yourself to respond with anger, you can condition yourself to respond with calmness and rationality.

The next step is being aware of our anger. Do you notice when you are in throws of anger, rather than only really seeing it after you cool down?

Next, try to step back from it. Can you look at it from a detached perspective? Can you look at as if you were just someone else in the room observing it? When you are more able to catch yourself in the middle of it, and can take a step back, resist the urge to lash out. Think about if what you want to say will do harm or help.

Stick to it. When you are in the heat of the moment and you do get some control, the other person may still be arguing or pushing back even though you are making honest efforts to defuse the situation. Don’t revert back to lashing out, no matter how much you want to. Think before you speak. If you have to leave the situation, then do so. Step away and delete that angry Facebook post.

Once you’ve worked to cool yourself down, understand that healing the situation is about the other person, not about make yourself feel better. It’s about meeting the needs of the person that you have harmed. It will take time, and humble attitude to work things out.

Changing a habit of reactive anger is not easy. It may be one of the hardest things you will ever have to overcome. But the damage that is caused by not learning to control your emotions can take a long time to heal. The more you can keep a reign on yourself, the less you have to repair. The more inner tranquility you cultivate, the more you can apply your energy to building things up rather than tearing them down.

Are you struggling with something in your life? Do you have questions about Stoic philosophy? I would really like to hear from you. If you go to the front page and scroll to the bottom of the page, you can send me a message. I’ll do my best to address your question on the show. I’ve found that Stoic ideas and principles are some of the most practical teachings there are, and can be applied in any situation in your life.


Photo by Jonathan Harrison on Unsplash

Challenges Coffee Break

104 – The Greater The Difficulty
The Greater The Difficulty

“The greater the difficulty, the more glory in surmounting it. Skillful pilots gain their reputation from storms and tempests.”

― Epictetus