Categories
Challenges

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

Unexpected

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.

Lessons

“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.

Control

“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.

Positives

“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.

Conclusion

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.


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Categories
Courage

275 – A Courageous Mind

Do you live in fear? Are there things in your life that you are afraid to try? Today I want to talk about why courage is the foundational virtue of stoicism, and how to develop a courageous mind.

"Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the assessment that something else is more important than fear."

— Franklin D. Roosevelt

Courage

One of the four virtues of Stoicism is courage. For me, this is the most important virtue. There are a lot of things in this world that cause us fear or anxiety. Most of these things are not things that can actually physically harm us, but still trigger the same physiological response in our body. Courage enables you to face and overcome adversity, which is a prerequisite for living virtuously. It takes courage to practice the three other virtues of wisdom, temperance, and justice because these virtues require you to reign in your ignorance, control your desires, and act against injustice in the world. Without courage, it would be difficult or even impossible to practice these other virtues consistently.

But first, let’s define courage. According to the dictionary, courage is:

“The state or quality of mind or spirit that enables one to face danger, fear, or vicissitudes with self-possession, confidence, and resolution; bravery.”

When we dig a little deeper we find that courage comes from the Latin word “cor”, which means heart. In one of its earliest forms, courage meant to “speak one’s mind by telling all one’s heart”. Over time it has changed to its current definition, but I really like the idea that courage in our words and our actions is about what is really in our hearts.

So now that we’ve established a basic definition of courage, let’s talk about why I consider courage to be the foundational virtue, meaning it helps us to live the other 3 virtues.

Wisdom

“To make good decisions, you need wisdom. To gain wisdom, you need experience. You get experience by making bad decisions.”

There are many facets of courage, and if you ever want to read an interesting dialogue on courage, I recommend Plato’s Laches in which Socrates and several other discuss the nature of courage. Within that dialogue they talk about how courage is not just enduring something, but is also about doing so wisely, which I thought was great because it helps to show how the virtues are interconnected.

To gain wisdom in our lives we need to be willing to step up and make choices. If we stand back and don’t take any actions in our lives and we aren’t willing to take risks, then we never gain experience. It is through trying and failing that we learn, and accumulate wisdom in our lives. It takes courage to step up and be willing to fail.

Justice

The universe is not fair in the way that most people think it should be, and justice is not something that is built into the world. This is why justice is one of the 4 virtues. Justice is something that we need to advocate for. It is through our courage that we stand up for fairness, rationality, and the equal application of the law to all that we are able to get closer to having a more just society.

Temperance

It takes courage to moderate ourselves. Whether that is moderating our emotions, how much we eat or drink, or our other desires, it takes courage to reign in the darker parts of ourselves. Courage is the core of self-discipline. It is the thing that helps us make better choices for ourselves.

Courage itself is a moderating virtue. Courage helps us to balance fear, not eliminate it. Fear is a useful emotion, but like all emotions it needs to be managed. If we have too little fear, then we’re likely to be overconfident and reckless. Whereas if we have too much fear, then we are paralyzed and are unable to take action.

The Courageous Mind

“The tranquility that comes when you stop caring what they say. Or think, or do. Only what you do.”

— Marcus Aurelius

"Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear – not absence of fear."

— Mark Twain

Next I want to talk about the idea of the “courageous mind”. The courageous mind is one that is able to act according to reason and wisdom, rather than giving in to fear, anger, or other emotions. When you cultivate a courageous mind, then you are able to see and manage the emotions that may arise when you are in challenging or stressful situations. Cultivating the ability to be dispassionate at important moments can help you to make choices that are not only beneficial, but also avoid ones that you may regret later.

The courageous mind is one that is able to remain calm and objective in difficult situations. A courageous mind is one that is able to see the big picture and act accordingly. In this way, courage is not just about being physically brave, but also about being mentally and emotionally brave.

Responsibility

When we develop a courageous mind, we step up and take responsibility for our own actions, rather than blaming others or making excuses. This type of courage is often called "moral courage." It takes moral courage to admit when you are wrong, to apologize when you have made a mistake, and to change your behavior when necessary.

Growing up, it was often hard for me to take responsibility for things because if I made a mistake and it upset my father, there was a good chance that I could get a beating. I got pretty good at coming up with excuses or placing the blame on someone or something else. Once I was out of that environment I started to make active choices to take more responsibility for my actions and my choices.

Integrity

When we develop a courageous mind, we live a life of integrity. This means that we act according to your principles and values, even in the face of persecution. Often, because we are afraid of the opinions of others, we may find it challenging to step up and do what we feel is right. When we have developed courage, we don’t let the opinions of others hold us back when it matters.

Honesty

A courageous mind enables you to be honest with yourself and others, even when it's difficult. One of the hardest things about self improvement is learning to be honest with yourself. Our egos would rather hold on to the self deceptions that we have. We like to think that we are smarter, kinder, or more selfless than we really are. The more honest we are with ourselves, the faster we can make progress because we are actually being aware of our shortcomings and failures, and we can address them head on.

Self-Discipline

“Self-control is the chief element in self-respect, and self-respect is the chief element in courage.”

— Thucydides

Courage is at the core of self-discipline. Courage is what is needed for us to get ourselves to do the things that we want. It takes courage to get up and exercise when we don’t feel like it. It takes courage to limit the amount we drink or cut down on the desserts we like. Courage is what we need to step up and take control of our desires, and not let them control the us.

Boundaries

“Keep company only with people who uplift you.”

— Epictetus

One of the areas where courage is needed the most is when it comes to boundaries. When you change the dynamic in a relationship by setting boundaries, others may not like it and may get upset with you because they want to keep things as they are. Learning how to set and enforce healthy boundaries is something that takes a lot of courage because the other person may put a lot of pressure on you to keep things the same. Sometimes it can even mean the end of a relationship.

This is an area that I’ve struggled with a lot in the past. Often, I would try to set boundaries with others, only to let things slide when the other person would get upset with me. My people pleaser behavior would want to resolve the tension. I would also think that maybe I was doing something wrong because they were upset with me.

When you set a boundary with someone, and you hold to your principles, it can feel scary. It can cause a lot of anxiety. It takes courage to hold to your principles, and the confidence that comes from holding to your principles can help you stand your ground while being polite but firm.

Resilience

“He who does not prevent a feeling of fear is not brave; but he who overcomes fear, is.”

— Seneca

“Don’t let your fears paralyze you into becoming a lesser version of yourself. Eliminate fear by confronting what you’re afraid of.”

— David Goggins

So how do we get better about being more courageous in our lives?

One important thing to keep in mind is that having courage is not the same as having no fear. If you aren’t afraid of something, then you don’t really need courage to step up and do it. When you have courage, you are willing to do what needs to be done in the face of fear.

When we allow fear to control our lives, then we end up living less of a life. We avoid things that are scary, or uncomfortable. We don’t take risks that would benefit us in the long run and help us to live our best lives. We often end up regretting the opportunities we didn’t take.

Developing a courageous mind is something that needs to be practiced. It takes consistently stepping outside your comfort zone and exercising your will. It means that you need to consciously make choices and take actions in spite of fear and anxiety. The more you practice facing up to and pushing through your fear, the easier it becomes. It is courage that helps us to step up, feel the fear, work through the discomfort, and do it anyway.

When we have the courage to face our fears we don’t have to take them all on at once. We can start small and work our way up to bigger challenges. You can step into things that are uncomfortable and get used to them. The more we face our fears, the more resilient we become, and the easier it will be to bounce back from adversity.

Self-Compassion

Another key component to developing courage is self-compassion. When we make mistakes or fall short, the best thing we can do is to treat ourselves kindly. Beating yourself up makes it more likely that you will be less willing to try again. When you treat yourself with compassion, then you’re giving yourself a safe space to try, fail, and try again.

Mindfulness

“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)

Practicing mindfulness helps us to be more aware of our thoughts and emotions. If we are unaware of what we are feeling, then we tend to led by our emotions rather than our principles or rational thinking. The more we are aware of our thoughts and emotions, the easier it will be to stay calm and rational in the face of fear.

One area of fear that I have is when I fly on an airplane. I know that it is an irrational and visceral fear, but it grips me every time I fly. This last week I flew out to Salt Lake City to visit with friends and family. It was a challenge for me because even though I know that I’m more likely to die driving to the airport than I am in the plane, it still spikes my anxiety. The flight to Salt Lake was so rough that they didn’t even serve drinks. I sat in my seat and did my best to get my body to relax while I listened to music and talked with my neighbor. I have to say, even though it still spiked my anxiety a bit, it was better than the last time I flew. I think that was a results of my mindfulness practices over the years. I hope that it will be even better the next time I fly.

Optimism

“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)

Courage is also closely linked to optimism. If you believe that good things are possible, then you’re more likely to take risks and go after the things you want. You’ll be willing to face discomfort and fear because you believe that you’ll be able to push through and achieve your goals. You’ll be more willing to practice self-discipline because you believe that your efforts will pay off. You’ll also be less likely to self sabotage because you’ll be less focused on all the things that could go wrong and more focused on the things that you can do right.

Conclusion

There’s a lot in this world that is challenging, uncomfortable, or scary. It’s easy to fall into a place of negativity and complacency. Developing a courageous mind is a lifelong endeavor and needs to be practiced daily. Cultivating courage is like strengthening a muscle. It is something that needs to be done consciously and mindfully in order to keep fear and anxiety from hijacking our minds. It is something that is necessary for developing and improving our self-discipline. Lastly, courage helps you become more optimistic because you believe that your efforts will be worth it, and you will be able to make the progress you want.

Categories
Challenges

269 – Getting Unstuck

Are you stuck in life? Do you feel like you can’t break out of the rut you’re in? Today I want to talk about why we get stuck and offer some ideas of how to get unstuck.

“What upsets people is not things themselves, but their judgements about these things.”

— Epictetus

Stuck

Getting stuck in a rut is a fairly common occurrence in modern life. To be honest, it’s often been a curse throughout the ages. Because we are all creatures of habit, we often find something that works, then we cling to it because, while it may not be the best thing for us, it’s safe, and if we’re working in a creative realm we often have all kinds of fears and anxieties that pop up and make it challenging to move forward.

The reason that I’m doing an episode on this topic is that I struggle with this every week. I wish that I could say that creating an episode each week was easy and that the ideas just flowed from my mind and through the microphone, but they don’t. Each week is a challenge that I face as I come up with an idea, find information and quotes to help illustrate the points that I’m trying to make, and sit down synthesis all these ideas into a good episode for you.

As I’ve mentioned many times before, almost every episode that I put out is usually something that I’m working through in my personal life. As I work to try and solve the problems that I deal with, sitting down and creating an episode is a way for me to find some solutions, and do my best to share them with you.

So why do we get stuck? What is it that keeps up from progressing forward in our lives?

Lack of Resources

Sometimes we are stuck because have a lack of resources to make progress. That could mean that we don’t the funds to accomplish our goals. We may not have the right equipment or tools to complete a project. We may not have the opportunities for the education we need.

Often the resource we lack most of is time. We may simply have too many other commitments and lack the time to be able to achieve what we want. I’ve run into this many times myself and have gone through periods of my life where I reduce the number of things I’m working on at any given time so that I don’t burn out.

Other People

We may be dependent on someone else. Sometimes other people are in positions that block us from being able to accomplish what we want. This could be anyone from a manager to even someone in your family.

Probably the most challenging is when it comes from a partner. So, last week I sent out an email to all the people on my email list and asked them what their biggest challenge was when it came to self improvement. There were a lot of different answers, but one that came up more frequently than I expected was dealing with partners who were not interested in personal growth, and they felt like they were at odds with them in their efforts to improve themselves.

Unknown

Sometimes we get stuck because we don’t know what to do. We may be trying something new, and because it’s new, we don’t know what steps are needed to move us forward. For example, as I’m working on turning the podcast into a full time job, I’m very unsure of what to do.

Coaching, masterminds, creating courses, and learning how to market them is something that is way outside of my comfort zone, and there are plenty of times when I have no idea what to do next. In my case, there is certainly not a dearth of information, but rather there is too much information. I don’t know what next steps I should take because there are so many opinions of how to make this successful.

Burnout

Often we’re stuck in a rut because we’re just simply burnt out. We might be over scheduled. We might be just trying to take on too much. We might have other obligations or people that have demands on our time that we don’t have the courage to step up and say no to. Burnout is something that is very real, and often times it takes us crashing and burning to recognize that’s what’s going on in our lives, and this will often force us to take step back and start to care for ourselves a little better.

Fear

“The limit is not the sky. The limit is the mind.”

— Wim Hof

I think the biggest reason that we get stuck in our lives is fear. Fear is the primary driver of so many of our actions, that we may not even be truly aware of it. But the thing is that fear is caused by our own minds. Most of the things that we are afraid of are things that we just imagine might cause us some kind of pain, but in most cases the only pain we ever feel is our own distress, not any real physical harm.

There are different kinds of fear that can keep up from moving forward. First and foremost is the fear of failure. We can get so fixated on not being able to meet certain expectations, that we fail to even get started on a project or we refuse to put ourselves out there. This fear can also be driven from several places such as our fear of being judged by others, especially when we sensitive to external validation from others. Rather than even trying, we just avoid the situation altogether.

The fear of failure can also swing the other way and we can become paralyzed with perfectionism. Our inner critic can convince us that whatever it is that we are working on is just not good enough. So we keep working on it and working on it far past the point where most people would consider it complete. Sometimes we just give up on it because we never reach a point where we consider it complete.

We can also get stuck with fear of the unknown. Because the future is always uncertain, we may stay stuck because of that uncertainty. We’d rather stick with what we know because it’s safe. We might even be comfortable where we are in life, and therefore don’t want things to change at all. But as we all know, life is never static so the wish to keep things as they are is something that will ultimately fail.

The thing about all the fears we have that keep us stuck are usually things that don’t even exist outside of our own minds. It is our perception of these things, and all the awful scenarios that we conjure up which cause us the most pain in the form of anxiety. We become our own tormentors.

So what are some things that we can do to help get ourselves unstuck?

Mindfulness

“Discomfort is the currency of success.”

— Brooke Castillo

“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

Often, we procrastinate on something because we have associated a strong negative feeling with the activity that we are trying to do. It’s often challenging because we feel like something is wrong with us that we have something we want to accomplish, and yet, we will put it off and even self-sabotage ourselves.

I know that for me, many times I have struggled getting this podcast done because I feel like it’s just not going to be good enough. That feeling that it has to somehow be perfect creeps in and makes it so my brain wants to avoid working on it. At that point, everything else seems much more interesting, so it’s easeir to get distracted.

In order to move past procrastination, we need to be mindful of the story that we are telling ourselves about what we need to accomplish. We need to be mindful of the feelings that we have somehow associated with our task. In my case, that it needs to be perfect. I continually remind myself, that a good episode is far better than none, and more likely to get a good episode done than a “perfect” episode.

Developing that mindfulness can help us face the different fears that we have about something. If we don’t understand why we’re avoiding something, it makes it very challenging to to actually face up to and overcome the fears that we have created in our minds.

Outcomes

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

— Epictetus

I know that I talk a lot on my podcast about focusing on the process and learning how to enjoy the work, but sometimes we get fixated on the out come. So, if this is the case, and we’re going to slide into that way of thinking, why don’t we do a nice jujitsu move on our brains and use this to help us out?

Sometimes imagining what accomplishing something will feel like in the future can be very useful to us. We can imagine how good it will feel to complete our task. We can imagine how much less stressful it will feel once we’re done working on it. When you reach that point, your future self with thank your present self for putting in the hard work.

Copy The Masters

"Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn't really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while."

— Steve Jobs

One thing that I’ve found that is helpful when I’m creating music, writing, or even writing software, is that I find songs or elegant solutions that other people have created and copy what they are doing. If it’s music, I’ll try to may my own version of someone else’s song then start adding my own sounds, arrangements, or variations to make it my own. If it’s writing, I’ll read great books or listen to great podcasts to get inspiration or learn new things to expand my horizons. If it’s coding problem, then I’ll try to find tutorials or code that others have posted that can help me make progress on what I’m doing.

The point is, in this age where we have so much information available to us, we should use it to build off the shoulders of giants. Much of what we do in this world is about combining unusual ideas to create new and better ones. We have all kinds of of processes and tools that can help us take what is good, and make it great. Sometimes it’s not about creating a completely unique idea, but rather looking at something with a different perspective.

Break it Down

Sometimes we get stuck because the task we’re approaching seems so overwhelming. By taking some time to break things down to smaller and more discreet tasks, it can make things much easier. Rather than being one giant task that you have to get done, it can be several smaller tasks that are much easier to get done.

This is something that we do very often in software development. Since software applications are built of lots interworking pieces of code, breaking a large project into smaller parts that can be completed in a shorter amount of time makes it more likely that the project will get completed. If you’re interested in this process and want to adapt it into your workflow, check out scum or agile development and see if you might be able to apply it to what you’re working on.

Short Timelines

Sometimes the way to get past the being stuck it to set yourself short timelines so that you just get started. And what I mean by that is that if you find that it’s difficult to go for a run, set a minimum amount of time that you have to run. Something like 5 or 10 minutes. That means that you only have to run for 5 or 10 minutes, then you can can turn around and go home. Or, that you only have to write or paint for 5 or 10 minutes then you can quit. Often, it only takes getting the action started, then it’s easier to keep going. By creating some momentum with a timeline that is easy to complete, it makes it easier to keep going.

Ask For Help

“Associate with people who are likely to improve you. Welcome those who you are capable of improving. The process is a mutual one: men learn as they teach.”

—Seneca

Probably the hardest thing to do when we’re stuck is to reach out to others and ask for help. This is not easy because far too often we think that we need to go it alone and that asking for help is admitting failure. Often we think that other people won’t want to help us and so we don’t ask so we don’t get rejected. But the thing is, other people like to help, and often can bring new and interesting insights into what you’re working on. They may have skills that you don’t have, and know things that you never would have figured out.

This is something that I’ve been working on myself. I’ve found a few people who are stronger in areas that I don’t know much about, or they are willing to just talk through things that help me see things that I might have missed. Plus, when you ask others for help, it’s a great space to build a better connection with them. I know that I appreciate it when people are vulnerable and ask me for help.

Conclusion

Getting unstuck is not an easy thing to do, but most of the things that keep us stuck are products of our own mind. By becoming aware of the thoughts and behaviors that derail us, we can develop coping mechanisms that can help get us back on track. We can find ways to help our minds work with us and achieve the things that we want, and in doing so help us get unstuck just a little faster.


Hello friends! Thank you for listening.

if you want to take these ideas and yourself to the next level, join the Stoic Coffee House. https://stoic.coffee/join

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

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

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

Find me on instagram or twitter.

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

Categories
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

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.

Adrift

“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

“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.

Grief

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.”

—Seneca

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.

Conclusion

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

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

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

Find me on instagram or twitter.

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

Thanks again for listening.

Categories
Fear

257 – Face Your Fears

Are you afraid to take risks? Do you continually play it safe? Are you living a life that is comfortable but unchallenging? Today I want to talk about how we can push ourselves to take more risks and live life more fully.

While we wait for life, life passes.

—Seneca

Our brains are always looking to keep us safe in any situation. It’s part of the reason why we have evolved as a species and why we are the dominant species on the planet. Because our brains catalog things that can cause us harm, we are able to avoid situations that would be detrimental to our safety, and we survive.

But survival is not the same thing as thriving. We might be able to feed ourselves, take care of our basic needs, but this is not the same thing as living a great life. A great life, to me, is one where we are able to take our skills, talents, and ambitions and live a life where we continually become better versions of ourselves. We use our talents to make the world a little better.

Purpose

People often wonder what the purpose of life is, and to be honest, I think the purpose of life is figure out what makes a good life for you, then live that. This is challenging because it takes a willingness to explore. It takes a willingness to be uncomfortable and try new things, and what makes a good life at one time in your life will be very different at another time in your life.

Fears

It can ruin your life only if it ruins your character. Otherwise it cannot harm you — inside or out.

— Marcus Aurelius

So what is it that holds us back from taking more risks in our lives?

Simply put, it’s fear.

There are lots of fears that hold is back from doing what we really want.

There’s the fear of rejection of others including family, friends, and society. Being accepted in our peer group or community is something that we all want, and doing things that might bring down the judgment of others or could get us ostracized can be incredibly scary.

There’s fear of failure, that if we try something that we’re not good at that we could fail and be embarrassed by that failure. We may also feel like we have wasted time when we put energy into something but still fail at it.

Fear of change. When things stay as they are then we feel comfortable and we know what to expect. When we step up to try something new and different, things will change. We may disrupt the way our lives are going, and even if we know in the end it will be better, change is uncomfortable.

Fear of loss of security. Often we are afraid to take risks because we don’t want to be financially insecure. Sometimes the things that we want to pursue mean that we have to change careers or put up funding that may impact our finances.

But with all of these different fears, there is just one thing in common. Each of them is created by a thought in our mind. Fear is generated because we are afraid of something uncomfortable. Whether that’s the disapproval of others or having to live a more meager lifestyle while we pursue what we really want, these are just emotions attached to thoughts based on our perspective. What others think of us can really cause no harm. We can really get by on far less than we are used to if that’s what it takes for us to pursue our dreams.

Back Up Plan

Set aside a certain number of days during which you shall be content with the scantiest and cheapest fare, with coarse and rough dress, saying to yourself the while, “Is this the condition that I feared?”

—Seneca

A good example of giving into fear is that many of us, and I include myself in this group, end up following our back up plan. We give in to our fears and we decide that rather than pursue our dreams and desires, we do something that’s safe. In my case, I got a degree in business and ended up in software development. Now don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with being in software and I haven’t had a terrible life from it, but it’s far from acting or singing or writing music which is what I really wanted to do when I graduated from high school.

And the thing is, most of us end up spending just as much time and energy on our back up plans as we would have needed to make our original plans work. I spent just as much time behind the computer as I would have spent running lines or auditioning for musicals if I’d had the courage to follow the path I really wanted.

I’m sure that if you looked at areas where you have shied away from and not taken risks, you’ll find that if you had put in the same amount of energy as you do your day job, you’d probably be quite successful at it.

Memento Mori

You are scared of dying—and, tell me, is the kind of life you lead really any different than being dead?

— Seneca

So how can stoicism help you get better at tasking risks?

The stoics are very big about reminding us of our own mortality. I mean we’re all going to die and that’s something that we all have to accept. Once do accept that, and accept the fact that you could leave life at any moment, you realize that since you only have one life , do your best to live the best life you can. Live the life that you want to live, and not the life that other people what you to live.

Another way to put this in perspective is that do you think anyone is going to remember what you did in 100 years? In 50 years? Probably not. There will come a time in the future where no one will know who you were or what you did. All your contributions, all your pain and suffering will just be things in that past as if they never existed.

And that’s great and sad at the same time. Everything we do is futile but at the same time, doing good things and how we do everything matters. So if you’re going to spend your life doing something that will be gone in the not so distant future, make sure that it’s something futile that you want to do.

Want to do stand up comedy? Get in front of your best friend and try some material out. Then find an open mic. Just start doing it. It won’t matter anyway if no one laughs at your jokes. Over time you’ll make it work.

Want to ask someone out but afraid they might reject you? You’re no worse off than you are now, so just do it.

Want to be a musician? Practice. Then download Garage Band or Audacity and record your stuff and put it on Soundcloud. You’ll find others that like your vibe.

You are here to explore and live a life that is full of joy. You do this by stepping up and trying things. We are better off as a world if you are putting things into the world that bring you joy, because there is a good chance that they will bring someone else joy.

All these things that you are afraid of, everything that stresses you out, when you die, those things will be gone. So none of it really matters. Is that nihilistic? I don’t think so. It’s just a simple recognition of the value of these things by adjusting your perspective. All of these things that you think are so important, are really not in a long enough time line.

Courage

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)

One of the four stoic virtues, and to me the most important, is that of courage. For me, courage is the key to living a good life. It is the virtue that underpins everything that helps us live a life we are proud of, and to make changes in our lives. Courage is the key to awareness of ourselves in that it helps us to see ourselves as we truly are. Courage is what helps us make that hard choices, to have the hard conversations, and to persevere when things seem bleak.

Courage doesn’t mean that you have to go cliff diving or put yourself in extreme danger. Courage is simply facing up to the things that scare you, looking at why they scare you, and doing them anyway. The more comfortable you get with facing up to small things with courage and resolve, the easier it gets to face up to the bigger fears in your life. Every time you step up and make a courageous choice, you become more virtuous.

Conclusion

So what are some areas in your life where you are afraid? What are some things you want to do in your life but are unwilling to take the risks? What’s on your bucket list that you keep putting off? Learning to take more risks in your life something that you can get better at, one small fear at a time. Taking more risks is also part of what makes life much more fulfilling and exciting, because in the end, it doesn’t really matter. And that’s a good thing.


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

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

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

Find me on instagram or twitter.

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

Thanks again for listening.

Categories
Choices

247 – There Are No Problems, Only Choices

The stoics teach us that our perspective on life is one of the most important things that we can control. It’s our perspective that informs how we approach everything. Today I want to talk about a powerful way to look at the world using stoic principles that can help us become more resilient, and better able to handle stresses in our lives.

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.

— Marcus Aurelius

What if there were no problems in your life? I don’t mean that you don’t have things that are challenging, but what if, rather than fretting about something and framing it as a problem, you could just look at something as a choice to be made?

I’ve been thinking a lot this week about an idea of how to approach challenges in life. It’s very different than how I currently see things, and this podcast is an attempt to try and solidify these ideas into a kind of operational framework.

But what if we decided that nothing was ever a problem? That every situation you came upon didn’t carry a judgment of being good or bad? Is there a way to look at each situation as an opportunity to just make choices?

Problems

When I have things in my life that I’m struggling with, I view it as a problem. This creates a whole kind of frame around it, and makes it kind of an object in my mind, and makes it something that I can focus on. And though this can be helpful for being able to focus attention on something, when I cast it in the role of being a problem, it immediately has a negative connotation to it. I attach worries to it. I can ruminate it on it to an unhealthy degree.

At times, this worrying about the future can be stressful and even overwhelming. This kind of worry is not helpful, wastes tremendous amounts of energy, and colors my mood in the present.

So today I’m going to show you how to use some key stoic principles to help you change your perspective, worry less, and make better decisions.

Making Choices

There’s an old saying that I try to remember when I get stuck in making decisions.

Good decisions come from wisdom.

Wisdom comes from experience.

Experience comes from making bad decisions.

The more choices we are willing to make, the better we get at making them. So how do we get ourselves to make more choices without feeling overwhelmed? What can we do to help us make better decisions and take actions that help us move in the direction we want?

Amor Fati

Never let the future disturb you. You will meet it, if you have to, with the same weapons of reason which today arm you against the present.

— Marcus Aurelius

The first principle I want to talk about is Amor Fati. Amor Fati means “to love your fate”, which means to love everything that happens to us.

This is often a hard concept to truly embrace. I think that most of us are happy to embrace the good things that happen to us and just try to tolerate everything else. But there are a few reasons why loving your fate is one of the best things that you can do to let go of worry.

The first reason to love everything that happens to you is because it is happening to you. The fact that you love it or not doesn't change that it has has happened or is happening to you. You loving or hating is just your reaction based on your judgment of it. So, since it's happening anyway, why not love it?

Second, if you can love everything that happens to you then everything is an advantage. Nothing is a disadvantage or something that you can’t learn from. Since everything is an opportunity for you, you become anti-fragile.

A simple example. If you are short, love the fact that you are short. Don't lament that you aren't tall, because it's a waste of time and cannot be changed. Then, find all the advantages life gives you for being short, and use them. For you Game of Thrones fans, Tyrion Lannister is a great example of someone playing to their strengths.

Or, let’s say a tornado comes along and destroys your home. You can stress out about everything that you’ve lost, get mad at the universe or god, and allow yourself to feel terrible. Or, you get to see it as an opportunity to build a new house. You can see it as a signal that living in that particular city or town may not be a good option, and move somewhere else.

Or, let's say your partner breaks up with you and breaks your heart. You can hate them and feel like they ruined your life. You can be bitter and hurt. Or, you can understand that there are reasons that the relationship didn’t work out. You can appreciate all the good things, think about what you've learned. You can go into your next relationship a bit wiser.

No Opinion

You always own the option of having no opinion. There is never any need to get worked up or to trouble your soul about things you can't control. These things are not asking to be judged by you. Leave them alone.

― Marcus Aurelius

One way that we can reduce the number of “problems” in our lives is to have no opinion on something for as long as possible. Now, this may seem counterintuitive, but think about it this way. How many things in your life do you really need to have an opinion about? For example, do you really need to care what someone on twitter said? Do you need to have an opinion on what someone was wearing on Instagram?

This doesn’t mean you need to ignore things. It just means that you see events as happening, as information to take in. You can observe as long as you need and only make an opinion if it is something that truly needs you attention. Once you have an opinion on something, then you have something invested in it, so be miserly with your opinions.

Mindfulness

When you are able to see things as choices, then you are more present. When you aren’t running away from or avoid problems, then you are able to be more mindful. You aren’t stuck worrying about things that may happen in the future because you are focused on making choices in the present.

You can think more long term. You can ask yourself, “What choice can make that will have a better long term outcome?” You’re not focused on that fact that you have a problem to deal with. You focused on what choices you can make.

Don’t Sit in Confusion

One of the most important things we can do is to not sit in confusion. If you see things as insurmountable problems, you will fret over those things, and you feel a lot of fear and distress. We will often sit in this place of confusion and indecision because we’re afraid to make choice.

I know for me, a lot of stress comes when I don’t make a choice, or I worry to much about which choice to make. I can fret about something for days or weeks, all the while feeling the tension of indecision. When I finally make a decision, there is often a feeling almost bliss because I’ve finally relieved that stress. Making choices helps clear away confusion.

Take Action

We should not be so taken up in the search for truth, as to neglect the needful duties of active life; for it is only action that gives a true value and commendation to virtue.

— Cicero

Life is not a series of problems to solve, but something to experience. You experience it by making choices and taking actions.

If you see the world as something to be experienced, then you have less fear around making a choice, because if your goal is to have an experience and learn from it, then any choice you make will help you reach that goal.

When you see the world through the lens that life is about choices to make, then you are no longer being acted upon by the world, and so you are no longer a victim. You are moving through the world making choices and taking actions. When you see things a choices, rather than problems, you are focusing on what you can control. You are always looking for what choice you can make in any situation, which, if it is something you can choose, then it’s something that’s under your control.

Priorities

If you find yourself getting stuck in trying to make a decision, one of the most important tools you can use is find the choices that most align with you priorities and core principles. Taking the time to clarify your values can help you see what is most important to you, and how the options align with your priorities.

Small Steps

If you get stuck in making a choice, make a small one. Just test it out. See how it feels. Sometimes we just need to get started moving in a direction so that we aren’t stuck. We can change our minds and move in a different direction if it doesn’t work for us. But sometimes we just need to keep swimming.

Conclusion

The closer we can get to seeing the world as choices rather than problems, the closer we can get to being a flow state in our lives. What I mean by flow state is when you’re playing a sport, or an instrument, or even a video game, you can hit a state where everything just feels like you can’t fail. When a problem comes up, you make decisions easily. You can easily marshal whatever resources you need, and easily handle any situation.

Working on seeing the world through the lens of choices to make rather than problems to solve is not an easy shift to make, but I think that the more you can adopt this perspective, the more you can enjoy the experience of living, and not get bogged down in the challenges in your life. You are more present and mindful, and worry less about the future. By improving your ability to make choices and take action, the more you will be able to live the kind of life you want, because you will see that there are no problems, only choices.


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

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

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

Find me on instagram or twitter.

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

Thanks again for listening.

Categories
Emotions

243 – All the Feels: How to Ride the Emotional Waves

Are you afraid of your feelings? Do you avoid, numb, or shut down your emotions? How much stress and anxiety do you create trying to avoid uncomfortable emotions? Today I want to talk about the power of emotions, and how to reduce your suffering by feeling your emotions all the way through.

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

— Robert Greene

Emotions are powerful forces in our lives. They are the drivers of the actions we take. Those actions lead to the results get in our lives. The better we are at managing our emotions, the more control we have over our lives, and more likely we are to achieve the things that we want to in our lives.

What are Emotions?

Emotions are complex mental states that are often a result of the interaction between our physical responses to external stimuli and our own thoughts, beliefs, and memories. Physical stimuli such as a perceived threat, pleasant touch, or intense sound can trigger a physiological response in the body, such as an increased heart rate, sweating, or changes in hormone levels. These physiological changes can influence our emotions, as our brain perceives and interprets these physical sensations and maps them to an emotional state. At the same time, our own thoughts, beliefs, and past experiences can shape how we perceive and respond to these stimuli, creating a feedback loop between our thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations.

When we have a strong emotional response to something, it is not just a thought in our minds, but something we also feel in our body. It’s this physical dimension which often makes emotions so scary. Our brains perceive a physical threat, and reacts as if there is the possibility of actual physical harm, even if we know rationally that we’ll be just fine.

Vibrations

If you were to describe what an emotion felt like to an alien, you probably describe it as something like a vibration that you feel in your body. Some of those vibrations feel nice and pleasant, and others feel negative or distressing. But really, it is more or less a vibration that comes as the result of the thoughts in your mind, and the physical circumstances around you.

So why is it important to understand and manage your emotions? I want to propose the idea that most of the suffering in the world comes not from just physical pain and injury, but through emotional pain and anguish. And that suffering is made worse because we try so hard to avoid uncomfortable or painful emotions, and it is this avoidance which causes more suffering than the emotion we’re trying to avoid in the first place.

Feeling our emotions is also just part of being human. When we learn how to actually feel our emotions when they come, and not avoid or suppress them, we get to experience the full range of being human. If we don’t feel sadness or grief, then it also limits our ability to feel happiness and joy. For me, this is part of what the stoics mean when they talk about living according to nature. We all feel emotions, which means they are part of our nature, and repressing or ignoring them is not living in alignment with nature.

Avoidance

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

— Seneca

One of the interesting things about humans is that we will go out of our way to avoid painful or uncomfortable emotions. And it’s this avoidance which causes us to suffer far longer and deeper than if we just felt the original emotions in the first place. We often cause more damage than the emotions themselves. When we try to avoid the emotions we’re feeling, we will often distract ourselves with activities that either numb what we’re feeling, or keep us focused on something else. Alcohol, drugs, food, sex, or porn, are just a few of the things we use for numbing ourselves. We may overindulge in other activities that keep our minds off of feeling the emotions we have. Working extended hours, binge watching Netflix, and even spending too much time in the gym can distract us from processing and feeling emotions we’re uncomfortable with.

Addictions

An inability to regulate emotions can lead to substance abuse as a form of self-medication to manage difficult emotions. Addiction and emotional suppression are often interconnected, as individuals who struggle with emotional regulation and coping may turn to substance abuse or other compulsive behaviors as a means of numbing or avoiding their emotions.

On the other hand, chronic substance abuse can result in further suppression of emotions, as it alters brain chemistry and interferes with a person’s ability to experience and regulate their emotions. This creates a vicious cycle, where substance abuse and emotional suppression reinforce each other, making it difficult for individuals to break the cycle of addiction and regain control over their emotions. Effective addiction treatment often involves addressing the underlying emotional and psychological issues, as well as addressing the addiction itself.

Psychosomatic Disorders

Your emotions are the slaves to your thoughts, and you are the slave to your emotions.

— Elizabeth Gilbert

Our emotions have such an impact on our bodies that we can suffer what are called psychosomatic disorders. Psychosomatic disorders are physical conditions which are caused or worsened by psychological and emotional factors. They occur when psychological stress or anxiety manifests in physical symptoms, such as headaches, digestive problems, and fatigue. These disorders are thought to result from the interaction between the mind and the body, where psychological stress can affect the functioning of the nervous and immune systems, leading to physical symptoms.

Examples of psychosomatic disorders include, but are not limited to, irritable bowel syndrome, chronic fatigue syndrome, and tension headaches. Treatment usually involves a combination of psychotherapy to address the underlying psychological factors, and medication to manage physical symptoms.

Toxic Masculinity

The unwillingness and inability to just feel the uncomfortable physical sensations in our bodies has caused more suffering in the world than all the wars humanity has ever fought.

One of the ideas I want to explore a little is toxic masculinity, which for me, is one of the most damaging things in our culture. Toxic masculinity is a cultural construct that refers to harmful and restrictive norms associated with masculinity, such as the suppression of emotions, aggression, dominance, and the expectation of being tough and unemotional.

The inability of men to manage or sometimes even to feel their emotions is one of the most damaging behaviors in society. These toxic norms can lead to negative behaviors such as violence, bullying, and the objectification of women, and can result in negative consequences for both men and women. When men are unable to deal with their emotions in healthy ways, those emotions don’t just disappear. In my own experience, the more I try to suppress or ignore how I feel about something, it doesn’t just go away. In fact, it usually feels like it gets worse. It’s very much like a pressure cooker building up steam, until it finally finds a way to release all that energy.

Toxic masculinity contributes to poor mental health and a limited expression of individuality. When you are unable to manage your emotions, then your ability to feel the fullness of being human becomes highly limited. Toxic masculinity is not synonymous with masculinity itself, but rather represents a narrow and harmful definition of it.

I remember one time in college I was having a discussion with some friends about how men really have very few emotional states. At the time, I was of the opinion that men had about 5 emotions: Happy, okay (neutral), anger, fear, and sadness. The reason I thought this way was because my own emotional repertoire was very limited. Because of the emotional toxicity in my own home and the culture I grew up in, the range of emotions I knew how to safely handle was very limited.

When I was married, my ex wife often ask me how I felt about something. When I would respond with just one the 5 emotions I mentioned earlier, she would ask if I felt anything deeper, if I had a broader range of emotions. I would try to dig deeper, but often found that I really didn’t know what I was feeling.

There were two aspects to this. First, I often just shut off emotions I didn’t know how to deal with. This meant that the range of emotions I allowed myself to feel was pretty limited. Second, if there were other feelings outside of happiness, sadness, fear, or anger, I often couldn’t recognize them, and didn’t have the words to express how I felt. This often led to unresolved emotions which would come out in expressions of fear and anger.

Riding the Waves

The more you know about your feelings, the more power you have to direct them.

— John F. Demartini

So how do we get better about feeling our emotions? What can we do to improve our ability to regulate our emotions, rather than try to suppress or avoid them?

We need to become masters of feeling. We need to ride the waves our emotions.

Have you ever watched big wave surfers? They’re pretty amazing to watch. When you see a master surfer out on the ocean and a big wave comes along, they get nervous and excited. Sure, that big wave is scary, but it’s also thrilling, and the more time they put themselves in the path of these waves, the better they get at riding them. And it’s the power and the energy in that wave that makes it exciting to ride.

I like to think of emotions like waves on the ocean and we’re all surfers, and we are not allowed to get out of the ocean. These emotional waves are going to come at you whether you like them or not, which is pretty much how life is.

So you have choice.

When these waves come a long you can try to avoid them. But if you spend your whole life not learning how to deal with your feelings, those waves are still there and will still pull you under and knock you over, especially you’ve never really learned how to handle them.

Or, you can decide to try and get on that wave when it comes along. You’ll get knocked over sometimes and it’ll feel like you’re drowning. Sometimes you’ll get on the board and start riding the wave and make some progress only to fall off and biff it. As you get better at riding the waves of your emotions, you’ll find you’re able to handle even larger waves and come out the other side feeling the thrill of handling yourself in a way that is so much healthier. You’ll even start to look forward to all emotions that come your way because you know you can handle them, and they make life feel so much richer and fuller.

Practical Steps

Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding.

— Kahlil Gibran

The first thing is to recognize that emotions are natural. Every single one of them, so rather than fear them, we should welcome them. We need to recognize that we’re going to have positive and negative emotions, and that we should welcome both of them. We can’t cancel out the dark or negative ones and only accept the positive ones. And the thing is, we want to feel all the emotions in our lives, and not just the positive ones. There are times we want those negative emotions, such as grief, for example, when someone close to you dies, or feeling the heartbreak at the end of a relationship.

Second, we need to recognize that emotions are just a feeling, a physical sensation, a vibration in our body. They can often feel overwhelming and terrible, but that vibration in your body is not going to kill you, even if your mind is trying to convince you otherwise.

Third, is that when we have an emotion, the best thing we can do is to step right up and do our best to embrace it. The more we try to avoid or suppress it, the longer it will hang around. The healthiest and honestly the fastest way to deal with emotions is to feel them. The harder we try to avoid emotions, the longer they stick around. Emotions don’t go away, but will show up in other ways. When we stop resisting, we allow our mind and our body to process how we are feeling, and let it move through us like it’s naturally supposed to.

The last thing to remember is that emotions show up in physical ways, and processing them is a physical act. We need to find physical ways to let them through. I know for me when I’m feeling an incredibly strong emotion, positive or negative, I will often cry when I just let it pass through. It’s what I need to release all that energy, and afterwards I feel so much better. I may feel tired, but I usually feel calm. I feel clean like I’ve just purged a whole bunch of heavy energy which was weighing me down.

Learning how to manage and regulate our emotions is a skill we all have to learn if we want to live our best lives. Emotions are a fabric of our lives, and are not something you can avoid. Try as you might, those waves are going to keep on coming for as long as you’re alive. So you have a choice. Are you going to try and avoid them only to get pulled under gasping for air, or are you going to turn into the wave, ride it like a pro, and feel the fullness of your life?


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

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

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

Find me on instagram or twitter.

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

Categories
Challenges

234 – Easy Life

Easy Life
Everything is Difficult At First

Do you want your life to be easy? Do you complain, get stressed out, or upset when challenges come up in your life? Today I want to talk about why we should not only accept adversity in our lives, but learn to embrace it.

The path of least resistance is a terrible teacher.

— Ryan Holiday

One of the things that I notice all the time are ads on Facebook promising some easy hack to get more clients, make more sales, lose weight faster, etc. It seems as if everything can be reduced to some kind of easy hack to be successful. And I’ll admit that I have fallen for some these. I’ve purchased a program that is supposed to teach me the “easy way” to one thing or another, only to find that there usually is no easy being successful at something.

So why do we look for the easy way? Why are we often taken in by promises of easy success? I think it’s pretty obvious because working hard at something is, well, hard. But I want to posit a few ideas on this. While we think it would great to have easy success with something, do we lose something if we have easy success? I want you to consider the idea that if we have an easy success at something, we may be cheating ourselves of some of the most important skills we need.

Think of it this way: Who are we more impressed by? The person that was simply given everything in their life? The ones got their jobs or were admitted into schools, not because of their own merit, but because of their family connections or wealth? Or are we more impressed by those who came up against incredible obstacles and persevered? Which story is going to make a movie that we’d actually want to watch?

One should never wish for life to be easy. It is through adversity that we strengthen our skills, test our mettle, and know what we are capable of.

— Erick Cloward

I’ve often talked about how I love cycling, and for several years, I was obsessed with it. I would ride at least 3 times a week logging around 150-200 miles a week. I found pleasure in tackling the big hills around my home. It wasn’t just that I knew that I would be stronger because of the work I was putting in, it was because I really enjoyed climbing those hills, I loved the feeling of the burn in my legs and feeling my strength as I pushed myself to the summit.

Over the years I’ve come up with excuses as to why I don’t ride like that anymore, but I think it’s really that I convinced myself that it was just too hard do anymore. I’ve felt discouraged that I let myself go, and I know the amount of work it will take to get to that level again. But in doing all that, I forgot the simple idea that I don’t have to be that good again. I just have to remember to love the process, to enjoy the ride, and to savor the burn. If I put the miles in, while I may not ever reach that level again, I’ll certainly improve over where I am now, and certainly improve my health.

The Spartans

The Spartan story of Leonidas and the Battle of Thermopylae is considered one of the greatest military conflicts in history. Xerxes, the King of Persia and an estimated 180,000 soldiers were held at bay for several days by a significantly smaller Greek army led by Leonidas, one of the kings of Sparta. While they eventually lost due to betrayal from a Spartan traitor, the fighting force of 7000, lead by 300 of Sparta’s elite ranks, they managed to keep the Persians at bay until the rest of the Greek army could assemble, and eventually defeat the Persian forces. Over seven days of battle, the Spartans lost 4000 soldiers but inflicted a loss of 20,000 on the Persians.

There are many reason why this story resonates with us even today. First and foremost is that King Leonidas knew that he was most likely marching to his death. He also knew that in doing so, it was the best chance to buy time for the rest of Greece to mount a defense against the Persians. Second, is that these soldiers had trained long and hard for most of their lives so that when the time came, they would be ready to face their enemies and fight ferociously. They didn’t wish for their lives to be easy, but challenged themselves to become the best of the best. Training amongst the Spartans was considered to be some of the most difficult, which is why the Spartans where extremely successful in their military campaigns.

The willingness of these warriors to push themselves to become the best they could be are part of the reason that we have stoicism and democracy. If the Persians had conquered Greece at that time, its fledgling democratic and philosophical traditions may not have survived.

Good judgment comes from experience. Most experience comes from bad judgment.

— Anonymous

A man cannot understand the art he is studying if he only looks for the end result without taking the time to delve deeply into the reasoning of the study.

— Miyamoto Musashi

When we take on challenges and learn to love the hard parts, we also build the skills that we need to sustain what we’re doing. Think about it this way: What if your goal in life was to become the CEO of a successful tech company like Apple? What would happen if tomorrow you were suddenly given that role? Would you be able to sustain it? Would you have the skills to run a company of that size? Would you have the experience needed to make good judgments about how to run such a company? Unless you had put in the time, you wouldn’t be successful, nor would you be able to ensure the long term success of the company.

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.

– Marcus Aurelius

So what can we do to get better at embracing the hard parts of life? How can we change our mindset to love the burn?

First and foremost is our perspective. If we look at the hard parts as something that is bad or to be avoided, then we’ll never look forward to them, which also makes it more likely that we won’t push through when things are boring, hard, or painful.

Pain and Pleasure

One of the most interesting things about the human mind is that many of the same sensations that we have are considered god or bad based upon our perspective. For example, nervousness and excitement have the same physiological symptoms, yet we consider nervousness to be bad and excitement to be good. In the kink communities, there are plenty of people that find great pleasure in being flogged. Many people enjoy roller coasters or horror movies in which they feel fear and excitement at the same time.

Using these examples, are there hard things that you normally avoid that you could find the pleasure in? Rather than simply tolerating them, can you find ways to love them? If you’ve ever seen a hard core body builder at the gym, you will often see them push themselves to where they feel immense burning in their muscles and yet have the biggest grins on their faces as they push through that pain.

Another way to look at things is to see if you can find pleasure in mastering the boring or basic things. For example, if you are learning how to program a computer, rather than just racing through the practice code, can you take time to see if you can make the code more efficient or elegant? If you’re working on becoming a writer, can you find a clearer or more interesting way to express an idea?

It may seem difficult at first, but everything is difficult at first.

— Miyamoto Musashi.

Patience and Process

Another thing that trips us up is that we are often impatient. We want success and we want it now. Many of us will spend so much time trying to find shortcuts, that it would have been faster for us to have simply taken the necessary steps in the first place. We can help override this by finding ways to enjoy the journey, to love the process. We can get so focused on the end goal that we miss the scenery and experiences along the way.

Recognize that it’s the journey that will turn you into the person that you will be when you get to the end goal. Recognize that you’re going to suck at whatever it is you want to get better at. Be okay with sucking at something, and enjoy watching yourself go from sucking at something to getting better at it.

So what are you working towards right now in your life that is hard for you? Is there something in it that scares you? Are there things you’re trying to avoid that you know you need to do to get where you want to go? Can you change your perspective to find the pleasure and the excitement in it? The more you can embrace and love the sucky parts, the more you’ll look forward to the challenges, and the more you’ll learn to love the burn.


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

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

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

Find me on instagram or twitter.

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

Categories
Future

233 – Anxious Future

Anxious Future
Anxious Future

Do you feel like the world is in chaos right now? I know that many of us feel like that. Spend a day on social media and easy to find all kinds of things wrong with the world. Is it that the world is truly more chaotic? Are things really falling apart more so than in the past? Today I want to talk about some of the reasons why so many of us feel like the world is in chaos.

The mind that is anxious about future events is miserable.

—Seneca

It's easy in this modern world to feel anxious. There is always something that we can worry about. But where does this anxiety come from? At a base level, much of our anxiety comes from worrying about the future. We worry about personal issues such as relationships, finances, and work. We worry about global issues such as the cost of food, the price of energy, climate change, political upheaval, and the list goes on. These are all things that can cause us stress and worry, mostly because there is very little, and in some cases, nothing that we can do about them. I think that that the world, the universe, is doing what it has always done and we have a hard time because we expect things to be otherwise.

The news allows you to dedicate massive amounts of energy and attention to things you probably cannot impact while the things you can impact go unaddressed.

—The Stoic Emperor

Another reason why it feels like the world is more chaotic now than in the past is that we’re simply exposed to more of the world. Because of the giant increase in the amount of available news, we don’t just hear about bad news in our local area or even just our country, we find out about bad news all over the world in ways that were not even possible 25 years ago.

Now, this is not to say that we don’t have real problems happening in the world. While there has always been war, famine, natural disasters, now we face so many issues with climate change, and dwindling resources. It can feel hopeless because there is so little that we can impact. This is also not to say that we shouldn't look to and prepare for the future. To put our heads in the sand and ignore the perils of the world is not prudent or wise.

I think that this hopelessness that people feel makes it easy to fall into outrage and self-righteousness when we watch or listen to the news. There's so much wrong in the world the moral superiority we feel feels so good! But when we stop and think about it, what does our moral outrage do? Does is prompt to make any changes? Do we take up a cause and do something about it? In most cases, we don't. We feel good because we're on the "right side" of an issue and forget about it as we move onto the next outrage or distraction.

It is important we recognize that much of the news is simply there to manipulate our emotions and to be sensational, shocking, or salacious. And why is this? Why would people want this? Mostly it comes down to money and power. Anger and outrage are easy to sell. People who are angry are far easier to manipulate than people who are calm, thoughtful, and relaxed. When we understand this, we can be aware of our reactions and choose to spend our emotional energy effectively.

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

― Epictetus

What things have you anxious about the future? What can we do to lessen our distress and anxiety? How do we manage our minds so as not to get bogged down and feeling overwhelmed? I find that mostly ignoring the news is very helpful. And it’s not that I don’t want to be informed, it’s just that there is so much clammer and sensationalist garbage that has absolutely no impact on my life. I do my best to find news sources that work hard to bring factual reporting to the front, with open mindedness and supported the latest scientific developments. I try to find the signal of the truth amongst all the noise.

It's not to say that watching the news is bad per se, because it's good to know what is happening in the world. Keeping perspective on what is happening – that the world is always changing – and not fearing it, because much of it is out of our control, allows us to be more accepting of what happens. But just because we accept what is happening doesn’t mean that we should resign ourselves to passivity. It means that we should be cognizant of what we can have an effect on, and do our best to make a positive impact on the world.

We can also practice to do our best to prepare for whatever we can by paying attention to events and imagining the worst that can happen – not as an exercise to stress ourselves out, but so that we are not surprised if these things happen. And I’ve used this myself to help relieve anxiety, because once you’ve already experienced the worst case in your mind, in a sense, you’ve already experienced it. If the worst case does happen, you are much better prepared for it. Usually the worst case doesn’t happen, and in those cases you’re happily surprised with a better outcome.

Another thing we can do is to look around us and see where we really can have an impact on the world. Are there things you can do locally for your community? Can you find ways to volunteer? What action can you take to help make the world a little better rather than just flaming your “opponents” on social media?

When we take the time to focus on what we can control, and focus being in the moment, we can loosen the grip of those anxieties about the future. Keeping ourselves in the present helps us stop worrying about the uncertainty of the future, and focus on the things that we can control – those things in the present.


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

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

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

Find me on instagram or twitter.

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

Categories
other people

230 – Our Human Contract

Our Human Contract
Ignorance leads to fear…

Is it ever okay to hate someone as a stoic? Is there ever a time to have “righteous anger”? Today I want to talk about anger, hate and violence in our ever more divisive world.

Ignorance leads to fear, fear leads to hate, and hate leads to violence. This is the equation.

— Ibn Rushd

Today the world feels like it in chaos. Everything from political violence, war, and ethnic clashes to threats of violence and down right viciousness on social media. Alongside that, the sensationalist news media leading with crime and vilification of those with the “wrong” political opinions. We have politicians excusing and even encouraging violence against one group or another based on their race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender, or social status.

With all of this going on, it can at times feel like there is justification to be angry at some group or another. There is always someone else to blame as to why things aren’t going the way that you think they should. It’s easy to fall into this trap of declaring that if everyone else just thought and acted the way that you wanted, then everything in the world would be much better.

Anger is such an important topic in the stoic philosophy that it’s in the first sentence of Marcus Aurelius’ Mediations. He says, “Of my grandfather Versus I have learned to be gentle and meek, and to refrain from all anger and passion.”

So why do the stoics believe that anger and hatred are so paramount that they warn against them so strongly over and over? Because what they call the “temporary madness” of anger can cause us to do things that we would never do when we are calm and relaxed. We limit our capacity to make better decisions, we will underestimate risk, and at times even cause harm to ourselves just to cause injury to the target of our anger.

But most importantly, the stoics teach us that the harm that anger can cause doesn’t just cause damage to those on the receiving end, it also damages our character. It causes us to be ugly on the inside. We alienate those around us. We push people away from us, cause harm to others, and spend time in a dark and hateful place of our own creation. We make really bad decisions that have lasting consequences, often by split second decisions. As Donald Robertson puts it, “Anger allows us to do stupid things faster and with more energy.”

I have, at times when I’ve lost my temper, said some pretty mean and vicious things to people that I genuinely care about, only because I let that temporary madness take over. I felt hurt about something and want them to hurt as much or more than me. As soon as I calm down I truly regret those things that I said, but sadly, they’re out there and the damage has been done. Looking back on my marriage, I know that my anger was certainly a contributing factor to my ex wife asking for a divorce.

The more unjust the hatred, the more stubborn it is.

— Seneca

Have you ever met someone that is angry a lot? How pleasant are they to spend time around? Do you look forward to your time with them or do you make excuses to limit your time with them? I know that I do my best to limit my time around others like this. There were even times when I have been on dates that I fond very attractive, but because of bitterness or anger I was not interested in pursuing any thing further. I would even go so far as to say that hate and anger make a person very ugly inside and out.

One of the saddest things I can think of in my own life are the bittersweet memories of my father and his violent temper. It’s really sad because there were plenty of great things about him. He was funny, kind, smart, and generous, but so many of my memories of him are overshadowed by his anger and the mental toll that it took on me. I’ve spent the last few years working through the trauma caused by his anger, and stoicism has been a big help for me as I’ve worked through these issues.

Whoever does wrong, wrongs himself; Whoever does injustice, does it to himself making himself evil.

— Marcus Aurelius

A few years ago I was in a stoic group on Facebook and was very shocked to see a discussion going on where a few members of the group were using stoicism to try and justify racism. They were posting things like pictures of people living huts in Africa as proof that these people were inferior to them. While I tried patiently to discuss this with them and talk about how stoicism is not compatible with racism, I found it was worthless and gave up on the conversation. Fortunately they were shortly banned from the group.

So can one be a stoic and be racist or misogynistic or bigoted? No. I don’t think you can for several reasons. First, one of the most important things that stoicism teaches us is that there are things we can and cannot control and it’s incumbent on us to determine the difference, and to work on the things we can control and let go of the rest. It’s therefor illogical to hate someone for the color of their skin or their sex or gender or any other factor that they cannot control. Secondly, anger and hatred are called out as some the most important “passions” or negative emotions that we should avoid.

Epictetus also makes it very clear that we are to do good and help all humans, not just those that we like or who are on “our side”:

One cannot pursue one’s own highest good without at the same time necessarily promoting the good of others. A life based on narrow self-interest cannot be esteemed by any honorable measurement. Seeking the very best in ourselves means actively caring for the welfare of other human beings. Our human contract is not with the few people with whom our affairs are most immediately intertwined, nor to the prominent, rich, or well educated, but to all our human brethren.

— Epictetus

You cannot continue to hate someone without repeatedly wasting, on them, some of your precious time and mental energy.

— Mokokoma Mokhonoana

So is there ever a time when anger is justified? Again, I would have to say no. Hate and anger diminish your ability to be rational, and the stoics teach us to use our rational minds over emotions. And the idea that there is justifiable or righteous anger has led to so many atrocities throughout history. Anger is not an easy thing to control. I know that I might think I’m justified in how I feel about something, but even that justified anger can quickly spiral out of control and I end up saying or doing things I regret.

Mobs that start off feeling justified can spiral out of control and end up doing horrendous things to satiate that righteous anger. Throughout history we see that every tyrant, fascist, and dictator has believed in the righteousness of their cause which has caused immense suffering for so many people. Others in feeling that they have the right to be angry about something, have taken out their anger and rage on others in ways that completely destroy their own life and the lives others.

So what can we do to better manage our anger? How can we work on getting rid of hate? The stoics give us many ways to work on anger, but I think the most important is from Epictetus:

It is not things that upset us, but our opinion of them.

— Epictetus

It really comes down to our thinking. If we spend our time thinking about how awful the world is, or that we deserve something, or how much we hate another person or group of people, we are the ones creating these feelings inside of us with our own thoughts. It is our choice to focus on hate and anger, or to direct our thinking and opinions in ways that help improve our lives. When you spend your energy on hating others, you create a prison of unhappiness in your own mind. When you put hate and anger out into the world, you don’t just cause damage to the target of your anger, but to your own character, and you bring that anger into the world.

If you hate a person, then you’re defeated by them.

— Confucius

I know that some people feel like they have to prove their strength with anger or violence. But as a simple though experiment, if you see two people arguing and one of them is getting more and more worked up and yelling, while the other is remaining calm, who do think has more control of themselves? Who do you think has the stronger will? Anger is a sign of weakness. Giving into anger and hate is easy. Self control and mental discipline is hard.

As I mentioned earlier, the stoics teach us to identify what we can control, and that the only things we really control are our thoughts, our will, and our choices. You have control over your thoughts. You can change them at any time. When you choose to focus on anger and hate, you are blaming someone or something else for how you feel. You are not taking responsibility for your own thinking and emotions, which is one of the only things you actually do have control over.

As a simple practice, any time you are feeling riled up about something, try to take time out before making any decisions. Before you say those awful things, send that angry text, or post that vicious comment to social media, take a break. Go outside for a walk. Read a book. Play some music and dance. Whatever it is that you do to distract yourself and get your mind to calm down. Once you’ve given yourself some time to cool off, take some time to examine your thoughts that are causing these angry feelings. Then decide if there is a better way to handle the situation. Take the anger out of your text or post. Can you change it to be something purely factual? Is it something that even needs to be communicated at all?

The last and most important thing you can do is to be careful about what you watch, read, and listen to. There is so much hate fueled media out there and the more attention you give it, the more susceptible you are to falling into hate and violence. Extreme political media, conspiracy theories, and anyone that puts out violence and hate are things that bring no value to your life. Anyone that promotes the idea that you should hate one group or another is someone you really should avoid.

There’s a lot of anger in the world right now and it’s easy to get swept up in it. Part of being a stoic is learning how to master your emotions and learn to be dispassionate about things so you can view them rationally, and act in ways to promote the greater good. There is no reason to spend your time and energy on hate. There are so many problems in the world that we need to work on together to help make the world a better place. Don’t be a part of the problem by adding to the hate and violence out into the world.


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Categories
philosophy stoicism

216 – Give yourself fully to your endeavors

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

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

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

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

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

How I Got Here

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

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

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

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

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

Lessons Learned

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

Consistency is the killer of fear.

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

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

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

What’s Next?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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


Hello friends! Thank you for listening. If this podcast speaks to you, please consider give a donation on Patreon at  https://patreon.com/stoiccoffee
You can also swing by the and pick up some great looking shirts and hoodies at the Stoic Coffee Shop.
Lastly if you know of someone that would benefit from or appreciate this podcast, please share it.

Thanks again for listening.


Hello friends! Thank you for listening. If this podcast speaks to you, please consider give a donation on Patreon at  https://patreon.com/stoiccoffee
You can also swing by the and pick up some great looking shirts and hoodies at the Stoic Coffee Shop.
Lastly if you know of someone that would benefit from or appreciate this podcast, please share it.

Thanks again for listening.

Categories
Coffee Break Control

205 – Two Sides of the Same Coin

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

— Epictetus

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

What Do You Control?

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

Two Sides

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

Blame

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

Victim

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

Fate

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

Other People

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

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

—Epictetus

Mindfulness

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

Practice

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

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

Boundaries

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

Values

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

Conclusion

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


Hello friends! Thank you for listening. If this podcast speaks to you, join us over in the Stoic Coffee House. The Stoic Coffee House is a community built around the ideas of stoicism and the Stoic Coffee Break  podcast. You'll meet your fellow Stoics, and have a place where you can share your life experiences and what you've learned along the way. Also stop by the website at stoic.coffee where you can sign up for our newsletter, and buy some great looking shirts and hoodies at the Stoic Coffee Shop. Also, if you know of someone that would benefit from or appreciate this podcast, please share it. Word of mouth is the best way to help this podcast grow. Thanks again for listening.

Categories
Coffee Break death

201 – You May Leave This Life at Any Moment

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

— Marcus Aurelius

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

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

—Seneca

Memento Mori

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

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

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

—Marcus Aurelius

Why are we afraid to die?

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

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

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

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

—Marcus Aurelius

What is Impotant?

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

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

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

—Gaius Musonius Rufus

Die Well

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

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

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

—Marcus Aurelius

Quality Over Quantity

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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


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

Categories
Coffee Break philosophy stoicism

190 – The Stories We Tell Ourselves

The Stories We Tell Ourselves

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

— Marcus Aurelius

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

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

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

The Making Of A Story

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

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

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

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

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

– Bill Madden

Oh The Stories We Tell!

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

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

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

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

“If only I didn’t talk so much.”

And on and on…

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

Unleash Your Inner Film Critic

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

Some of the questions you can ask yourself include:

What are the fact, the circumstances, and events?

What thoughts did I have in response to those event?

What feelings where created by those thoughts?

What actions did I take in response to those feelings?

And probably the most important question of all:

“What is true?”

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

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

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

What are the facts, circumstances, and events?

My partner criticized my idea.

What thoughts did I have in response to those event?

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

What feelings where created by those thoughts?

I felt hurt

What actions did I take in response to those feelings?

I lashed out at my partner

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

What did that person actually say or do?

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

Did they actually say what I thought they said?

No.

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

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

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

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


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

Categories
Coffee Break ego philosophy stoicism

184 – The Truth Never Harmed Anyone

The Truth Never Harmed Anyone

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

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

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

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

– Marcus Aurelius

Why is Criticism so hard for us to hear?

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

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

Why should we get better at handling criticism?

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

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

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

How do we get better at handling criticism?

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

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

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

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

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

Action

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

Pitfalls

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

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

Conclusion

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


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

 

Categories
Coffee Break philosophy stoicism

183 – Mind And Body

Mind And Body

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

– Epictetus

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

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

The Chaos

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

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

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

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

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

The Mind-Body Connection

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

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

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

Physical Awareness

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

– Seneca

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

Active Mindfulness

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

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

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

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

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Coffee Break philosophy self-improvement stoicism

173 – Change Your Perspective, Change Your World

Change your Perspective, Change Your World

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

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

– Epictetus

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

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

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

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

– Marcus Aurelius

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

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

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

– Marcus Aurelius

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

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

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

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

– Marcus Aurelius

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

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

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

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

Drew Johnson’s Remarkable Second Act

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Coffee Break

153 – Hatred of Others

Hatred of Others

 

Don’t be a dick!

Are you disturbed by the political landscape that has changed so rapidly over the last 4 years? As more and more authoritarian parties come into power around the world, we see that hatred towards others – immigrants, refugees, women, minorities – seems to be at an all-time high. In these troubled times, we need to take a look at ourselves and be sure that we don’t fall into the trap of hatred and blaming others for the disappointments in our lives.

When we look at today’s news, we can see that there seems to be an uptick in political violence. We see leaders being elected that openly advocate violence towards others. Why is this? Why do people feel the need to hate other groups?

I think it comes from people feeling disappointed with not getting what they think they deserve in life. And when that disappointment happens, people look for someone or something to blame. Rather than taking the time to think about why they didn’t get what they wanted like most of us, we find it’s easier to blame something outside of ourselves because our egos don’t want the uncomfortable reality that we are in charge of our lives and that there are things that we did or didn’t do.

When reality doesn’t live up to our dreams, when we don’t get the things that we think we deserve, we look to someone to tell us why. Politicians and leader exploit this need and provide us with easy targets as to why we didn’t get what we wanted. They give people someone to blame, and usually, it’s those that even less fortunate than the ones that they’re appealing to, such as getting the declining middle class to turn against the poor by taking away

Is there ever a time when it’s okay to hate another group based on race, nationality, gender, sex?

“Never in reply to the question, to what country you belong, say that you are an Athenian or a Corinthian, but that you are a citizen of the world.”

— Epictetus, Discourses

The Stoics held that we are all part of the same human family, that we are all very much like each other and that we are here as to help each other. When others try to act as though their group, their culture, their skin color is so much better than someone else’s, they’re really quite delusional. The thing is, we are all basically the same with some minor variations. And it’s this mix of difference, the variety that helps us all as human beings. How many of us have been touched by inventions and ideas that came from other cultures? Science and math had strong origins from the Arab world and from India as well as Europe.

I know I used this quote a few episodes ago, but I really think it’s work repeating.

“One cannot pursue one’s own highest good without at the same time necessarily promoting the good of others. A life based on narrow self-interest cannot be esteemed by any honorable measurement. Seeking the very best in ourselves means actively caring for the welfare of other human beings. Our human contract is not with the few people with whom our affairs are most immediately intertwined, nor to the prominent, rich, or well educated, but to all our human brethren.”

— Epictetus

When we fail to help our fellow humans, when we think only of our group, our tribe, we are not contributing to the world. We are making the world a worse place.

One of the first things that I ever read from Epictetus was the first chapter of the Enchiridion. :

“To achieve freedom and happiness, you need to grasp this basic truth: some things in life are under your control, and others are not. What things are under your total control? What you believe, what you desire or hate, and what you are attracted to or avoid. You have complete control over these, so they are free, not subject to restraint or hindrance. They concern you because they are under your control. What things are not under your total control? Your body, property, reputation, status, and the like. Because they are not under your total control they are weak, slavish, subject to restraint, and in the power of others. They do not concern you because they are outside your control. If you think you can control things over which you have no control, then you will be hindered and disturbed. You will start complaining and become a fault-finding person.”

— Epictetus, Enchiridion

Here we see clearly that one of the things that are outside of our control is our bodies. That means that we and everyone else has no control over where they were born, what color their skin is, what gender or sex they are. When we hate someone for something that is outside of their control, there is nothing that they can do about it. If someone hated me because I was born in Salt Lake, there’s nothing that I can do to change that. I can’t change that I have light skin, that I have blue eyes, that I don’t have much hair.

But the thing is, that when we hate, we do more damage to ourselves.

“Whoever does wrong, wrongs himself; whoever does injustice, does it to himself, making himself evil.”

― Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

When we give into blame, hate, and violence, then we damage ourselves. We become just as bad, if not worse than what we accuse others of being. We are no longer people that we strive to be. We become the monsters.

“Events don’t disturb people; the way they think about events does. Even death is not frightening by itself. But our view of death, that it is something we should be afraid of, frightens us. So when we are frustrated, angry or unhappy, let’s hold ourselves responsible for these emotions because they are the result of our judgments. No one else is responsible for them. When you blame others for your negative feelings, you are being ignorant. When you blame yourself for your negative feelings, you are making progress. You are being wise when you stop blaming yourself or others.”

— Epictetus, Enchiridion

Why is this so hard for us to do? It really comes down to our egos. We like to think of ourselves as being smart, hardworking, kind, gracious, etc. and when we do things that might contradict this, we will gloss over and even ignore some pretty bad behaviors. We try to fool ourselves because we don’t want to see that we’re not as great as we think we are. Our ego, our identity may also feel threatened as well. When we have an idea of ourselves that we present to the outside world when we do things that are out of character, we will ignore them because we want to maintain this identity.

So how can combat this hatred and violence? This is always a tough question. The person that can work on most is ourselves. We need to exemplify the kind of people we want to see in the world. Gandhi talked about this when he said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” Because we can’t change other people, we can only change ourselves, we need to act like the kind of people that we think should be in the world.

So what can we do to inoculate ourselves against this kind of thinking?

“No soul is willingly deprived of the truth; and the same applies to justice too, and temperance, and benevolence, and everything of the kind.  It is most necessary that you should constantly keep this in mind, for you will then be gentler towards everyone.”

— Marcus Aurelius

When we can recognize that people are acting out of what they think is their best interest, we can be compassionate towards those that think differently than us. And this includes people who may have different political views than we do. And it’s not easy. We may see them as irrational and intolerant, and they may be. But if we counter that with irrationality and intolerance, then we are just the same as them. We may be on the opposite side, but we need to set the example of how to be inclusive.

One of the best ways to do this is developing a sense of empathy. Each of us likes to think that our way of living is well thought out, well-reasoned, and the best way of living. The person on the other side probably thinks the same thing. When you can put yourself in someone else’s shoes and see the world through their eyes, even as distasteful as we might find their worldview, it helps us to understand why they think as they do and helps us to possibly find ways to help them see their own irrational behavior. When we try to understand the influences that they had in their lives – their culture, family, education – we can begin to see why they hold their worldview.

This is not easy and it takes much more effort. Anger is easy. Hate is intoxicating.

“Convince your enemy, convince him that he’s wrong

To win a bloodless battle, the victory is long

A simple act of faith, of reason over might

To blow up his children will only prove him right”

— Sting

There’s a lot of hate going on in the world, and it’s easy to be angry at those advocating violence. But that’s all the more reason to do our best to take the high road. We need to make sure that we create a culture where violence and bigotry and misogyny are not acceptable. Where people see every other person as just another person with their own thoughts, opinions, and ideas about how to live their lives, but to do so in peace.

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

Categories
Coffee Break philosophy stoicism

146 – Fear is the Killer

Fear is the Killer

 

Fear is the Killer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Lewis Howes

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Marcus Aurelius (Meditations – Book IX)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories
Challenges Coffee Break

106 – Never Beginning To Live

Never Beginning To Live

 

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

― Marcus Aurelius

 

Photo by Clark Tibbs on Unsplash

Categories
Challenges Coffee Break Control

105 – Bring Pain To Your Enemy

Bring Pain to Your Enemy

“Epictetus being asked how a man should give pain to his enemy answered, By preparing himself to live the best life that he can.”

— Marcus Aurelius

Photo by Fervent Jan on Unsplash