Categories
Anger

303 – The Antidote to Anger: The Art of Stoic Acceptance

Do you struggle with anger? Why do you think you get angry? What can you do to manage your anger better? In this weeks episode I want to talk about how Stoicism can help you to get a grip on your anger, and lead a more peaceful life.

“If you are irritated by every rub, how will your mirror be polished?”

—Rumi

The other day I was out on my balcony and heard someone from an apartment above me shouting and swearing. I couldn’t hear much of what he was shouting or even what language it was in, except for the swear words in English. I couldn’t hear another voice, though I could tell that he was directing his anger at someone else, so I assume that he was talking on the phone.

As I listened to this go on for a few minutes and wondering what he was so angry at, it brought me back to the arguments that I used to have with my ex-partner over the last few years. I could feel myself feeling his anger, and I felt this wave of shame wash over me for the way that I often behaved in that relationship. I started thinking about if I’d be better able to handle myself now, or if I’d fall back into that same type of behavior if I got into another relationship.

And to be honest, I’m not 100% sure.

So I started thinking about why I was so often angry with my last partner, because even though I have thought about it from time to time, it’s something that I want to get a handle on. I want to make sure that the reason I don’t get angry like that isn’t just because I’m not in a relationship at the moment. I want to understand why I was angry and why, even with my deep understanding of Stoicism as well as understanding the long term consequences of not controlling my anger, I still didn’t seem to have a handle on my temper when it came to her.

So, as with many of my podcast episodes, I decided to sit down and work through this by writing about it so I could rationally examine what the causes of that anger were, and what steps I can take to make sure that I’m living the way I want to live, and act in accordance with my values. Because with all reactive behaviors, until you can get to the root of it, by understanding the conscious and unconscious thoughts, perspectives, and beliefs, it’s really hard to change them.

Digging Deep

As I began to explore this, one of the key things that I realized was that in many ways I didn’t trust her. I didn’t trust that she would truly accept me for who I am. I would often tell her what I thought she wanted to hear rather than what I truly thought about something. I basically would lie to her because I was so afraid that she would hate me if she knew the real me. This of course made it harder for her to trust me because she didn’t know if I was telling the truth about something, or just saying what I thought would make her happy.

So, why would I do that? Why, given the Stoics emphasis on being truthful and facing reality head on, would I lie about things, especially small things that didn’t really matter all that much, which was something that she asked me several times? I think that some of it stems from trauma in my childhood. When my father was upset about something, or even sometimes when I was just worried that something might upset him, I would bend the truth a bit or even outright lie just to keep him happy. I was trained that lying was okay because it kept me safe from my dad’s anger and violence.

Another factor was growing up in a strong religious where conforming to the beliefs of the church were more important than saying what you really thought. There was a strong social pressure to fit in and behave in the way that was expected of you. You learned how to say and do all the correct things in order to be seen as a good member of the church.

Now, don’t get me wrong, there are lots of good reasons for societies to have rules of behavior. It keeps things orderly and safe when there is a strong culture of following rules that are part of our social contract. This is how we are able to live together in large groups and communities. However, when it comes to a persons relationship with god, of their personal beliefs, I think that’s where it starts to intrude on you own self concept. When you feel pressured to believe in things that don’t make sense to you or that you don’t feel are part of your own personal principles and perspectives, you lie to yourself and others to keep them happy and to think of you in certain way.

Anger is Fear in Action

So how does this all relate to anger and Stoicism? It’s been said that anger is just fear in action. Usually we get angry because we feel fear, and we’re trying trying to control the situation with that anger. Whether that’s trying to control another person, or getting upset that things don’t work out as we want them, at the core of it, we’re afraid.

In my case, I wanted my partner to love me, and I tried control her through subtle manipulation with the lies I would tell to try and convince her that I was someone worth loving. When that would fail, I would get angry and try to control her with anger because I believed that she didn’t love me. I desperately wanted her to love me and when she was upset with me, I was afraid that she didn’t love me, because that’s what I felt when my dad was angry at me—that I wasn’t loved.

Holding Onto Anger

Another aspect I want to talk about is why we hold onto anger. Holding on to anger is also something that many of us do, but why is holding onto anger such an appealing thing? Anger feels like power, and power feels good. But the thing is, anger is the illusion of power. When we are angry, we are not in control of ourselves. When we hold onto anger, we may inflict harm on others and feel like we are in control, but the person that we harm the most is ourselves. For example, whenever I’d get any with my ex-partner, I felt awful and ashamed afterwards. I felt like I’d let us both down, and pushed her even farther away.

Frederick Buechner in his book Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC, paints a great image of what happens when we hold onto anger:

"Of the seven deadly sins, anger is possibly the most fun. To lick your wounds, to smack your lips over grievances long past, to roll over your tongue the prospect of bitter confrontations still to come, to savor to the last toothsome morsel both the pain you are given and the pain you are giving back—in many ways it is a feast fit for a king. The chief drawback is that what you are wolfing down is yourself. The skeleton at the feast is you."

When Marcus Aurelius wrote, “How much more grievous are the consequences of anger than the causes of it,” he didn’t just mean that we harm others, but more that we harm ourselves. Seneca clarifies this further, stating, “Anger, if not restrained, is frequently more hurtful to us than the injury that provokes it.” When we lose our cool, we become a lesser person. We show ourselves and others that we are not on control of ourselves, regardless of how much we rant and rave. We are also choosing to put ourselves in bad state of mind and disrupt our own inner peace.

How can we get better at managing our anger? What active steps can we take to not let ourselves let irritations, disappointments, or even betrayal, send us spiraling and behaving in a way that is destructive to ourselves and those around us? I think the biggest key is radical acceptance.

Acceptance of Externals

First: Acceptance of all the things in life you can’t control.

The Stoics teach about the Dichotomy of Control, which means that we truly understand what is under our power and what is not. Epictetus clearly explains the difference: ”Some things are up to us and some things are not. Our opinions are up to us, and our impulses, desires, aversions—in short, whatever is our own doing. Our bodies are not up to us, nor are our possessions, our reputations, or our public offices, or that which is not our own doing."

In short, what we control is our perspective, beliefs, desires, and actions. That’s it. Everything else is outside of our control. By accepting this fundamental truth, we can learn to focus on the few things in our control, and let go of everything else. We can’t control other people, our reputation, or even external circumstance and events. We can only control how we treat other people, our own behavior, and how we choose to respond to the things that happen to us. By accepting that most things are not in our control, we can look at things with a little more objectivity and rationality, and think about what choices we want to make that will be more likely to lead to better outcomes.

I think a good place to practice this is in accepting other people for exactly who they are. Before I moved to Amsterdam, I was dating a woman who I’m still close friends with. We spent a lot of time together, and never seemed to have much conflict. I asked her once why it was so easy to be around her and why things seemed to work so smoothly, given how my last relationship was often fraught with anger. She said, “Well, part of it is that we’re still getting to know each other, and that part of a relationship is often easier with new relationship energy. But, I think a bigger part is that I accept you for exactly who you are, with no expectation that you will ever change or be someone else. It’s not my job to change you, or expect you to. You will change, and if you change into someone that doesn’t work for me, then it’s my choice of what I want to do about it.”

I was floored. What she said resonated deep in my bones. I did feel incredibly accepted and appreciated for who I was, not some persona that I was putting on so that she would like me. Now this is not say that my previous partner didn’t accept me and love me. It was that I believed that she didn’t or couldn’t, which was not fair to her because I didn’t trust her to do so. It was a good lesson for me to work on accepting others for exactly who there are without trying to change them.

Acceptance of Yourself

This leads me on to my second point: Acceptance of yourself for exactly who you are.

Because anger is driven by fear, often we will react with anger because of some insecurity deep within ourselves. When others point out some flaw of ours, or someone says something disparaging about us, we often react with anger because deep down we’re afraid they might be right. This due to not really knowing and accepting of all parts of us, especially the things we don’t like about ourselves. When we feel the discomfort of who we project ourselves to be to others being in conflict with the darker parts of ourselves, we often feel afraid of what others might think of us, or even who we think we are.

For example, if we think we’re a very generous person and someone points out that something we’re doing is selfish, there’s an inner conflict. We might get defensive and even angry that someone would think that we’re being selfish. But if we can accept that sometimes we may act in ways that are selfish, when someone calls us out, we can objectively look at our actions and decide if we were acting selfish in this instance. If we were, then we accept that, and so our best to make amends. If we weren’t and we felt that we were acting in a way that aligns with our principles, then we can try to understand why the other person felt like we were acting selfish.

Marcus Aurelius said, “If anyone can refute me—show me I'm making a mistake or looking at things from the wrong perspective—I'll gladly change. It's the truth I'm after, and the truth never harmed anyone.” This means that if the other person was right, there’s no need to get angry about it because it’s the truth. If the other person was wrong, then there’s still no reason to get angry about it because you’re living up to your principles.

Anger in Danger

Now, I often have people ask me about getting angry in dangerous situations, and if that isn’t key to our survival. When something frightens us, we often get angry about it, which can feel like an instant visceral reaction. But the more we can keep our cool in dangerous situations, the more we can make rational choices. This is why soldiers train in challenging circumstances, so that they can keep their fear under control. Once they get angry, the chances of them taking a rash or dangerous action increases dramatically putting themselves and others at risk. The more you can rationally control your fear, the more control you have over yourself in any situation.

Conclusion

Before I go, let me leave with this thought from Seneca:

“People who know no self-restraint lead stormy and disordered lives, passing their time in a state of fear commensurate with the injuries they do to others, never able to relax. After every act they tremble, paralyzed, their consciences continually demanding an answer, not allowing them to get on with other things. To expect punishment is to suffer it; and to earn it is to expect it.”

Dealing with anger is something that all of us have to learn if we want to thrive in the world. By understanding that anger is driven by fear, we can start to look at the root causes of why we often act in ways that are truly counterproductive to the well being of ourselves and others. By learning to accept ourselves, and accept those things out of our control, we can make better choices that benefit not only ourselves, but more especially, those we love.


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Thanks again for listening!

Categories
Fatherhood

302 – Stoic Fatherhood: Timeless Wisdom for Modern Dads

Hello, friends. My name is Erick Cloward, and welcome to the Stoic Coffee Break. The Stoic Coffee Break is a weekly podcast where I take aspects of Stoicism and do my best to break them down to their most important points. I share my thoughts on Stoic philosophy and talk about my experiences, both my successes and my failures, and hope that you can learn something from them, all within the space of a coffee break.

This week’s episode is called Stoic Fatherhood, Timeless Wisdom for Modern Dads. Are you a father? Are you close to your father? Today I want to talk about how stoicism can help you to be a better father and to appreciate your own.

So one of the interesting things at the beginning of meditations is that Marcus Aurelius takes a bunch of time to talk about the people who had a profound influence in his life, and he gives thanks to those. and he talks about what it is that he learned from each of them. And two of the main father figures that Marcus Aurelius had were his grandfather, Verus, and one of the things that he talked about Verus was that he taught him “good character and the avoidance of bad temper.“

The other most profound influence that he had in his life was Antonius, who was his adopted father, who was the emperor before Marcus. And when Marcus was adopted by Antonius, he knew that he was going to become emperor. And so he really looked up to Antonius. Antonius was a profound influence on Marcus’s life. And throughout Meditations, he refers back to Antonius. And one of my favorite passages and probably because of my own past experience, in speaking or writing about Antonius, he said, “He never exhibited rudeness, lost control of himself, or turned violent. No one ever saw him sweat. Everything was to be approached logically and with due consideration, in a calm and orderly fashion, but decisively, with no loose ends.”

And that, to me, is incredibly high praise. And to give a little bit of why that’s so important to me. I’ve talked a lot about on this podcast about my own challenging relationship with my father. My father was a complicated man. There were many things that I appreciated and really respected about him. He was very smart. He could be very kind. He could be very funny. And he was always there for us in a lot of ways that I really appreciated.

So the other day I was riding along on my bike and I saw a little kid on a bike with training wheels and I thought about what it took for me when I learned how to ride a bike. And in my case, what happened is we were riding, we were driving somewhere and my dad saw a bike that somebody had put in the trash, just sitting on the, on the curb in our neighborhood.

And because my father grew up poor, he was not one to waste anything, and was fine when things weren’t in perfect condition. So we pulled over the car and we went and looked at the bike and the only thing that was wrong with it was that the hard plastic seat, it didn’t have a nice comfortable seat the hard plastic seat had a crack on the back and part of it had come off.

So it wasn’t the most comfortable thing to sit on, but for me, I think I was five or six at the time, six at the time, it was just fine. So we took it home. He made sure all the tires were, were fine and that it was safe and everything was tightened up. And he helped me that day to learn how to ride a bike in one day. He would stand behind me while I was on the bike, holding onto the seat and holding onto the handlebar to help me steer. And we would move along the grass in our front yard. And so that I could get comfortable with being on it. And over time, over a few hours time period, I was able, he was able to let go.

And I was able to steer the bike down the grass. It wasn’t a very big yard, but steer the bike down the grass. And then I would stop, get back, go up to the slightly higher part of the yard and then do the same thing. And we did that for hours until finally I was able to get to the point where I could balance on the bike by myself and was able to ride around the yard that we had on the grass without falling over.

And by the end of that day, I was actually out riding on the street with my older brother because my dad had taken several hours out of his day to teach me how to ride a bike. I didn’t need training wheels. He just said this is something that I think you can do and I’m going to do my best to teach you how to do it.

And like I said, I was thinking about this as I was riding home. the other day on my bike, and it really made me miss my father. And I actually teared up while I was driving, while I was riding home and, and ended up crying a little bit, just thinking about many of the great things about my father, even though there were many challenging things.

And I learned a great deal from him, and as I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned how to be much more forgiving of some of the things that he did when we were younger, that he wasn’t very good about being angry. And he’d loss his temper quite often over small things, which is not something that lends itself well to have a close relationship at times, because when you feel like you can’t trust your parent, it can cause a lot of damage.

Which is why, for me, talking about fatherhood is something that’s so important. And, one of the things that I remember, when I had kids. was that my guiding principle, sadly enough, was that I didn’t want a father like my father. I didn’t want to be that kind of father. I wanted to make sure that my kids always knew they were loved, that home was a safe place for them. And I worked really hard up until even now that we can talk about anything and everything, and that they know that they are absolutely loved and cared for, and that I will do everything in my power to support them in any way that I can.

So, what can we take from Stoicism to help us to become better fathers, for those of us out there who are fathers, or who are planning on becoming fathers someday? I think the Stoics teach us a lot of very powerful lessons, and the first one is you should embrace the role of virtue. As Marcus Aurelius said in, you know, the opening quote of this, was, “Waste no more time arguing what a good man should be, be one.” And that means that we should do our best to embody the virtues that we want to see in our kids, that we should be the kind of people that we want our kids to be.

We want to practice wisdom and courage and justice, meaning how we treat other people, and self discipline in our lives. And that by being a good example to our children, that they will be able to see not only the things that we think are important, but how to actually live these things. It’s oftentimes much easier to learn things by example than it is just to read them in a book.

I know for me oftentimes that when I’m struggling with something or thinking about the type of person I want to be, I think about the role models that I had in my life and think about what they did and how they acted and try to, I guess, mimic that in a way to try and become that kind of person because I think that Again, learning from example is sometimes the fastest way to learn almost anything.

The next thing that’s important for fathers, and this is something that I really worked hard on when I was a father, or I still am a father, but when I was raising my kids, was that I practiced patience and that I practiced acceptance. And this is something that, because children, when they’re growing up, aren’t just small adults who know everything, They need to learn things.

They need to struggle through things. They need to fail at things. And they’re going to make plenty of mistakes. They’re going to do things that annoy us or frustrate us. But the more that we can be patient with them and accept them for exactly who they are and not try to make them become something that we think they should be but rather help them figure out who they want to be.

I think that’s one of the most important things that we can do as parents. And as Epictetus advises us to practice patience, we should make, you know, he said, “Make the best use of what is within your power and take the rest as it happens.” Because there’s so many things in life that we don’t have control over.

And things where kids are going to make mistakes, they’re going to do things that are going to cause problems. But, again, because we don’t control our children, they’re…we need to make sure that we’re controlling ourselves, we’re living the type of life that we want to be, we’re being the type of people that we want to be, and we’re doing our best to support them in also becoming the type of people that they want to be.

The next step that we can do that I think is really helpful is we can cultivate emotional resilience. So one of the struggles that I had with my dad was that he had a pretty explosive temper. And it was often unpredictable, which was probably the hardest part. So it was really challenging at times because we would just be playing around and doing kid stuff and he would be in a bad mood about something that had absolutely nothing to do with us, but it would set him off and he’d get very angry and oftentimes he’d pull out his belt. That was the worst thing that he hit us with.

And it was pretty scary and it reached the point where we would often avoid being at home around him because we were scared of him. And I didn’t want my kids to grow up that same way. So I really worked hard when dealing with my kids to practice that kind of emotional resilience. To be calm and to be, you know, keep that even temper as best I could because as kids are growing and they’re going to make mistakes. And if we can’t learn to control ourselves, then it’s going to be much harder for them to control themselves. And we can learn about this from Seneca, where, you know, we understand that it’s our own thinking around things –

like, in this case, my father and the internal demons that he was struggling with, is “That we suffer more in imagination than in reality.” That often times the things that we think are going to happen that our kids do, you know, are going to cause all these big things. When often times at the end of the day, it really wasn’t that big of a deal and we overreacted to that.

And I’ve had a few people write me talking about how they struggle with parenting and asking for advice. And often times it’s because the parents are trying to control what their kids do, because they’re afraid that their kids are going to make mistakes or do something, you know, that’s, that’s going to end up embarrassing them. But the thing is, is that kids are kids. And what they need more than anything is to know that you are always there to support and love them.

The next thing that we can think about is that we have lots of quality time and spend time with our kids. Because life is short. As Marcus Aurelius reminds us, “You could leave life right now. Let that determine what you do and say and think.” Make sure that when you’re with your children, that the way that you treat them is always a way that if you died today, that their last memory of you would be something that you would be proud of, that they would have this great fondness for you.

And even if it’s just something simple, it’s just, you know, sending a text to your kid saying, “Hey, I love you. I care about you. I’m proud of you.” Whatever it is, making sure that you understand that you let them know that they’re loved because time is short in our lives.

So when we look back on the Stoics, we can also see that the Stoics were good examples of how to be good parents. Marcus Aurelius had a large number of children, and unfortunately there were only a few that survived him, but he tried his best to balance everything that he was doing as emperor with being a good father. And again, because the examples that he had, who were fathers to him, with Antonius and his grandfather Verus, I’m sure he was probably a pretty good father. And we can see that he struggled with being a good person. And when you try to be a good person, then those things naturally emanate out in the way that you treat other people.

Another great example, that’s not talked much about, is Epictetus. Epictetus didn’t have any children of his own. But later in life, when he had basically retired from teaching, he took in a kid who was going to be abandoned and raised him as his own with another, with a woman. It’s never said if they were married or if they were a couple, but he recognized that he could still do good in the world. And he took on a kid that wasn’t his own and raised it just like his own. And to me, that shows that he was willing to put his philosophy into action, that he was willing to step up and take care of somebody that he didn’t need to, but he chose to.

So what are some things that we can do in our daily lives that can help us become better fathers? I think the first is to set some time each day aside for reflection, taking the time to meditate or taking time to sit down and Be thoughtful about your life and be thoughtful about your day and maybe write about your kids and write about what you’ve learned from them.

And maybe write about things that you could teach them. And talk, think about how you are being as a father. Because if you’re not taking the time to actually reflect on that, then it’s harder for you to be deliberate about the things you want to do and the things you want to accomplish as a father.

So the one kind of a funny idea is to practice premeditatio malorum, which means to the premeditation of evils. And this is to take the time to contemplate all the things that could go wrong because there are plenty of things that go wrong when you’re raising kids. There’s all kinds of chaos when you have children around, but the more that you can recognize all those chaotic situations, the more you can keep your equilibrium and your equanimity within those situations, allowing you to be a good example and a good leader and father to your children, that you don’t overreact to situations because you’ve already thought about all the horrible things that could go wrong.

And I know that’s bad sometimes to, you know, people struggle with the idea of premeditatio malorum because they think it’s depressive. But premeditatio malorum is the idea of sitting down in a safe space and just imagining, “how would you handle these situations? What are the, what’s the worst that could happen”, so that you can be composed and you can handle these situations in a calm and measured manner.

Another thing that we can do is practice gratitude. Seneca advises practicing gratitude as a way to cultivate contentment, and by taking the time to practice gratitude, voice your gratitude about life, voice your gratitude about your children, to your children, and show them how great life is. And to help them to appreciate all the things that they have in their lives. And letting them know how much you appreciate them.

I know for me, I tell my kids all the time how much I love them. And one of the things that I really appreciated about my kids is that kind of a side effect of having children was it made me a much less selfish person. And that’s something that I’m grateful for. I had to learn how to put a lot of my needs aside because I had these two children that I needed to take care of. And it wasn’t always fun, but in doing so, I learned to be more patient. I learned to be kinder to myself. And I, like I said, I also learned to be a much less selfish person, which was something that I needed in my life.

So fatherhood, when viewed through a stoic lens, becomes, like I said, a profound opportunity for personal growth and virtuous living. These are great opportunities for us to practice the four virtues. We practice wisdom when we teach our kids. We practice courage in stepping up and being a good example for our kids and helping them when they need help.

We practice justice by treating them fairly and kindly and lovingly. And we practice self discipline because sometimes we have to put our own needs aside in order to facilitate the needs of our children. And for those of you who are fathers out there, it can be tough sometimes, but leaning on the framework of Stoicism, it can give you some good guiding principles of how to be a good father, principles that you can pass on to your children, and hopefully they they will make you proud and become the type of people that we need in this world.

And that’s the end of this week’s Stoic Coffee Break. As always, be kind to yourself, be kind to others, and thanks for listening.

Just want to remind you, if you’re not following me on social media, please do so. You can find me on Instagram and threads at stoic.coffee. And you can find me on LinkedIn, Facebook, YouTube, and TikTok at StoicCoffee.

Thanks again for listening!


Visit the Stoic Coffee Break website for more episodes, transcripts, and merch.

Find out more about the Leadership Mastermind.

Find me on linkedIn, instagram, twitter, or threads.

Categories
Coffee Break

300 – The Importance of Friendship from a Stoic Perspective

Do you have close friends? Are you a good friend? In this episode I talk about the importance of friendship and how Stoicism can help you be a better friend.

"Associate with those who will make a better man of you. Welcome those whom you yourself can improve."
—Seneca

Check out this great video of Ryan Reynolds and Hugh Jackman interviewing each other. It's fantastic! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8S99iQH2Rvg

Transcript:

 Hello friends and welcome to the Stoic Coffee Break. My name is Eric Cloward. The Stoic Coffee Break is a weekly podcast where I take aspects of Stoicism and do my best to break them down to their most important points. I talk about my experiences, both my successes and my failure, and share my thoughts on Stoicism in the hopes that you can learn something new.

All within the space of a coffee break. Now this week's episode is called The Importance of Friendship From a Stoic Perspective. Now before I get into that, I just want to kind of give you an update on how things have been going for me. I finally got an apartment. It's been nice to be settling in. Things are still a little bit messy, but I'm getting there. It's a pretty nice place in the south of Amsterdam and It's nice to be settled. So thanks for everybody for your comments on my previous episode where I talked about how I got scammed and what I, how challenging that was for me.

And this week's episode is episode number 300, which is pretty exciting. And when I started this podcast, I never thought that I would reach Episode 300, I started the podcast as something to practice making a podcast. And I just happened to talk about stoicism because it was what I was studying at the time. And because so many people listened and wrote in and talked about how much it helped them, that gave me the courage to continue with this process and to really delve into stoicism and make it part of my life.

And I find that the times that I took a break from the podcast, And then coming back to it, I found that doing that really helped me to integrate these principles into my life in a very deep and meaningful way because I was studying them on a weekly and daily basis. So thanks so much for supporting me and thanks for listening to the podcast.

I guess some other news, I've had a, kind of a rough start getting into my apartment. I ended up slicing up my finger, my thumb, and I have four stitches in there, so now they're healing. But, I kind of had to laugh about it because something good that came from that, which is part of what Stoicism teaches, is that, I have been playing guitar, which you can see in the back here, if you're watching the video and was writing a song and there was a chord structure that I couldn't get.

And because I couldn't use my index finger, I had to be creative with how I was practicing guitar and finally figured out the missing chord in the song that I was working on. So sometimes when things don't seem good. They have a blessing in disguise. Anyway, onto this week's episode. So like I said, this week's episode is about the importance of friendship from a stoic perspective.

And part of the reason why I wanted to do this was there were two things that happened recently that I really was impacted by and one of them is I was watching a video and I'm sure plenty of you have seen this. And if not, I will have a link to it down in the, in the show notes on this. But it was an interview of Hugh Jackman and Ryan Reynolds, and they were interviewing each other and they have a very close friendship.

They've been friends for about 20 years now. And for me, what was just. Amazing to watch this video is here are these two superstars. I mean, and watching them talk and help and support each other and the way that they talked about each other and how much fun they have with each other. And they have so much, but they also have their struggles in life.

And they talk about the importance of friendship and why their friendship It means so much to them and how it's enhanced their lives and the things they've learned from each other. And they were also incredibly vulnerable with each other. They tell each other that they love each other and they care. I mean, and these are two guys who are considered, you know, fairly macho and whatnot, but they're not afraid to express their emotions and they're very open about a lot of those things.

And to see how encouraging they were. So, one instance, Ryan talks about how when he first got on the X Men set, and it was the first time he met Hugh, and Hugh ran up to him and gave him this big hug and said, Hey Ryan, it's so good to see you here. And Ryan was just like, you actually know my name. And he talked about how Hugh was such a great example of how to be on a film set, and how to care for not just the people who are going to help your career, but for everybody who is helping to make the film.

And then Hugh talked about how impressed he was with Ryan about talking about his struggles with anxiety and how much support he's given to his fans in dealing with that anxiety. And this is the kind of friendship that I think we all strive for. I mean, we're all not going to be hanging out with superstars like that.

Maybe some of us will, but more than anything, it was really neat to see just two decent human beings and how much they cared about each other and were so supportive of each other. So this week's episode, I want to, like I said, I want to talk about why friendships are important and what we can do to build up some of our friendships using stoic values.

Oh, and I, I forgot the second thing that happened recently. That really made me want to do this episode is I had a friend who is struggling with some things in life and You know said hey, I want to run some things by why don't you swing by my place? And so I went over there the other night, and we just had this really great conversation talking about the things he's struggling with.

And for me, it was really, it was very touching, the fact that he reached out to me, hoping that I would be able to shed some light on some difficult situations where he was trying to wrap his head around, and wasn't being the kind of person he wanted to be. And the fact that he would reach out to me to help him with these struggles meant, meant the world to me.

Because that means that I have somebody who trusts me that much that they can be that vulnerable. And this is somebody that I admire. They have, to me, he seems like he has so much going on and has everything together, but to hear him talk about his struggles and just be that open and honest, just, yeah, it was really touching to me.

And then I got some in return. He was able to help me kind of focus on some of the things that That I struggle with, I'm not the most organized person and I have so many creative ideas and trying to stay focused while I'm trying to, you know, work on becoming a coach and, you know, and writing a book and working on the podcast and some other ideas and things that I'm working on.

And he really kind of helped me break some of those things down because that's where his strength lies. And I think that these two things just really wanted me to dive into this a little bit deeper. So first I want to talk about the idea of. Stoicism and friendship and what it means. So Marcus Aurelius talks about, you know, people exist for the sake of one another, teach them then or bear with them.

And the Stoics were very, very keen on teaching us that connections with other humans and friendship were all very, very important. And they're part of the human condition because we're social animals. We do more, we do better when we work together, when we are together. And it's those connections. with other people that really make life that important.

And the Stoics have this theory of social development. And I learned about this while I was working on my book. And the early, and it's called oikiosis. And the earliest stage of oikiosis is self preservation. And this is something that all living animals have. They have an inclination towards self care and preserving themselves.

And this is the basis of more complex forms of social affection. The next step that they, they defined was rational self interest. And as human beings mature, they begin to use reason to understand their needs more. And start to recognize that their well being is tied to their moral character and their rational choices.

And not merely just to external conditions. They see that they can actually take actions in this world to get their needs met. And the third step in the Stoic's oikiosis is what they call social affection. And this involves extending care beyond just yourself to those who are close to you, such as your family and your friends.

And you recognize that they also have desires for happiness and that you can work together to get your needs met. And that's something that's really important for all of us. And then the next step is what they call moral awareness and universal concern. And this is, it, it's part of the stoic idea of cosmopolitanism, which is rather than just thinking of yourself As part of a family or part of a tribe or maybe part of a city or a country that you are a citizen of the world and that all humans are part of your extended family and that you need to make sure that you step out of yourself and just those around you, and find ways to do good in the world in a much larger way. Again, in that this is part of our human nature to do so.

So the Stoics viewed friendship as an essential component of having a good life. And friendship is a way for us to practice virtue. It's a way for us to practice kindness. It's a way for us to practice courage of being vulnerable and practicing radical candor with our friends and being honest with them about our struggles and being honest with them about some of the things that they're struggling with.

And, the Stoics pulled a lot from the Epicureans, and I like this quote from Epicurus, where he says, It is not so much our friend's help that helps us, as the confident knowledge that they will help us. Sometimes just knowing that you have people supporting you, even if they don't do anything, you know, directly to help you, really just enhances your life.

When you think about all the people around you, and having a good social net and a good social community is just incredibly important to living a good life. So what do the Stoics have for qualities of friendship? What makes a good friendship? Well, obviously, honesty. And I like to, I like to dig a little deeper and put that as candor.

And the idea behind candor is that everything you say is honest. But it is also vulnerable and revealing of some of the things behind what you say. And there's also mutual respect, and of course living in accordance to virtue. And when we are close to people who care for us and who help build us up, then we're able to grow into something better.

And when we return those same things and we try to help them and support them and help build them up as well, then that makes us a better person because we We learn wisdom, we learn, we improve our justice. And again, the idea behind the Stoic virtue of justice is, how do we treat other people? That's incredibly important to the Stoics, which is why it's one of the four cardinal virtues of Stoicism.

And we can see this in the friendship between Seneca and his nephew, Lucilius. They had an ongoing correspondence. And we have those letters today, and they're called the letters of Lucilius. And they talked a lot about philosophy. They just talked a lot about basic things in life. They're very affectionate and intimate with each other in a very kind and generous way.

And we also see this when we look at Marcus Aurelius. Because Marcus Aurelius had a friend named Fronto, one of his mentors. And they wrote back and forth to each other all the time. And even though Fronto didn't really like that Marcus Aurelius was big into philosophy, they were still incredibly close.

And at one point Marcus wrote to him and said, My dear Fronto, I miss you so much. I miss, you know, and I love you as much as I love myself. Because that's how deep their bond was. And this was the emperor of Rome. I mean, he had people around him all the time, but he chose particular people who made him better even if they disagreed with him on a lot of things.

But having friends who can be very different than you and still loving and caring and supporting them is a big part of what makes a good friendship. So as we've talked about before, there are just a lot of practical benefits to friendship. I mean, you have emotional support. You have people who will help you to be resilient when things are hard.

You learn a lot of things from them, such as, you know, maybe where your values are out of alignment. They can point things out when you kind of screw up and you do things that, that maybe aren't the best, but they can do so in a way that you will actually listen and they can help give you advice and guide you into becoming the type of person that you want to be.

And this is another quote from Epictetus I really liked. He said, “He who seeks friendship for favorable occasion strips it of all its nobility,” meaning that if we only have friends when things are good, then we're missing out on the true part of friendship and that reaching out to our friends when things are hard and supporting our friends when things are hard for them, is a big part of what makes a good life. And that we shouldn't just have fair weather friends, but friends who will stick by us through thick and thin.

Another thing to think about is that Marcus Aurelius, in the opening of Meditations, lists off all the people who have been a big influence on his life. And a lot of them are close friends, and people that, Not only who were mentors that he respected, but were people who taught him great things in his life to become the kind of person he wanted to be because he knew he was going to be emperor of Rome and he knew that he needed to develop the character in himself so that he wasn't corrupted by that position.

And he had a lot of people, like I mentioned Fronto before, Rusticus, who was one of his teachers who guided him into Stoic philosophy, but through that you can see that Marcus Aurelius, at the very beginning of meditations, is listing off all the people who helped him and supported him and who he respected – friendship is the first section within meditations. Because it was, it's really that important. And human connection is that important.

So how do we use stoicism to help us cultivate better friendships? I think a lot of things that really help is that you, you seek out people who are trying to help you to be better people. As Seneca said, make sure that you associate with people who will make you better. And that was something that the Stoics found very important, is that we learn through being around other people. We can't just develop virtue in a vacuum. We can't just become a virtuous person by studying these things. We actually have to go out and practice those things.

And one of the best ways is associate with other people and to find friendship. And some of the best things about cultivating good friendships is that you have to practice accepting others for exactly who they are. And that's part of what the Stoics teach us is that we can't control other people. We can be friends with people and care about people who disagree with us.

In fact, they should, at times they should disagree with us because we don't know everything. And so oftentimes having that friend who disagrees with you on something helps to open up your eyes so that you can see things in a new way. You can learn things that you didn't learn before.

The other thing is then you have other people who will accept you for who you are, and that you are allowed to be authentically you. And that's something that is incredibly important because the Stoics talk about How you need to live a life of integrity and be the kind of person that you want to be no matter what and when you can find friends who appreciate that and accept that and support you in that, then it helps you to become a much better person as well.

They can also be there to point out your good qualities when you're having a hard time remembering them. And they can also, like I said, help you find direction when you're not living according to your value.

So I want you to take some time this week and think about how the friendships that you have and think about what kind of friend you're being. Are you being the type of friend who is encouraging others to live a good life and to practice stoic virtues, even if they're not stoics? But that you encourage them to practice, courage, wisdom, justice, and self discipline to help them to become the best people that they can. And finding friends who will help you to do the same because you can't go it alone. We all need other people in this world.

And one of the things that I'm so grateful for since I've moved to Amsterdam are the number of great friends that I've met and people that I know that I can rely on the fact when I was had to go to the hospital to get stitches in my hand the other day, it asked for a family contact or an emergency contact. And since I don't have any family here, they wanted somebody local and my friend who helped me move into my apartment. I was able to put his name down and then I sent him a text saying, Hey, by the way, I put you down as my emergency contact. And he, you know, gave that a big thumbs up and was like, yeah, that's great, man.

And its small things like that just warm my heart because it means that I have a support network here. I have people who care about me and who are looking out for my best interest. And I think that's what we all need in this world, because world's a hard place and having people that, you know, have your back is something that we can all really use in this life.

And that's the end of this week's Stoic Coffee Break. As always, be kind to yourself, be kind to others, and thanks for listening. I also wanted to say, if you aren't following me on social media, please do so. You can find me at Instagram and threads at stoic.coffee, and you can find me on TikTok and Twitter and LinkedIn and Facebook and YouTube at StoicCoffee.

Thanks again for listening!


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Categories
self-improvement

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

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

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

—Marcus Aurelius

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

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

Understanding Imposter Syndrome

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

Principle 1: Focus on What You Can Control

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

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

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

Principle 2: Embrace Your Humanity

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

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

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

Principle 3: Reframe Your Perspective

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

"We suffer more in imagination than in reality."

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

Principle 4: Practice Self-Reflection and Acceptance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Principle 5: Cultivate Inner Resilience

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

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

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

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

Principle 6: Seek Wisdom and Support

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

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

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

Principle 7: Live with Integrity

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

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

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

Conclusion

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


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Thanks again for listening!

Categories
Future

298 – A Map is Good, A Compass is Better

Do you struggle because you can’t handle when things don’t go according to plan? Today I want to talk about how having a plan is important, but having an inner compass to guide you can help you be more adaptable, make decisions under uncertainty, and forge a path when things don’t work out as planned.

“What then can guide a man? One thing and only one, philosophy. But this consists in keeping the soul within a man free from violence and unharmed, superior to pains and pleasures, doing nothing without a purpose, nor yet falsely and with hypocrisy.”

—Marcus Aurelius

A while back, I was reading Mark Tuitert’s book The Stoic Mindset and getting ready to interview him for my podcast. There is a line in the book that I really liked: "A map is good. A compass is better.” It was one of those lines that jumped out and made me stop and think for a minute. The more I thought I about it, the more it made realize that this is why Stoicism is so powerful. It’s not just a set of steps that you follow to happiness, but a set of principles and tools that help us deal with challenges in all situations in life.

Now don’t get me wrong. There’s nothing wrong with creating a plan or a map to help us accomplish what we want. We need to know where we going or what we’re trying to accomplish, and not thinking through the best way to get there is well, foolish. But a map can only get us so far.

The Inner Compass

Stoicism teaches the importance of focusing on what is within our control. As Epictetus stated, "Some things are in our control and others not." This fundamental distinction underpins why we should prefer a compass over a map. Maps detail external environments and plans, and are only as useful as the accuracy and permanence of their content, which are outside our control and prone to change. In contrast, when we are guided by our inner compass of virtues such as wisdom, justice, courage, and moderation, we remain steadfast regardless of external conditions.

Marcus Aurelius, a Stoic emperor, relied heavily on this internal compass. His writings in Meditations serve not as a map of his empire, but as reflections on how to maintain his composure, virtue, and rational judgment amidst the chaos of life and governing. For instance, he advises, "Waste no more time arguing about what a good man should be. Be one."

Practicality and Adaptability

The Stoics valued adaptability, a trait inherent in the use of a compass. As Seneca wrote, "Fate leads the willing and drags along the reluctant," teaching us that those guided by their internal virtues can navigate life's unpredictability with greater ease and grace. When maps fail—when plans go awry due to unexpected events—it is the compass that provides the means to recalibrate and forge a new path.

This adaptability is particularly relevant today, where our careers and personal lives are often subject to rapid and unpredictable changes. The Stoic practice of premeditatio malorum, which involves visualizing potential adversities, prepares us to use our inner compass in any situation, helping us to be resilient and giving us the ability to thrive under changing and difficult circumstances. By focusing on the things you can control, you reduce the impact that external circumstances and events have on you.

In my own life, I’ve come to realize that the plan that I was taught as a child of what it meant to have a good life was like many others. Graduate from high school, get a college degree, find a job, get married, buy a house, have a few kids, and work towards retirement. If I measured my success in life by this map, then I have failed pretty dramatically. The plan that I had for my life has turned out far different than what I expected, and has been far harder and more rewarding than what I could have imagined.

Even in the last few months in upending my life and moving to Amsterdam and changing careers, nothing has gone exactly to plan. I was hoping to find a place to settle in after a few months, but even now I’m dealing with the challenges with grace, having lived in 4 different places in 4 months. There are times when I feel anxious about my career change into leadership coaching and wonder how I’m going to be as successful as I want. But through it all, I’ve leaned heavily into my Stoic principles to help me navigate through the setbacks by recognizing that all of these challenges are opportunities to grow. I’m learning to be patient and pushing forward each time something doesn’t come through. I’ve been reaching out to others for help and guidance and I’m finding other opportunities that I couldn’t have even dreamed of.

Developing Your Inner Compass

So how does developing virtues like wisdom, courage, justice, and discipline help you navigate when your map fails? Think of a map as the outline of what you’re trying to do. Maybe this is a personal goal, such as getting back into shape or starting your own company. Maybe it’s a career goal you’re working on such as completing a project or learning a new skill. Having a roadmap is essential for knowing where you’re going and some idea of how to get there.

But what happens when things don’t go according to plan? Do you give up because your map of how to get there wasn’t exactly right? By applying the virtues of Stoicism as your compass you’re able to calmly evaluate what went wrong, come up with alternatives, and keep going. If you miss some days in your workout due to illness or injury, you take time and recover properly and get back to it as soon as possible. If you miss a deadline or run into a seemingly insurmountable problem at work, you take a step back, evaluate where you are, come up with other solutions to work around the roadblocks in your way.

Let’s take the example of Zeno of Citium, the founder of Stoicism. Zeno was a merchant who lost everything when he survived a shipwreck and ended up in Athens. He wasn’t sure what his next steps were, so he spent time at a local bookshop where he stumbled on the biography of Socrates by Xenophon. He was so taken with the character and description of Socrates that he found a teacher and threw himself into studying philosophy, and later developed Stoicism based on what he learned from his studies. Rather than bemoaning his loss, he adapted and found a new and more fulfilling direction in his life. He later reflected, “I made a prosperous voyage when I was shipwrecked.”

Inner Compass and Decision Making

Another important aspect about developing an inner compass of virtue is that it helps you make decisions about how you do things. Maybe the path your on brings up choices that would have you do things that aren’t ethical or legal in order to reach your goals. If you have developed a strong moral compass, you face up to and take responsibility for your behavior and actions. You don’t have to debate whether or not you should take questionable actions. You do the right thing even at the cost of your career because you’d rather maintain the integrity of your character than compromise your principles. As Marcus Aurelius wrote, “It can only harm you if it harms your character.”

Benefit to Society

For Stoics, the moral compass does not merely direct personal choices; it also aligns with universal ethical principles. Standing up for your principles is not always an easy thing to do, but doing so not only benefits you, it can benefit society as a whole. Nelson Mandela spent 27 years in captivity, only to forgive his captors and work for peace upon his release. When he finished his time as president, he left office and ensured a peaceful transfer of power rather than trying to stay in office. He recognized that his example of how government should operate was far more important than his own enrichment or glory.

Conclusion

Through the Stoic lens, an inner compass proves superior to a map. While the map—our plans and external knowledge—can inform us and offer a possible path, it is the compass—our internal virtues and moral judgment—that truly guides us to live not just successful, but virtuous lives. As we navigate the complex landscapes of modern existence, nurturing our internal compass becomes essential, ensuring that we remain steadfast in our principles and adaptable in our methods. When the maps and plans that we have for our lives fail us, having a strong inner compass gives us the resilience to navigate the detours, and to do so with patience and courage.


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Categories
Ask

297 – From Socrates to Seneca: The Timeless Power of a Good Question

Do you ask questions? And what I mean by that is, do you go into conversation or arguments thinking you already know everything? Today I want to talk about the importance of staying curious and how to ask useful questions.

“He who knows only his own side of the case, knows little of that.”

—John Stuart Mill

Far too often we think that we know everything about a situation and forget to approach things in a way that could be useful. We decide that we know the answer and we spend our time trying to convince the other person that we have the right answer and they should agree with us.

Now it is possible that we have right answer. Maybe we’re an expert in a certain domain, and we really do know what we’re talking about. But time and again it’s been shown that good communication is not just about stating the facts confidently and expecting them to be accepted.

The Importance of Asking Questions

When we take the time to ask questions, then we start to understand how others think. In doing so we might actually be able to clarify what they might not understand. We’re also able to gain insight into their biases and preexisting beliefs, which color their perspectives. It can also help us to see our own biases and beliefs and how they might be coloring our own perspectives.

Asking questions shows that we’re interested in trying to understand the other person and want to have a real conversation with them, rather than just trying to talk to or at them. Also, by showing interest in others we show that what they have to say matters, even if we disagree with them.

Marcus Aurelius reminds us to, “Accustom yourself not to be disregarding of what someone else has to say: as far as possible enter into the mind of the speaker.” By trying to put ourselves in the other person’s shoes, and see things from their perspective, we gain a better insight into how they view the world.

The Stoic Approach to Questions

The Stoics teach that in order to live a good life, we need to live a life according to virtue. One of the cardinal virtues of Stoicism is wisdom. Now wisdom is not just knowledge, but how to apply knowledge into practical experience, and they way that we gain wisdom is to be curious and always be willing to change our opinions.

The Stoics even teach us to question ourselves constantly and to never take something at face value. We can see this from the Stoics concept of impressions and assent. When we perceive something, we are exposed to an impression. Once we have agreed that what we perceived is accurate, then we assent or agree to it. But taking the time to question ourselves, we can get better at recognizing our own logical missteps, and be more forgiving of others when they fall into the same traps. As Marcus Aurelius reminded himself, "Question your assumptions."

Indifferents

Nothing is more frustrating than having a conversation with someone that is trying to change your opinion on something. One tool that be can useful when having conversations with others is to remember the Stoic idea of indifferents. This means that anything outside of your will, meaning your thoughts, choices, and actions is outside of your control. The most important thing outside of your control is what others think, say, or do, so the less you try to control other people, the more likely you are to have a good conversation with them.

By remembering that you don’t have control over another persons opinion, you stop trying to control the conversation and the other person. And when you think about it, why does it matter what someone else thinks? Why is it important that they agree with you?

One of the things that I’ve worked on in my life is not worrying about if others agree with me. When I was younger, I would often get into arguments with people I cared about because I needed that validation. I needed them to agree with me because if they didn’t, I felt like there was something wrong with me. If I believed I had the right answer or opinion on something and they didn’t adopt the same opinion, I took it as a personal rejection. It took me a long time to understand that people can think differently than me, and they can still love me.

Benefits of Asking Better Questions

Better Connections

Asking questions can strengthen relationships by showing interest and respect for others' perspectives. It shows them that you are truly interested in them, and not just trying to convince them the rightness of your opinion. Even if at the end of it you agree to disagree, at the very least you’ll have deeper understanding of the other persons point of view, and shown respect in trying to understand why they have their perspective.

Better Decision Making

When you ask more questions, you improve your ability to make decisions. Thorough questioning leads to better-informed decisions, reducing errors from assumptions. You may be the smartest person in the room, but you still can’t know everything. Taking the time to truly understand something increases your own wisdom. In short, you might be misinformed or lack some crucial piece of knowledge. Being humble and asking questions is way to not only gain knowledge but sharpen your wisdom.

John Stuart Mill, a British philosopher and economist summed it up nicely, writing, “He who knows only his own side of the case, knows little of that. His reasons may be good, and no one may have been able to refute them. But if he is equally unable to refute the reasons on the opposite side; if he does not so much as know what they are, he has no ground for preferring either opinion.”

Increased Self-Awareness

Questions lead to introspection, aiding in personal growth and alignment with your values. When you have a good conversation with someone, you’re not only examining the other persons thinking process, you’re working through your own, which can help you to see faults and biases in your own way of thinking. As Epictetus taught, “It is impossible for a man to learn what he thinks he already knows”.

How to Ask Better Questions

First off, be honest with your questions. If you’re going into a conversation or argument simply to prove the other person wrong, you’re not going to make any headway. Being combative, such as just being contrarian and just taking the opposite perspective just to score points isn’t going to do either of you any good.

Next, as open-ended questions that provoke thought rather than those that elicit yes/no answers. You’re trying to understand their perspective, and yes/no questions don’t give you any context or insight to why they think the way they do.

When the person responds, practice active listening, which means listening to understand, not to respond. If you’re focusing on what you’re going to say next you’re going to miss some key information, and you’re simply showing that you’re not real interested in what the other person has to say.

Another important thing is to do so at the appropriate time and context. If you’re having a difficult conversation with someone, make sure it works for both of you. If either of your are tired or not in a good headspace, it may not be the best time for a deep dive into a difficult topic. Also, the other person has to be open to it. Sometimes people don’t want to have their opinions and perspectives questioned. So, be smart, and be kind, and let it go if it’s not the right time and place.

Lastly, use follow-up questions. Follow-up questions show active engagement and help dig deeper into issues. If someone answers your questions, go deeper to be sure that you clearly understand their answer. I’ve often found some pretty big flaws in my own thinking because someone asked me a question to dig a little deeper.

Practical Examples and Techniques

One of the greatest examples from philosophy about how to ask questions is Socrates. Socrates’ way of teaching was mostly to ask questions, and let his students and others he was speaking with come up with their own conclusions. He also entered the conversations humbly, and almost as more of a facilitator rather than an expert.

One of my favorite examples of this is in Plato’s Latches, where Socrates and other discuss why bravery is. First he enters the conversation with humility and honesty, stating: “Well, Lysimachus, I shall try to advise you about this matter as best I can, and what is more, I shall also do everything else you are asking me to do. However, since I am younger than anyone else here, and less experienced than they are, I think that what is most fitting is that I first listen to what they say and learn from them. Then, if I have anything to add to what they say, I should provide instruction at that stage, and try to convince yourself and these men too.”

As the dialogue progresses, a definition of bravery is put forth as someone who is willing to stay and fight at his post when the enemy is advancing. Socrates then clarifies that he is looking for a definition for bravery that could be applied to all military situations. A second definition is put forward that courage is "a certain perseverance of the soul”. Socrates then asks if a solider was fighting while retreating would not also be brave, if retreating was the more prudent thing to do? Laches, one the participants in the discussion, concedes that a retreating solider could also be considered to be brave in some circumstances.

Now, I’m not going to go on with the rest of the dialog because it is rather lengthy, but the point is that Socrates, rather simply stating an opinion on what it means to be brave, was willing to ask questions, and ask for clarifications. He also was humble and came into the conversation with an honest perspective of trying to understand the topic. As Epictetus teaches us, “If you want to improve, be content to be thought foolish and stupid.”

In my own life, I often used to dominate conversations with my opinions and knowledge, to the point where I would often annoy people because the conversation was all about me. I wasn’t necessarily rude, but other people didn’t feel like they were part of the conversation because I was too busy talking. Much of this was due to my own insecurities and wanting others to like me because of the stuff that new. The way that I helped break myself of this habit was to write the number 3 on my wrist to remind myself to ask 3 questions to anyone I was talking to. This helped me to be more aware of how much I was talking and to include others in the conversation.

Conclusion

Asking better questions, and actually listening to the answers is an important aspect of creating clear and helpful communication with others. It shows that we care about them, and are willing to try and understand them, even if we disagree with them. We can also keep in mind that the Stoic teach us to remember that other peoples opinions are not something that we can have control over, which helps us to not worry about trying to change their opinions, fostering a more inviting environment for others to share their honest opinions without judgment, building stronger connections and more understanding with those we care about.


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Categories
Coffee Break

295 – How to Lead Like a Stoic Emperor: The Timeless Wisdom of Marcus Aurelius

Does it often feel like leaders, both in our work places and in politics, seem to be lacking? Have you ever had the good fortune of working with a great leader? Today I want to talk about the leadership style of Marcus Aurelius, and what we can learn from one of the greatest and most principled leaders of all time.

"What we do now echoes in eternity."

—Marcus Aurelius

In an era defined by rapid technological advancement, environmental crises, and global interconnectedness, Marcus Aurelius' Stoic principles offer a grounding force. The challenges faced by leaders today may seem worlds apart from those of a Roman emperor, yet the essence of leadership—guiding others through uncertainty, making tough decisions with moral courage, and inspiring collective action towards a common goal—remains unchanged. Marcus, who led Rome from 161 to 180 AD, was not just an emperor in title but a philosopher in practice, embodying the Stoic ideals in his reign and personal writings.

From a young age, Marcus Aurelius was a serious student of philosophy. Being from an aristocratic family, he was schooled at home from a number of notable teachers. Diognetus, a painting master, was very influential on young Marcus, and apparently introduced him to philosophy. At the urging of Diognetus, Marcus took on the sparse dress of a philosopher and slept on the floor until his mother convinced him to at least sleep on a simple bed. It was from this early introduction to philosophy that Marcus developed his moral center, which would guide him through the challenges of being the most powerful man in the world.

Marcus Aurelius navigated his empire through war, plague, and the complexities of ancient politics with a leadership style rooted in Stoicism, with an emphasis on rationality, virtue, and emotional resilience. His personal writings in "Meditations," provide a window into his soul and a blueprint for effective leadership that is still relevant today.

Lead with Virtue and Integrity

"Waste no more time arguing what a good man should be. Be one."

—Marcus Aurelius

Marcus Aurelius believed that the cornerstone of effective leadership was personal virtue and integrity. For him, a leader's primary duty was to be morally upright and just, and to ensure the welfare of those he governed. In keeping with Stoic teachings, Marcus felt that one should develop good character in order to be a just leader. By developing the Stoic virtues of wisdom, courage, justice, and temperance a leader was more likely to make choices for the greater good, and avoid the temptations of self enrichment and excess that often befell those who had ruled with so much power.

Leaders should lead by example. Those who walk the walk, not just talk the talk, are respected for their character. Their example cultivates a culture of trust and respect by demonstrating the values they wish to instill in their organizations, such as honesty, responsibility, and compassion. In case after case, when there is corruption within an organization, it is often due a culture that is permissive of cutting corners and questionable business practices which emanates from the example of those in positions of power. Organizations with a culture of high standards and where ethical leadership is the norm, practices like this are quickly rooted out or are never considered in the first place.

Emotional Resilience

“You have power over your mind, not external events. Realize this and you will find strength.”

—Marcus Aurelius

The Stoic emperor taught that we cannot control external events, only our reactions to them. He faced adversity with a calm demeanor and a clear mind, embodying the Stoic ideal of equanimity. Stoicism teaches the value of emotional control in facing life's challenges. Marcus Aurelius exemplified this through his calm demeanor amidst the trials of his reign, including military invasions, the plague, political betrayals, and the deaths of several of his children. His approach underscores the importance of emotional intelligence—maintaining composure in crisis, managing stress, and making decisions unclouded by panic or passion.

A Stoic leader focuses on their actions and reactions, understanding that external events are often beyond their control. This means concentrating on personal effort, ethics, and how one responds to challenges, rather than fretting over outcomes. Good leaders invest their energy wisely, focusing on actionable steps and maintaining integrity in their endeavors.

Throughout my long career in IT, I have seen leaders of all stripes. For me, the ones that were least effective and the least respected were those that were unable to maintain control of their emotions. Leadership is often stressful and most plans never go off without setbacks or issues. A leader who cannot manage themself, will not be able to effectively manage others. Being able to take things in stride and bring a team together to solve them is the hallmark of a good leader.

Leadership as Service

“What is not good for the swarm is not good for the bee.”

—Marcus Aurelius

Marcus Aurelius saw leadership not as a path to power but as a form of service to the greater good. "The object of life is not to be on the side of the majority, but to escape finding oneself in the ranks of the insane," he remarked, highlighting the leader's duty to pursue justice and the common good over popularity or personal gain. For Marcus Aurelius, leadership was not an avenue for glory or domination but a means to serve and uplift others. He saw himself as part of a larger whole, emphasizing the importance of working for the common benefit.

Leaders whose main focus is on serving those around them are able to rally their employees and supporters around their vision, and inspire them to work together to achieve great things. When people feel supported, they are willing to go above and beyond in supporting their leaders in return.

In my own experience I have had the good fortune to have a few examples of excellent service oriented leaders. Early in my career I was working for a large logistics company and a new team was put in place to support and develop its financial applications. The manager of this team, Krishna, was a very kind and compassionate leader who was adept at supporting his team.

In our first team meeting he said, “My job is to serve you and to get anything that is blocking your work out of the way. If you need anything, like better hardware or software, or if others are asking for your time on things that are out of scope or not part of the project, please let me know so I can take care of it. My job is to help you do your job.” This was the first time I’d ever heard a leader speak this way, and over the next year and half, he proved that he was as good as his word, and we had the highest performing team in the company. His example made an impression on me that I still remember over 20 years later.

Openness to Criticism

“If anyone can refute me‚ show me I’m making a mistake or looking at things from the wrong perspective‚ I’ll gladly change. It’s the truth I’m after.”

—Marcus Aurelius

Far too often we see those in power, whether in politics or at work, are not open to anything that might put them in a bad light. With brittle egos, they worry more about what others think rather than examining what is being said to see if there is any truth in it. Not being open to criticism, they create an environment where those who point out their flaws are punished. Marcus Aurelius teaches us that rather than complaining about or shutting down criticism leveled against us, we should welcome it and see if we can find any truth in it so that we can expand our awareness of ourselves.

A leader who is able to look at criticism objectively and put their egos aside, is better able to examine themself from a different perspective. Since we are only able to view the world from our own perspective, having other perspectives can help us find the chinks in our armor, and to consider ideas that we never would have come up with on our own.

Cultivate Self-Awareness

A key takeaway from Marcus Arelius’ "Meditations" is the practice of regular self-reflection. Marcus Aurelius constantly questioned his actions, motives, and emotions, striving for self-improvement, a habit that enabled him to lead with wisdom and humility. Through his own thoughtful writings and seeking out the input of trusted mentors, Marcus was very aware of his shortcomings. This awareness and a commitment to growth allowed him to serve his subjects well, and become known as one of the greatest emperors of the Roman Empire.

We all have weaknesses and failings, and as a leader these are often more on display. Leaders who have the self awareness and the courage to grow are more likely to own up to and take responsibility for their mistakes. This leads to more trust with those under their stewardship, and helps create a culture of responsibility where mistakes, rather than being something to cover up, are opportunities to improve.

Obstacles as Opportunities

The Stoic view of obstacles as opportunities for growth is particularly relevant in today's fast-paced and often unpredictable world. Leaders can reframe challenges as chances to innovate, learn, and strengthen their teams, just as Marcus Aurelius turned the trials of his reign into lessons in resilience and virtue.

Marcus Aurelius himself faced numerous challenges without losing his philosophical center. Modern leaders can apply this mindset by viewing difficulties as chances to innovate, strengthen teamwork, and develop resilience. It’s about leveraging the inherent lessons in every setback to build a more robust, adaptable leadership approach.

Conclusion

Marcus Aurelius’ reign and writings offer timeless insights into the art of leadership. His Stoic philosophy, with its emphasis on virtue, reason, and the common good, provides a profound framework for leading in any era. His example teaches us that effective leadership is not about the position of power one holds but about the strength of one’s character. By embodying virtues of integrity, resilience, and service, leaders can navigate the complexities of the modern world with wisdom and grace, inspiring those around them to do the same. In a sense, to lead like a Stoic emperor is to recognize that the true realm over which we govern is not the external world but the internal one—from which all true leadership emanates.


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Kindness

294 – The Ripple Effect of Small Acts of Kindness: A Stoic Perspective

Does the world seem more divided and angry? Does it feel like it’s hard to trust others in our society? Today I want to talk about how the small things we do can have a bigger impact than you think.

"Kindness is mankind's greatest delight."

— Marcus Aurelius

Often times we get stuck in thinking that the world is a mess. Since our minds are attuned to spotting negative things so it can keep up safe, watching the news or seeing what’s happening in our feeds on social media can easily make the world seem pretty grim. If we’re not careful it’s easy to become anxious and pessimistic about humanity.

The significance of small acts of kindness stands as a beacon, illuminating the path toward a more compassionate society. Today I want to explore how seemingly insignificant gestures acquire profound importance, offering a roadmap for individual and collective betterment, and how small actions can impact others, ourselves, and society as a whole.

The Stoic Foundation of Kindness

"You cannot do a kindness too soon, for you never know how soon it will be too late."

— Ralph Waldo Emerson

Stoicism emphasizes virtue, wisdom, and the pursuit of the common good as the foundations of a fulfilled life. Marcus Aurelius, once penned, "What is not good for the swarm is not good for the bee”, underscoring the Stoic belief in the interconnectedness of all individuals and the importance of contributing positively to the community. In the context of kindness, Stoicism posits that even the smallest gestures of goodwill ripple through the social fabric, benefiting the whole.

Humanities greatest strength is that we can work together to accomplish amazing things. While many attribute our intellect as the reason that we have come to dominate the world, it’s out ability to work together in large groups that is truly our defining characteristic.

The Power of Small Acts

The other day I stumbled down a rabbit hole on Quora about small acts of kindness. As I read through each of the posts of seemingly small acts, I found myself tearing up and smiling at the generosity of strangers, often in situations where they didn’t need to be. From buying some hungry teenagers a box of tacos at Taco Bell, to paying for gas for an elderly woman who only had $3 in change, to a former math teacher on the subway helping a father relearn fractions so he in turn could help his son who was struggling in school, the kindness of strangers is alive and well.

Trust is a the glue that builds strong communities. Since most of us live in cities and larger communities, it’s not possible to know everyone, so we need to be able to trust others. Small acts of kindness are manifestations of our inherent capacity for empathy and compassion. These small acts, where you show kindness in situation where you don’t need to, increase trust in society. Where there is more trust, we feel safer, and our outlook on the world improves. Such gestures may seem trivial, yet their cumulative effect can transform communities and, by extension, societies.

Everyday Kindness

"Kind words can be short and easy to speak, but their echoes are truly endless."

— Mother Teresa

Stoicism teaches us to focus on what is within our control—our actions and attitudes. Acts of kindness, no matter how small, are within everyone's grasp. Epictetus remarked, "It is not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters,” which means that we choose how we want to interact with the world. By consciously deciding to perform acts of kindness, we assert control over our lives and contribute in positive way by helping others where we may have nothing to gain.

The Impact on the Giver and the Receiver

“Wherever there is a human being, there is an opportunity for a kindness."

— Seneca

From a Stoic viewpoint, the benefits of kindness are twofold: they enhance the well-being of the receiver and enrich the character of the giver. We become better people by practicing kindness. Because practicing kindness is a choice, it is an exercise of will to find moments where we can be kind, and to step up and take action rather than just going on about our day. Stoicism encourages us to seek out opportunities for kindness as a means of self-improvement and as a way to contribute to the greater good.

One of the most interesting things that I’ve learned in this life is that when you learn to be kind to others and less selfish, you are happier overall. Usually people are selfish because they feel like they are not getting something they think they deserve or need in order to be happy. I know for me when I was younger I was definitely a more selfish person and this was certainly the case. Practicing small acts of kindness helps you to overcome your selfish tendencies. You do good things to others not because they deserve them or because you’re expecting anything in return, but because you want to give them.

The Neuroscience of Kindness

"No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted."

— Aesop

Modern neuroscience supports the Stoic perspective on kindness, showing that acts of generosity and compassion activate parts of the brain associated with pleasure, social connection, and trust. These findings suggest that kindness is not just morally commendable but also beneficial to our psychological and physical health.

There have been plenty of studies that also show the fastest way to improve our own sense of wellbeing is to do something kind for someone else. We actually get a small burst of dopamine when we do something kind, even if it is a small act. If you’re feeling a little down, doing something kind for someone else is a simple yet effective way to improve your mood.

Kindness in Action

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle."

— Epictetus

The world abounds with instances where small acts of kindness have led to significant impacts. Consider when Princess Diana shook the hand of a man with AIDS. At the time, there was a lot of misinformation about AIDS, and her simple act of kindness help to change the view of the world towards those who had contacted the disease. Or the chain reaction set off by a single act of kindness in a coffee shop in Pennsylvania, where patrons paid for the orders of those behind them for hours. Minor gestures can inspire, motivate, and spread joy beyond their immediate context.

In my own life, I’m currently living in Airbnbs in Amsterdam until I find a permanent place. A few weeks ago, I had a short trip scheduled for Berlin and didn’t want to take all of my stuff with me, and there was no way that I would be able to take my bike with me. The host at one of my Airbnbs was kind enough to let me leave some of my stuff and my bike at his place while I was away. It wasn’t a big deal for him since he had plenty of storage space, but for me it was incredibly helpful to not have to find somewhere to store everything while I was away.

Cultivating Kindness

"Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible."

— The Dalai Lama

So how can we get better about showing more kindness in our lives?

Incorporating kindness into daily life does not require grand gestures. It begins with a conscious effort to recognize the humanity in others and to act on this recognition in even the smallest ways. This could be as simple as listening attentively, offering a word of encouragement, or expressing gratitude.

To get better at practicing kindness in out lives, we need to become more aware. It’s far too easy to go about our day focused on just ourselves and not engage with others. By working to cultivate an attitude of kindness, you can develop an awareness of how you show up in the world and look for small ways to practice kindness. Whether that’s opening the door for someone else, buying a coffee for a stranger, or giving a stranger a compliment, we can all do small things to make others lives just little easier.

Another exercise you can do is to practice reflective journaling. Each day, take some time reflect on acts of kindness you observed, received, or performed. This practice, rooted in Stoic reflection, encourages mindfulness of kindness as a daily practice by keeping it top of mind.

Sometimes the best thing you can do is to take the time to just listen to someone else. There’s a lot of loneliness out in the world. Because we spend so much time online, we often forget to connect with others in real life. Make a conscious effort to listen more attentively to others can help them feel seen and connected and I think that we could all do with a little more of that.

Speaking of being online, practicing kindness in this world does not stop when you’re on your phone. When you’re online and you feel tempted to post a snarky or rude comment on someones post, take the time to think about how this might impact others. Does it help or hurt them? What would this say about you? Take the time to find a way to lift others and you’ll find yourself in a better mood knowing that you made an active choice to do good in the world.

Conclusion

In a world that often emphasizes the grandiose, it is the small, everyday acts of kindness that weave the fabric of a compassionate society. The cumulative effect of widespread acts of kindness can lead to a more empathetic and cohesive society. By fostering an environment where kindness is valued and practiced, we can counteract divisiveness and isolation, creating communities that thrive on mutual support and understanding.

In the spirit of Stoicism, small acts of kindness are not merely altruistic gestures but a fundamental component of a virtuous life. They serve as a testament to our capacity for goodness and our potential to effect change in the world around us. As Marcus Aurelius reminded us, "The best way to avenge yourself is to not be like that." By choosing kindness, we rebel against cynicism and apathy, embracing a philosophy that nurtures our collective humanity.


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Perspective

293 – Perspective is Reality

Are you aware of how your perspective influences how you see reality? Today I want to talk about how the Stoics teach us that our perspective shapes our reality.

“We don't see things as they are, we see them as we are.

— Anias Nin

Perception and Reality

Our reality is not an objective construct; it is a subjective experience shaped by our individual perceptions. These perceptions are the lens through which we view the world, influenced by our beliefs, past experiences, and emotional states. This lens filters every experience, interaction, and decision we make, often without our conscious awareness. Our perceptions profoundly shape our reality, molding our experiences, choices, and interactions with the world. Stoicism holds that our perceptions—how we see the world—play a critical role in our emotional and psychological state.

The Plank

“For there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so."

— Shakespeare (Hamlet)

The other day I stumbled on a perfect example of how our perceptions can impact us in a very literal way. There’s an interesting bunch of videos on YouTube about Richie’s Plank Experience. What this is, is a simple VR game where you take an elevator to the 15th floor of a virtual building. Once the elevator opens, you step out onto a plank that is about 12 inches wide, which is about 30 centimeters for those not in the US. The goal of the game is pretty simple. You walk out to the end of the plank and eat some virtual donuts. Then you can either jump off and fall to the ground, or turn around and go back to the elevator.

There are several videos of this on YouTube, but the one that I watched, took place on the streets of London where they asked passersby to try the game. What was fascinating was that even though people knew they were safe on a street in the middle of London, they still felt the same fear as if they were actually on a plank 15 stories high. Each person talked about how scary it was, how their hearts were racing, and one person even had his legs shaking with fear. There was one person though, who was able to override this fear better than the others, and was even skipping across the plank.

I found this so fascinating. Even though they rationally knew it was just a game, most of them couldn’t get their bodies to relax. They still felt like they were in danger. In a very literal sense, they put on a new lens that changed their perception of the world, and their unconscious and their bodies reacted to these perceptions.

Influencing Opinions

"It's not what you look at that matters, it's what you see."

— Henry David Thoreau

Our opinions are a direct outcome of our perceptions. For instance, two individuals can witness the same event and have entirely different interpretations based on their personal biases and past experiences. For example, in politics, where perceptions are heavily influenced by ideology, this leads to divergent opinions on the same issues. A conservative might view a tax increase as a burden on economic freedom, while a liberal might see it as a necessary step towards social equity. Here, their political ideologies, acting as a perceptual lens, shape their opinions of the same policy proposal.

Shaping Choices

Our choices, from the mundane to the life-changing, are also deeply influenced by our perceptions. Consider the decision to change careers. To someone with a growth mindset—a belief in the potential for personal development and improvement—a career change is an opportunity for advancement and learning. To someone with a fixed mindset, the same decision might seem fraught with risk and uncertainty, and as a sign of failure in their current path. The Stoics would argue that by shifting our perception to see the opportunity in the challenge, we can make choices that align with our true values and aspirations.

Interactions with the World

"Mankind are born for the sake of each other. So either teach or tolerate."

— Marcus Aurelius

How we interact with the world and others is a reflection of our internal perceptions. For example, if we perceive the world as hostile and uncaring, we may approach others with suspicion and reserve, potentially leading to isolation and loneliness. Conversely, viewing the world as a place of opportunity and kindness can lead us to form meaningful connections and engage with life more fully. Marcus Aurelius, another Stoic philosopher, emphasized the importance of perceiving the interconnectedness of all things and acting in harmony with this understanding for the betterment of oneself and society.

The Placebo Effect

“We are more often frightened than hurt; and we suffer more from imagination than from reality."

— Seneca

Our minds are powerful things and our perceptions of something can have real impacts in surprising ways. For example, the placebo effect is a powerful demonstration of how perception can alter our physical reality. Patients given a placebo, a treatment with no therapeutic effect, often experience an improvement in their condition simply because they believe they are receiving a real treatment. In many studies, patients were given were sugar pills and found relief from their symptoms. This phenomenon illustrates the capacity of the mind, guided by perception, to influence the body.

Social Media and Perception

Social media platforms are modern examples of how perceptions can be manipulated and, in turn, shape reality. Algorithms curate content that aligns with our existing beliefs and perceptions, reinforcing our worldviews and often creating echo chambers. This can intensify political polarization, as users are rarely exposed to opposing viewpoints, leading to a more divided reality based on perceived differences rather than actual ones. Because social media is also only selected slices of life, we only see what others are willing to share, which are usually just the highlights. We get a distorted view of who other people are, and what their lives are really like. Because of this, we make judgments about them based on very limited information.

Awareness of Perceptions

"Men are disturbed not by things, but by the view which they take of them."

—Epictetus

So why do we want to be aware of the perceptions that we have about the world around us?

Because those perceptions can either be the wind our sails that propel us forward to accomplish the things we set out to do, or they can be the millstone that keeps us not only stuck where we are, but often are the very thing that sink our ship even before it gets out of the harbor. The Stoics teach us that our perceptions are one of the only things that we have control over, and therefore can have the largest impact on our wellbeing and happiness.

By developing the awareness of the perceptions we have, we are able to recognize our own limiting believes and biases, and learn to see when they are holding us back. We can also choose to change our perceptions into something that keeps us open to possibilities, seeing the world in a more positive light, and let slights, insults, and frustrations slide off of us like water off a duck.

Stoic Mindfulness

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

— Marcus Aurelius

How do we get better at managing our perceptions so they help us navigate the world in a happier and more productive way?

The Stoics offer a remedy to the potential distortions caused by our perceptions: the practice of mindfulness and the discipline of questioning our automatic interpretations of events. By becoming aware of how our perceptions shape our reality and actively challenging them, we can align our perceptions more closely with objective reality, or at least a more constructive subjective reality.

When something happens to us, we have what the Stoic call an “impression”, meaning, we observe what happens to us. We take these impressions and make a judgement about it, and that judgment leads us to take some action, usually driven by some emotion. But the Stoics recommend that we take a moment and try to see these impressions at their most basic level.

Did someone say something you thought was offensive? If we break this down to its most basic elements, what really happened was that someone made some sounds with their mouth, we interpreted what they said by thinking about those sounds, and we made a judgment about what those sounds meant. Recognizing your own judgments about what the other person said gives you the space to choose what you want to do about it. This is what Marcus Aurelius mean when he said, “Choose not to be harmed and you won’t be.”

Now this doesn’t mean that you don’t have any feelings surrounding the things that happen to you. If you partner breaks up with you, it hurts, and it’s okay to feel hurt. There is nothing wrong with feeling those uncomfortable or negative emotions. It’s okay to grieve the loss of the relationship and to feel the loss of the future that you thought you would have. What’s important is that you are aware of those feelings and your perceptions, so that even if you feel the hurt, you make choices not from the hurt, but from your rationality, principles, and values. Rather than lashing out from of hurt or spite, you can act with honor and compassion and make the situation easier on both parties. As Seneca said, “The consequences of anger are often far worse than the thing that caused the anger.”

Higher View

Another way to shift our perspective is to take what the Stoics call “the higher view”. What this means is that the more we can zoom out from our current perspective and look at situation from a much higher view. For example, if you can imagine viewing your current situation from 30,000 feet. Think about how small you look. Think about all the other people in your neighborhood, your city, and even the world and all the things they are working on and struggling with at the same moment. It gives you a perspective on how small you are and how small the things you are worried about are. But it also gives a perspective on the interconnectedness of us all.

This is actually a documented phenomenon called the “overview effect”. Astronauts who spend time in space often talk about how their whole perspective on life shifts when they see the Earth, the “pale blue dot” as Carl Sagan, a prominent physicist would call it. This literal change in perspective, changes how they view the rest of the world. Seeing the Earth and its thin layer of atmosphere, they see how fragile, tiny, and almost insignificant our planet seems in the vastness of space. They often gain a feeling of connectedness with the rest of humanity, a sense of compassion for all inhabits of the world, and a great sadness at the conflicts and struggles that plague us as a species.

Hayley Arceneaux, a physician assistant who spent several days in space, saw the planet through the context of her profession. She wrote, “It felt unifying, but it also made me think of healthcare disparities in a different way. How can someone born on that side of the globe have a completely different prognosis from someone born over here? I could see the nations all at once, and it felt more unfair than ever, the ugliness that existed within all of that beauty.”

Conclusion

Our perceptions are not merely passive windows to the world but active constructors of our reality. They shape our opinions, influence our choices, and dictate how we interact with the world. Stoicism teaches us the importance of examining and, when necessary, adjusting our perceptions to live a more fulfilling and less disturbed life. By understanding the power of perception, we can begin to see not just the world as it appears to be, but as it could be, through a lens of compassion, reason, and openness to change.


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292 – Interview with Ori Halevy: Comedian and Comedy Writer

Episode Transcript:

Erick: Hello friends. My name is Erick Cloward and welcome to the Stoic Coffee Break. The Stoic Coffee Break is a weekly podcast where I take aspects of Stoicism and do my best to break them down to the most important points. Share my thoughts and my experiences, both my successes and my failures, and hope that you can learn something from them all within the space of Coffee Break.

This week's episode is an interview with Ori Halevy. Now, Ori is a comedian here in Berlin, where I'm staying at the moment, and last week and a few weeks ago, when I was having a really rough day, I decided to go out for some comedy and caught his show and really enjoyed it. We talked for a bit afterwards and just, he's a really smart guy, very philosophical and a lot of fun.

So I thought it would be fun to sit down and chat with him about life, philosophy, humor, and anything else that came to our minds. So this was done in a coffee shop in Berlin. Unfortunately, it's a little bit noisy and we did have some audio issues, but we did our best to clean this up and hope it sounds good.

You can also watch a video of this on YouTube, on my YouTube channel at Stoic Coffee. Anyway, I hope you enjoyed this conversation as much as I enjoyed chatting with Ori. Hello everybody. Welcome to the Stoic Coffee Break podcast. This is another live interview that I'm doing here. We're in Berlin.

We're at a nice little coffee shop. We've got our coffee going on here. So, coffee and tea. Cheers. So, this was a Nugetti. A Nugetti? Yeah, basically it's a mocha.

Ori: I like how they invent stupid names for things. Like if it's mocha, it's 3 euros, but if it's a Nugetti, it's 4. 70.

Erick: Exactly. So I'm like, eh, it's all good.

So today I'm with, go ahead and introduce yourself since I always butcher your name.

Ori: My name is Ori Halevy. I'm a comedian in Berlin, in English. Which is a weird choice. Yeah, what else? What should I say about myself?

Erick: Just talk about what you do. You obviously have the comedy show.

Ori: Yeah, I have Epic Comedy Berlin.

That's our comedy brand. We run a bunch of different shows around town. We have I don't know if people know this, but in Berlin there is actually the biggest English comedy scene in Europe. Yeah, we have I like to say we have comedians here from all over the world that couldn't make it in their country.

So they came here. But really it is a very, like, it's amazing seeing people tour everywhere. They're, some of them become a little famous online and stuff like that. And we, so there's a lot of, a bunch of different open mics. We just work with the most experienced comedians that are touring our local.

And we have different formats. So we have like a showcase on Friday at a place called Zosh. It's a very cool jazz club. But then we also have a Monday show which is actually philosophy versus comedy where my partner in crime, Brendan Hickey, he's he's got a master's in philosophy so he brings a real philosophical idea and then we kind of make fun of it.

It's a lot of fun. Check it out, Wise Fools. And and then we have some, so essentially how we built the Knights is just a different ways of working out. So we have a show called Darkest Thoughts where the audience can write us their darkest thoughts and then we have to improvise comedy on it. And we have an open mic called saying the wrong thing.

So we're always kind of like testing the waters of different ideas from philosophical to topical to all that kind of stuff. And that's what I do. Nice. I'm also a writer. I write for TV and movies.

Erick: Excellent. Yeah, I went to the the Wise Fools the other night.

Ori: Oh, yeah. Brendan told me about that. Yeah.

Yeah. What did you think?

Erick: Yeah, it was pretty funny. So, he, he appreciated the fact that he had a, what he called, you know, he's like, oh, so you're the professional. And I'm like, well, I, I like to think so. I've been doing this for seven years, six years now. Wow. So, I think I've learned a little bit about stoicism, where I can speak intelligently about it.

I'm also writing a book on stoicism right now. We're in the negotiation phase. I'm writing some writing samples for them to see if they like it and so far so good So I'm hoping to get a contract.

Ori: Was that the Romans?

Erick: Yes, the Romans. The Romans were like, let's

see if you're ready. It's a big publisher in America.

Like one of the biggest. But it's a small imprint from them and they have a very specific focus on things. And I'm not sure if I'm contractually allowed to say anything yet, but Don't say it. But hopefully it'll come through. And if not, I've got ideas for a whole number of books. And this has also really helped me to kind of hone my writing style a little bit.

For, and theirs is what they call an academic light is the tone of it. So it's, it's academic, but it's supposed to be very approachable. And so, cause at first I had some, I had some funny little quips and stuff in there and they're like, yeah, that's a little too loose for what we want. We need a little bit more academic light.

I'm like, okay, that, that's actually more of what I do anyway in my podcast.

Ori: So it's like academic but palatable.

Erick: Yes. It's not like it's super dry. A while back I was reading you know, to kind of, when, when I first got approached about writing this book, I wanted to make sure that I understood some of the deeper parts of the history of the philosophy and so on, the differences between Stoicism versus some of the Socratic ethnic virtues that came afterwards, like from Aristotle and Plato and stuff like that.

So I was reading a fairly dense academic paper on it, and it was, it was only 18 pages long. Holy crap, it was so hard to read, because it was very Very lawyer esque, in a way, I guess would be the best way to describe it. So philosophers, true, you know, academic philosophers have a way of talking about things.

And they use words that are like, whoosh.

Ori: That's what I feel like. I feel like the whole I don't know if that was, because sometimes they say that the philosophers of the time were kind of comedians. You know, I'm not saying they were trying to make people laugh necessarily, but they were trying to talk to the masses, like, not all of them.

But so there was the academic side, and then there was the more approachable side, I guess. And I think that's gotten lost. I mean, even on me, like, I'm not, I'm not a scholar. You know, I'm I have my own thoughts about things. But then I do feel a lot of this stuff is not approachable at all. And if you try to read it, you know, You're like, what the fuck are you talking, can you just tell me what you're talking, what do you mean?

And then and then when I, like, that's one of the reasons I like the show me and Bender are doing is because he has the master. So he brings it up, and then I'm the stupid, and me and another guy, we're kind of the stupid guys that, that deal with it. But at the same time, I have had these thoughts.

And, and it's, and it's refreshing, and it's interesting where somebody says, Well, someone has actually thought this through, and this is the structure they've created. And I think that's not approachable. Like, even Stoicism itself I don't think most people know what it is.

Erick: Yeah. You know, like And for me, I found, luckily, that Stoicism was the most approachable, even from reading, you know, things that were directly attributed to Epictetus because he never wrote anything down himself, but one of his students wrote it down and said, I tried to write it down as verbatim as absolutely possible.

That's where we get the endocrinia and what was the other one he did? Discourses. From him or from one of his students whereas Seneca we have the direct writings Like he actually sat down and wrote down his stuff and then meditations from Marcus Aurelius But in reading all of them, that's the one I know.

Yeah, and those are pretty approachable So they they did a pretty good job.

Ori: Yeah, but not for today. I feel like

Erick: Yeah, a lot of it is, though, the language that's been handed down over time. It's kind of like, it's kind of like the Bible. You know, you read it and it was written, you know, the King James Version is the most popular English version one.

In, in, in Austria and in most German speaking countries, it's the Luther Bible. It's the one that Martin Luther translated. So we're talking about things that were translated into Old English back in the 1600s. And that's what's, or earlier, and that's what's being used in modern day religions. So, yeah, it makes it a bit less approachable because people aren't going, you know, hey.

So, a lot of it is because the translated language is also very outdated.

Ori: I grew up in Israel and we had, like, we had, like, a class on the Bible. And it's also antiquated Hebrew, you know. And, like, we get it, like, more, I guess, than the translated stuff. But it's still kind of, it's like being a kid and listening to Shakespeare.

It's a weird It's not the language you're talking. It makes it not approachable. Like, I haven't, I gotta admit, I haven't re, like, I haven't re read the Bible, because in class they made it seem so boring. Yeah. That you just don't wanna, you just don't wanna approach it, you know? And I feel like philosophy is like, I saw this this video once of of a guy and he was saying that we've lost a major part of our relief source when, because when we were in tribes, there was the shaman, right?

And the shaman was the thinker, so that guy, he'll figure out the spiritual stuff. And I don't need to think about it at all. He's going to tell me what the gods are thinking today and that's it, I'm not arguing with that at all. If I have any trauma, any problem, I'll just go to heaven. And then it grew into like the bigger religions.

And now, we're in this age where we all think, well not all, but a lot of us are like, either don't believe in religion, or have stepped away from it somewhat, or are complete atheists. And then we have this gaping hole. And a lot, and some people are looking for philosophy, but I don't think philosophy is, I mean now, yeah, you're doing this podcast, there's some people talking about it, et cetera, et cetera.

But I feel like there's so many things that, where we're lost. And we could, if we had this like easily approachable thing, then, then I would just be like, oh, okay, I'm, I'm, you know, this is a fear I had or a thought I had and I didn't really think it through, but somebody's already done that. And it's, I think it's also probably stems from some sort of I don't want to, I don't want anybody to tell me what to do.

Because if you're already not believing in religion, you're like, I don't want, you know. So, you're stepping away from ideas that are already thought through sometimes. But, I just feel like philosophy is like a, it's like a pop culture idea. But not a lot of people really interact with it.

Erick: Yeah, and I fall into that category as well.

So, I took a philosophy class when I was in college, in my twenties. And it went through some of the major philosophies, and it . Even though I was very big into psychology, you know, I'd read like The Road Less Traveled by M. Scott Peck and other things like that, because I grew up very, very Mormon, which was a very strict religion.

You were a Mormon? Yeah. Oh my god. That's why I speak German is I went on my mission to Austria. Wow,

Ori: Mormon. You stepped away from Mormonism. I did. Wow, that's a good choice.

Erick: Yes, it has been a really good choice for me. Wow, how long ago was that? About 20 years. 20 years.

Ori: Wow, 20 years not a Mormon. Yeah. And have you seen Book of Mormon?

Erick: I've heard it. I've listened to the musical I used, I started out as a musical theater major in college, so I love musicals. Oh, okay. And so I listened to it. I haven't seen it yet. That's, oh, you should see it. It's just, yeah, it's, when it came to Portland, I, for whatever reason, I didn't go so, but yeah, it's one, I want to see it.

So many of the songs in there, I just laugh my ass off because I'm just like, I could totally relate to 'em because you know, it's about missionaries and all the things in there. I'm just like, oh my God, this is hilarious. Having been in theater. Like the one where the guy is singing about shove it down, like he's gay and he doesn't want to do something.

I was just thinking about that. It was just like, man, I knew, I knew so many kids who were. And some of them didn't, obviously didn't come out.

Ori: In the, in the theater thing? Or were there Mormons that studied with you? Yeah. Wow.

Erick: Yeah, and one of them is he's actually incredibly successful. He didn't come out until later on.

But we all kind of knew. But nobody cared in my high school. We were all, I came from a fairly affluent high school. And, we really didn't care one because he was just an amazing guy. And everybody just adored him. He was just a great person. And so even though most of us had an inkling that he probably was, It was like, we don't want to know.

We didn't ask. Don't ask, don't tell. Because if it did come out, we knew that it would, it would cause problems. Sure. So nobody wanted anybody, nobody really wanted to know because . We, one, we didn't care. And two, it would just cause more trouble than it, it was worth. Sure. Yeah. And so when, when we finally did come out, I sent him a note, this was, you know, years later and I just said, Hey, just wanna let you know.

I'm so glad. Was a physical note. No, no. I, I sent him an an email and I just said, Hey, just wanna let you know, you know, found out about it. You finally coming at it and I'm, and I just wanna say. I love you and support you and I want you to find your happiness and I hope that you find somebody who's worthy of you.

That's cool. And he was just like, thank you so much for your support. That's awesome. And I'm like, you've always been a great person. This doesn't change my opinion of you one iota because you are who you are. Yeah. And he's incredibly successful in the musical theater world. Yeah. And yeah, so I love watching his career rise up, and he's a pretty amazing person.

But, you know, for me it was just always, that was one of the main reasons.

Ori: Becoming more and more gay as it goes along. Starting from Mormonism and becoming the gayest person on the planet.

Erick: So, yeah, but what was, I think a lot of it though was because that was one of the things that, that I, I disliked the church's stand on.

Because, Thank you. , he didn't choose to be this way. Sure. He want, I mean, he would love to be your normal straight person, but he's not. Yeah. And I know that he's not making a choice to be gay like a lot of people think he can. I'm like, no.

Ori: It's just that to me is is that's always like I've, I've I've said like the, the, one of the reasons like Jews support I mean not, you know, secular Jews at least.

The reason why I support gays is because they're the front line at this point. Like, if they go against the gays, we're next. So, we'll support that movement as much as we can. But yeah, I mean, you can see it. Like, it's, it's this idea, which is counter to philosophy in a way, I guess. Or, it's just picking one and, like, saying it.

This idea of, like, there's a certain way to live your life, and if you don't do that, then you're dead. Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.

Erick: Yeah. You know, and yeah, so back to yeah, so back to the whole kind of approachable philosophy thing. Like I said, when I was in college, I took the class and it didn't, it didn't ever really click for me.

It's like, okay, that's kind of cool. It just seemed like it was something that was gonna be way over my head. And so I think that maybe I approached it in a way, like, oh, this is just gonna be way too, too heady for me. I'm not smart enough to understand that. And so when I stumbled into stoicism, because I didn't even know it was a philosophy, I just knew the term stoic, you know, like most people do, like somebody's stoic and they're non emotional.

And Tim Ferriss mentioned on his podcast, he said, there's this book that changed my life. And he, Tim reads a ton. I don't know if you follow his podcast, but he's an interesting guy. But he was just like, this book changed my life. And I was like, okay, if Tim reads that many books, and this is one where he says, this is one of the best books out there and it changed my life.

Okay. Maybe I should give it a read. And the title of it was A Guide to the Good Life, The Art of Stoic J oy. And I thought stoic joy that, okay. There's a little bit of a paradox there, at least in my mind. Okay. That sounds interesting. I got to read this and order the book, read it through the first time.

And there were plenty of moments of like, Oh, Oh, that's pretty good. But I'm like, it didn't really sink in. And so I got the audio book. And then when I was going to and from work every day, I would listen to it for about 20 minutes. And I kept having these lightbulb moments like, Oh my God, Oh, just like, Oh my God.

Okay, that I did, then I've been looking at the world like this and it's really more like this. Or if I look at it like this, things are a lot clearer and make a lot more sense. And so for me, stoicism is such an approachable philosophy because its whole goal is how to live a good life. So while the con and the, when you break down a lot of the concepts, they feel counterintuitive, but they are understandable.

And the principles themselves are fairly simple in many ways, but just like most things, even if it's simple, it doesn't mean it's easy. So it's a simple idea, but like, you know, what do you control? What you can't control, where you can control the way that you think about things, your perspective, your thoughts, so on and the choices you make and the actions you take.

That's it. And you're like, okay, what exactly does that mean? So when you really dig into that, Then you recognize you have to let go of everything else, because you're not in control of that, like you're not even in control of your own body. You get cancer, your knee hurts, whatever, you can control what you do about it, but you can't control your body in the way that you would want to.

You would want to say like, I never want to get cancer, I always want to have a six pack or anything like that. What you can control are the choices you make, like if you eat too many hamburgers, you're going to put on some fat, if you drink too much whiskey, you're going to ruin your liver, those kind of things.

Ori: I just have a joke where I was talking about looking at things from other people's perspective, and I just slowly go, like, from people who are, like, against you. And it just makes your life easier. And then I said, well if you have cancer, look at it from the cancer perspective, you know? He's just like, hey, I'm level four!

And all his friends are like, you're killing it! You know? Like I feel comedy a lot of the times is is that. Like it takes, it takes the approach of like, here are not only dangerous thoughts, but here is a way to like, make them flexible, you know? And and I feel like it helps just deal with life. Like so it's similar in that way because I feel like for me, the problem with, with what, with, with this idea of like accepting that you have no control or letting go is it's not, as you said, it's not a simple thing.

So there has to be some sort of workout, you know, and the workout of the brain, I find other than meditation, stuff like that, it's, it's, it's very hard to do, but I find it to be a very good thing to do on stage. Once I can get into that area, which is, by the way, I feel like a lot of the times Not that people get triggered very much in my, in my shows, but when they get triggered, I feel like a lot of times it's because you're crossing that border in their brain where from control to what they can't control and they're trying to control it.

But it's not even they're trying to control you, they're trying to control their thought, but you just said it out loud and now you can't do that because, oh, my God. So but, but to me if I go on stage and I go here are all the things I can't control and I play with them, I play with the idea of, you know, of, of death and disease and and and how fucked up my brain is and how I don't have control.

And this recent bit I did was like I asked people if they live in the moment. Most people don't, don't say, say nothing like they're not living in the moment. And and I told him, yeah, you're thinking about your videos and your phone right now. But I was saying, like, I have a weird contradiction in my brain where so there's the real world and there's the imaginary world.

And I go like for example, I love doing stand up comedy. So I really appreciate each one of you that is here. But at the same time, I'm heavily disappointed that I am because I was supposed to be in an arena right now with people sucking my dick for autographs, you know, but, but at the same time, this is great.

This is amazing. So just this constant. It's so, it's so weird, and I feel like a lot of things play into it, like this whole manifestation thing, for example. What's your, what's your, what's your stance on manifestation?

Erick: I don't buy into the whole secret thing. What I buy into is that if you are putting your intention out there, and you are focusing on that thing, and you are actually taking action towards that thing, that thing will happen, in one way or another.

But just to go I want to manifest, you know, a new Mercedes Benz. Yeah. And you just sit there and wait for it to come. It's not going to happen. Yeah. But if you go, I want to manifest a Mercedes Benz, and every chance I get, I'm going to do something that's going to move me towards that goal. Yeah. Then, yeah.

Sorry about all the noise. So we, this was the

Ori: Berlin. Yes, Berlin. There's no place in Berlin with no noise. They build the buildings in a way where like, the cold can't come in, but your neighbors talking or having German sex, just no problem at all.

Erick: Yeah. So, I apologize for the noise. I'm going to reduce it as much as I can on the sound, but it makes it more lively.

But yeah.

Ori: But I agree with you. I think that the what's funny to me about Manifesta, so I agree with the idea that, I think Manifestation in general, the idea of like, Seeing a specific future and then trying to get to it that that works. But then there's so much emphasis on this stuff I've seen lately on if you don't have the thing that you want You're not manifesting well enough and I just thought I thought it's like it's a combination of Motivation and procrastination so you're spending all of this energy to go nowhere and this people telling you well you have to do that better

Erick: It reminded me I saw somebody who asked me one time, you know, they're like well But, you know, if you just manifest hard enough, I'm like, well, that's not, I mean, I said, but the way that they talk about it, you're just not doing it good enough.

That's exactly like religion. I mean, that's what I tried. I tried to live all the Mormon things exactly the way I was supposed to, and I was still unhappy.

Ori: Were you like really thinking about that every day?

Erick: And I was, I tried so hard and I was miserable and I just, I, it never worked for me at all of this stuff.

And I'm like, and what was the answer? You just don't have enough faith. Your faith just isn't strong enough. I'm like, my faith is damn strong. I went, I went to Austria for two years and try talking to those people about Jesus Christ. I mean, I'm sitting here talking to people who've been Catholic for ever about, they should join our version of Jesus's church and tell them that their church is wrong.

That takes, that's a lot of hard work. And so I'm like, I'm trying, I'm really trying to do this thing. And so for me, once, what really did it for me was I, after trying so hard and feeling like I was a big failure with this my ex wife left the church and was just like, I'm not going anymore. It doesn't work for me.

And she had joined the church later in life. And then after a few months, she was, you know, she's like, you can go if you want, don't care. But I'm like, I went a couple of times. I'm like, you know, I'd rather be out cycling. I'm an avid cyclist. And so I've got riding on Sundays. And then a few months later, she gave me a book.

It was called Leaving the Saints by this gal named Martha, Martha Beck. She's a big time life coach now. Her father was the chief apologist for the church for 50 years. And he had a PhD, and so he was the master of, like, twisting things around. And so, she wrote a book about her journey of leaving the church.

And I learned a lot about the church's dirty laundry and stuff that they had covered up for a long time. That was documented, was legit, like it was fully researched, fully vetted, so She's like, this is the real deal, I've done all the research on this, and the church even acknowledges these things. And there was enough things in there where I recognized that Joseph Smith was a con man and a pedophile.

And made up the whole thing, and I went, Okay, this was all bullshit. I can leave and I physically felt lighter like I remember I was reading the book and I read that and I was I read some stuff on there and I was just like, I put the book down and I just stood up and I was like, I can leave in good conscience because I tried and it's all bullshit and I felt like this.

You know, there's, I described, you know, there's big statues on Easter Island, you know, the big long nose guys. I felt like I had one of those on my shoulders and I just shaked it off. And I had to look around because I physically felt lighter. Like I was floating off the ground. I'm like, okay, I'm not, I'm not floating.

Okay. It just feels like I'm floating. It was just this giant relief. And I was like, okay,

Ori: well, that's a good lesson on letting go. I guess. Yeah. Do you manage to do that then if you have fears and anxieties or do you work on that also every day?

Erick: I work on a lot. One of the things that I'm working on now is adjusting my career path to work with CTOs and CEOs on developing better leadership through stoic principles You know, adjust your thinking, making decisions in uncertainty, building good teams, building a good culture within a company.

Because if you, if you can do that, then you can be much more successful. Your team will be happier. You will be happier. And it makes your work environment so much more fun to be in and having an example, like something that very simply put a lot of it is a lot of people think that if you're the manager, you're the boss.

That you have to control everything. And that's the worst way to work. And every team that I've been on where the manager came in and was like, Hey, by the way, my job is to serve you. My job is to be here to get everything out of the way so that you can do your job. I hired you because you're smart enough and I will let you do your job.

I'm not going to interfere because I'm too busy doing other things. And I need you to step up and do your job because that's what I hired you for. So a lot of autonomy, clear communication, clear setting of expectations or negotiation of expectations. Just things like that.

Ori: That's kind of like how my parents raised me, by the way.

Yeah. They were like, we trust you, don't do please just, you know, if you stay out late, call us, da da da da da. And it was a sneaky trick. Because at the end of the day, you rebel less. You're like, well, I have all these freedoms, so I guess I should be a little, you know, responsible.

Erick: Yeah, and most people, you give them, you know, as they say, you give them the rope to hang themselves.

If you give people autonomy and you say, hey, I need this done by this time and I need the quality to be like this, be just, be wise about your time and I'll let you do, go do your job. And you don't micromanage people, you trust your people and you, You have the integrity to be trustworthy. So a lot of people think that if they have a sucky team is because they have bad team members.

And sometimes that's the case, but usually it's the leader. Interesting. If the leader is not a good leader, the team is going to, you can have great people on the team and it's going to suck and it's going to fall apart. Yeah, I get that. But if you have a great leader, you can have weak people on the team and they usually will rise to the occasion because they trust that person.

They admire that person. They want to please that person, so they want to do good work because they feel like they're part of that team. And I found that when I was on teams that way, we got so much work done. And I enjoyed going to work. Like I was getting, when I was getting divorced, it was really, it was really hard.

I was just in a bad place mentally, which happens during divorce. And I remember that my manager at the time was this really good Really good?

Ori: Sounds like a, sounds like a, just a time that, you know, passes you by.

Erick: So, but my manager at the time was this really great guy. And I wouldn't apply. We got along really well and he was very trusting and he, he earned my respect.

And a lot of it was because he's like, you're a smart guy. I hired you. Get your work done. Communicate with me every day about what's going on. Just, you know, just let me know what's happening and let's just get this stuff done. And because he trusted me and I learned to respect him a lot. And so I actually work was my safe place because home was really hard right then.

And so going into work was like, I can go into work and I don't have to worry about crap. I don't, I don't, because my job was a good job to go into. It was a, it was a good place for me to be. So mentally I could fall apart at work if I needed to. And my boss was just like, I understand you're going through a rough time.

It's all good. Just keep doing what you're doing. If you need to. Take a long lunch and go for a walk, whatever, just, just take care of yourself. And so that made it so that it was, you know, like if your home life sucked and your work sucked, you just feel like life's just a giant pile of shit. So if you have at least one of those, that's, that's a good place to be, then you can deal with the harder things at home.

And so I think that a lot of people miss that. And so, yeah, so a lot of it for me is transitioning into this coaching of helping CEOs and CTOs of how to develop good leadership. Which therefore, when you lead well, then you can lead good teams, which makes the work environment so much better for everybody else.

Everybody's more productive because they're not just trying to put their time in, they're trying to get stuff done because they have the same vision that you have.

Ori: But then sometimes people don't step up. Like I remember when I do like cause I've been writing for TV and stuff for many years and I like show running teams.

That's that's pretty much my attitude. I'm like look you guys are here for your own reasons and you're creative people This is the show. I'm gonna give you the guidelines and we're gonna work on this together Just do your stuff and some people which are talented and you kind of they want to be there but they're just not stepping up and it's that's where I get I don't micromanage ever but that's where I used to get like frustrated because Because then you have to start asking yourself.

What is the motivation if you don't want to fire them? If you don't want to go to the I'm either firing you or I'm gonna me yell at you or don't want to use any of these tools Then that's always like an issue of like, how do you find what motivates that person? How do you also keep the balance because I feel there's always this balance of like What are the things that will either motivate you versus what are the things that will annoy you or make you want to not do?

The thing that you're yeah. Yeah, that's a tough one. I feel like

Erick: Yeah, but as a good leader trying to actually understand that rather than just going you're doing a bad job Hmm You know, slapping him on the wrist, that doesn't work out very well. But if you go on to him and say, Hey, you know, you have good talents.

What is it? Why aren't these talents coming out? Why am I missing these talents? If you've been a good leader and they respect you, they'll be like, If they're, if they're worth it and they actually do want to succeed at this thing, they'll, they usually will step up to the plate and they'll be like, Oh, you know what?

You're right. I didn't, I've been slacking because X, Y, and Z. And okay, what can we do to overcome X, Y, and Z? I mean, I had a boss who did that with me. I wasn't, I wasn't really pulling my weight with some of the stuff that I was working on. This was 25 years ago. So I was just getting into my career and I was a junior developer and was just, I was, and I know I was slacking.

I look back on it now and I don't necessarily know why I wasn't pulling my weight as well, but because he was very gentle about it and he just said, you know I'm kind of disappointed that you're not not pulling your weight here because I know you can do that What can I do to help you so you can you can get back up to speed like that?

I was like, oh

and part of it was embarrassment for me. I'm like, yeah, okay, you caught me, but then it was also like And I'm not getting a slap on the wrist. You're just saying, Hey, I'm, I'm disappointed in you and I know you can do better. And I was like, yeah, he really means that. And he's going to support me. Oh, okay. So the next time we had a review three months later, he was just like, I'm so proud of you.

This is, you have done so much good work. In fact, you've, you've exceeded what I was hoping you would be able to get done. So I knew you had this in you. Good job. And I was just like, Hey, thanks. And for me, it really helped. Me too.

Ori: A lot of sick people in Berlin though, , .

Erick: And it really helped me to really up my game as far as that goes.

And so I was much more motivated to come into work and I, I really enjoyed working there. The only reason I left that was 'cause we didn't wanna live in Minnesota anymore.

Ori: You know what I found about what I found weird about German ambulances? It seems to me that they have the, the, the, in anywhere I've been to the world, these are the strongest sirens.

This is why we're hearing them. And it seems to me that it's a, it's a combination of wanting to help and show off. You know, and just be like, we gotta get somewhere. But also I'm helping people. Oh my God, look at me. So that's the every time I just like, oh my God, I'm a doctor, , whatever. Anyway, sorry. Yeah, no worries.

I have to comment on it because of course, because you're a comedian and because it interrupted the sound, so I gotta say something. Yeah. Here we go again. Alright.

Erick: There seem to be a lot of those around here, so I dunno if there's,

Ori: That's what I'm saying. They're no, actually, you know what? I think it's actually police, and I'll tell you what, speaking about stoicism, I mean, or, or solutions that are, you know what, what, what I've found that Berlin policemen, policemen do, which I've never seen anywhere. If you do anything out of order that the police has called for so instead of like being very, you know, violent or whatever, getting the guns out, they get ten people on it.

So I, I've seen a drunk guy being kicked out of the bar wanting to come in, surrounded by ten police officers. And the thing is, it just immediately works on your psyche. There is no way that you're misbehaving. It doesn't matter how drunk you are. There is no way you're misbehaving when there's ten police officers around you.

And it solves issues like that. It's amazing. So, every time there's a minor thing, there's like a busload of cops just driving there. And things get solved really easily. Yeah, I'm sure. Also, they're hot, by the way. That's true. That's true. If you see the billboards as well, they're always, they photograph them.

But also, you can just see it. They're hot because that's another psychological trick. That's true. You're, you're, you're going to get less into conflict with people you're attracted to. It's just something they do here.

Erick: Learn America, I guess. Exactly, we don't need to shoot everybody.

Ori: Exactly, just get hot looking people, and a lot of them, that's all you need.

And then the police will get a better reputation.

Erick: Exactly, so.

Ori: But then how is that how is that directly connected to stoicism, would you say, the, what you just said about the leadership role?

Erick: I think a lot of it has to do, I mean, obviously Marcus Aurelius was a fantastic example of leadership about trying to, I mean, he was the most powerful man in the world at that time, and yet he was trying to always improve himself, to be humble.

I mean, he talks about, you know, when you get up in the morning, you're going to deal with people who are greedy, who are selfish, who are ignorant, who are loud, who are, you know, all these things about them. And he's like, and the reason that they're this way is they don't know good from evil, and it's your job to help try and instruct them.

And I was just like, That's a pretty, pretty good statement coming from the emperor who could just say off with your head and they would do it. So he could just be like, yeah, you're annoying me today, you know, go kill this guy. And everybody would be like, okay, you said so, emperor, let's go do this thing.

Ori: Have you ever seen the Tudors, the show, the TV show?

Erick: I watched one or two episodes with my ex partner.

Ori: It's a fantastic, I don't know how it holds up now in terms of the quality of the design and everything. Because it was at the time where, where like, TV dramas were like it was the golden age, but they still didn't have the budget, but I thought was fantastic show and that is the example of the opposite of that leadership.

This guy was so volatile Yeah, and that was what was fascinating about it. It's amazing that I think we don't associate Childish behavior or emotional behavior or all that kind of stuff to leaders, you know, if you look at Trump I guess you can just see it on him But he's the words that is he's saying is I know this is all rooted in very smart strategical No, you're just it's just a big baby.

Yeah, and you just you just want to control everything and it's It's interesting. I get you never look at And it, I think, I think it is hard once you're in a leadership position to not lose yourself in it. Yeah.

Erick: Yeah. Well, like they say, absolute power corrupts absolutely. And Marcus Aurelius is a fantastic example of not letting that happen.

And so I think stoicism, because, because it focuses on there are only four Except all the slavery. Yeah. Yes, there was, yeah, true. There was slavery, wars, and other things going on. Yeah. I mean, there was only so much he could do.

Ori: But, or realize,

Erick: yeah, but there was also, you know, like the Stoics, they talk about the only good is to develop virtue and that's, you know, courage, wisdom, temperance, and justice.

That's it. Like everything else is neither good nor bad. And Aristotle also believed that wealth, beauty, and health were also virtues that you should aspire to. The Stoics, yeah.

Ori: How do you aspire to beauty?

Erick: I don't know. That's what I was kind of wondering. Either you're pretty or you're not. I mean, yes, you can trim your beard a little more, do your hair or whatever, but, you know.

Ori: I'm big coming from him? Yeah.

Erick: But the Stoics broke with that tradition. They just said no. Like, those are indifference. Like, if you are rich and you don't, you know, you need to do all the virtues because then you could be either rich or poor or whatever. And you're still happy. You could be either in good health or bad health and you're still happy.

You could be beautiful or you could be ugly and you're still happy. It doesn't matter. Those things are, it's nice, they're nice to have. It's nice to be rich, it's nice to be healthy, it's nice to be good looking. But it doesn't, in order to live a virtuous life, you don't have to have those things.

Ori: So there's a, there's a bit of Buddhism there as well I think, no?

Like, um, there was this when we were in India, there was, we had this driver, a Buddhist driver. And he took us to this awful, awful place called Spiti Valley, which, if you go to India, unless you like a lot of rocks everywhere, I wouldn't suggest you go. But he drove us this, it was like a, it was like an eight hour drive or something like that.

And horrible, horrible, like we were suffering the whole way through. And he stopped once, he went to this little outside temple, and he was always smiling, always like, And that's his job. He's just a driver, you know? I mean, not to belittle drivers, but I'm saying his whole job is to just drive from point A to point B.

And then we got to the place we were finally getting to, and he was like, he was going to sleep where the drivers sleep. And we were like, no, no, no, we're going to pay for your room. And he was like, no, I don't want it. I want my thing. And I was like, yeah, I appreciate that. Because, yeah, he found his own way to be happy, and he seemed super happy the whole time.

And that takes real, like, inner discipline to be like This is my thing I like, this is what I'm doing, and I'm not going to sway from the way that I do these things because it might cause me pain probably, which is interesting. I, as I'm an anxious person myself, I have anxiety like my whole life. And I've been dealing with it with different tools and therapy and stuff like that.

I think one of the main things in anxiety also because I have ADHD. So it's like a combination of like my friend calls it. It's like there's, you know, how in creativity they say it's the magic what if, right? But that's also the cursed what if, if you look at it from the anxiety perspective, because everything could be bad, right?

So recently I've broken it down to like are you trying, as you said before, are you trying to make things not happen? Or do you trust yourself, if things happen, you'll be able to handle them? And I think that's a very strong distinction, and there's a problem there, which is, I think, trust. You have to trust yourself enough to know that you could handle them, and have enough willpower to to know that you'll be able to that it doesn't matter that all these what ifs, and They don't matter because you have no control of them and 99 percent of the time they won't happen.

You're just creating imaginary scenarios you don't have to deal with. But then you have to take your brain away from that. Because it's, it's, there's something, first of all, there's something more attractive in negative thought than there is in positive thought. Because in positive thought, you're just, things are good.

You're not thinking a lot. But then all these negative options, they're, they're, they're story time, you know. They're, they're, yay, oh, Netflix. I find that to be like a, a big challenge, like in terms of just pushing, just physically feels like, like you're pushing it to the other side and you're like, Oh, let's keep my focus here.

It's, it's hard to do.

Erick: Yeah. Well, one of the things that, that right along with that, it reminded me when you were talking is that Seneca tells us, like, usually we have anxiety because we're worried about the future or we're stuck in the past. We're worrying about things that we have no control over either way, because most of these things in the future that we think.

Aren't going to happen. And the things in the past, well we can't do anything about them. So, you're borrowing misery either way. So yeah, so the Stoics are very much about, like the Buddhists, being as present as possible. But, they also talk about and I'm sure you've probably read about this, the idea of Primanidātyamālora.

It means premeditated malice, and you sit down in a, in a safe.

Ori: By the way, you're giving me way too much credit for reading and being smart. I'm just telling well, you say the ideas that I've had and possibly overheard and uhhuh and some of it I've read very little. I've read, but these are just thoughts that I,

Erick: well, so the idea of Preme Malorum is that in a safe place.

You,

Ori: I can speak Hebrew and be like ancient Hebrew and be like, oh, look at me. And there you go. You just use those words. .

Erick: What's the idea that you, in a safe place, you sit down and you think about the worst possible scenario. What's the worst that could happen in this situation? So that way you, you get that from spinning around in your head, so you write it down or you talk it out or do something like that, but you take an active approach to it.

One, so that it gets it out of your system. At least, this is the way I view it. Gets it out of your system. But two, so that when you write it down, you can realize, oh, it's not as bad as I think it's going to be. Or, what will I do if that happens? And if it does happen, would I be able to manage that? And you go, oh yeah, if it did happen, I'd be able to manage that.

Like, when I was working for a startup, there was one point where they bounced five of my paychecks in a row. And, I had just gotten divorced, and so I was paying child support and alimony, and so I had 17 to my name for a week one time. Wow. And I had a date, and I, she came over, and I was just like, By the way, I've got 17.

He's like, well, there's a sushi place right up in the corner. Throw in your 17 and I'll cover the rest. I was like, thank you. And we had a great time. And then you were homeless.

Ori: Well, but then later that week. Pulling out of that sushi steak. Yes!

Erick: But I had to ride my bike to work, which was fine with me.

Because I couldn't afford to pay gas and things like that. And it kind of freaked me out for a little bit. But then I was like, okay. What would be the worst that would happen? If, you know, I lost my job, the company went under and I'm like, and it took me a while to find another job because this was back in 2005, 2006.

So the economy was okay, but there was, there were some things starting to shake loose a little bit, but I really thought through that. I'm like, okay, well, what would I do if I lost my job and was not able to find another one? I'm living in a pretty cheap apartment. Okay, let me just think about this. And I went through all the scenarios of what I could do.

You know, I could, I could move back to Salt Lake, where my brother was living at the time. Or I could move back to Minnesota for a while and live with my mom. And, then I would, yeah, I'd miss my kids for a bit. But, you know, it would probably just be for a few months, or maybe six months, something like that, until I got back on my feet.

You know, or if worse came to worse, I could sleep in my car. It's almost summer and that's doable. And I've got a gym membership that's super cheap. It costs me 49 bucks a year. It was a deal I bought way back when, and I just now pay 49 a year so I can go shower every day at the gym. Not a big deal. So I was like, okay, I can do this.

I could figure this out, you know? And, and so I just.

Ori: Heroin is pretty cheap

Erick: now. There you go. I went through all these scenarios like that and what it, it did a number of things for me. One, it reassured me that I would be able to survive. That this was not the bottom of the barrel. Like I could, I would be okay one way or the other.

And second, it also released the grip that money had on me. Because I realized that money wasn't that important. I mean, yes, it's important, but that I could survive on very little. Yeah. And I could make things stretch. And that I had community that I could reach out to, to help support me if I needed to.

And it was like, okay. And so that, by going through that, and then later on when I found out about it, I found out about stoicism. I went, Oh, that's, I've done this before in a very important time in my life. And yes, this is incredibly helpful and it relieved a lot of that anxiety for me.

Ori: I agree. I know that tool and I use it occasionally.

I always forget like in my mind is so I have so many things running around my mind that I, that there, there are tools that I hang onto that help me through time. And then there's tools like that, that when I use and they're, they're good. Yeah. And then I forget to use them again. So that's a good reminder.

Erick: Yeah, well often times it's because life's going along well. And so, while it's going well, and then you don't use it for a couple of months, and suddenly like, things get rough, and you're like, oh crap, what do I do now? And I have to do that periodically, because I'm just starting this whole change in my career.

And there are times when I'm like super anxious about it, and I look at my bank account and go, okay. I've got money, I can last for a while, but I need to start bringing in money. You could always use more on

Ori: Patreon, huh? This room is costing money.

Erick: Exactly, but things like that where I go, I go, you know, I need to, I need to start getting out there, I need to start doing these things, I'm doing all the planning right now, and figuring out, you know, what is it that I'm going to teach, how am I going to help these people, how do I make sure that I communicate my message in a way that they understand this is really important.

And thinking about how to do that because my, my, like one example that I found, I'm taking a course right now on how to basically create a mastermind and, or like a hybrid type of mastermind slash course and bring people into those kinds of things. It's expensive, but it's really incredible for me because it changes my mindset dramatically.

So my career for the most part has been me. being brought problems and bringing the tools that I have to bear to solve those. So I have, I know how to program all of these computers. I know how to do all of these things. I have a lot of domain knowledge in certain areas, but I have all these tools that I know how to apply to problems that people bring to me.

I'm not really good at going out and figuring out this is the problem this domain is having. and, and chunking it down in a way that, or communicating it into a way, this is your problem. I will help you solve that. Mm-Hmm. I tried creating startups on my own for a while back 'cause I was in tech or with other people, and I wasn't really good at being the person to go, Hey, what's the problem we're gonna solve?

I would be like, Ooh, there's this cool technology. You can do all this really cool stuff and we can do all these things with it. What should we build with it? I,

Ori: Hmm.

Erick: Hmm. So I needed somebody to bring a problem to me, and then I could help them solve that. So now it's going out and figuring out what people's problems are, asking them and understanding that, getting in their mindset, and then communicating that to them.

So that's been a big shift for me, and now I'm starting to be able to see that. And it was something that I wasn't very good at before. Like, I knew my own personal problems. Like, that's why Stoicism, my podcast, does well, because it's mostly, Crap, this is a problem I'm dealing with. Well, how do I deal with it?

So I go to Stoicism. I write it all out. Do a lot of thinking about it and bring all of it together to bear on my own problems and then I just share those with other people. And so that's basically how my podcast has worked. But to go out of where my problems are and to help find other people's problems and show them, Hey, you've got a problem here.

Let me help you with that. That's something that's new for me. And so it's something I'm learning.

Ori: What kind of problems are you looking for? I mean, we're talking about their problems, talking about life problems, talking about tech problems, what are you talking about?

Erick: Mostly life problems. This is again, the leadership thing.

It's like, what are the problems that the leaders are really running into? You know, and I'm going, well, you, you have all these tools and they'll help you to be a better leader. Okay. But what's the problem that they have that they need to be a better leader or how do you explain to them? Okay. You think you're a good leader, but you, you actually have this problem and I'm here to help you solve this problem.

And.

Ori: Not a bad reality show as well.

Erick: Yeah. So, like I said, I'm better when people just bring me a problem and go, Hey, I've got a problem and I've got, cool, I've got all these tools that I can bring to bear and help you solve them.

Ori: If I can tell you as a, as a comedian, it's like First of all, I've been, I think my whole life just wanting to be an artist and a writer, et cetera, et cetera.

And then I do morning pages and I just go through my own psyche and, And then As I've become a comedian, like I've been doing it for over 10 years now, it's like there is this thing where you sit at home, you take something and then you bring it out. And then they laugh when they identify, when they don't laugh, when they don't identify.

And then you slowly like start this process of like this circular process where where you start to identify, but there is the, for me the laughter is a key. So you're just like, I bring something out and then I see where they are. And that a lot of times echoes to me what's happening. How much of what I'm going through is actually echoing through everyone.

And there's also this everyone thing because as a comedian you're trying to get the room. So there's going to be one or two people who are never going to be with you because they're, you know, But it's fine. But I hate them. But but you see, that's, that's, that's identification thing. So, that echoes a lot of the times what you see other people's problems are.

So just even generic tools can come of that that can help you. Assess what, what the problem is. Like if you tell, if you tell, if you, let's say, if you go to do a corporate gig and you want to laugh at certain people, you'll see, you're going to see who they're going to tell you, you can and cannot, for example, or you say something about the boss, cause you don't care and everybody's like, and you're like, oh, okay, this guy's a narcissist.

But also there's just this echoing thing where I like to use that. Like. There's a risk to it. The risk is you're going to bomb. The risk is you're going to be the guy who said it and nobody is identifying with it. And it becomes a risk once you divulge the fact that you are flawed individual. Like I have a bit about being insecure.

I say like I'm an insecure person. A lot of the time. So I said, this is an audience. And I go, a lot of times I feel maybe I'm not smart enough, not funny enough. I'm not attractive enough, but I also know that I'm better than all of you. So I don't know how that works in one way. And they're laughing and they're offended at the same time.

And I see that they're laughing and I go like, and some of you are thinking, I'm better than you. And we have the same problem. You see, this is, this is exactly what's happening here. So it's that's one of the reasons I love comedy. It's, it's, it's exactly that because you don't feel alone in your own little, I don't know, something there about echoing about identifying the problems that are there because the more you're able to touch those things, the more it resonates through, through the room and you see that everybody has like similar issues.

But I think to me, like what you said before about don't put your mind in the future. Don't put your mind in the past. Yeah. Those are very clear instructions, but they've, maybe because of the repetitiveness of them, have become vague. So what I try to do is, if I like what you said now, the tool of like saying, alright, just write down.

I try to find within the veins of within the, within those I'm looking for a word that escaped me. Never mind. Within, within that field of saying don't look in the past, I'm trying to, to go, what's the muscle? What's the muscle of not looking in the past? How do I strengthen that muscle? And then how do I talk about that?

And how do I remind myself while I'm talking about it? So I just, I had a, a set yesterday where I was saying I've been having a panic attack for four days or five days. Because of the thing that happened to me, and I'm aware of it and I'm functioning, you know? And so I just started talking about it and just to getting all this stuff out.

When does anxiety come from? And wow, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. And just kind of, and, and everybody like identified with it and, and just letting it out just made me feel better and just making fun of myself. Mm-Hmm. for, for for being afraid of imaginary scenarios. Yeah. It's, it's ridiculous.

Yeah. You know?

Erick: Well, and that's, that's a good way I think of being present is. And a way to practice presence when you're getting stuck in the past is to vent it out like that. And that's why it's important to have community. And that's why, I mean, that's why oftentimes it's always the joke of, you know, when your partner, your female partner comes to you and it's just like, throws all these things out on you as a guy.

Our, our first instinct is we got to fix it because that's how we've been. Most of us have been raised. We got to fix the thing. Our only value comes from what we can do, you know? And so the first thing that, you know, any good. Marriage coach will tell you is ask if she wants it solved or if she wants you to listen.

And I mean you should listen anyway. Obviously. Practice active.

Ori: It'll be harder to solve if you don't listen.

Erick: Exactly. But you know, often times we just need to vent about the thing. And so for me often times my writing is that way. Writing an episode is that way because I'm struggling with something. I'll just sit down and be like err, err, err.

And go through and then I get done with it and go, ugh. Okay, it's not such a big thing. I took all of that and I put it out of my head and sometimes my journals are just that way, I'm just like I'm feeling anxious today and I just write about what's going on in my head and just getting it out of my head somehow deflates some of that energy that it has.

And it takes it, by putting it down there, it makes it a little more real so I can actually look at it. So it's not just spitting around in my head and ruminating on that. So that's really helpful, like you were talking about doing morning pages. That's kind of what this is sometimes. And for me, I find that by letting it out, it, it pulls you into the present and takes something from the past.

But you're talking about it with your friend, with yourself, whatever, right now. And it's. For me, that's a way of a bit of grounding as well. Also meditation is something that I do from time to time. That's very helpful.

Ori: Yeah. Meditation really helps. Yeah.

Erick: And for me, a lot of the main, the reason why meditation helped me become much more present minded.

I did this exercise about three years ago where I meditated for 60 minutes for 60 days in a row every day. And it was hard. It was one of the hardest things I've ever done. Sure. And I got it from um, what's his name? Totally blanking on his name. He's a VC. I don't remember. That's some other point.

But he had done that. One of his mentors is like, Hey, you really need to do this. And he's like, why? And he's like, because I'm telling you, you need to do this. I know you trust me on this. And he's like, okay, I'll do that. And he did it. And he was like, after that 60 days, It was like my base level of anxiety dropped dramatically.

Like by doing that, I became so much more aware of how my mind thought. So I can be aware of my own thinking at any time, far better than I have been before. Because, but also just that 60 minutes for 60 days. allowed my brain to process all of the backlog of things that had just been spinning in the back.

And it finally brought them to the front. And I could notice them be like, Oh, that's an interesting thought. I haven't thought about that for a while. And this thing, and it was like, he was able to just kind of work through and get rid of all of these things. So I did that. And I found that after that, that I was better able to look at my own thinking at any moment and realize all the stuff going along.

Yeah. All the clutter that was happening. And so I can just. Kind of stick my head up and go, okay, that's going on. That's going on. Hmm. Wow. There's a lot of things spinning around in here. Just be aware of it. And just that basic awareness then helped me in many ways. To, to recognize what was going on and what was causing some of that feeling, because our emotions are caused by our thinking, you know, worrying about something.

It's going to cause some anxiety, but if you're aware of it, it's easier to do something about it. Yeah. For me, I have this little practice that I do. I call it nudging, which is very simple. It's not edging, but nudging. And it's rather than trying to just change my mood on a dime, like I'm feeling anxious.

I don't want to feel anxious. So I'm going to try and do everything I can to get over here because our minds aren't very good at shifting that quickly. Except for emergency situations, you know, car's going to hit you. You're suddenly forgetting, forget about being anxious. And you're going to be like, Oh, you're going to be terrified.

So. But I found for me

Ori: If you get hit by a car, you're like, I might be gay. No, you're not.

Erick: Exactly. But I found for me, what it did was, what the idea of nudging is, is that I think, I think about something that generally makes me happy. Like I think about my kids. Or I think about the meal I had last night.

Just something a little bit happier. And I just kind of, just meditate on that just for a minute or two. And just, you know, And it just kind of like, or, you know, and I just kind of make myself just kind of relax a little bit and smile a little bit just to nudge my mood in the direction. And I think of it as kind of like if you take a, if you've ever been in a canoe, it doesn't take much to just shift a few degrees and go that direction and you are going to end up in a completely different side of the shore than if you kept going where you're going.

So that little nudge just kind of moves me in the right direction.

Ori: I, in the morning I do now when I wake up, I do, first of all, I I, I try to practice Transcendental Meditation I try to do it every day. I don't succeed, but I try. It is really helpful. It does reduce your anxiety, but what I'm starting to do every day when I wake up is I just sit, like, lay there for, like, a few minutes, and I think about that this is gonna be a great day.

Just, just I saw this comedian talking about it, but but he was talking about it from a different angle, but I like the idea of, like You kind of have to gaslight yourself. You kind of have to gaslight yourself. You kind of have to gaslight yourself. You kind of have to be like, it's going to be a great day.

And then, you know, why is it going to be a great day? Because my life is pretty good. This is pretty good, that is pretty good. If anything happens, I can deal with it. But you don't have to get in, like, especially in the morning, before everything kicks in. Because in a few minutes, everything is going to kick in.

You have a little bit already, the computer is starting to bring up all the stuff. You just sit there for a second, and you go, you This is going to be a great day because the sun is shining, my wife is here, and I'm just gonna, I'm just gonna, you know what, this is going well, that is going well. And then you wake up and I found this to be like important where the first thing you say in the morning, right?

If you're with someone, if you're with a spouse or whatever. First, it's like, just do it in a very, like bring yourself to a place before you get out of bed where you can say good morning in a positive way. And I find that to be super important because a lot of the times I go, like, if I don't do that, I have this like, Oh, I'm saying the same words in the morning or she's saying, and I'm like, no, like I'm here.

I'm having, there's a goal to this. And I'm, I'm spreading positivity now. I'm like, hey, good morning, like, how's your morning? She's like, yeah, and we're already starting on some, some good footing. Yeah. You know, and you don't have to keep it up the whole day. It's just, just the beginning of it. Yeah. And I find that it has a huge effect on my happiness level.

Erick: Yeah, exactly. Yeah, basically that's, that's kind of, same idea. Yeah, just that, just reminding yourself about something to be grateful for. Yeah.

Ori: Yeah, for sure. I also do like, in the shower, I do like eight things I'm, I'm grateful for every day. That works.

Erick: Well, and that's the one thing I really like about stoicism is it's it's about just trying to practice things every day to have a better life.

And, and because they, the principles are, like I said, they're fairly simple, doing them well takes work, but you can do even just doing a little bit every day can bring such great benefits to your life. And I'd say you don't have to be perfect at it by any means, but if you're, it's never about perfection because perfection is.

I mean, again, there's no, there's no real way to define what perfection is. It's always just, are you moving in a good direction? And I think that that's, that's the answer.

Ori: Tell you what I think the problem with stoicism is, is branding wise. So I have a friend and he, for many years, he's like, oh, I'm a stoic.

And I, I don't, I didn't like that. I didn't like that. I'm a stoic. I'm like, what are you, a fucking Jedi? Like, you're not, just like, oh, I don't, I don't like it. There's something about it. And also, he's like, he's like this type of person, of course. He's like So I didn't know what that meant and then also he's like this type of person that sometimes he pushes things in So I'm just like the minute someone says I'm anything I'm already getting like critical about it, you know But so I think the and all this Marcus Aurelius, it's like it just sounds like gladiator, you know I'm a stoic, I have swords.

It's just that it's just bad branding, you know And I think that first of all saying I'm practicing stoicism I think is way better. Yeah You Okay. Because it's, because it's exactly what you just said, which is every day I'm doing something to try and get my life better and it's along the lines of Stoicism.

Yeah. So that's the thing. This is a big difference. You know? And yeah, and I would ask like, what would you, for someone who wants to start trying to practice Stoicism, what would you say first steps, first good steps would be? Just out of interest.

Erick: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, for me, one of the biggest things.

And it's one of the hardest things, is again, understanding what you can control. And being able to look at that very clearly, and to stop trying to control things you can't. Because that's

Ori: So what would be the tools to, to, to focus on that, for example?

Erick: Well, I think a lot of it is What, is thinking about what are the things that we try to control the most in our lives that we don't have control over.

And usually that's other people. That's the biggest thing most of us try to control that we can't. We want to control what other people think about us. We want to control our reputation. We want people to like us. We want all, you know, we want this person to think we're great. We don't want our partners to be mad at us.

And rather than actually trying to communicate with them, we get mad at them and saying, stop being mad at me. And we get more and more angry with them. And for me, stoicism has been super helpful because I recognize the reason why I was angry about a lot of things or was easily set off by a lot of things.

It was because I was trying to control them. I was trying to use anger to control these things around me. 'cause that's what my dad, that's what my dad did. And so that was my example. And so it was, it was kind of hardwired in that way from, from years of abuse of when anything didn't go the way he wanted to.

We, you know, immediately got angry and hit us and, and things like that. And so it's, it was really hard with him because when he was good. Things were great. He was funny. He was kind. He was smart. He was generous. When things were bad. Ooh It's rough. Yeah, it was kind of like living with an alcoholic, but he didn't drink alcohol I mean I almost wish he did because then he could come home and go whoop.

Dad's on one tonight Let's you know, you can see the bottles or smell the booze and and the other thing Yeah, he was a closet bisexual and in the Mormon Church

Ori: Wow Harsh. Yeah, that's exactly the problem with these kind of things. Yeah. This is the way the world, no, it doesn't because why? Because you can do other things.

Yes. It's obvious. I don't ever get that about people who like are like preaching God. It's like if God is everything, why is not the possibility of everything also God, like why this? Exactly. It's just very, I don't think, I don't think people really believe in it. It's just one structure.

Erick: Yeah, exactly. And I think that I think it was Krishnamurti, I think was the author.

He has this book called the last freedom and really in the last freedom is really that You as a person need to realize you can do anything you want in this life. You have the choice to do anything that you want now You can't control the consequences for your choices, but you have the right to choose to live exactly the way you want You're not happy in your marriage.

You can leave You do not have to stay You do not have to make that choice. You do not have to work the job your parents want you to, or society wants you to. You can be a bum and live on the street. You have that choice. There are consequences with those choices. But you have that ability. And that's really hard for a lot of people to internalize.

Like, no, no, no, we can't all just do what we want. Like, yes you can. It can cause massive disorder in a lot of different ways in society and other things like that. So you have to think about what are the consequences of me doing exactly what I want to do or anything that I want to do. But you're allowed to do that.

Ori: I think it's safeguards people from making decisions that exactly that they don't want to deal with the consequences of, which is, I think it's not just because they want to do those things. They just don't want to think those things through. It's scary to think for a second about about anything.

About, like, what would happen if I was to Like, for example, even like things that we're already doing. I have this whole bit I'm working on with politicians and stuff like that. Everybody complains about them. What would you do if they disappeared? Would you do their job? Do you even know what they're doing?

They are the wolves, we are the sheep, because we've elected them to be the wolves. We want to sit here, you know, we just want to go, Netflix. That's what we want to do, you know. But, but, the point of it is, like, we don't even want to know. It's the same thing why we're angry with vegans. Because vegans are telling us things that we know that we don't want to know.

But if the book says eating meat is fine, then I don't have to listen to the voices in my head talking about morality at all. Because the book says this is moral, and I want to think about it. Because I know on some level it's not moral, it doesn't sit well with what I perceive morality to be. But I'm an amoral person in those respects, but I don't want to admit it to myself.

Yeah. And that solves that entire problem. Yeah. And I feel like a lot of kind of rules do that for people, and there's comfort in that. There's comfort in that.

Erick: Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. And I had somebody ask me one time on, or they posted a thing on Reddit saying, What's the difference between Stoicism and a religion?

And I said, all right, I'll take that on that, let me explain what it is. Stoicism is a bunch of tools and principles that are just applied in any situation in life. It's not dogma. It's not telling you, you have to do this and this and this and this is saying, if you want to live a happier life, you want to feel like a better person, a moral person and be able to weather these things that are really hard.

Here's some tools you can use to do it. Yeah. Try them, see if they work. And I said, so there's no, you, there's no, there's no prescriptive law.

Ori: It's not, you can't be gay because Marcus Aurelius said you cannot be gay. Exactly.

Erick: I said there's no prescriptive things of like you have to do these things in order to be a stoic.

It's, it's a, It's not declarative. It's, it's this kind of like, here's the idea. Here's some ideas. If you follow these ideas, you're just going to find that you're going to be happier if you live this way. If you practice courage, if you practice wisdom, if you practice self discipline, if you practice justice, which to me, justice is how do you treat other people, try to treat other people?

Well, that's what justice to me says about is how do you interact with your fellow man? And it's so stoicism is just like, just try these things and see if they make you happier.

Ori: Let's go back to the example that you gave. I agree with you that you cannot control other people, but you can try and influence what people think of you.

Sure, absolutely. But within that realm, there is a whole level of debate with yourself. How much am I being myself? How much am I skewing towards the other person? How much does even the other person like it when I suck up to them? Or if I'm being myself, am I being too aloof? Am I being too, like you know?

And those are also hard tools to it's very hard to look at yourself from the outside and realize who you are and what you're doing. Yeah, yeah. Also, some people really like you and some people really don't. Yeah, and that's okay. That's really annoying. Yeah. Because you can't get any clear data from this.

Erick: Exactly. Well, like my, I was with my brother this last weekend in Frankfurt and, We've always had, we've been, we're, we've always been close, but also had some, you know, and we're brothers, you know, it's just kind of how it is. Just as we've gotten older and wiser, and I, there were always things that he would say where I'd just be like, man, he, because he doesn't have a filter, he doesn't have much of a filter.

Like, if he thinks it, it comes out of his mouth. And when I was younger, you know, I was much more trying to be the good Mormon and do all the righteous things. And he was the one who was like, ah, brah, you know. doing whatever he wanted. And I would always be like, oh, you're a bad person. And yeah, I was very judgy.

And I know that. But it was funny. He was, he was talking, he was telling me some story and he was, he was helping somebody out with something, but he was still giving them shit about things. And, and they go, you know what? You're a likable asshole. And he's like, yep, that's pretty much what I am. I just laughed.

I'm like, you know, but he's more than willing to just admit and he goes, yeah, I'm kind of a son of a bitch sometimes. And I'm okay with that. Not everybody, I'm not everybody's cup of tea, but, but his, he's got friends who are so like loyal to him because he is exactly who he is and he rubs people the wrong way. There's some people who do not like him because he's a lovable asshole and but he knows that yeah And he's accepted himself for who he is like that and I can have a lot of respect for that and we had a great time and really connected and for me a lot of that judginess that I used to have when I was younger I don't have anymore because I've worked on letting go of that And, and also he's softened up as he's gotten wiser, as he's gotten older about things.

And he's less judgy about things too. And so we were able to get him together and we had a great time. And it was, it was really a lot of fun. But I love the way you put that. It's just like, you're a real likable asshole. Like, yeah, there's nothing wrong with being that.

Ori: I feel I mean, I feel that way sometimes.

But I don't think I'm I think I'm an asshole. I think I'm, I used to be way more blunt about things. You know? I think moving to Europe has really changed my perception, but it's not just that. It's just that you work in TV and there's like a level of like, I have my authenticity, but also I'm aware that I might be wrong.

And at the same time I have to get along with all these people that I wouldn't necessarily hang out with and yet I don't want to betray myself. So it's always this kind of weird, I think recently what I've realized is I have, if I want to say something. I, I will say it because I have this I have this compulsion, I cannot not say what I perceive to be true.

But, I've learned to be nice in the way that I say it. Be polite, not nice, like, you know, so Be kind. Be kind, yeah. Yeah. Don't, like, I, I attempt not to create suffering. But at the same time speaking of Buddhist stuff, so at the same time I want to be authentic. I want to be real. It's not that, Oh, this person must know my opinion about them.

That's not the issue. But the issue is like, if there is an opinion I want to express, not necessarily about the person, but generally then I would like to express it because I feel like I'm entitled to it, but I feel like this is who I am and this is what I see in this, what I would like to do. And, and yeah, and I try to wrap it in such a way that my point will come across.

I don't feel On the inside that I oppressed myself on one hand and on the other hand that I didn't really cause any harm or pain unless The situation calls for some conflict. So recently I'm trying to get better at actually at conflict and realizing the conflict is not the worst thing in the world.

It's pretty good actually. Yeah. Yeah. Sometimes it's necessary. Exactly. So I'm, I'm trying to get better at that, ironically from Israel, but, which I think probably is, is part of the problems anyway. But but yeah, there is, there is this for me, there's this constant. And, and when people look at me on the side, I think, for example on stage I'm likable, I think I'm I think people identify with me, like I, I'm very, I'm very, like I talk about a lot of dark stuff, but I will say it in a way that will include people rather than exclude, I'm trying, I'm not trying to shock anybody, I'm not trying to say something dark, I'm like, I look at it from a perspective of exactly what we've talked about, like, There's dark shit in the world.

This is just life, and let's, if we don't make fun of it, we don't bring light to the situation, then we're just gonna suffer. So that's what I'm trying to do, but I also come from that attitude. Of like, I'm not gonna try and shock you with saying words, I'm just, and And I do have some tension over I mean, it becomes more precise and professional when it's on stage, Cause then I'm like What did I say that where I lost them over here?

So I'm not gonna not say what the point of what I wanted to say But I will find a different way of saying it so it'll be palatable because my goal is to have a conversation.

Erick: Yeah Well, it's like for me. I I the way that I kind of see that is I try to practice radical candor as much as possible. And to me, candor is a little bit different than just being honest.

Okay. Because you can, you can be honest and tell the truth and everything like that. But candor is like, can I be candid for a minute here? It's very different than just saying, well, I assume you were being, you know, can I be honest here? It's like, well, haven't you been honest? Haven't you been telling? You know,

Ori: What's the difference between candid and honest?

Erick: To me, honesty is that everything you're saying is factually true. Candor is what's behind the scenes. It's pulling the curtain open and going, Okay, this is what you see, that's being honest. Let me show you what's really going on. It's much more vulnerable. It's much more about saying, This is what I've been really thinking.

This is what's really going on. Even though what I told you was true, there was a veneer on it. There was, there was a polish to it. Candor is like, here's more of the raw stuff. And so for me, candor is, is like a deeper step of honesty is kind of the way that I see it. But with can, but with everything, you kind of need to make sure you understand the opposite and the positive opposite.

And for me, the opposite of candor and the positive way is discretion. And so if you practice radical candor with people, you also have to have discretion and that's tact. That's knowing sometimes you don't need to say it, or sometimes you How you say it is important and you, you land it gently and go, by the way, I just need to tell you, you're a total asshole, but I love you anyway.

You know? And so it's, it's kind of the same thing. And so I, I, I try to think about that when I, when I deal with people, it's like, I want to tell you the truth. I want to be the, I want to show you the vulnerable truth, not just I'm telling you the truth, but I'm showing you the truth. Showing you something that's a little bit deeper than that.

This is the vulnerable thing of things, but also trying to use discretion at the same time.

Ori: Interesting. Can I be candid? Absolutely. I'm trying to get some basic tools to get into stoicism, because I like the idea. I like the, I like what I'm hearing about it. I don't, I think I understand, like it's a bit like geography.

Like, I know where major areas are, I think, I think. But I don't think I have the the stepping stones. Like what you just said, for example, about other people. Okay, I'm thinking about it. Or certain things we discussed. I'm like, yeah, I do that. But then I don't see the stepping stones towards getting into it, for example.

Just starting off in it.

Erick: I actually did an episode about three weeks ago called Beginning Stoicism where I Oh, just listen to that. Yeah. So that, that right there I think is a good place to start.

Ori: Should have listened to that episode then. Exactly. Waste everybody's time.

Erick: Exactly. But, I think a lot of it is, well, like you said earlier, it's a lot of, to me, I consider Stoicism as kind of Greco Roman Buddhism.

There are a lot of crossover because they came to the same conclusions, just understanding human behavior and, but a little bit less woo, if you will, and a little more rationality of things. And so the idea is that, you know, we're human beings, we have rationality, that's what makes us human. Homo sapiens as opposed to just being some other primate, is that we have the ability to, to, at least to a certain extent, think rationally as best we can.

Another thing that is really big on stoicism that I try to help people understand is that your perception of something is what causes the feelings that you have. It causes your distress. And they even say that in there. It's not the thing that bothers you, it's your perception of it. The way that you think about the situation bothers you.

Like you talked about this guy, your driver, he thought of his place where he crashed as his most comfortable place. It was his happy place. So when you look at it and go, God, that must be really uncomfortable. Why is he going to do that? And he looks at it and he's like, this is my comfy place. And he's all happy to be there.

Sleep in his car. Exactly. So for him, his perception on it was, this is my comfortable little, little safe space. Other people look at it and go, Oh, that would be terrible. I want my hotel bed. And then you need something much more than that. And so really your perception on almost anything can change how you are, how you feel about it and what you do about it.

Ori: So you change your own perception of things.

Erick: Yeah. That you choose your perception or you, at least you're aware of your perception. It's like, what am I thinking about this? That's, that's, what's the story that I'm telling myself about this situation. Like if somebody came up to you on the street, a simple thing of perception you had two people who are trying to get to work and they missed the bus.

One guy gets mad and he's flipping the bus driver off and he's all sorts of pissed off about it, you know, because he missed the bus and the bus driver continued on. And we've all had situations like that. His coworker is standing there and he just looks at it and you're like, eh, okay, whatever. Just smiles about it, goes to stand on the bench and starts looking around.

He's like, well, it's kind of a nice day today. And this is. Okay, and he's like, you know, hey, that's 15 more minutes. I get to chill out before I get to work. Hmm same situation And and so there you understand that it was they're just they're different perceptions on what it really meant. Yeah You know and people are like no no, but these things that happened to me They're the reason why I'm upset or because this person said this thing to me That's why I'm upset and it's like no it's because the story that you tell yourself about the situation about what the other person said.

That's what's making you upset.

Ori: But then what's the line between authenticity and perception? Because if you can change your perception of most anything, which I agree you can do and should do sometimes then how do you know that you're remaining authentic to yourself?

Erick: It's not about necessarily having to change your perception, because you can keep it.

It's about recognizing what your perception is. And recognizing that the way that you're thinking about that might be the thing that's causing you the distress that you don't want to feel. It's like you could be the cause of your own problem. Somebody said something mean about you and you're all worked up and upset about it.

Why? You're the one who's telling yourself this awful story about what they said. If you said, if it was some stranger who said something to you and you didn't really care, or it was somebody that you thought was an asshole and you didn't care about what it, they could say the exact same thing, and the story you would tell yourself is, Pfft, he's an asshole, I don't care.

It's only because you gave it weight.

Ori: So you have to look if your perception serves you or not.

Erick: Exactly. Because it could be that your perception is fine. That person said that awful thing, and I feel upset about that, and I want to feel upset about that.

Ori: You see, that's where anxiety kicks in a lot of times.

Because anxiety will hold on to the perception and say, Well, this perception has saved us many a times. You should never change this perception. Which is like, this is like how you know the brain is somewhat of a computer. Yeah. It's like, here are these files you shouldn't touch, and these ones. That's, that's true.

And I feel like in comedy there's somebody I met this woman once and she said she went to clowning school. And she asked her, like, if you have to tell me one thing that's really valuable from that. And she said, in comedy you don't, in clowning, you don't only have to agree to be the floor man, you have to enjoy it.

And that really spoke to me. You know, I was walking with my wife in Köln, which is a city in Germany. Just for the Americans. No. So I was walking there and I was and I was walking down the street and I farted. And two guys behind me laughed. Right, and my wife was kind of feeling a bit embarrassed about it.

And I was like, you know what, my job is to make people laugh. It doesn't matter if I'm on stage or off. I'm happy that they laughed at my fart. So, and it really changed, like, and that's something actively, like, I don't mind, and I think, by the way, it's a pretty powerful tool, not just for comedians, but generally, like, one of the things which I fundamentally disagree with is if people laugh at me, that means I'm weak.

I think that's, that's, that's a, that's a very common perception, by the way. And and once you change that, once, like, on stage, it doesn't matter what they're laughing at. Like, I'm instinctually funny in certain ways. And if my goal is to make you laugh, because I think you'll feel better, I'll feel better.

It doesn't matter if you're laughing at me or with me. Everybody's making this really, like, especially in comedy, this really important distinction. You're laughing at me or with me. I'm like, what does it matter? They're laughing. People are having a good time. It doesn't matter at all. And, And you can't control it anyway.

Yeah, and you can't control it anyway. And you shouldn't attempt to try. I mean, you can, you can, you can guide the laughter. You can try and play with it. But This whole concept, I feel like this is another thing when people are Connecting laughter to disrespect, which I think is an awful thing to do because you basically said I think John Cleese was saying something about that There's a difference between being respectful and pompous Like if you're not be if you if you if they can't laugh at you, you're being you're a dictator You're being pompous.

You're saying like I am you cannot touch me like you're over serious And I feel like that probably stems from, I don't know, I'm not a psychologist, but it probably stems from childhood when we couldn't handle it. Where somebody was laughing at you and you thought, oh shit, I'm in social danger right now.

I'm being demoted.

Erick: Yeah, I had a hard time with that because my last name is Cloward and I used to get called coward all the time. And the kids would laugh at it and I would feel so hurt and so offended and I had a hard time with sarcasm growing up because I got picked on quite a bit. Because I was a little bit smaller, and also because of my name and stuff like that.

And so my ex wife was, she was fairly sarcastic, and it was hard for me, and she was trying to play. Her sarcasm wasn't mean, it was her play, but for me, all sarcasm was hurtful. Yeah. Because, also because my dad would use sarcasm as a hurtful thing. It was never a funny, playful thing. And my ex wife was, you know, her sarcasm was trying to be play, and it wasn't until like two years after we were divorced, where I finally like I was reading an article about something like that and I was like, Oh, I never stopped.

Oh, geez. I always felt attacked when she was being sarcastic. She was trying to play with things. She was trying to make, you know, some kind of witticism or something. Yeah, like a, you know, She was trying to play with things and I was so serious and so Defensive all the time because I've grown up being very defensive all the time because the church is always telling you you're a bad person My dad is always telling me.

I'm a bad person Kids are teasing me. So I always felt like I was this bad person I was super defensive about a lot of things and it wasn't I guess that went two years later. I'm like she was trying to play

Ori: I'm gonna be here with it. First of all, I had this image of you and like if you need a if you need a You Image for your podcast, you just have like a yourself and kinda like a, I don't know what the body language is, but something like, but you have an S for stoicism, like , like a shitty superman.

You know what I mean? Like you're dealing with it not because of your bra and your, but you're dealing with it the way through stoicism. Yeah. Astro Pues you want, there you go. That's not bad. Yeah, exactly. But what was I saying? Ah, when I got here so Israel, we don't really have banter. We have, we laugh at each other, we laugh a lot, like, in Israel, because Jews, you know, we deal with tragedy through laughter, but we don't have banter.

We don't, we don't pick at each other. And when I came here and I met all these British people and the Irish people and Australians and everybody's like, you know, I felt attacked in the beginning. I didn't understand what was going on. People being critical of me, what's happening. I And and because I hang out with comics a lot, then somebody made it clear to me at some point, I think it was Brendan actually, my partner from the shows, Epic Comedy Berlin, check him out online, I've got a website.

So, he he told me that, he was like, well you're being a little bitch essentially. So I was like, ah, okay, they're doing something else. And then I asked him, what is banter? And then I realized what banter is, I was like, ah, okay. And there is this one comic in the scene here, he's he's a young comic and his name is Eunice.

He's a funny guy, but when I started getting into this banter thing and started to shit at people as well, la, la, la, la, la, he was, he's such a guy that you can tell him anything and he's just like, ha, ha, he laughs at himself. He takes it, he's, he's, he finds it funny. And then he laughs at himself. And you're like, this is the best punching bag I've ever had.

But also, he's enjoying it. So, and it also kind of like, there's a limit. Of how much you can do it. Because you're like, alright. But at the same time, it's fun because this guy's enjoying the situation. And then, even if he's not that good yet at punching you back, It creates this nice feeling for everybody.

And I realized, yeah, that's what you need to do. You need to kind of accept the fact that you're a piece of shit like everybody else. And allow them to point that out. And also not take it very seriously. Like, there's something about comedy. It's like, you're ugly, right? Nobody means that you're ugly, but you are also ugly.

Everybody's also all of these things. Yeah. And and that's, I think like, if you grab on to that idea, then you start to get fucked up. If you're like, oh, am I ugly? You go home and you're like, ah. Just let it go. Just let it be. Or am I dumb? Yes, you're also, but it doesn't matter.

Erick: Yeah, and that's where, again, he had a great perspective on things.

His perspective was anybody can make fun of him and he could choose to be offended or not. Yeah. And he chose he wouldn't be offended. He would laugh along with them because there's a little bit of truth in it and that's okay.

Ori: Yeah. Yeah. It's sadly now he's dead. No, he's not. He's not. But I hope if he hears this, he'll laugh at this.

Yeah. Yeah. Very interesting.

Erick: Yeah. So, yeah, I, I really appreciate our conversation on this. I've been enjoying looking at stoicism like through the comedic lens of things and just being able to laugh at the ridiculousness of life and, and the episode, well, the episode that I had a couple of weeks ago, it was, you know talking stoicism It was inspired because of, I came to your comedy show.

Oh no. I was having a crappy day, I was just in this, this kind of sour mood and I couldn't shake it. For whatever reason, I was just having a really rough time, and I was trying to work on the podcast episode for that week. It was a Sunday, and I was just like, not able to shake this mood. And so, I'm like, you know what, let's just go out for the evening.

So I looked on Meetup, saw the comedy show, and I'm like, comedy, there we go, that's what I need. And Just going to that and laughing for two hours. And I sat next to this really cool German couple that had just been walking by. Oh. And Who's the other comedian? I forgot his name. Partik. Partik. He just said, Hey, we've got a comedy show in English and you know, it's 7:30 and so they're like, Oh, okay.

Ori: Yeah. And so

That's fun.

Erick: So they were like, Oh, okay. And you know, they were really nice and we didn't, yeah, we're like, okay, they might come back. And they, they, they showed up and I sat next to him. That's amazing when people do that. Yeah. We sat next to him and we were all laughing.

We were having a great time and I chatted with him for quite a while and we were all just, I mean, it was a small crowd. I think there were only like 10 people. Yeah. Yeah. But it was a great crowd. Everybody was having so much fun. We were all laughing and filling the room and you guys were great. And it just set my mood for that whole week.

The next week just felt so much better and so much lighter. And it just, just squashed that sour mood. And so I had to write that episode. I'm like, this is what I'm going to do. And wrote that episode and it was pretty well received. And I really liked it because I'm just like, you know, stoicism. Everybody always thinks it's all so serious and all this stuff.

And I'm pretty serious on there because I'm trying to talk about how to approach hard things in your life. Yeah. But here's another way to approach hard things in your life. Learn to laugh about them.

Ori: I gotta say, for me, when I go to the show and I do the same, like, I perform, I feel the same way, like, I just saw today Facebook likes to remind you how old you are, so it's like, seven years ago you've written this, and I was like and I literally wrote today, like, seven years ago today, I had a really shitty day, but then I had a great show, and the show trumped the day.

And I really feel that that's that works, like it works both ways because comedy is, is, my dad was a doctor and he's dead. Which is, I like, I wrote a joke after this saying, well that means he's a bad doctor. It's the one thing you're not supposed to do. Anyway, so the so what he used to say is like, any patient that'll come into his to, to his practice, And is smiling, will 100 percent of the time get over anything that he has, any problem they have quicker than people who are not.

And when he used to call me he used to ask me, are you, I can't, he used to say on the phone, I can't hear you smiling. And I have on my phone every day at 5. 30 I have a reminder to smile. And the show that I'm doing, the hour that I'm practicing, where you came was our little lab where we're practicing our, like, longer sets.

So I called it, for now at least, it's called Laughing Matter. Because I do think that it, it just lightens your whole existence. And there's something about also knowing that you're not alone. If, when you're in a room and people are laughing it, it creates this subconscious confirmation that we are kind of similar and which is, which, which I think is beautiful to me and is also why I don't like when people say, Oh, you shouldn't laugh about certain things because that's a saying.

You shouldn't treat certain problems. You go to the doctor and say, No, I'm sorry. I'm not going to touch your asshole. Sorry about that. We don't do that here. It smells, you know, it's not popular thing to do. So no, you should go everywhere and laugh about everything. Because what you're trying to do unless you're an asshole, but then that's not funny being like a real asshole That's not funny But if you if you're really trying to get in in in somewhere that's dark and deep Then that will make you feel lighter about yourself.

And I think it's always good to laugh yourself Always good to laugh with others And you can also laugh at others. One of the things that I, that I I mean, there's a border there between being an asshole and being exactly like, like comedians are shitting on each other, you know? It's like, I was thinking about it.

Why do I love stupid reality shows? Me and my wife, we watch Temptation Island. We love that show. It's such a good show. And there was no one there, at least from Season 2, but also Season 1, but let's say, that has not understood what the format is, why they're there, and what the benefit of everybody involved is.

But, it is so much fun for them. They get the Instagram followers and the money. We get to judge other people and go, Look at their relationship, it sucks. And, and the producers get to go, Oh, I like this money that comes in from royalties. That's, that's what everybody gets to do. And that's fine, and that's fine.

And I think that I think that we should allow comedy to seep into as much, as many parts of our lives as possible.

Erick: Agreed. Agreed. Like the, like the old philosopher said, you should be seeking eudaimonia, which means a good spirit.

Ori: I like that. Probably had to do with wine.

Erick: Yeah. Sometimes wine does put you in a good spirit.

A good spirit for a good spirit.

Ori: And also, even though this is something I've been working with recently, there is a level of like apologetic ness, but it's not real. It's not real. So the standards people have, which I feel like it's, this is not to say that I am a com as a comic, don't want always to be better and the best comedic 'cause that's absolutely what I want.

But I also feel like it was just even not comedy shows just left. From just anything. Like we have weird standards about our own fun. You know what I mean? Like, oh, I'm not gonna laugh at it. Why? Like, there's, this is a new bit I'm just, I'm working on where I go like, I go like, why is that even there? And then I do something stupid.

I go like, And on some level, As the kid inside you knows that's hilarious. There's something hilarious about it. There's something funny about stupid shit that there's no reason to laugh at. But we're just sitting there going, now say something political. Because we've created this barrier between what it is okay to laugh at as adults, and what it is to laugh at as children.

And I think that barrier needs to slowly dissipate. Because that's what you want. That's what really, when you go to comedy, that's what you want, really. So, of course, it's my job as a comedian to get you there, but it's also helpful if you let go a little bit. You know, which is, I think, why people take certain drugs, probably.

But, that's what I'm saying, that there is, if I had to say two things, it's one, it's those things. Like, let comedy seep into anything, and also, just let, just laugh at stupid shit. Cause why the fuck not?

Erick: Yeah. And life is just full of it, and so you can either, Amor fati means to love your fate. So you, meaning, love your fate.

Fate. So it means that life's just gonna throw stuff at you. Life is gonna happen. And you can love it or hate it, but life doesn't care. The universe doesn't care. It does not give a shit. So you can hate it all you want, and the universe is like, So what? Still gonna dish it out at you. And so you can either just go, Okay, I love this.

And what better way to learn to love something than to be able to laugh?

Ori: Yeah, that's a normal thing. I feel like after this podcast, you're going to get letters and people saying, I like the thing, but gay people are still not okay in my book.

Erick: Oh, I'm sorry. I occasionally get some stuff like that. Like I wrote, I did one about talking about understanding your privilege in life.

You know, because it took me a long time to understand all the things that I just got because I was a white male in a Christian culture in the richest nation in the world. Okay. And, you know, had good high schools, all of these things, middle class, all these things that I got that I did nothing for, I just happened to get by virtue of my birth.

And I just talked about it, just saying, hey, there's nothing wrong with having privileges. Just know that you have them, understand them, and so you don't judge other people because they're not like you, because they didn't get the same things that you got. And do what you can to help those who don't.

That's it. You know, I wasn't, wasn't super preachy, I was just saying, understand your situation, understand that you got lucky, or maybe you didn't get lucky, but you probably got luckier than somebody else. Because there's always somebody lower than you who got worse things. And I got a couple of emails on that, how dare you, and you know, and you're going off on this political woke agenda and all this stuff, and I said, that's not it at all, you missed the whole point.

Plus, you're not being very stoic if you're writing into me being so nasty because something offended you, you chose to be offended. Sure. Sure. And then the other one was, I mentioned during the middle of the pandemic, there was one where I was talking in my podcast and I said, you know, with this going on, if you go out and you are, you know, not wearing a mask and you aren't getting a vaccine, your behavior is being selfish because you're not taking into account how you're affecting other people.

Sure. So I got some nasty emails about that. Of course. Same kind of thing.

Ori: Anything that's political, people will will, will, will respond immediately from there, especially Americans. Yeah. From there. No, this is the left and this is the right, and if you said this and I'm actually from there, just shut up.

Erick: Yep. Well. I think it's getting time for us to wrap this up, because I know you have some plans for the evening, and my MacBook is just about to run out of power, so

Ori: Look at that. It's a good time. Even the MacBook is like, shut the fuck up.

Erick: No, it's been a great conversation, so I've really enjoyed having you on here, thank you.

Ori: Thank you, thank you so much, and thanks for coming to the comedy show as well.

Erick: Yeah, yeah, it was a lot of fun. Like I said, it really reset my mood, and the last couple weeks have just been better just because of that. I don't know what I was so sour about, or what it was bothering me, but I remember waking up Monday and it just felt better.

Ori: Well, glad to hear that, man. That's, when you say that, it fills me up with joy.

Erick: Yeah. All right, so that's it. Yeah for today's show. I really appreciate already being on here and thank you for having me Yeah, thank you. So and don't forget to laugh because life is a joke.

Ori: Are you gonna have my Instagram on there?

Erick: Yeah. Yeah, I will put some ways to contact Ori In the show notes of the podcast episodes to make sure you follow him on Instagram. It'd be really great.

Ori: Either Epic Comedy Berlin or big old Jew with a D. Yep Thank you very much. Yeah, I really thoroughly enjoyed

Erick: Yeah. Me too, man. Yeah. All right. Bye, everybody.

Bye. And that's the end of this week's Stoic Coffee Break. I hope that you enjoyed this conversation with Ori Halevy, and make sure that you follow him on social media at Big Old Jew and Epic Berlin Comedy Show. As always, be kind to yourself, be kind to others, and thanks for listening.


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

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

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Categories
Transformation

291 – Finding Your Genius: Flipping Your Flaws Into Features

Do you think that you have strengths and weaknesses? What if I told you that you don’t? Today I want to talk about how strengths and weaknesses are all a matter of perspective and context.

"Strive for excellence, not perfection, because we often find excellence in our imperfections."

—Harriet Braiker

Attributes, Characteristics, and Context

We all have things about us that we think of as strengths and weaknesses. Maybe it’s certain abilities or behaviors that we have that we’re proud of and others that we’d rather put in a shoebox and hide in the attic and hope that nobody will find them, especially ourselves. But what if we’re wrong about thinking of ourselves this way? What if it’s the way that we perceive these things that cause us so much self-doubt and anxiety?

The other day I was listening to a podcast interview with Simon Sink, and he said something that really hit me like running into a brick wall. He said:

“I hate the conversation about what are your strengths and what are your weaknesses because everything requires context. You don’t have strengths or weaknesses, you have characteristics and attributes. And in the right context, those are strengths, and in the wrong context, in the wrong environment, those are weaknesses. Always. So it’s better to know who you are and look for environments where those things are advantages.”

And while this is something that I’ve always known, but either I was just in the right mindset, or just the way that Simon put it, or probably both, made me stop the video and think about that idea for a minute. What if we’ve been going about this all wrong? What if rather than looking at your so called weaknesses as that, weaknesses, and just started viewing them as something more neutral that is helpful in one context but not in another?

Simon then later give an example about how if he had to work on a project alone, he would either create something of very low quality or the stress it would cause would take a toll on his health because he works better in teams. He knows that he functions far better surrounded by people that are able to help him because that’s one of his attributes—leading and working with a team.

Shifting Perspective

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

— Marcus Aurelius

"Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid."

— Albert Einstein

The Stoics teach us a crucial lesson about perception. They tell us that the quality of our lives is determined not by what happens to us but by how we choose to see it. In other words, our strengths and weaknesses are two sides of the same coin; In every weakness, there lies a strength.

So, let's apply this wisdom to our own traits, shall we? Let’s turn the lens and view our characteristics in a new light, discovering how what we see as vulnerabilities might actually be veiled virtues. Let’s take some common characteristics and attributes that some of us have and reframe them to see where these traits might be just the thing to help us find success and find little more happiness by just being ourselves.

The Overthinker

Let’s say that you have a tendency to to overthink things. Maybe your mind spins like a hamster on a wheel and you find yourself going down rabbit holes when you get focused on an idea. While this may cause some frustration, distraction, and sleepless nights, in contexts that require detailed planning and foresight, the ability to think of all possible outcomes becomes a gift that helps avoid possible pitfalls and see opportunities that we might have missed. Overthinkers are the ones that leave no stone unturned and help us chart the optimal path forward.

The Introvert

"There is a great strength in being silent and listening; this is where the roots of empathetic leadership grow."

— Susan Cain

Often, introversion is seen as a social setback, but what if I told you it’s actually your stealthy strength? In a world that can’t stop talking, the quiet among us are the Olympic-grade listeners. Stoicism urges us to value the power of listening—a skill that’s absolutely golden in relationships, counseling, and leadership. While everyone else is trying to be heard, you’re absorbing, understanding, and, ultimately, wielding the power of knowledge.

Introversion is often mistaken as a barrier to leadership and dynamism, but it actually holds within it the seeds of empathetic leadership. Introverts, with their preference for deep thought and meaningful one-on-one connections, can be uniquely positioned to lead with empathy, understanding, and a keen ear for listening. In an age where leadership is evolving beyond the loud and charismatic, the introverted leader builds teams that feel seen, heard, and valued.

The Risk-Averse

Playing it safe is often frowned upon, especially in our “go big or go home” culture. But let’s turn the tables and look at it through a more Stoic perspective. The risk-averse individual, those who prefer the known paths to the potential perils of uncharted territory. While often criticized for a lack of boldness, their cautious approach makes them the conscientious conservators of our world. They’re the master of calculated risks, and their cautious approach gives them the ability to foresee and mitigate risks, to plan with thoroughness and care.

In situations that demand thorough risk assessment—like financial investments, legal strategies, or safety protocols—this so-called weakness becomes the cornerstone of wisdom. Where others gamble, the risk-averse navigate with a map and a compass, turning potential pitfalls into well-navigated journeys. It is not the boldness of the steps we take, but the soundness of the path we choose that ensures our progress.

The Stubborn

“Our greatest glory is not in never failing, but in rising up every time we fail."

— Ralph Waldo Emerson

Stubbornness gets a bad rap, often seen as the refusal to be flexible. Yet, under a different light, this so-called stubborn streak can be a laser-focused determination. When channeled correctly, it becomes the relentless drive needed to bring projects across the finish line or to stand firm in one’s values against peer pressure. An unwillingness to quit when things are tough, and having the strength to persevere can be the thing that helps you succeed when others other abandon ship. When others dither or flip-flop, being a stubborn yet principled person can help you be the lighthouse, guiding ships with unwavering conviction.

The Daydreamer

Caught daydreaming again? Instead of scolding yourself for not having both feet on the ground, consider this: Some of the greatest inventions and artworks were born from minds that dared to drift. Stoicism teaches us the value of perspective, and the daydreamer’s perspective is one that reaches beyond the immediate horizon. In roles that demand creativity and innovation, the daydreamer is king. While others see what is, the daydreamer sees what could be, painting the canvas of the future with strokes of imagination.

The Procrastinator

Next up, procrastination – the thief of time, or so they say. I certainly fall into the category of being a procrastinator, and find it challenging to get things done early even though I know it would be lot less stressful. I get distracted easily, because I’m so interested and curious about so many things. Yet, what if I told you that the habitual dawdler is actually a creative strategist in disguise? Procrastination can be the brain’s way of allowing ideas to marinate, leading to bursts of innovation and creativity. When the deadline looms, I often pull out solutions that a more time-efficient approach might never have uncovered. Here, the eleventh-hour rush becomes a crucible for brilliance.

Embracing Who You Are

"The gem cannot be polished without friction, nor man perfected without trials."

— Chinese Proverb

So, how do we apply this Stoic reframing, turning perceived weaknesses into strengths? It starts with a shift in perception. Instead of labeling our traits as inherently good or bad, we view them as tools in our kit, each with its moment to shine.

1. Context Is Key: Before you judge a trait as a weakness, ask, “In what context might this be a strength?” This is where the virtue of wisdom comes into play. Think of your traits as tools that need to be used in the right situation. Remember, a spoon might seem like a weak choice for cutting steak—until you’re served soup.

2. Balance Your Portfolio: Just like a savvy investor diversifies their portfolio, diversify your traits. Lean into your strengths, but don’t shy away from those so-called weaknesses. They’re your hidden assets.

3. Reframe Your Narrative: Stoicism teaches us the power of our internal narrative. Change yours to highlight the positive aspects of your traits. “I’m not shy; I’m a master listener.” See? Sounds cooler already.

4. Experiment and Observe: Life’s the lab, and you’re the scientist. Experiment with leaning into your different traits in various contexts. Observe the outcomes. You might be surprised at what you discover.

5. Vive la Différence: Appreciate your differences and don’t compare yourself with others. We all have different traits that make us better at some things than others. We need the differences to make a more complete, interesting, and dynamic world. If we were all exactly the same, the world would be a very uninteresting place.

6. Embrace Growth: Finally, remember that growth is a Stoic’s game. Your traits aren’t set in stone. They’re malleable, capable of being honed into sharper, stronger versions of themselves.

Conclusion

In the grand tapestry of our life, each thread—each trait and characteristic—plays a role in the larger pattern. What we perceive as weaknesses are often strengths waiting for their moment in the spotlight, asking for a change in perspective and a bit of Stoic wisdom to shine.

So, the next time you catch yourself bemoaning a personal flaw, remember the Stoic. With a bit of context, creativity, and a shift in perspective, you can turn that flaw into your signature strength and most prized asset. After all, in the grand scheme of things, it’s not about the cards you’re dealt; it’s about how you play the hand.


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

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

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Categories
humor

290 – Laughing With The Stoics: Finding Humor on the Path to Virtue

Do you think that Stoics are too serious and all business? Do you think that if you adopt Stoic principles that you can’t have fun? Today I want to talk about humor and some of the misconceptions of Stoicism.

“It’s better for us to laugh at life than to cry over it.”

— Seneca

When you picture a Stoic, you might imagine someone with the emotional range of a sloth, but surprise! The Stoics weren't the ancient world's equivalent of grumpy cat. They actually had quite a bit to say about living "according to nature," and let's be real, what's more natural than snorting milk out of your nose from laughing too hard? Exactly.

So, how does humor fit into Stoicism?

The Stoics often talked about achieving eudaimonia, also translated as ‘good spirit’, which for the Stoics is about reducing negative emotions, and cultivating positive emotions. Since we are emotional creatures, we aren’t expected to not have emotions, and for me, having a good laugh certainly helps me get closer to having a ‘good spirit’.

Absurdity of Life

Because stoicism is about trying to see the world for exactly what it is, we can laugh at the absurdities of life. Seneca was all about chuckling at life's curveballs when he said, "Fortune is like that drunk friend who tries to help but ends up knocking over the lamp." Life is unpredictable, so why not have a laugh when things go sideways?

When you think about it, this is what Amor Fati is all about. It’s about not just accepting everything that happens in life, but loving everything that comes our way, and what better way is there to love everything that comes your way when you find humor in even the darkest times?

When we take things too seriously, we often get stuck ruminating and stressing out over things that are small or even imagined. When we get stuck in this mindset, our thinking becomes more narrow as response to stress, which it makes it hard for us to make better decisions. In these situations, often times the best thing we can do is laugh about it. Lightening our mood helps us relax which in turn helps us think more positively and be more open to possibilities.

The Stoics recognized that joy is not the same thing as being frivolous. They understood that joy is part of a well-rounded life. The Stoics themselves practiced self-deprecating humor in order to not take themselves or life too seriously. Epictetus was known to have a very dry and ironic wit. You can totally picture Epictetus cracking a smile and reminding us that just because we're after virtue, doesn't mean we can't enjoy a good meme. When talking about death, he once said, “I have to die. If it is now, well then I die now; if later, then now I will take my lunch, since the hour for lunch has arrived – and dying I will tend to later.”

It was reported that Chrysippus literally died from laughing at the sight of his intoxicated donkey trying to eat figs. Marcus Aurelius, the emperor of Rome, once cracked, "I get up in the morning because the universe isn't done with me; also, someone has to feed the ducks." Keeping yourself grounded with a little self-mockery is very much in line with Stoic principles.

Keep Perspective

Laughter helps us to keep things in perspective. When we are in good spirits, we are better able to see things as they are, or imagine how they could be. When things don’t go the way we want, we’re better able to roll with things, focus on what went right, and move forward in a more positive direction. When we are stressed or pessimistic, then we’re more likely to catastrophize, only see the downsides, and wallow in why things didn’t work out.

Seneca gives us some good instruction on keeping a humorous outlook when comparing the serious and sullen Heraclitus the more cheerful Democritus. He wrote:

“We ought therefore to bring ourselves into such a state of mind that all the vices of the vulgar may not appear hateful to us, but merely ridiculous, and we should imitate Democritus rather than Heraclitus. The latter of these, whenever he appeared in public, used to weep, the former to laugh: the one thought all human doings to be follies, the other thought them to be miseries. We must take a higher view of all things, and bear with them more easily: it better becomes a man to laugh at life than to lament over it. Add to this that he who laughs at the human race deserves better of it than he who mourns for it, for the former leaves it some good hopes of improvement, while the latter stupidly weeps over what he has given up all hopes of mending.”

Laughter is the Best Medicine

When comes to health, laughter is truly good medicine. With the pace of the modern world, we’re all under a lot of stress, which is detrimental to our long term health. Since stress hormones, those released for our ‘fight or flight’ instincts are meant to get us out of short term danger, such as escaping from a saber toothed tiger, we’re not meant to operate under this type of duress for long periods.

Exposure to these hormones over longer periods increase our risk for obesity, heart disease, cancer, depression and many other illnesses. Laughter, as it turns out, helps counteract many of these problems by relieving stress, increasing oxygen intake, and releasing healthy chemicals into our bloodstream.

Strengthening Social Bonds

The Stoics stress that it’s important for us to build community and be a productive member of society. Laughter is something that brings people together and helps to strengthen social bonds. Sharing a good laugh with family and friends or even strangers can help us form better social connections.

At a very simplistic level, when we laugh with others, we relax around them and are better able to just be ourselves. It feels like the other person ‘gets us’. We associate good feelings with them. Our memories of them are positive, which means it’s more likely we’ll want to spend time with them, or be willing to help them out when they need it.

For example, even though I had a difficult relationship with my father, some of my fondest memories of him are when he shared funny stories or we watched a movie that had us rolling on the floor. I can still remember his deep belly laugh and when he’d have to take off his glasses because he had tears in his eyes.

When we can see the lighter side of life, we are also better able to be compassionate to other people and more likely to give them the benefit of the doubt. When we’re stressed or pessimistic, we’re more likely to place blame on them when things aren’t working out.

Wisdom in Humor

There are many ways to learn and often humor is the best way to communicate wisdom. The best teachers I had growing up were usually those that could make learning fun or add some humor into their lessons. A bit of humor in the class often made the difference between really enjoying a class or just getting through it.

Sometimes, the truth is so blunt, it hurts. But wrap that truth in a joke, and it becomes wisdom you can approach with a smile. Some of the best comedians share hard truths about life with humor that otherwise would be uncomfortable. By shining a light on hard things with humor, we’re more willing to look at things that we might otherwise would have avoided. By making us laugh, they open us up to seeing things from different perspectives that we may not have considered before.

Resilience

When we can learn to laugh about the hard things in life, we become more resilient. When the going gets tough, rather than letting it drag us down, we’re able to make something good of a tough situation. With a shift in perspective, what may have seemed like a frustrating situation, can be turned into something more neutral or even a funny story to share with friends later.

Learning to laugh at life also helps us in embracing imperfection. Nobody's perfect and Stoics get that. A well-timed joke about our own blunders reminds us to accept our flaws. I can imagine that if Marcus Aurelius had social media, he'd probably tweet, "Messed up today. #JustEmperorThings."

Looking at the Bright Side of Life

So how can you get better about looking at life from a more humorous perspective?

A big thing for me is to just watch some good comedy. Last Sunday night I was working on some business ideas and was finding myself stressing out about it. I found that my thinking was narrowed and it was really hard to generate ideas. Then I would get even more frustrated because I couldn’t seem to get out of this downward spiral.

So I went to a comedy show. It was small show but the crowd was really fun and the comedians were great. Some of the topics broached were dark, but still funny. I also made friends with the couple sitting next to me. Two hours of laughing reset my mood and started the week off with a much better outlook.

Since the Stoics are big on having awareness of what you are thinking, pay attention to when you’re getting critical towards someone or something else. Approach the situation like a comedy writer. Can you stop and see if you can find something funny about the situation? Can you laugh at yourself for getting too serious about something? I found that if I think about how I could turn it into a funny story to tell someone later can help to lighten my mood.

But with this said, be careful not to take things too far. Humor can be a great coping mechanism, but it can also be used to avoid having difficult conversations or dealing with challenging situations. Also, laughing at the expense of others is one way to burn bridges rather than building them.

The Stoics teach us to practice temperance, so make sure that you use humor at the right time and in the right doses. Trying to be funny at the wrong time can backfire and may cause more harm. Life isn’t all doom and gloom, but it’s not a laugh-fest either. Finding that sweet spot between levity and seriousness can help you strike the right balance in any situation.

Like they say, know your audience.

Conclusion

In essence, Stoicism with a dash of humor isn't just palatable; it's downright enjoyable. It turns out, you can pursue virtue and still have room for a good laugh. So next time you're pondering the Stoic virtues, remember to lighten up and let humor be your companion on the path to eudaemonia.


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

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

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

Find me on instagram, twitter, or threads

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
stoicism

288 – Starting Stoicism

Are you new to Stoicism and want to know where to get started in learning about it and how to apply it in your life? Then this episode is for you.

One of the things that I appreciate about Stoicism is that it’s very practical philosophy, and there are a lot of ideas and principles that have stood the test of time because they work in helping you live a good life. There are also misconceptions about what stoicism is and what it isn’t so today I’m going to walk you through the basics of what stoicism is, and how you can start applying it in your life immediately.

“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

Stoicism is an ancient philosophy that originated in Athens, Greece, then moved into Rome as it gained popularity. It was founded by Zeno of Citium, a merchant who found himself in Athens after surviving a shipwreck. While trying to figure out what to do next, he frequented a bookseller in Athens. He came across the writings of Xenophone, a Greek historian and military strategist, and in them read about Socrates. He was so inspired be what he read, that he asked the bookseller where he could find someone like Socrates to teach him philosophy. At that moment, Crates of Thebes, a Cynic philosopher, just happened to be passing the shop. The bookseller pointed to Crates and told Zeno that Crates was such a man, and Zeno became his student.

As Zeno began to learn more about Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, and the other philosophies, he began to develop his own ideas about how to apply philosophy and live a good life. One of the main points about Stoicism is that it’s primary goal is not to answer the big questions about life such as why we exist and where we go when we die, but rather how to have a good and peaceful life by living a life of virtue. It’s a practical philosophy that can be applied in all aspect of life.

Control

“You have power over your mind — not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.”

— Marcus Aurelius

One of the first and most important teachings of Stoicism is that we need to understand what we have control over and what we do not have control over. The reason why this is so important is that most of our stress and frustration in life comes from trying to control things that we do not have any control over. When we focus on the things we can control, we’re able to make progress, and gain a sense of peace in our lives.

When we try to control what we can’t, we waste a lot of time and energy without making much progress. We can find ourselves getting angry, upset, or depressed because we’re trying to control something we can’t control, or often because we’re trying to control someone else or their behavior. On the flip side, when we don’t take control of the things that we do have control over, then we allow ourselves to become victims, and miss opportunities to create real change in our lives.

So that begs the question: What do we actually have control over? The Stoics teach us that the only thing we really have control over is our thinking, and our choices. In short, our will. Everything else is outside of our control. We don’t have control over nature, other people, or even our own bodies.

For example, you can’t control the weather, what other people think of you, or if you get cancer. They are are just things that happen, and not things you have any control over. What you do have control over is how you respond to the things that happen. You can choose to wear a raincoat when it rains. You can choose not to let what others think about you bother you. You can follow your doctors instructions in treating an illness. All you have control over are the choices you make about how you want to respond.

Suggested Episode: Two Sides of the Same Coin

Judgments

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

—Marcus Aurelius

Another reason that the Stoics teach us that we have control over our thinking is because the way that we think influences how we feel and how we respond to the things that happen to us. The emotions that we feel are caused by the thoughts we think, or the judgments we make, about the things that happen to us. Whether we feel calm or distressed in a situation is caused by what we think about the situation.

For example, let’s say you have two people heading to the same office, and they both miss the bus for work. The first person gets upset and yells at the bus. Whereas the second person shakes it off, laughs about it, and sits down on the bench and waits calmly for the next bus. Why does one person handle the situation angrily when the other is able to relax and go on with the day? Shouldn’t they both act the same since they both missed the bus?

It’s because of their thinking. In the first case, the angry bus rider is thinking how unfair it is that he missed is bus. He fumes about the fact that he’s going to be late, and is in a rotten mood for hours afterwards. Whereas the second rider sees that there is nothing that he can do about it, and that stewing over it will do him little good, so he lets it go, and enjoys the extra time he has waiting for the next bus. Same situation, just different thinking.

Suggested Episode: Drop Your Opinions, Live Your Principles

Emotions

“Any person capable of angering you becomes your master; he can anger you only when you permit yourself to be disturbed by him.“

— Epictetus

“Who does not admit that all the emotions flow as it were from a certain natural source? We are endowed by Nature with an interest in our own well-being; but this very interest, when overindulged, becomes a vice.”

— Seneca

One of the biggest misconceptions about Stoicism is that it’s about repressing your emotions and that Stoics don’t feel anything. But this is far from the case. Stoics have strong emotions just like everyone else. The difference is that they have practiced not letting their emotions overrun their thinking. They practice taking a moment to understand the thinking that led to the strong emotions. They also understand that emotions are transitory, meaning that they may feel strong or even overwhelming in the moment, but that over time they will fade and change.

The difference is that a Stoic recognizes that one of the main reasons that we experience negative emotions is because of our judgements about something. That the reason we’re upset or angry is not because of thing itself, but because of the meaning that we give to something, and that if we can be aware of our judgments then we change how we think about something. We can also decide that something is not worth spending time thinking about and let it go. We can also choose not to have an opinion about something.

For example, we often think that when we get angry at someone, it is the fault of the other person that we are angry. But the Stoics teach us that it’s not the other person that makes us angry, but our own thoughts that cause our anger. It’s the judgment that we made, the meaning that our minds give to what the other person did or said that causes us to feel angry.

Now I’m sure many of you are thinking that this is wrong. If someone says something offensive, then surely it must be the fault of the other person that you’re angry. But this is not the case. It’s your judgement about what they said that leads to you feeling angry. In a purely objective sense, the other person simply spoke some words, and we are the ones that gave those words meaning. If you decided that you don’t care about what someone said, then you can let it go.

To drive the point a little further, imagine if the other person said something offensive but spoke it in a language that you didn’t understand, would you still be offended? You probably wouldn’t because you don’t know what they actually said. Your mind wouldn’t have anything to judge so there would be nothing to find offensive.

Suggested Episode: Stoics and Emotions

Virtues

“Just that you do the right thing. The rest doesn’t matter.”

—Marcus Aurelius

One of the core tenants of Stoicism is that in order to live a good life, we need to follow the four cardinal virtues of Wisdom, Courage, Justice, and Temperance, which often translated as Moderation or Discipline.

But why these four virtues?

Let’s go over each of them briefly.

Wisdom can be defined as the practical application of knowledge and experience. It’s not enough to just know a lot, it’s important that we know how to apply it. Also, we don’t just gain wisdom through reading or studying, but by experiencing life.

Courage is the willingness to take action, even if we know we might fail. We need courage to gain wisdom because it takes courage to practice self awareness and see where we fall short, and have willingness to see where we are ignorant.

Temperance means moderation or discipline. With all things, we need to know how much is too little and how much is too much. By practicing temperance, we learn how to govern ourselves.

Justice, in a broader sense, can also be thought of as how we treat other people. When we treat others fairly, and advocate for justice in the world, we help make the world a better place.

The virtues are self reenforcing, like legs on a stool. We need to have courage to help us be self aware enough to experience life and gain wisdom. We also need courage to make the hard choices to become more disciplined. Temperance and wisdom are necessary for being courageous because too much courage can make us foolhardy and make bad choices, and not enough courage can mean that we fail to act.

By practicing discipline, gaining wisdom, and developing courage, we stand up for what we believe in and advocate for justice. By cultivating these virtues, we aren’t just meant to be good people, but we are meant to do good in the world.

Suggested Episode: A Courageous Mind

Obstacles

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

— Epictetus

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

― Marcus Aurelius

Another core teaching of the Stoics is that the challenges that we find in our lives are not simply obstacles that are preventing us from getting what we want, but that they are the way to getting what we want. They are the things that help us to learn and to get stronger. If you simply got everything that you ever wanted and never had to struggle for it, would you ever learn how to accomplish anything?

Think about it this way. If you went to the gym and paid someone else to lift weights for you, would get any stronger? Would you put on any muscle?

No.

What’s more rewarding for you? Working hard, overcoming obstacles, and gaining skills and achieving your goal, or just being handed the prize you seek by a parent?

What’s more interesting to watch, an athlete or a performer who has put in countless hours of work and preparation, overcome all kinds of obstacles and developed their skills, or a someone just being given a role or position because they were well connected?

When I was about 12 years old, I spent many hours babysitting the neighbors kids and doing yard work so I could buy myself a stereo system. I had it for many years and every time I used it, I always felt a sense of pride because I knew that I had worked hard and saved up my money to get it. It was mine because I had worked hard to earn it.

Suggested Episode: Easy Life

Integrity

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

—Marcus Aurelius

The Stoics were big on living a life of integrity, meaning that you do the right thing in all situations. That you would live your principles not just when it’s easy, but when it’s hard. That you would do the right thing even when no one else would know if you didn’t. Your character matters and you do good always, not because of how others perceive you, but because when you are good and act with integrity, you feel good.

We all are faced with situations where we could get away with something that would benefit us. But the thing is, you would know that you did something against your principles. You will have to live with that. You will have to live with the knowledge that you did something that soiled your character. Whether it’s tossing garbage out of a car window, cheating on a test, or covering up mistakes at work, even if you never get caught, you would still know that you didn’t live up to your best self, and that you actively made the choice not to do so.

Suggested Episode: Show Up

Application

So how can you learn to apply Stoic principles in your own life?

First off, become familiar with Stoic teachings and principles. This podcast is a good place to start, and I’ve included links into the show notes for episodes that dive a little deeper into the ideas and principles that I’ve talked about.

Some books that I recommend include A Guide to the Good Life: The Art of Stoic Joy by William B. Irvine, Meditations by Marcus Aurelius, and most of Ryan Holiday’s books are good places to start. I especially like The Obstacle is the Way and found it to be very useful in reframing how I view challenges in my life.

I think that taking time each morning thinking about the things I’ve talked about today, and examining how you can apply them in your life can be very helpful. Starting off the day considering these ideas can help you keep them top of mind so that when situations arise you can find ways to apply them.

Each evening, take some time to consider how your day went. Did you handle a situation poorly that day? What can you do next time to handle it better? This kind of reflection each evening also helps you become more self aware and help reenforce where you succeeded or failed during the day and how you can handle things in the future.

And as I always do, I recommend taking some time each day to meditate and to write in your journal as they are good ways to develop self awareness. Since the Stoics stress that it’s important to manage how you think about things, journaling and meditation are both excellent ways to become aware of your own thinking. You don’t need to meditate for hours or write long essays in your journal. Just a few minutes to pay attention to you thoughts, or jot them down on paper can be exceptionally revealing.

Conclusion

More than anything, applying these principles take consistency. While the principles and ideas are pretty simple and logical, their application takes time and practice. Just because you learned something does not mean that you’re going to be great at applying it in your life immediately. But if you are consistently studying, thinking about, and consciously trying to apply these ideas in your life, you’ll start to see changes in your life for the better. Often, you’ll simply notice when you handled a situation poorly, then you’ll consider ways that you can handle that better in the future. Awareness, and the courage to practice that awareness are the first and most important steps to becoming a better version of yourself.

Before you know it, you’ll become a Stoic.


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

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

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

Find me on instagram or twitter.

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

Categories
death

286 – Remember Death

How often do you think about your death? Do you go through your life just ignoring it and thinking that it’s always a long way off? Today I want to talk about why considering your death each day can make your life richer, fuller, and happier.

“You could leave life right now. Let that determine what you do and say and think."

— Marcus Aurelius

One of the most important things that the Stoics teach is to be aware of death, that we too will die one day. The term the Stoics use is Memento Mori, remember death. The Stoics want us to remember that every day could be our last so that we use the time we have the best we can.

Memento Mori is not about being morbid or macabre, but rather appreciating the fact that we are alive at this moment, and that we need to savor each moment we have because it could be our last. It means that instead of wishing for things to be different, we should accept things as they are and appreciate them. It also means that we should look for things to be grateful for right now. We need to find contentment now rather than waiting for it to come to us in the future after some event or accomplishment.

Mortality

“To live in this world, you must be able to do three things: to love what is mortal; to hold it against your bones knowing your own life depends on it; and, when the time comes to let it go, to let it go."

— Mary Oliver

Memento Mori is there to remind us that we need to face reality. We need to accept that we will all die one day, and as much as we might want to ignore that fact, it is not something that we can escape. The sooner we come to terms with our own mortality, the less we fear death, and the better we can live in the present.

One day, when I was about 40, I had just gotten out of the shower and was trimming my beard. As I was looking at my face in the mirror and I noticed the wrinkles on my face standing out a bit more. I remember having this rush of fear and anxiety about how I was getting older, and that I would die one day. I realized that I had never put too much thought into the fact that I would die. Like most people, I just went about my daily life as if death was something I could just ignore. I realized that I needed to face my own mortality because it was something that would come whether I liked it or not.

Over the next few months, I would occasionally take some time and think about my death. I thought a lot about what it might be like after I leave this life. I thought about some of the things that I wanted to accomplish before I left this world. I worked on getting comfortable with the fact that I would have to face my death at some point. The more comfortable I got with death, the less fear I had about dying. This is not to say that I’m looking forward to it or seeking it out, but it no longer causes me the anxiety I felt when I was first confronting my own mortality.

Live Now

"Let us prepare our minds as if we’d come to the very end of life. Let us postpone nothing. Let us balance life’s books each day. … The one who puts the finishing touches on their life each day is never short of time."

— Seneca

"The trouble is, you think you have time."

— Buddha

So why is it important that we learn to face up to our own mortality?

Remembering death sharpens our senses. It helps us to be more present in our daily lives because we can spend less time living for the future because it’s possible that we might not have one. When we recognize that all the plans and goals that we have may never come to pass, we learn to not let our happiness be dependent on things that we’ll accomplish or get in the future.

Facing up to your death helps you live more urgently. Memento Mori helps to prioritize the things that matter and the things that don’t. It reminds that we shouldn’t put off the things we want to do but try to do them as soon as we can. We often live with the idea that we’ll get to it someday, as if we had all the time in the world. The Stoics tell us to get busy with the business of living. Don’t waste time on things that don’t matter.

Will it Matter?

"Remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important tool I've ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important."

— Steve Jobs

When we take the time to remember death, we can develop a bigger and more helpful perspective about life. For example, if we ask ourselves, will this matter in 100 years? 1000 years? Things that may seem important in the moment, can seem trivial in the long run. The minor inconveniences that annoy and distress us in our daily lives can be laughed off when we think about them in a long enough timeframe because everything you do will probably not even be remembered in 100 years, and probably not even in 5 or 10 years.

In Meditations, Marcus Aurelius says, “Alexander the Great and his mule driver both died and the same thing happened to both. They were either received into the same generative principle of the universe, or they were both dispersed into atoms.” In talking about this, he’s reminds us that regardless of the greatness of your achievements, we all meet the same fate. And even though Alexander was a great conquer, what good does that do him now? Is he still able to enjoy the glory of his conquests?

How You Live

"It matters not how a man dies, but how he lives. The act of dying is not of importance, it lasts so short a time."

— Samuel Johnson

So if that’s the case and it seems like nothing really matters, why should we try to do anything good? Why should we try to accomplish anything in this life?

It’s not that you have to accomplish great things in order for your life to mean something. Not everyone was meant to accomplish something that will be remembered. And that’s okay. Because how you live your life matters. Like I talked about in last weeks podcast, Ambition or Contentment, living a good life is not about all the accomplishments you achieve, it’s about the process of living. It’s about enjoying the journey and everything that comes your way. It’s about doing good things in the world, even if they are small acts.

Gratitude of Living

"It is only when we truly know and understand that we have a limited time on earth – and that we have no way of knowing when our time is up – that we will begin to live each day to the fullest, as if it were the only one we had."

— Elisabeth Kübler-Ross

An important part of Memento Mori, is that it teaches us to practice gratitude for the the everyday things in life. Remember, it’s not the grand gestures and huge accomplishments that make life good. It’s all the little things. A good cup of coffee, a great conversation with a friend, listening to a beautiful piece of music, watching a sunset, or even just appreciating that you are alive and you get to experience all these things. Appreciating the little things, the small joys of life is an easy way to help you feel more alive with just small shift in your perspective.

Contemplate Your Death

"Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon? Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?"

— Mary Oliver, from the poem "The Summer Day"

A practice to you can use to help you appreciate life more is to imagine what it would be like if you died. Think about all the things that you would miss. Spending time with your friends and family. Watching your favorite film. Eating dinner at your favorite restaurant. Imagine that you will never get to experience these things again. When you think about how much you’ll miss them, you’ll appreciate them even more the next you get to enjoy them.

There’s a great example of this in the film Fight Club. There’s a scene where Brad Pitt’s character, Tyler Durden, pulls a gun on a convenience store clerk, Raymond, and threatens him with it. He takes his wallet and he sees that Raymond has an expired community college id. He asks him what he studied and what he wanted to become. Raymond tells him he wanted to become a veterinarian, but that there was too much schooling involved. Tyler then takes Raymond’s drivers license and tells him he’s going to check up on him and that if he’s not on his way to becoming a veterinarian in the next six weeks that he’s going to kill him.

He then tells Raymond to run.

Throughout the whole incident, Edward Norton’s character is trying to get Tyler to stop. After Raymond runs for his life, he asks Tyler why he did it. Tyler says, “Tomorrow morning will be the most beautiful day of Raymond K. Hessel’s life. His breakfast will taste better than anything you and I have ever tasted.”

Now I don’t recommend that you go out and threaten someone with gun to help them face their fear of death. The scene in the movie was meant to be extreme to prove a point – that once you face your death, it breaks you out of the spell of your ordinary life, and you appreciate life in a more present and fearless way.

Conclusion

"For life and death are one, even as the river and the sea are one."

— Kahlil Gibran

We will all die one day, and this is one thing that none of us can escape. Many of us ignore this and live our lives as if we had all the time in the world. By practicing Memento Mori, you stop putting off things until tomorrow. You let go of things that do not matter because they don’t really matter in the long run. You are more present in your life because you appreciate the fact that you are alive and breathing and you get to experience and the great and small joys of life. Take a little time each day to think about your death, because the more you are willing to face up to your mortality, the more alive you can feel each day.


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

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

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

Find me on instagram or threads.
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
Purpose

285 – Ambition or Contentment

One of the key aspects of stoicism is to be content with what we have. So how does this balance with ambition? If you are content, does that mean that you shouldn’t be striving to accomplish your goals? Today I want to talk about how stoicism can help you accomplish your goals while still finding contentment in your daily life.

"The whole future lies in uncertainty: live immediately."

— Seneca

One question that I get from time to time is how do balance ambition with the stoic teaching of contentment? Meaning, if we’re supposed to be content with how our life is and accept it for exactly what it is, how do you work hard and achieve the goals you want to accomplish in your life?

This is an interesting paradox to consider, because it seems like they are in opposition of one another. If you are content with what you have, does that mean that you become apathetic? If you are striving to accomplish your goals, does that mean that you are discontent with what you have?

Contentment

"Make the best use of what is in your power, and take the rest as it happens."

— Epictetus

First, let’s dig into the definitions for each of these things. What does it mean to be content? Does it mean that you simply accept life as it is? Does it mean that you’re docile and just let life happen?

Often people think that contentment means that we are happy with life as it is and don’t want things to change. But that’s the thing, life will change. As soon as we are content with life as it is at a particular moment, things change. We can’t just be content with life as it is in one static moment because that moment will not last. We need to learn to be content with life as an ever changing process. We need to learn to flow with life as it comes.

Contentment comes from an acceptance and appreciation of what is, of all things in your life whether you consider them positive or negative.

Finding contentment means that we accept life and all its changes and recognize that we have the power to choose how we want to view the events that happen. It means that you choose your perspective and outlook and you don’t let external events and circumstances be the driver of your mood.

Ambition

“Concentrate on what you have to do. Fix your eyes on it. Remind yourself that your task is to be a good human being; remind yourself what nature demands of people. Then do it, without hesitation, and speak the truth as you see it. But with kindness. With humility. Without hypocrisy.”

— Marcus Aurelius

Now let’s talk about ambition. Let’s go with the definition that ambition means that you have specific goals that you are striving to accomplish. It could be that you want excel in your career or you are trying to master a skill. Maybe you want to improve yourself in some way. Does mean that you aren’t content with the way things are?

Where ambition leads to discontent is when we become dependent on the outcome. When we set our happiness upon achieving our goal is where we find the conflict with stoicism. The problem is not that you are discontent with the way things are and are trying to change them. The problem is when we focus on the outcome of our striving, then we set ourselves up for several kinds of unhappiness.

The first is that when we set our happiness on achieving the goal, then it is likely that we won’t be happy while we are striving for our goals because it is still out of our reach. We have decided that we can’t be happy until we get what we want, and you’ve given away your control. You’ve placed your sense of well being outside of yourself. Since the stoics remind us to focus on what you can control, you can only control your perspective and the choices that you make in the present moment.

Another pitfall of setting our happiness on the outcome is what happens if we fail to reach our goal? What if we give it everything we have and still fail? If your happiness is outcome dependent then you are allowing your happiness be dependent on something outside of your control.

Another problem with being dependent on the outcome is that when we actually achieve our goal, then we are often happy for a time, but then we find that happiness fades. Our level of happiness fades to the level it was before we achieved our goal. This is known as the hedonic treadmill. We work hard to get the bonus or the new house only to find that after a while we are just as happy or unhappy as we were before.

Process

"Don’t seek for everything to happen as you wish it would, but rather wish that everything happens as it actually will—then your life will flow well."

— Epictetus

So how do avoid the pitfalls of striving for our ambitions? How do we find contentment without becoming complacent?

When we learn to focus on the process of what we are doing, then we are able to find contentment in it. We work on being happy with our growth and how we are doing something rather than just achieving something. We find joy in learning how to master something. We find contentment in our own improvement, know matter how small.

What about external validation? Again, if we are intrinsically motivated, if we are motivated by our comparison with ourselves rather than needing the validation of others, then we can find contentment. The only person we should competing with is ourselves. Are we better than we were yesterday? Have we made progress?

Now does this mean that if we ignore external validation and comparisons that we’ll achieve our goals?

No.

You could still work really hard on something, enjoy the process, and still not get what you want. But what you will have is control over your happiness. It will not be as dependent on what others think.

The outcome will be what it will be, but your happiness is not affected by the outcome. Because you cannot control the outcome, you can fail, and still be content because you enjoyed the process and did your best. You may not get that promotion. You may not win the race. But your self worth, your contentment will not be dependent on those things.

Another thing to consider is that we can’t develop our virtues of Justice, Wisdom, Temperance, and Courage without engaging with other people. All of these are things that we improve while we work on other things. You don’t gain wisdom by just sitting in your room reading books. You may get knowledge by doing that, but unless you interact with others it’s just knowledge.

The same goes with Courage, Justice, and Temperance. Unless you are busy with life and trying to be useful in the world, you are unable to develop these virtues. How would you know if you have courage if you are never tested? How do you develop temperance without challenges? It is by getting out into the world and trying to better ourselves in all that we do that we improves these virtues, and thereby improve the world.

As an example, say that you wanted to become a leader at your company. In doing so, you’ll have to learn how to work well with others. You’ll need to have wisdom of how to manage other people. You’ll need to learn to be fair with others, and to manage your own moods when things don’t go as planned. By putting yourself out there and trying to achieve your own goals, you’ll have to improve yourself, and in doing so you can make your work environment a much better place for yourself and those you work with. And one of the byproducts of focusing and doing the best you can with each situation as it arises, the more likely you are to succeed.

Enjoy the Present

"Concentrate every minute like a Roman—like a man—on doing what’s in front of you with precise and genuine seriousness, tenderly, willingly, with justice. And on freeing yourself from all other distractions. Yes, you can—if you do everything as if it were the last thing you were doing in your life."

— Marcus Aurelius

So what can we do to be better about being content while we work towards our goals?

First and foremost, as I’ve mentioned several times in this podcast, we can focus on the How. We do our best to grow and learn when we learn to enjoy the process of doing. When we do this, we let go of the outcome determining whether we are successful or not.

Does this mean that we will be successful?

No.

You can do everything perfectly and still not succeed. That is not a reflection on your character or whether or not you’re a good person or even whether you deserve the outcome you want. An important part of finding contentment in any situation is that you control the things you can and you let go of the things outside of your control.

You can train for decades for the Olympics, be the best in your sport, perform the best you can, and still not win a medal simply because someone else was a little better or conditions where not in your favor. How well someone else does, the decisions a judge makes, and other external factors are all outside of your control.

You can work hard at your job, put in more hours than your peers, and still get passed over for a promotion. You can study for months on end and still fail a test. And you can still find contentment if you don’t let the outcome determine your happiness.

Non-Striving

"True happiness is… to enjoy the present, without anxious dependence upon the future."

— Seneca

I think the best way to think about this comes from Jon Kabat-Zinn, who is a former professor of medicine and author of several books including Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life. He has been instrumental in bringing mindfulness and meditation into the West, and one of his key ideas is to life a life of non-striving. What he means by non-striving is that rather than constantly trying to strive and push for what you want, if you can develop and attitude of setting out in a direction and taking things as they come, you can approach things in a much more relaxed and positive way.

When you cultivate this way of looking at your life, because you’re not focused on the the outcome of what you’re working on, you are able to deal with any setbacks and challenges as they arise. They are considered part of the process of getting where you want and not things that are stopping you. You are also able to be present and focus at the task at hand, rather than being stuck focused on the future.

In the past I’ve used the example of kayaking on a river. When you’re out on the river, you know the direction you’re going, and you know that you’re going to come across rapids and eddies and other challenges along the way. If you can learn to flow and work with the currents and focus on getting through one challenge after another then you’re more likely to reach your destination and enjoy the ride along the way.

Now does this mean that if you are feeling discontented with where you are, that you are failing?

Not at all. We are emotional beings. We feel emotions even when we have worked hard to master them. Sometimes we feel unsettled for good reasons. The thing is, we need to understand WHY we feel this way. Sometimes we feel discontent because there is an injustice that we see in the world, or we are in a situation such as an unhealthy relationship or a high stress work environment. This could be a deeper signal that we need to change something.

When we feel this way, again, the most important thing we can do is to understand what we can control. Are there things that we can do to improve these situations? What actions can we take? While some things can be improved by changing our mindset around them, there are times when we need to take more drastic actions such as leaving a relationship or finding another job.

Personally, even though I’ve studied stoicism for over 6 years, I still struggle with feeling anxious and discontent with the way things are in my life. Just because I understand these principles doesn’t mean that they are easy to implement. I have to work at it every day because my natural inclination is to get focused on how things will been the future, and about how it will feel once I accomplish the things I’ve set out to do. It takes effort to remind myself to be present and enjoy where I am and what I’m doing and to let the future take care of itself.

Conclusion

We all have goals that we want to achieve in our lives. We have ambitions to be good at something and improve ourselves. When we achieve those goals we have certain sense of satisfaction that may las for a few hours to a few months. But the more that we can be in the present and be content where we are, we can have a sense of satisfaction that becomes part of our everyday lives.

It’s not a choice of being content OR achieving your goals, it’s about being content with where you are on your journey. When you focus your energy and your talents on mastering where you are, you can find contentment at any moment. You can enjoy walking the path. If all you’re focused on is the outcome, then you’re trying to control something that you can’t. Do your best, and let the chips fall where they will.


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

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

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Categories
Transformation

282 – Timeless Principles For Handling a Changing World

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

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

— Marcus Aurelius

What Doesn’t Change?

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

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

The CEO responded, “No.”

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

The CEO responded again, “No.”

Warren said, “Snickers.”

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

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

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

Understanding What is Within Our Control

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

— Epictetus

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

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

Accepting Change as Inevitable

“Change is the only constant in life."

— Heraclitus

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

Seeking Growth Over Comfort

“What stands in the way becomes the way."

— Marcus Aurelius

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

Practicing Gratitude

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

— Seneca

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

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

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

Embracing the Present Moment

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

— Marcus Aurelius

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

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

Cultivating Inner Resilience

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

— Marcus Aurelius

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

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

Practicing Compassion and Understanding

"Be tolerant with others and strict with yourself."

— Marcus Aurelius

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

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

Conclusion

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


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

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

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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.
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Categories
self-care

281 – Self Discipline is Self Care

What do you think of when you hear the term “self-care”? Do you think of indulgences like triple chocolate ice cream or a bottle of wine? When you think of self-discipline, do you think of depriving yourself of the things you enjoy? Today I want dig a little deeper and think about what self-care really means and why it’s important for us to take time out and pay some attention to ourselves.

“The mind must be given relaxation. It will rise improved and sharper after a good break. Just as rich fields must not be forced to produce a crop year after year, so constant work on the anvil will fracture the force of the mind.”

— Seneca

The Stress of Life

Life can be very stressful. There are so many things that we need to take care of. Between work, family, school, social life, hobbies and other activities there are a lot of things vying for our time and attention. Add to that the complexity of modern life, societal stress and political divisiveness, life can often feel overwhelming. We often feel burned out and feel like we don’t have the energy to work on anything else outside of work, or family.

When we get into this kind of rut, life can often feel like we’re just stuck in the same loop day after day. We never feel like we really have time to work on some of the goals outside of work that we might want to accomplish. This is often why so many people get home from work and all they want to do is just chill out and watch Netflix then head to bed. Others end up distracting themselves with video games, social media, as well alcohol or other substances to help distract them in hopes of reducing their stress.

Over the past few years though it’s become part of the zeitgeist to recognize burnout and to work on self-care. As people find that they aren’t handling the stresses of modern life very well, they’re finding ways to be deliberate about carving out downtime and activities that help them relax and rejuvenate.

Overindulgence

Often people use self-care as an excuse to overindulge or to do things that aren’t necessarily good for them, and might even have the opposite effect. It’s even become popular on social media for people to post about how they’re indulging in something and calling it “self-care”. Drinking too much, eating unhealthy foods, binge eating, or buying things you don’t need are all habits that people justify with the term “self-care”. The problem with these habits is that they only bring short term pleasure. They don’t provide the rest and rejuvenation that is truly need. They also don’t address underlying issues and often cause long term problems.

Self-Care is Self-Discipline

“Rest and self-care are so important. When you take time to replenish your spirit, it allows you to serve others from the overflow. You cannot serve from an empty vessel."

— Eleanor Brownn

So, I want to propose the idea that self-care is more than just indulging ourselves in things that make us feel better in the moment, but rather that self-care is when we do what is good for us in the long term. It’s about taking care of ourselves so that we are better equipped to handle the other more demanding parts of our lives. It’s about knowing when and how to rest and recover so that we can push hard when we need to while avoiding burnout.

A prime example of understanding why rest is so important is when you’re building muscle. When you lift weights you’re actually breaking down your muscles, and your body then rebuilds the muscles. Your body needs a certain amount of stress in order to get stronger, but it’s in the rest periods between workouts that your body rebuilds the muscles. Life is very much the same way. We need stressors and challenges to grow, but we also need to rest so that can face those challenges at our best.

Know Thyself

Self-awareness is the start of any change in your life. It takes time and effort not only to be self-aware but also to actually do something about the things that you learn about yourself through that awareness. You need to understand why you do the things you do. Are you drinking too much to avoid some emotional pain? Are you playing hours of video games each night to stave off loneliness? If you’re unaware of your own thoughts, motivations, habits, and behaviors, you are unable to change. You cannot change from a place of ignorance.

The reason self-awareness is a core part of self-care is that in order to choose things that help you to take care of yourself, you need to know yourself. It’s not just about knowing what to avoid, but about understanding the things that you should pursue. You need to know what is actually helpful for you so you can live your life in a way that helps you thrive. Self-awareness is the first step to developing self-discipline.

Self-Discipline

Developing self-discipline is a form of self-care because it helps you prioritize your own needs, values, and goals. Self-discipline is not about denying yourself pleasure or forcing yourself to do things you don't want to do. It's about making choices that are aligned with your long-term well-being and goals. It’s about making choices that you know are in your best interest.

When you exercise self-discipline, you're showing yourself that you care about yourself and your future. Self-discipline is built on several of the core stoic virtues. You need wisdom to know what things you should do that will help you in the long run. It takes courage to be willing to do those things. Lastly, it take moderation to know when to push yourself and when to pull back.

For example, when you overeat or eat unhealthy food for extended periods of time your body will not work at its best. When your digestive system is not working well, it causes low energy levels, gastrointestinal distress, as well as diminishing your cognitive abilities. While the exact mechanisms behind this link to cognitive functioning are still being investigated, researchers believe that the gut microbiome plays a role in cognitive function through its impact on the immune system, neurotransmitter production, and overall inflammation in the body. Because your body is the vehicle through which you experience the world, the better your body functions the more you are able to enjoy your life.

Think Long

How many times have you done something impulsive in the moment only to later regret it? I know that I have made plenty of bad decisions when I was tired, stressed out, or not feeling well. Practicing self-discipline and doing the things that help your physical and mental health in the long run leads to a more balanced and fulfilling life. The better you feel overall, the more likely it is that you’ll make clearheaded decisions that benefit you in the long-term and help you avoid impulsive or short-sighted decisions that can cause regret or distress later on.

Make Proactive Choices

“You must learn to be gentle with yourself and to take time to renew your strength, both physically and mentally.”

—Marcus Aurelius

So what can we do to help improve our self-discipline and take better care of ourselves? How can we truly practice self-care?

Self-care means that we actively take a role in improving our mental and physical health, not just avoiding things that don’t serve us. For example, this year I have worked really hard to improve my health. While I’ve cut down on drinking alcohol and avoid things with high amounts of sugar, I’ve also changed my diet to include a lot more fruits and vegetables. I’ve worked with my doctor on some outstanding health issues, and have been working with my chiropractor on some old injuries. I workout several times a week and walk or hike on the other days. I also make sure that I get between 7-9 hours of sleep every night.

Now understand that doing pleasurable things like taking a bubble bath or enjoying a glass of wine can be self-care. Resting and enjoying things that we like is rejuvenating. It really comes down to making choices that will benefit us in the long term. Sometimes that means choosing what is good for us rather than what brings us immediate pleasure. For example, making sure you get to bed at a reasonable hour rather than staying up late playing video games.

Say No

“If you are tired, rest. It is not a sign of weakness, but a sign that you have been working hard and need to recharge.”

— Epictetus

"Love yourself enough to set boundaries. Your time and energy are precious. You get to choose how you use it. You teach people how to treat you by deciding what you will and won't accept."

— Anna Taylor

Often we get overwhelmed because we try to fulfill all kinds of expectations that others have for us. Often that is due to our culture or family. Expectations of how we’re supposed to behave, think, and live our lives. Whether that’s demands at work that are unreasonable, expectations from our families or friends, or even pressures from society as whole, learning to say no and setting boundaries is one of the most important things that we can do to take care of ourselves.

This can be really challenging at times because we often feel selfish when we don’t uphold the expectations of others, but doing so helps you to show up in the world as your best self. We have limited amounts of time and energy so learning to be protective of them is important to maintain your mental and physical health.

Big Decisions

This can also mean that we question the choices that we’re making in our lives overall. If our job is constantly leaving us drained and stressed out, maybe we need to reconsider our career choice or look for a position that is better suited for us and improves the quality of our lives. By understanding our motivations behind our career choice, and knowing what we truly want, we can make choices that suit us better and help us live happier lives. Getting your mental and physical health in order can help you make better life decisions. When you don’t feel like you’re in survival mode, you’re more likely to make good long term choices.

Conclusion

Some times we think of self-discipline as something that is not pleasant and at times means that we miss out on the good things in life. But really it’s about choosing to do what is good for you rather than what is just pleasurable. It’s about choosing to prioritize your physical and mental health so that you can live your best life. It doesn’t mean forgoing pleasure, but just being intentional with your choices. Practicing self-discipline can help you maintain healthy habits, such as regular exercise, healthy eating, and getting enough sleep, which are all important aspects of self-care. Practicing self-discipline is the best way to truly practice self-care.


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

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

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

Find me on instagram or twitter.

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

Categories
Perspective

279 – Not True But Useful

Can you hold beliefs that are not true, but are useful? know that I talk a lot on here about trying to get as close to the truth as possible. But are there times when it is useful to believe something even if you’re not sure of it yourself?

“Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth.”

— Marcus Aurelius

A few weeks ago I was listening to Derek Sivers who was a guest on Tim Ferriss’ podcast. They talked about a few ideas that I found very interesting and fit right along with stoicism and how our perspectives can shape how we view the world.

The overarching idea is called “Useful, Not True”, in that our perspective on something doesn’t have to be true, as long as it’s useful. In a way it’s a bit about self-deception, which is a little ironic after last weeks episode about how to be a little better about knowing when you are being lied to, and how to be little more honest. But self-deception is something that we all do, and as long as you are aware of what you are doing, there are times when you can believe something that may not be true, but is still useful.

Derek listed off a few ideas and I want to discuss each of them here. You can also find them here: https://tim.blog/2023/04/23/derek-sivers-transcript/

"Men are disturbed not by things, but by the views which they take of them."

— Epictetus

1. Almost nothing is objectively true.

Things in the physical world are generally things that can be considered objectively true. It is not something that you have to believe in. It is something that is true no matter what anyones opinion is about it. Things like, my water bottle is made of metal and plastic, the sun is a giant flaming ball of gas, and I am speaking right now are things that are objectively true.

Now, on the other side of that there are lots of things that people treat as if they are true, but are not.

Some examples of thing that are not true:

  • My country is the greatest.
  • Family is everything.
  • AI is the future.
  • That person is offensive.
  • I would be more successful if I were smarter or better looking.

All of these things are just beliefs or opinions that we hold. They are not objectively true.

"We suffer more often in imagination than in reality."

— Seneca

“It is our own opinions that disturb us. Take away these opinions then, and resolve to dismiss your judgment about an act as if it were something grievous, and your anger is gone.”

— Marcus Aurelius

2. Beliefs are placebos. You’ve got to believe whatever works for you.

This is what the stoics mean talk about the importance of our perspectives. It is our perspective on something that informs how we will feel and act. Let’s say for example that there is a traffic jam. One person might think the traffic jam is bad and get pissed off and angry about it and feel like the universe is getting in their way. Another might see it as some time to relax on a busy day, and sing along with the songs on the radio. Which belief is true? Neither. Either belief is just as valid, but most people would agree that the second one is certainly more useful.

Any time you say, “I believe…” whatever comes after that is something that is not true. Unless it is something that is evidence based or objectively true, it is simply our perspective. For example, I would never say that I believe in my water bottle because it objectively exists.

So why would we believe in something, even if we know that it is not objectively true? Because it can be something that helps you be better and accomplish something in the world. For example, Fred Rogers who created and starred in Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood believed that kindness was the most important virtue in the world and that we should all be kind to one another.

Was he wrong in believing this because it is not objectively true? I don’t think so. Even though I can’t prove that we should all be kind to each other as an objectively true thing, I choose to believe it because I feel better when I’m kind to someone, and when others are kind to me.

Another example of believing in something that cannot be proven but is useful is believing in an afterlife. For some people, they have a belief in an afterlife because to think that there is nothing after this life is something that is terrifying for them. While I have no idea what happens after we die, I can understand why people want to believe there is something after we die. If that’s something that keeps you going and lessens the distress in your life, then I think it can be useful, even if it’s not true or knowable.

A prime example of how you can choose a belief that works for you is from Zeno of Citium, the founder of stoicism. He washed up in Athens after his ship was lost at sea and he lost all of his cargo. While trying to figure out what to do next, he spent some time at a bookshop. He was so taken by the teachings of Socrates that he asked the book seller where he could find someone like him to teach him philosophy. The bookseller pointed out Crates the Cynic who just happened to be passing by and Zeno became his pupil. He later said, “Now that I've suffered shipwreck, I'm on a good journey." Zeno’s perspective shows that fortune or misfortune is simply a perspective, an opinion.

Probably one of the most relatable ideas behind this sports superstitions. There are athletes that have beliefs that certain things are lucky and other things are not. It could be a lucky pair of sock, a mantra, a talisman of some kind, or having to get up on a certain side of the bed on game day. If it’s something that works for you and isn’t harmful, use it. Often, something like this is helpful for focusing your mind. There is nothing wrong with believing in things like this, but just understand that it is something that you are choosing to believe in. When it stops working you can let it go.

“You are not affected by reality itself but by your interpretation of reality. A change of perspective changes everything.”

—@TheAncientSage (twitter)

3. Rules and norms are arbitrary games that can be changed.

There are all kinds of rules that become part of our culture that are treated as how things are supposed to be. Some of these rules include the idea that in order to live a happy life we need to go to college, get married, have kids, and get a job. Or, that to be considered successful, you to have a lot of money, a big house, and a nice car. Or that in order to be successful you have to hustle all the time.

In short, any rule that comes from the expectations or the opinions of others is one that you don’t have to follow. As long as you don’t break the law, the rules are bendable and can often be ignored. You choose what works for you.

Religions are great examples of things that are taught as if they are true, but are not. They set up a system of rules that they think that everyone needs to live by in order to please some deity and keep people in line. I grew up believing that the Mormon church was the only true church and that everyone else’s beliefs were wrong. I believed that I had to marry someone else who was Mormon, or I was betraying my faith. I believed that if I left the Mormon church that I would go to hell because only bad people left the “true” church. Because of these beliefs, I was unhappy for a long part of my life, and didn’t see any way out of it.

Once I realized these was just a belief and not the truth, I left. Once I left, nothing awful happened to me. In fact my life got much better. I was mentally healthier because I was making choices in my life that worked for me, not because some old conservative guys in Salt Lake City said I should behave a certain way.

With that said, we need to keep in mind that while norms and rules can evolve, many have developed for practical reasons. We should be thoughtful about breaking rules, and consider their original purpose and potential consequences. Sweeping dismissals of all norms may cause problems. Be smart about what rules you choose to follow and those you disregard.

“If anyone can refute me‚ show me I’m making a mistake or looking at things from the wrong perspective‚ I’ll gladly change. It’s the truth I’m after.”

— Marcus Aurelius

4. Refuse ideology. You need to accept ideas individually.

No organization or ideology is 100% true and therefore should not just be swallowed whole. Even stoicism. There are some religious aspects to stoicism that I don’t follow. In many of the stoic texts, they refer to believing in god as a core aspect of stoicism. I don’t believe in god, but I find that there are so many good parts of stoicism that are so helpful that it doesn’t really matter.

Does this make me a lesser stoic? Maybe. But I’m not a follower of stoicism for others to judge how good or bad I am at it. Having grown up in a very dogmatic religion, I don’t take any ideology as a whole. I take the ideas that help me live a better life and do my best to apply them. If something doesn’t work for me, I do my best to try and understand it, see if I need to adjust what I’m doing, and if it still doesn’t fit me, I let it go.

This mindset also keeps me open to all kinds of ideas from other sources. I find that there are a lot of ideas in Buddhism that are very useful. Some of them are a little “woo woo”, and I may not believe in the metaphysical aspects of them, but I can still use them if they are useful.

Probably the most obvious idealogical organizations are religions. The biggest problem with most religions is that they have a whole set of beliefs and expect you to believe all of them. They don’t like it when you pick and choose which things to believe in and which not.

I certainly saw this growing up and found that there were plenty parts of the Mormon religion that I disagreed with and had really hard time believing. While there are some aspects of the church that I think are laudable, their views on the role of women in society and homosexuality were ones that I just never really agreed with.

When I got older and learned about the history of of Joseph Smith, I started poking holes in the ideology. I found out that he had made up the text of the Book of Mormon, that he couldn’t translate Egyptian like he had claimed, and that he would send men out on missions and marry their wives. I finally reached a point where I realized that it wasn’t true. It was made up by someone who took advantage of others for money and sex. From that point on I decided that I would never follow any ideology without examining each piece and use what works for me.

Conclusion

There is very little in this world that is objectively true. The stoics remind us this a lot when they remind us that our perspective informs how we judge reality. We are the ones that choose what we think reality is. There are a lot of beliefs in this world that we just take on as being true, even if they aren’t. It’s important to learn to objectively look at what you believe and decide if it’s helpful. There are also time where we can’t objectively prove something is true, but it’s still helpful to believe it. But, be aware that beliefs that contradict evidence are unlikely to be helpful long-term. When we look at things through a balanced, evidence-based perspective that incorporates objective truths along with our subjective viewpoint is likely to yield the most accurate and useful understanding of reality.


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

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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.


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

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

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

Find me on instagram or twitter.

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

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
opinions

272 – Drop Your Opinions, Live Your Principles

Do your opinions get in your way? Do your opinions cause issues in your relationships? What would happen if you weren’t so attached to your opinions? Today I want to talk about why we should be willing to let go of attachments to our opinions and how doing so can help you live a happier life.

“Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth.”

— Marcus Aurelius

Perspectives

“Be disentangled from all perceptions. They are not you.”

— Brian Thompson

The stoics talk a lot about how our opinions are one of the things that cause us the most stress in our lives, and that we can, at any point, choose to not have an opinion about something. Now what exactly does this mean? I mean, the stoics seemed to have some pretty strong ideas about what life is about and how to live. Is this is ironic? Does it mean the stoic are wrong?

When the stoics talk about having an opinion on something, they recognized that an opinion is just our perspective on something. It is not something that is a fact. The problem is that we often treat them like facts, and get so attached to them that we’re willing to end friendships, and exclude people from our lives because they don’t hold the same opinions as we do.

Judgments

"It is not things themselves that disturb people, but their judgments about those things."

— Epictetus

First, lets talk about the different kinds of opinions that we have, and some of the downsides to each of them.

Opinions are often judgments that we have about something. Usually these are based on some experience we have which cause us to form an opinion around something. While taking time to judge things properly is important, we need to be careful that we don’t make sweeping judgments or fall into black and white thinking. For example, we might see some bad behavior by someone and make a judgement that they are a bad person without knowing the whole context of a situation.

Beliefs

“Opinion is the enemy of reason. We prefer the plausible to the true.”

—Epictetus

Beliefs are simple strongly held opinions. It is not something that is based on facts, because if it were based on facts, then it wouldn’t be something that you would need to believe in. Often, we will justify our opinion on something by claiming that it is something that we “believe”, but this doesn’t make it any less of an opinion, or immune from scrutiny. In fact, I think that it’s highly important that we examine the things that we claim as beliefs. Any time someone claims that they “believe” something, just remember that they are simply sharing their opinion.

Principles

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

— Marcus Aurelius

I also want to differentiate between something that is a principle versus something that is an opinion. Generally speaking, a principle is a fundamental, foundational value that guides our actions. An opinion, on the other hand, is a specific idea or view about something that may or may not be based on a principle.

In other words, a principle is like the foundation of a house, while opinions are the different rooms and decorations that can change over time. You may hold a principle of treating others with kindness, but have opinions about what kindness means in different situation. We may also have opinions that do not necessarily reflect any deeper principles, such as having an opinion about whether pineapple belongs on pizza, which of course it does.

Another key differentiation of principles and opinions is that principles tend to be focused on things that are in our control, like our own thoughts and actions, while opinions might be more focused on things that are outside of our control, like what others think or do.

Opinions

“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

So why do people hold onto and defend their opinions so strenuously?

Often, people defend their opinions because they are afraid of being wrong or looking foolish. The insecurity that comes from being wrong about something can drive people to defend their opinions, even if their opinion is unhelpful, damaging, or downright wrong.

Another reason why people feel such a strong attachment to their opinions that they want to feel certain about how they view the world. The world is a complex and confusing place that is not easy to understand or make sense of. For some, ambiguity and uncertainty are very uncomfortable, and so they look to find answers that make sense to them to reduce their anxiety. Often these ideas are not well thought out, but they speak to the persons preconceived ideas of how things are, so they latch onto them.

Another key idea in Stoicism is to recognize the role that emotions play in shaping our opinions. When we're attached to an opinion, it's often because we're feeling a strong emotion like anger, fear, or pride. If we can take a step back and try to identify the underlying emotion, we can then question whether it's serving us well.

Probably the biggest problem we run into with attachment to our opinions and beliefs is they can become part of our identity, meaning that we see our beliefs as part of our self concept or self image. We see letting go of a belief as letting go of a part of ourself. When we hold onto opinions this tightly, we feel like changing our opinion would threaten who we are as person, and in some cases, it threatens our reality.

Attachment

“Everywhere, at each moment, you have the option: to accept this event with humility; to treat this person as they should be treated; to approach this thought with care, so that nothing irrational creeps in.”

—Marcus Aurelius

So what happens when we hold on to our opinions too tightly?

When we're too attached to our opinions, we can become closed-minded, defensive, unwilling to change our minds, and even hostile toward others who disagree with us. In our need to be right, we can alienate others, such as friends and family members. This can make it harder to find common ground, come up with creative solutions, and understand where others are coming from. In other words, it can create rifts and make it harder to connect with others.

Growing up mormon, I lived in a culture that was so sure that their beliefs and opinions were the correct ones, that those with differing opinions were not welcomed. Because of this attitude, I’ve had friends who’ve been excluded from their families because they had different political opinions or religious beliefs. Their families decided that their attachment to their beliefs and opinions was more important than reaching out and trying to include those who thought differently.

Rightness

When we’re too attached to our opinions or beliefs, we can use them to justify things that actually go against our principles. We’ve seen throughout history that people believing in the rightness of their opinions or beliefs has led them to do pretty awful things. From the Crusades to slavery to the Nazis of World War II, we have seen what happens when groups of people have a belief or opinion that they want to force upon others.

No Opinion

“Intelligence consists of ignoring things that are irrelevant.”

— Nassim Nicholas Taleb

So how can we get better about being less attached to our opinions, and have opinions that better serve us?

There is nothing wrong with having opinions. As I said earlier, opinions are just our perspectives and judgments on the world. Having opinions on things is how we navigate the world. It’s our attachments to our opinions and beliefs that can cause us issues.

One of the things the stoic talk about is that we don’t have to have an opinion on everything. There are plenty of things that we don’t need to waste our energy on, because we have no control over them, nor do they have any impact on our lives whatsoever. For example, why would I care about what some celebrity wore to some awards show? It has no impact on my life, nor does my opinion of it impact anyone else’s life.

It’s Okay to be Wrong

“Strong opinions, loosely held.”

— Paul Saffo

“Uncertainty is an uncomfortable position. But certainty is an absurd one.”

— Voltaire

Another thing to realize is that you might be wrong. Your opinion is just an idea and perspective on something at a certain point in time. You should always be willing to update your opinions based upon new information because the world is always changing and you are always changing as well. It may mean that at some point in time you may hold the completely opposite opinion, or just not care about something because it doesn’t really matter in your life anymore.

I look back on a lot of the opinions I had when I was young and realize how uninformed they were. Some of that was because I just didn’t have enough information. Some of them were simply opinions that I inherited from my parents and the culture that I grew up in. I also just didn’t have enough experience in my life to really have an informed opinion.

Now that I’m older and have a lot more life experience, I can see how I held onto a lot of opinions that seemed so important I don’t even care about any more. I try to be more curious about other peoples opinions, and be open to them so that my opinions can be better informed.

Live Your Principles

“The universe is change; our life is what our thoughts make it.”

— Marcus Aurelius

Where our opinions are important is how well they help us live our principles, not be used as an excuse to skirt our principles. For example, if we claim to live the principle of justice, but we fail to uphold it for others that we deem undeserving based on something like their class, gender, or skin color, then we aren’t living by our principles. We have opinions we are using to selectively apply our principles. So when it comes to our opinions, we might ask, "Is holding this opinion useful?" and "Will this opinion make me more or less likely to act in accordance with my principles?"

We should also recognize that others may have different opinions on things, but can hold the same principles that we do. Often times is just that they have a different approach on how they think things need to be done. When we focus more on finding our common principles and less on our differences of opinion, it is more likely that we can find common ground to work together.

As I mentioned earlier, a lot of our opinions are about how we think other people should be or ways that they should behave. When we hold onto these opinions we end up driving others away from us because we think we have the right to tell others how they should act, and as the stoics taught, we don’t have control over other people.

When we’re willing to be less attached to our opinions, we are more likely to bring people closer to us. We are able to approach conversations with the goal of learning and understanding, rather than pushing them away because of our need to “win” be “right”. By cultivating an attitude of curiosity and openness toward others' perspectives, rather than immediately trying to refute or dismiss them, it allows us to see things from a different angle and perhaps gain a more nuanced understanding.

Conclusion

Everyone has opinions in life because it’s how we operate as humans. We hold onto ideas about how we think the world works, and they can help us make choices. But the more that we can be aware of our opinions, the better we can recognize that our opinions and beliefs are just our perspectives on something and not necessarily the truth about something. But most importantly, we need to make sure that our opinions don’t get in the way of living our principles.


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

Categories
Loneliness

271 – Cultivating Connection: Stoic Insights on Loneliness

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

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

—Seneca

Lonely

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We Need Connection to Survive

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

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

Change

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

— Haemin Sunim

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

— Thich Nhat Hanh

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

Talk about massive change.

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

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

Addiction

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

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

Suicide

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

— Krishna

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

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

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

Get Comfortable With the Uncomfortable

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

— Marcus Aurelius

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

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

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

Physical

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

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

Create

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

— Seneca

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

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

Reach Out

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

— Marcus Aurelius

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

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

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

Get Involved

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

— Seneca

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

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

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

Conclusion

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


Hello friends! Thank you for listening.

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

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

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

Find me on instagram or twitter.

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

Categories
Kindness

270- Benefit of the Doubt

Do you give others the benefit of the doubt? When other people disappoint you do you cut them some slack? Today I want to talk about why it’s important to give people some grace, and how it can make you happier with yourself.

“Everywhere, at each moment, you have the option: to accept this event with humility; to treat this person as they should be treated; to approach this thought with care, so that nothing irrational creeps in.”

—Marcus Aurelius

My Story

One of the things that went wrong in my last relationship was that I was not very good about giving my ex-partner the benefit of the doubt. When we would have arguments I would often take what she said and twist it into something that was done to hurt me. I would often assume that actions she did that took that I didn’t care for would done out of spite or meanness.

She often complained that I didn’t give her the benefit of the doubt. That I was so sure what she meant by what she said or what she did, and unfortunately, it was usually that I assumed the worst, and gave everything a negative spin. And to be honest, she was correct.

Now, the reason why we reached this state of affairs was because of me. Having grown up in a culture where I had to conform to fit in, whenever things got challenging, I would always try to figure out what I thought was the right thing to say was so that I didn’t get into trouble. This meant that rather than telling the truth about what I thought about something, I would try to figure out the answer that would please the other person, in this case, my ex-partner.

But the thing is, when you live this way, you erode trust with other people, especially those closest to you. When you are constantly lying about how you feel and what you think, it makes it challenging if not impossible for someone to trust you.

What happens in this situation is that the person who has to pretend to be something they’re not feels resentful because they feel like they can’t be themselves. The person that is being lied to is resentful because they feel like they pretender doesn’t trust them, and that they cannot trust the pretender.

To put it mildly, this creates a very unhealthy relationship dynamic. Even if you love the other person deeply, and you want things to work, this kind of dynamic doesn’t foster trust on either side.

I know this is a bit of tangent, but I want you to understand where I’m coming from so that when I dive into what things you can do to be more graceful with people, you can understand how I got to place where I really had to make an effort to work on this. I’ve talked to other people who’ve grown up in similar situations and they’ve talked about how they’ve had similar relationship issues. I hope that by sharing some of these things, that if you see yourself in a similar situation, you might be able to learn from my mistakes.

Road to Ruin

What happens when we don’t give others the benefit of the doubt is that we can ruin relationships. It erodes trust because other people feel like they can’t make mistakes around us. Because we assume the worst of them, they feel like they can’t be vulnerable around us. It means that they can’t have a bad day around us when they aren’t at their best.

When we don’t give others the benefit of the doubt, it also makes them less willing to want to give us some grace when we’re not at our best. This may not even be a conscious act on their part, but more that they start to become protective of themselves. When others, especially those who are close to us, feel like they cannot be vulnerable around us they put up emotional barricades to keep us out because we aren’t safe.

Projection

“It is our own opinions that disturb us. Take away these opinions then, and resolve to dismiss your judgment about an act as if it were something grievous, and your anger is gone.”

—Marcus Aurelius

One reason why we may not give others the benefit of the doubt is that we are so sure what we know what the the other person really means by something they do or say. We assume that our judgement about them is correct, regardless of what they do or say to explain themselves or their actions. And really this is just us projecting our thoughts and opinions on someone else.

In my case, I would project what I thought my ex partner thought of me onto every word and action. Not what she really thought of me, but I what I assumed she thought of me. Since we can never truly know what others think of us, I would assume what she thought of me, and unfortunately, because I was so hard on myself and didn’t think that I was all that great of a person, I just assumed that she felt the same way. I was so sure that I knew the truth it didn’t matter how much she protested and tried to tell me what she really thought.

Grace

“The art of being wise is the art of knowing what to overlook.”

— William James

So why is it important that we give others the benefit of the doubt?

We are all fallible and make mistakes in our lives. Just as we want others to give us some grace when we screw up, we should be willing to do the same for others. None of us are perfect and none of us will ever do everything perfectly. In order for us to get along with others in the world, we need to be willing to trust others, and let them make mistakes.

When we don’t cut others some slack, then they will usually start to disconnect from us, and feel like they have to protect themselves from us. What might have been once a warm and caring relationship, becomes more fraught with distrust and full of resentment. Even in professional relationships assuming the worst of others makes it challenging when you need trust to help each other in challenging situations. I know that I was far more willing to step up and go the extra mile for managers who I felt were kind to me when I messed up. I was also far more willing to step up and own my mistakes when I felt like there was room to do so.

Face Value

“When you wake up in the morning, tell yourself: the people I deal with today will be meddling, ungrateful, arrogant, dishonest, jealous and surly. They are like this because they can’t tell good from evil.”

— Marcus Aurelius

One of the things that we should be willing to do is to take others at face value. Now this is not an easy thing to do because we will often try to read into what other people actions mean or interpret what they say to have some other kinds of meaning. In most cases we’re just better off taking people at face value, and trust them until we have reason not to.

Now in my case this has been challenging. Because the environment I grew up in was never really about being honest about how you felt, you felt like you could never really trust what someone else was saying. At church you never really spoke about your real opinion on something, but rather found the right answers so that everyone thought you were a good member. It was about saying and doing all the right things in front of the right people.

At home, with my father, it was about making sure that when he was angry about something that I figured out the right thing to say to try and calm him down so I didn’t get hit. Both of these factors taught me that people can’t be trusted because they will say what the need to say, and not what they really mean.

When we decide to take people at face value, there will be those who lie to us. In most cases, it doesn’t cause us harm to let them. For example, someone might break a date with us and make up some excuse for it rather than simply telling us they’re not interested in us anymore. We could get upset and call them out on it but what good would that do? The end result is still the same, and it doesn’t do us any good to think poorly of them. I think we’re better off being a little more gracious than assuming bad intentions of others.

And funny enough, I’ve had situations where I ran into people who had broken off dates with me, and because I handled it graciously at the time, they owned up to why they broke things off. A few became friends because they felt like they could trust me.

Self Compassion

Ironically, one of the ways that we can get better about giving others the benefit of the doubt is to practice self compassion. Often the reason we don’t cut others slack when they need it is because we don’t do the same to ourselves. When we make a mistake, often we can be very harsh on ourselves, and beat ourselves up for our screw ups.

Often we aren’t kind to ourselves because we have low self esteem and we carry a sense of shame about ourselves. When we carry a deep sense of shame, we feel like we are a bad person and need to be punished when we mess up. While we need to accept the consequences for our actions and do our best to fix things when we screw up, shame pushes us beyond that to a point where it becomes unhelpful and even destructive.

When we practice self compassion, we are better able to step up and take responsibility for our actions. We’re able to see that just because we made a mistake it doesn’t mean that we are a bad person. While our actions might have been harmful, we recognize that we are not our actions, and we can step up and do our best to fix the situation. When we can have that kind of compassion for ourselves, we are better able to extend that to others as well. It’s like when we practice it on ourselves, it’s easier to give it to others.

Conclusion

Giving others the benefit of the doubt is something that can go a long way in helping others to trust us. It can help create stronger relationships where they can be vulnerable with us. It also helps us assume the best of others, and if you’re like me, I know that I really appreciate it when others assume the best of me. Giving each other some grace, and cutting each other more slack would go a long way in repairing some of the rifts that we see in society. It would mean that we could be more tolerant and forgiving for each other when we are not at our best, and as we all know, no one is ever always at their best.

Categories
self-improvement

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

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

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

— @TheStoicEmperor (twitter)

Achievement

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

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

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

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

Process vs. Outcome

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

—Epictetus

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

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

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

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

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

Man on the Moon

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cheating

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

— David Goggins

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

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

Failing

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

— Ken Poirot

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

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

Set Worthy Goals

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

— Seneca

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

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

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

Excellence

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

— Epictetus

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

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

Conclusion

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


Hello friends! Thank you for listening. Stop by the website at 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
self

263 – No Self

Photographer: 919039361464473

Do you think of yourself as a “self”? What if we had no part of us that was an enduring self? How would that change how you acted in the world? Today I want to talk about the idea of how we would view the world different if there was no self.

Who Am “I”?

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

― Epictetus

“Your happiness depends on three things, all of which are within your power: your will, your ideas concerning the events in which you are involved, and the use you make of your ideas.”

—Epictetus

How do you think about yourself? Meaning, when you refer to the “I” that is you, what do you think of? I know for me, and a good number of people, we think of this “I”, the “me” part of us, as our core, as the pilot of our bodies and our consciousness. This is the “I” is also referred to as the ego, and we consider is a core part of our identity.

The reason that I’m talking about this idea is that this morning I stumbled on an article (https://bigthink.com/the-well/eastern-philosophy-neuroscience-no-self) that claims that the self as most of us think about it does not exist. At first, I was skeptical, but as you well know, I’m always curious to take in other perspectives and if there is something useful that I can add to my world view. The author, Chris Niebauer is a neuropsychologist, and he does a pretty job of convincing me that there might not be a “self” in the way that we know it.

Thinking of the “I”, the pilot that is us the navigates us through the world is pretty consistent in the western world. But in the eastern world, in traditions such as Buddhism, Taoism, and others, they hold the idea that there is no self and that what we think of as the “I” or ego, doesn’t actually exist. The self is just an illusion. The self then is a phenomenon that happens because of the process of thinking. That without thinking, the self does not exist.

I think the best line in the article is when he says, “The self is more like a verb than a noun”, meaning that unless the mind is thinking there is no self. The self is a process, and only exists when thoughts are happening. As a side note, this might explain why we have around 60,000 thoughts a day, as the mind is in a constant cycle of reinforcing the self.

He points out that neuroscience has made tremendous progress in the last few decades as far as mapping out what parts of the brain handle which tasks. We know where the language centers are. We know which areas of the brain handle recognizing faces or the emotions of others, but there is no place in the brain where the “self” resides.

Split Brain

Niebauer also talks about different experiments and incidents that have happened throughout the last century have taught us much about brain is creating our sense of self on the fly, that it is not something that is permanent and fixed.

Where they made some real progress in this area was working with patients who had suffered from severe epilepsy. These patients had the corpus callosum, which is the communication layer between the two hemispheres, severed, so that they now live with what is called a “split brain”. In doing this, the patients no longer suffered from debilitating seizures, but their hemispheres no longer communicated properly. This allowed scientists to perform some fascinating experiments.

They would give instructions to the right side of the brain by showing them cards with instructions to just one eye. The right brain is the acting portion, and so when they would show them cards with actions such as “stand” or “laugh”, the patient would stand or laugh. But when they would ask them why they stood or laughed, the left brain, which is the “interpreter”, would answer the question. Since the left side had no knowledge that the original instruction that came the right side of their brain, it would try to explain things by using what information it did have, and would make something up in an effort to make sense of what was going on.

No-Self

“You have power over your mind — not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.”

— Marcus Aurelius

So what exactly does this mean? According to the author it means that there is no single self or pilot that is in control of us. The left hemisphere is constantly interpreting what it thinks is going on and gives meaning to it on the fly, which guides our actions. This interpreting process is what tells us in real time what we like or don’t like, if someone else is angry or sad. In other words, unless this interpreter is giving meaning to something, there is no self that is acting or piloting us.

The other part that was interesting to me, is that the left brain was wrong, but was convinced that it was right. Even those of us with normal brains will try to make sense out of what we are experiencing and come up with an explanation. We hold onto that explanation and believe it to be correct, but we can see through those experiments that it is just a perspective and not necessarily the truth.

For me as a software developer this idea of the self being a combination of thinking processes is easy to imagine. When you work on code in most modern languages, a program is not just some big monolithic file of code. It is usually built with different modules that handle different aspects of what the application needs. There’s the UI library that handles the visual elements and user interactions such as pushing a button, or clicking a checkbox. There are modules that help you make calls to external datasources. Each of these are combined and stitched together to create an application. There is no application unless all of these elements are working together and doing the things that they were designed to do.

This also reminds we of how memories work in the human mind. We know for example that memories are not something that are just held in our minds like videos stored on a hard drive. Our brains actually recreate our memories on the fly each time we recall them, so each time we remember an event, we are not watching something fixed, but we are recreating something slightly different. It’s like our brain has the basic story and tries to fill it in. This is why when people are asked about things in the past at various times, they may remember things that are generally the same but over time they begin to change into something that isn’t really all that close to the original event.

I Am Who I Think I Am

“I think, therefore I am who I think I am.”

— 2NU2

“There are two of the most immediately useful thoughts you will dip 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

So why is this important? Why should we worry about whether there is a self or not? For me, it is an interesting way to think of the mind. It shows that the stoics were quite ahead of their time. If the self is really just a construct of our thinking, and that, according to stoics, our thinking is one of the things that we have control over, then we have a lot more control over who we are as a person than we thought we had.

In this view, the self is not some static unchanging entity sitting somewhere in our brain. We are a unique combination of ever changing thought processes and sensory inputs coming together at a specific moment in time. How we feel and think at any given moment in time is a combination of all of those elements, and therefore who we are is in a constant state change.

If we look at the self as a product of our thinking, then who we think we are and how we think about ourselves is very important. Our self image, who we imagine ourself to be is something that is up to us. It is not a static thing. It is something that is always changing and more malleable than we like to think. I think this is why we are often easily swayed by the opinions of others. If our self is a product of our thinking, if we let others have too much influence over how we think, they can influence how we think and thereby change who we are.

We Are What We Do

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

— Marcus Aurelius

Because we are in a constant state of change, and the self is always in flux, it is important that we have tools to help us on a daily basis. Because the self is not just a static, fixed thing, we can’t just do something once and expect it to be a lasting change. It is something that needs constant attention. This is why mindfulness, practices, rituals, and habits that help us to think better are so important for us to implement. By thinking better, we become a better person. We create a better self.

The habits that we develop are thought patterns that have become engrained into a part of us to the point to where they are almost automatic. Therefore our habits are a part of our “self” as well. We are what we repeatedly do, which is why when we are able to understand the deeper thought patterns that drive our bad habits, it makes it easier to change them. Just trying to change a habit without understanding it is possible, but you are more likely to succeed when you understand why you have the habit.

If we think of the self as thought, then meditation an important way to get to know ourselves. If you are unaware of the thoughts that you have each and every day, then it’s really hard to know who you are. Therefore a daily meditation practice allows us to know what we think. The more we know what we think, the more we understand what makes us who we are.

As always, I’m going to recommend journalling as another way to get to know ourselves. If we hold this view that the self is nothing but thinking, then recording our thoughts is another way that we get to know ourselves. These podcast episodes are often an outgrowth of me just sitting down and writing about what I’m thinking in an effort to get to understand myself better. I’m also a strong proponent that clear writing leads to clear thinking, so the more time you spend writing and organizing your thoughts on the page, the better your thinking, and the better self you create.

Conclusion

The idea that there is no real “self” and that we are simply a product of our thinking is a fascinating perspective. Just as with other theories of consciousness, it’s hard to say whether it is correct, but for me, I think it is certainly a useful model. If our self is created by our thinking, then we have the opportunity to choose who we want to be, and by improving our thinking, we improve our “self”.


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

261 – What Others Think

Do you worry about what others think of you? Does it keep you from doing or saying things that you would like do? Today I want to talk about thinking errors and projection and how we can use stoic ideas to clean up our thinking.

“There is only one way to happiness and that is to cease worrying about things which are beyond the power of our will.”

— Epictetus

A lot of what we do in our lives is geared towards what we imagine others think about us. We act certain ways, wear certain clothes, or buy certain things because we think that we will somehow gain approval or fit in with some certain kind of group by doing so.

But if we really think about it, we really don’t know what others are actually thinking about us. We are really just making assumptions and guessing based on our life experience and our own thoughts about ourselves.

What Others Think About Us

About a year ago, I did an episode about self acceptance which I consider one of my best and most important episodes. If you want to go back and listen to it, it’s episode 218 – Accept Yourself. The reason that it was such an important episode for me is that I had learned some hard lessons about how I was not very accepting of myself. Because of this, I had low self esteem, and I felt like I was just not a very good person.

At that time, I decided to figure out what it was that was so awful about me. I did an exercise where I made a list of everything that I didn’t like about myself. I realized that if I was going to work on self acceptance, I really needed to understand what I wasn’t accepting about myself. After I wrote down everything I didn’t like about myself, I realized that about half the items on the list weren’t things I didn’t like about myself, but were actually things that I thought others didn’t like about me. To be clear, these were not things that others had told me they didn’t like about me, they were stories that my mind made up.

As part of that practice I discarded those things because they didn’t fit my criteria. But it was a powerful lesson about how our minds will make up stories to keep things consistent. Meaning, if you believe that you are an awful person, your mind will try to find proof to back it up. It will catalog everything you do that you feel reflects negatively on you as proof of your belief. If it is unable to find things, it will begin to reinterpret things in such a way so that it helps to prove you right.

Because our minds seek to make sense of the world and create the consistency that it needs, our thoughts about ourselves are incredibly important. In fact, how we think about ourselves is far more important than what anyone else thinks about us. Who we think we are, guides our choices, which leads to the kind of life we have. We take actions because we think they are in line with who we are as a person. Our minds try to help us stay consistent with our identity.

For example, when I was religious, I said and did things that in hindsight I really wasn’t sure I believed in, but I repeated them because it’s what I was told was the truth about the world. Because I had a certain identity, I acted in accordance with that identity. Once I started questioning things, I chose my own belief system that felt more aligned with being the kind of person I wanted to be.

So why do we we get caught up so much in what other people think of us? There are a number of reasons.

Social Creatures

We are social creatures and we thrive when we are part of a community. We are built to connect with other people and other people are a mirror of ourselves. It is through other people that we get to know who we are. For example, how do we know if we are a kind person if we have no one else to be kind to?

Because we want to fit in with our community, we are constantly trying to be aware of social cues and body language. But, it is all a guess on our side. We may think we know what a certain look or sigh means, but we can easily misinterpret things, and since we really do not have direct knowledge of what most people think of us, we make assumptions. We fill in the gaps because we don’t know what someone else might think of us.

The problem with filling in the gaps is that we tend to assume that others think like we do. So if we don’t really like ourselves, we assume that others won’t like us either. We may even treat them poorly simply because we assume they dislike us, based upon our own assumptions. They may have done nothing for us to be able to make a clear judgment about how they feel about us, so we’re really just guessing.

You Spot It, You Got It

“Whenever you are about to find fault with someone, ask yourself the following question: What fault of mine most nearly resembles the one I am about to criticize?”

— Marcus Aurelius

In psychology, there is a term called projection. The idea behind projection is that often people will accuse others of something that they are struggling with. For example, if someone is cheating on a partner, they will often accuse the other person of cheating. If someone is insecure, they may project those insecurities on other people and accuse them of the very thing they are afraid of.

Often, we project on to others the things we are afraid to look at about ourselves. As one of my therapists would say, “You spot it, you got it.” This is why people seem to be rather hypocritical when they point out the flaws of other yet seem completely oblivious to their own similar behaviors. For example, someone who often dominates conversations may accuse others of doing the exact same thing without recognizing their own behavior.

Now, it is not always going to be the case that noticing someone else’s behavior means that you have the same flaw. But if there is something that someone else is doing that really frustrates you, take a moment to see if you might be projecting some of your own thoughts, ideas, or fears onto this other person.

Out of Our Control

“When you wake up in the morning, tell yourself: the people I deal with today will be meddling, ungrateful, arrogant, dishonest, jealous and surly. They are like this because they can’t tell good from evil.”

— Marcus Aurelius

The stoics have long reminded us that what others think about us is not something that is under our control. We could be the kindest and most generous person in the world, and yet someone may form an opinion of us that is unflattering.

Since we have no control over what they think of us, we need to get comfortable with others not liking us. They may even hate us and there is little that we can do about it. And it doesn’t even matter why dislike us. They could be misinformed. They may have reasons that really have nothing to do with us. Nonetheless, we need to recognize that it is out of our control and not let what others think of us change how we act.

But, if I’m being honest, it’s hard to let go of what others think of us. Because we are social creatures, we get caught up in wanting to be liked, which is again something that is out of our control. Any time we do things to get others to like us, we are giving control of our happiness to someone else.

So how can we get better about not worrying what others think about us, and also be aware of the assumptions and projections that we make about others?

Just the Facts

“Accustom yourself to attend carefully to what is said by another, and as much as it is possible, try to inhabit the speaker’s mind.”

—Marcus Aurelius

One thing we can do it take time to be sure that we are basing our judgments of others off of the facts. If we aren’t working off of what we actually know, there is a good chance that we are making unfair assumptions or projections.

One way that projection showed up for me was with my former partner. When we would get in to arguments I would accuse her of hating me, or thinking all kinds of rotten things about me. Now these were things she had never even said, but were things that I thought about myself. I would twist things that she said to make them sound like she had said mean or cruel things to me, all in an effort to somehow prove that I was as awful as I thought I was. Basically, I thought I was not a very good person, so I would unfairly project all those thoughts onto her.

Know Thyself

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

— Marcus Aurelius

An important step to make progress in this area is to get to really know yourself. By knowing what you think of yourself and the world, you’ll be more likely to notice when you project your thoughts or ideas onto others.

I talk a lot about meditation and journalling on this podcast, and the main reason is, they are great tools for getting to know yourself. I know that many people talk about how hard meditation is, and they are not wrong. Our minds are constantly noticing the world around us, as well as constantly moving back and forth from the past to trying to predict the future.

Meditation is one of the best ways to exert your will over your mind. It is how you get started in knowing what you are thinking. Awareness is the first step in change, and meditation is how you become aware of your thinking. The more awareness we have of our own minds, the better we are able to direct our thinking.

When it comes to journaling, for me I think of it as my third mind. We all have the part of our mind that is the observer, as well as the active part which is more of the doer. When you put your thoughts down on a page, they are much easier to work with because you are no longer trying to remember them. It also gives space for the observer and doer parts of your mind to work together. You’ll start to make connections that you never made before. You may even hit some deeper parts of yourself that will surprise you.

Get to Like Yourself

“When someone is properly grounded in life, they shouldn’t have to look outside themselves for approval.”

— Epictetus

After you get to know yourself, get to like yourself. We all spend so much time worrying about if others like us, but focusing on getting to like yourself is for more productive. I know I enjoy spending my time around those who are truly comfortable in their own skin. They’re happy with who they are, so anyone else’s opinion of them doesn’t change how they feel about themselves. They don’t also don’t need to tear down anyone else to make themselves feel better.

Getting to like yourself is also something that you have control over. You can decide to like yourself at any moment and immediately boost your mood. Now, I know this is not always an easy thing. I know that I get caught up in some negative thought loops about how I’m not a very good person or that people shouldn’t like me for all sorts of reasons. Usually it’s because I have some expectations that I think I have to meet in order to be considered a good person. I’m working on just letting go of this way of thinking and just accepting myself for exactly who I am.

If this is something you struggle with, I highly recommend listening to episode 218 – Accept Yourself and doing the exercise that I talk about. It was a real game changer for me.

Principles

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

— Marcus Aurelius

The last and most important thing that you can do to not get bog down by the opinions of others is to live your principles the best you can. How we live our lives is one of the only things that is truly under our control. If we live according to our principles, then what others think or say about us doesn’t really matter. We uphold our principles regardless of the situation or what others think of us. As long as we hold to our core principles and act in a way that we consider honorable, then we should be confident with our choices and actions.

We don’t need to defend ourselves for doing what we think is right.

Conclusion

Worrying about what others think of us is not always an easy thing to do. We are social creatures and having that external validation feels good, but it is something that have no control over. When we learn to focus on what we can control, namely our own thinking and choices, we become more resilient. When we improve our own opinion about ourselves and like ourselves, then what others think of us has a far less impact on us. And, in my own experience, the happiest people I know are those that truly like and accept themselves just the way they are.


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

260 – Suffer Well

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

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

— Seneca

Life is Suffering

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

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

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

Suffer By Choice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Resilience

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

—Marcus Aurelius

So why is it important to suffer for something?

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

Embrace Discomfort

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

Discipline

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

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

Confidence

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

— Epictetus

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

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

Purpose

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

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

Do I Really Have to Suffer?

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

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

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

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

Pain Or Pleasure?

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

What Are You Willing To Suffer For?

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

@TheAncientSage (twitter)

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

Conclusion

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


Hello friends! Thank you for listening. Stop by the website at 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
Enemies

259 – Enemies

Do you have enemies? Are there people that you don’t like? Are there people who don’t like you? May there is someone who makes your life more difficult? Today I want to talk about the importance of having people in our lives that challenge us.

“There are only two people who can tell you the truth about yourself – an enemy who has lost his temper and a friend who loves you dearly.”

— Antisthenes

One of the hardest things for us as social creatures is to deal with our enemies. Now when I use the word enemy in this episode, I mean everyone from people in our social circles that we don’t like, to romantic or business rivals, and everything in between. There are plenty of people that we probably don’t like and plenty that may not like us.

And believe it or not, it’s a good thing to have enemies.

Enemies

“Your friends will believe in your potential, your enemies will make you live up to it.”

— Tim Fargo

“Pay attention to your enemies, for they are the first to discover your mistakes.”

— Antisthenes

One of the hardest things for us to do is to be honest with ourselves. Our mind likes to play tricks on us, so we will often change how we remember things so that it put us in a better light. We will change our interpretation of things so that when we make mistakes, that we still come out looking good. We will fudge reality so that we are still the good guy in a story, even if we have done things that, deep down, we know were not things that aligned with our principles.

Our friends will let things slide and often let us get by with not being our best or taking the best course of action. They may be more likely to comfort us and say the things we want to hear. They might not call us out when we backslide or try to weasel out of owning up to our mistakes. If our friends approve of everything we do and let us get away with everything, we would never improve. We should seek out those who tell us when we’re not holding up our principles. We should listen to those who are honest enough to call us out.

This is why having enemies is important. Enemies will not let us forget the things that we have done. When we make mistakes or screw up, they are the first to point them out and call us out when we don’t act according to our principles and values. Our enemies are the ones that challenge us to live up to what we say we will do and call us out when we don’t. They will find our smallest flaws and are not afraid to point them out. This is why our enemies can be our best friends. This can be very frustrating and we might even get angry about it, but it can be the fastest way to see if we are living up to our principles.

The Truth

“If evil be spoken of you and it be true, correct yourself, if it’s a lie, laugh at it.”

— Epictetus

Recently, I found out that an old friend of mine that I used to be closed to quite dislikes me now. At first I was upset and thought they were being unfair because they disliked me for some of my behavior in past that had nothing to do with them. But as I was talking to a mutual friend they pointed out the fact that I had actually done these things in the past, and rather than complain about them not liking me, I needed to step up and do better.

While I didn’t like to own up to my past behavior, they were not wrong. Some of my behavior in the past wasn’t great. I realized that how they perceived me was not under my control. There is nothing I can to do change the past, nor little I can do to directly change their opinion of me. The only thing I can do is to be the person that I want to be. I have no control over what others think of me, only my choices and the actions I take. If this person dislikes me, and I’m holding to my principles and values, then they are not the kind of person I want to be around.

Hold To Your Principles

“You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life.”

— Winston Churchill

Now, just because someone is unhappy with something that we do doesn’t mean that they are right and that we need to change to make them happy. There are times when we will do things that others may not like, but it’s the right thing to do.

We need to have the courage to be ourselves regardless of what other people think of us. We need to build our character and follow our principles in such a dedicated manner that the choices we make and the actions we take are aligned with who we want to be. If we constantly change our choices and actions based upon what others might think, then we really need to take a look at ourselves and make sure that we know what our core principles and beliefs are.

When we live by building our character and not worry about what other think of us, we rarely need to apologize for how we act. If someone is upset with us because they don’t like something we have done or said, we should see if we have done something against our principles.If we find that we haven’t lived up to our standards when dealing with other people, we should be quick to apologize.

We don’t apologize because someone is upset with us, but because we have failed to uphold our principles. If someone is upset with us and we have upheld our principles, then there is no need to apologize. We never need to apologize for upholding our principles and doing what we think is the right thing.

Expand Your World

“If anyone can refute me‚ show me I’m making a mistake or looking at things from the wrong perspective‚ I’ll gladly change. It’s the truth I’m after.”

— Marcus Aurelius

One of the main reasons why we should listen to those we don’t like is because we don’t have all the answers. When I was in the Mormon church, there was a strong emphasis of not reading or listening to those that disagreed with the teachings of the church. This close-minded way of acting in the world was something that always rubbed me the wrong way.

I mean, why should we be afraid of listening to those who don’t think like we do? Shutting yourself off from ideas don’t support your worldview will actually make you mentally weaker. If your way of viewing the world is so good, then you should be able to listen to new ideas, logically see the mistakes in them, and dismiss them. By engaging with opposing points of view we make our own arguments stronger because our opponents can point out the weaknesses.

By taking the time to listening to ideas we don’t agree with, we may actually find some new ideas that we can use to make our lives better. No one has a monopoly on good ideas. As smart or as great as we think you are, we don’t know the best way to do everything. We thrive as a culture because we have all kinds of new ideas and we challenge old ways of thinking. If it’s a good idea, there’s a good chance that it will stand up to scrutiny. Then we take what works, and do our best spread those ideas.

I mean, that’s what I’m doing with my podcast. I try to take the best ideas that I can find, apply them in my life, and help spread them around to others so that they can use these ideas to improve their lives. Hopefully, they can improve on these ideas so that I can learn and use the new and improved versions. Don’t get so attached to your own ideas such that you think they are the only way something can be done. Doing so means that your ego is in the way.

Defeat Your Enemy

“Your enemies cannot make you hate them, define you, or make you obsessively think about them, only you can do that.”

— Carmine Savastano

One of the most important reasons why we should try to understand our enemies, is because spending energy on hating others makes your life miserable. When we consider someone to be our enemy, we are blaming them for something that is wrong in our lives. We believe that if they would just act a certain way, then everything would be fine. In a sense, we are trying to control something that we do not have control over. Letting go of anger makes your life more positive and focuses your energy on things that are more useful.

Conclusion

“An honorable man is fair even to his enemies; a dishonorable man is unfair even to his friends!”

― Mehmet Murat ildan

If you have someone in your life that you consider an enemy, I want you to think about why. Do they act in a way that you find distasteful? Are they mean or cruel to others? If their behavior is something that goes against your principles, then it may be it’s someone that is not good to have in your life. In that case, use them as an example of what not to be and learn by watching their mistakes.

But, if it is because they make you uncomfortable by pointing out the truth, it may be time to try and build a bridge. Then maybe this person is more of a friend than you might think. This may be someone with enough character to tell you what you need to hear, and an honest enemy is better than a friend who only tells you what you want to hear.


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 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
Acceptance Choices Circumstances

250 – When Life Has Other Plans

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

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

— Epictetus

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

Congratulations

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

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

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

Curveball

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

— Ryan Holiday

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

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

Life Happens

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

Don’t Panic!

— Douglas Adams

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

No One to Blame

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

—Epictetus

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

Choices

There are no problems, only choices.

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

What Next?

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

— Epictetus

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

I find myself in a place full of opportunity.

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

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


Hello friends! Thank you for listening. Stop by the website at 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
Responsibility

245 – Whining or Winning

Do you think that life is fair? Do you think it’s unfair? Are others “winning” when you are not? Today I want to talk about how fall into a pretty bad way of thinking that reduces our ability to take responsibility for ourselves, and blame our unhappiness on the world outside of us.

Complaining about a problem without posing a solution is called whining.

— Teddy Roosevelt

There is only one way to happiness and that is to cease worrying about things which are beyond the power of our will.

— Epictetus

From time to time, I like to hop on the stoicism sub reddit and participate in discussions. I really appreciate is that most people are pretty thoughtful and respectful, and I often learn something new or see things in a new light.

But there’s a kind of post that I see on there from time to time which I find is pretty sad. It is usually some who is upset that they are not getting all the things in life they think they deserve. They complain that the job sucks or they’re struggling with school and the teachers are mean and out to get them. Or they’re afraid to talk to someone they’re find attractive and are upset that they can’t get a date. They talk about how how they tried to be stoic, but they still aren’t getting what they deserve. They complain that other people still treat them poorly even though they are trying to be stoic. There is often a lot of blaming of others for their misfortune and lashing out at the world in general.

So today’s episode is going to be a little bit of a rant, but I hope that you can bear with me.

Fairness

Don't be overheard complaining…Not even to yourself.

— Marcus Aurelius

One of the hardest things for us to wrap our heads around in this world is this:

We are entitled to nothing in life. We deserve nothing in this world.

Now, I’m sure that might be upsetting to those of us who think that life should be fair. I’ll give you a hint:

Life is not fair and never will be.

How could it be? There is nothing in the universe that would be able to enforce some external rule of fairness. And if we tried to create a society of absolute fairness, who would be given the task of deciding what is fair?

You?

Me?

As much as I’d like to think that I could be a good arbiter of fairness, I know that because of my own biases and personal failings, I could make a system that I think would be fair that plenty of others would disagree on. We could never get everyone to agree on what the definition of fairness is. As much as we might wish it, fairness is not something intrinsic in the universe. It is not a natural law like gravity. It is something that we have to create on our own as a society.

Interestingly enough, I think this is proven out because one of the core virtues of Stoicism is that of Justice. What that means to me is that we need to help bring justice to the world because it is not already a natural or intrinsic part of the world.

What’s ironic is that most people I see complain about the fact that world isn’t fair, are those that want the world to bend in a way that benefits them. If this were to happen, wouldn’t that make it so that world was again unfair because it benefits them and not someone else?

Character

Don't demand that things happen as you wish, but wish that they happen as they do happen, and you will go on well.

— Epictetus

Another part of this post that I wanted to talk about is the idea that if you act virtuously then everything will work out for you exactly the way that you want it. That people around you will change who they are simply because you are trying to be a good person. That because you “act” like a good person, then everything will simply come to you because you deserve it. This is never going to be the case.

Let me spell it out clearly for you:

You don’t deserve anything.

Just because you want or think you deserve something doesn’t matter. You can think that all you want. Just because you are nice doesn’t mean that you should get to date someone you find attractive. Just because you act virtuous doesn’t mean that other people will be nice to you or not try to take advantage of you. Or that good things won’t happen to bad people (of course who are you to decide if they are bad people?).

The reason that you act virtuously is not so that others will change for you. It is so that you act in a way that you feel good about. That you are living a life that you are proud of. Life will happen to you regardless of your character. Having a good character does not mean that everything will go your way.

In fact, I would argue that you if you think that you deserve something because you think you have good character, you probably don’t. I think that someone with good character would recognize that they don’t deserve anything by just thinking that they are a good person. You cultivate virtue, and build your character because it’s something you want. You want to be a good person not so that you get something or you earn something. You cultivate virtue because that’s kind of person that you want to be.

Doing The Work

Happiness is not the absence of problems, it's the ability to deal with them.

— Steve Maraboli

Another common thread I notice is that most of their complaints are based on the outcomes they want. They complain about how they are are not getting the things they want. Rather than looking at what they are doing and finding where it doesn’t work and making changes to trying to figure out why things aren’t working, they are blaming others for why they are failing.

When you get something without having to work for it, you miss out on the lessons you need to learn in order to handle the success that you have. If you haven’t learned to be a charming, fun, or interesting person and you happen to land a date with someone you’re attracted to, why should they stick around? You haven’t given them any reason to do so. Have you put in the work to be a good partner? What do you bring to the table that would make them want to date you? What about their preferences and free will? Just as you wouldn’t want to date someone that you’re not interested in, why should they be forced to?

What they are asking for is all the reward without the work. If you get a college diploma, but you didn’t earn it and do the work, what happens when you get hired and after a few weeks your manager realizes that you don’t have the skills to do your job?

Doing the work is how you gain the skills to be good at what you do.

Doing the work is how you are able to maintain what you earn.

Let’s say that you want to be a firefighter. Maybe someday you’d like to be a leader of a fire fighting squad. And let’s say that on the your first day on the job, they just give you that position. Would you be very good at it? Would you know what to do to safely put out a fire and help those in danger and keep your team safe?

No you wouldn’t. In fact, if you were simply given that position without the experience or training, then you would be a bigger danger to yourself and those around you. It is only through putting in the work that you learn how to safely and effectively fight a fire and lead a team.

Closing Thoughts

Happiness is not something ready-made. It comes from your own actions.

— Dalai Lama XIV

You are responsible for the results of your life. If you want to be successful in life, study successful people. You’ll find those that are truly successful are those that take responsibility for their actions. They don’t blame others for why they are failing. Recognize the things that are blocking your path and figure out how to work around them. When you put the work in, you gain the skills to overcome any obstacle in your path. In my experience, when you stop complaining and take a good look in the mirror, you see that that the biggest blocker to your success is you.


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
Transformation

242 – How to Become Another Person

Growing up, many of us feel like we only have a few options in how to live our lives. Like, there is a list of things we need to check off to be happy. Certain  careers that are acceptable. Certain kinds of people we should date and marry. Goals we are expected to obtain in order to live life correctly. Often we get stuck in thinking that we have a few choices in life, and we think that’s how it’s supposed to be.

But how would your life be different if you viewed yourself as something you get to create and to become someone you admire? Are you living the life you want to? If you aren’t, do you know how to create big changes in your life? Today I want to talk about, rather than simply growing and getting better little by little, what if you transformed yourself into something completely different?

We are not given a short life but we make it short, and we are not ill-supplied but wasteful of it.

— Seneca

Why does it seem that changes we want to make take far longer than we think they should? Often, we get by just making small and minor adjustments in our lives. We have found a way of living that works for us, and we don’t want to upset things. We are “fat and happy” as they say, and don’t want to upset our comfortable lives. We are stuck playing it safe, rather than just transforming our lives.

But when we think about it, can we ever really consider this growth? To me, this sounds more like maintenance, like we’re keeping an old building running with minor tweaks. For me, this is coasting. This is playing it safe.I think for many of us, there are periods of our lives when we get complacent. We are comfortable, and for many of us, this fine… or is it? What if you get to the end of your life and you see the opportunities you could have taken which would have made a dramatic change in your life and in the lives of others, but because you sought comfort over change you let those opportunities go?

While incremental change is good and helpful, if we want to be greater than we are, we need to change who we are as a person. We have chances all throughout our lives to step up and to become someone far greater than what we are.

I made a prosperous voyage when I was shipwrecked.

— Zeno

Zeno of Citium, a wealthy merchant, was the founder of the Stoic school of philosophy. On a voyage, he survived a shipwreck where he lost a great fortune. He ended up in Athens, and while trying to figure out what to do next, he was introduced to philosophy at a local bookshop. Zeno, so taken with the description of Socrates in Xenophon’s Memorabilia, asked the bookseller where he might find a philosopher along the same lines as Socrates. Crates of Thebes, the most famous Cynic living at that time in Greece, happened to have been passing by the bookshop. The owner of the bookstore introduced the two and Zeno became a pupil.

While Zeno could have bemoaned his fate, he took the opportunity of a clean slate to make a radical change in his life and become a completely different person. His teachings have resonated throughout history and humanity benefited because of his willingness to turn adversity into a life-changing opportunity.

The universe is change; our life is what our thoughts make it.

— Marcus Aurelius

Now, the brain’s main job is to keep us safe. If something is not threatening us or dangerous, and we’re comfortable, then it makes it challenging to step up and change. Our ego will create all kinds of resistance, make all kinds of excuses, and even self-sabotage us, because it wants to keep us safe.

The kind of change I’m talking about is changing who you are at a core level, and your ego will certainly feel the fear that comes with this. This is changing your identity. It’s about letting go of who you think you are at this moment, so you can become who you want to be. The tighter you hold on to who you are, and defend who you think you are, the harder it is to become this better and more evolved person.

This type of change takes a willingness to be fearless and step into the challenges so you can learn, and see the obstacles not as things to be avoided, but the very things that strengthen you and make you even more resilient.

It’s a willingness to upset the status quo, and give up the good so you can get to the great.

Doing what you have always done, will only get you more of what you have always gotten.

The kind of change I’m talking about is transformation, not growth. Transformation comes about when we decide we want to be a different person, rather than just trying to be a better version of who we are.

If you really want to escape the things that harass you, what you’re needing is not to be in a different place but to be a different person.

– Seneca

Now like Zeno, sometimes changes are thrust upon us through circumstances or the actions of others, and it's important that we find ways to step up and face what life sends our way. But, what if I told you that you could decide to change who you are at any time? That you don’t have to wait until calamity strikes in order to decide to make a big change in your life. You can choose at any time to change who you are, and become a far different person than who you are now.

So why don’t we do this more often? Because we get comfortable. We get stuck. We think life is just supposed to be the way it currently is. We forget we can choose at any time to become someone different. But in order to become an even better person, we have to let go of who we currently are, and that is scary. We have to question our own identity, our own belief systems of what we think is true and who we are, so we can become someone even greater.

But you might be thinking, “Well, the stoics tell us we need to accept life for how it is, what we should learn to be happy with life gives us”, and while this is true, it does not mean they are mutually exclusive. You can be accepting and happy with what life gives you, AND still want to step up and become something greater.

In fact, we need you to be the best version of yourself and contribute to the world in a positive way. We evolve as a species by being willing to step up and not just find comfort and pleasure, but by trying to improve the world for as many people as possible.

The greatest discovery of my generation is that a human being can alter his life by altering his attitudes.

— William James

So how do we make these changes? How do we become this better version of ourselves? This is something I’m still trying to work out, but here’s a few ideas to start with.

First, you need to understand that you are allowed to do anything you want to in your life. When I say this to people, I’m often met with shocked expressions. The idea that we are allowed to choose for ourselves is one of the scariest and most powerful ideas that we can internalize. From birth, so many of us are not taught this lesson. It’s like we’re given a list of a few choices of how we’re supposed to live.

But the thing is, it’s a false choice. You don’t have to choose from that list. You can make your own list. It took me decades to truly understand this.

Whether it’s through our families, our church, our culture, or the media, we are always being given subtle and not so subtle messages about what we are allowed to do with our lives. When I was a church member, I felt like I could only do what were okay with churc h doctrine. I felt so powerless and not in control of my life. Once I left, I realized I was the only one who could decide how I wanted to live.

When I say you can do anything you want, there are a few caveats. We need to remember you are not able to choose or control your circumstances. You are also not able to choose the outcomes or consequences of your choices. Remember, we can only control our thoughts, choices, and actions. Nothing more.

The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance.

— Alan Watts

The next step is to spend some time really getting to know who you currently are. I know it sounds funny, because if anyone should know you, it’s you. But the truth is, we all have blindspots, and most of those come from our ego. We will often ignore or change our interpretations of things so we are comfortable with ourselves. We will downplay things that might make us look bad, and put more weight on things that make us look better.

Getting to really know yourself is challenging, because it’s very uncomfortable to take a clear and honest look at yourself. This is where accepting yourself for exactly who you are can make a world of difference. You’ll have to practice letting go of judgments about yourself, and try to be as factual as you can. A good way to help in this area is to ask someone you trust to be honest and blunt with you..

One thing to keep in mind as you work through this process self-knowledge is that your past does not equal your future. Just because you did something in the past or something happened to you in the past does not mean you will be the same in the future. You can decide to let that shit go, and recognize who you were in the past is exactly that – who you were in the past, not who you’re going to be.

Once you’ve taken time to understand and get to know yourself, the next step is to identify who you want to be. What kind of values and attributes does your ideal you have? Are you kind? Thoughtful? Generous? What kinds of behaviors do you have? How are those behaviors and attributes different than who you are now? What kind of thought patterns does this future you have?

I would suggest you take some time to write a future auto biography of this new you. You only need a few pages, but try to create as detailed a portrait of this person and their character as you can. The more details you have, the easier it will be to imagine this future you and act accordingly. Being able to have a clear and in depth profile of this person will give you something to refer to over the next few months as you work to become this future version of you.

Once you’ve taken the time to envision this new you, take some time to think about what you could do to help yourself take action to become this person. When you create a todo list for the day, think about what things this version of yourself would do. Do they get up early? What do they eat? What books would this person read? Try and be as detailed as possible.

Once you embark on this path of becoming the new you, be sure to take time and reflect back at the end of each day. Are the actions you’re taking beneficial? Are your ways of thinking helping you to become this kind of person? Are the people you’re spending your time with helping you along your path or are they hindering you? Are you creating habits that help you along this path of the new you?

There’s a lot that goes into who we think we are and the roles we play in our lives. Often we get stuck in patterns of thinking which hold us back from becoming the person we want to be. Sometimes, rather than just making small incremental changes, we need to change our whole belief system and become another person.

The Stoics teach us the most powerful tool we have is our perspective. This is the lens through which we view the rest of the world, and give meaning to the events in our lives. When we decide to see the world through the perspective of the future version of ourselves, that's when we can make significant progress in a short amount of time.

Be good to yourself.

Be good to others.

And thanks for listening!


I know I’ve put a lot of information in this episode. I actually had writer's block when I started this, but once I got rolling it was hard to keep up with the ideas that kept coming. At some point in the future I’ll take these ideas and put them into a more formalized format, but I hope some of these ideas will spark some big changes in your lives.


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
wisdom

239 – Lessons Learned

Lessons Learned
The Universe is Change

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lesson One: Failure is just missed expectations.

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

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

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

― Epictetus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Seneca.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Hello friends! Thank you for listening. Stop by the website at 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
Integrity

238 – Show Up

Show Up
Know who you are

How do you show up in the world? Are you acting the way you want to? Are you being the person you want to be? If not, why not? In todays episode, I want to talk about how to live with integrity and be the person you want to be.

Be tolerant with others and strict with yourself.

—Marcus Aurelius

One of the most important things that we can do in our lives is to live with integrity. Now what do I mean by integrity? The word integrity has several definitions but my favorite is “something that is sound or whole”. It also has the same root as integrated. For me integrity means that you as a person are integrated, that your words match your choices and actions.

How does this kind of integrity show up in our daily lives? When we live with integrity, we live our lives in such a way that we hold to our principles and values even when, or especially when, there is pressure on us to do otherwise. When others would have you bend to what they want, you hold true to the principles that are important for you. It means that you follow those principles when no one else is watching. It means that you are the person that you want to be regardless of what anyone else says or does.

So what are the things that get in our way when we try to live this kind of life?

There are plenty of things that happen our lives that can knock us off our path and make our life challenging. When we hit these circumstances, we often blame them for the problems in our lives. We may use them as excuses to give up. But I think when we do this we’re forgetting that these challenges ARE the thing we’re trying to overcome and work through. These are the things that make us stronger. Wishing these things away or placing blame on why those things outside of us cause us to not be the kind of person we want, is not stepping up and take responsibility for ourselves.

Another thing that can make it challenging for us to live with integrity is when we get caught up in worrying about the opinions of others. If we do things because we want others to like us or praise us, we can lose our sense of who we are. We may do things that we really don’t want to.

When I was in sixth grade, I really wanted to be liked by a bunch of older kids. We wanted to get into the school after hours so that we could get some soft drinks from the vending machines. We hatched a plan where I would climb on top of the school and drop myself into the atrium. The door to the atrium wasn’t closed all the way, so I would be open it and then let the other kids in. Unfortunately, things didn’t quite go to plan and I got caught by the janitor and got in trouble the next day with the princip , all because I wanted to be liked by these kids.

I think the last part to living with integrity, is that we often don’t know exactly who we are and what we want. The culture that we live in has a very large influence on what we hold as valuable. In some cultures, being strong and tough is something that is valued. In others it might be beauty or money, or intelligence and kindness. Through our families, schools, media, churches, and community, every one of us is exposed to explicit and subtle messages of what our culture thinks we should value, and what kind of person we should be. These external values and expectations that we are given that have a strong influence on us our whole lives.

So how to we decide how we want to show up in the world? How do we become a more integrated person, a person who lives with integrity?

Know, first, who you are, and then adorn yourself accordingly.

— Epictetus

First and foremost, we need to get to know ourselves and what we truly value. This is not an easy process, because we have to learn to be really honest with ourselves. We all have a set of beliefs that we hold on to to try and make sense of the world. When have to question the belief systems that we grew up with, it can be really uncomfortable, and downright unsettling. We may find that many of them aren’t helpful or stand up to scrutiny. It may mean that we have to make disruptive changes in our lives. It may mean cutting out people that are unwilling to support us in our growth.

When I left the Mormon church, it was a slow and drawn out process. I never really felt like it was the right thing for me, but because I had been told my whole life that it was the only truth, it was really hard to even question it in the first place. I reached a point where I felt like I just couldn’t live that way, even if it was true. Over time I finally realized that the real question was not whether I could live it or not, but did I believe it because I thought it was the truth, or did I just believe that because I had been told over and over that it was. Once I was willing to open up and question that belief system, I found that I had only held onto it because it was what was expected of me. I was doing it to please others.

Once we decide to question our belief systems, we nee to expose ourselves to all kinds of different ideas. We need to be willing to consider ideas that at first might feel uncomfortable. We need to be willing to have an open mind and try to consider things from different perspectives. This can include things like reading books on challenging ideas. It may mean having respectful discussions with people you may have differing opinions with. We should be willing to let go of ideas that don’t serve us.

I know for me, a big influence was the time that I spent in Austria. It was so different from the culture I grew up in, and it exposed me to different values, and different ideas that I might not have considered. I met people from all over the world, ate all kinds of different foods, and learned about historical events and places that changed my worldview that probably wouldn’t have happened if I had just stayed in my small part of the world.

If you decide to live by lofty principles, be prepared to be laughed at by others. You may hear snide remarks: “Oh, here comes the philosopher!” or “Why are you so pretentious?” Just ignore those comments. But make sure that you don’t become pretentious. If you stick to your principles, people who make fun of you will eventually come around and may even admire you. However, if you let others influence you to give up what you started, you will be ridiculed twice: firstly, for following these principles, and secondly, for giving them up.

— Epictetus

The last idea I want to talk about of how to live with integrity, is that once we learn who we are, and decide the kind of person we want to be, we need to learn how to ignore what other people think of us. And this, is often really hard because we want to be liked by others. But if other people are not going to like us for who we really are, then they are people we probably don’t want to be around. Also, what others think of us is not under our control, so we need to let it be. If we let what others think of us change how we act, then we are giving control to them. We should be the person that we want to be regardless of what others think of us or wish us to be.

Living with integrity is probably one of the most challenging things you’ll even do in your life. When you live with integrity, you take full responsibility for your emotions, thoughts, and actions. You stay true to who you are no matter what others think of you. You make choices and take actions that align with your character even when it’s hard, and even when no one is watching.


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
confidence

237 – Self Confidence

Self Confidence
Self Confidence

Are you confident person? Do you have faith in yourself as person? Are you comfortable with who you are? Today I want to talk about how we often will self sabotage ourselves not because we don’t have the skill or capacity to do something, but because we let self doubt creep in and stop us from sharing our gifts and talents.

To have self-confidence is to trust in one's own abilities and judgement. It is the foundation of success and happiness.

— Seneca

Self-confidence is an essential quality that helps us lead a successful and fulfilling life. It is the foundation of personal growth, and it enables us to face challenges and pursue our goals with determination and resilience. Unfortunately, many people struggle with low self-confidence and feel insecure about their abilities and worth. This can hold them back from reaching their potential and living a fulfilling life.

I think that many of us, and I include myself in this group, feel like we have a lot to give to this world, but we often are afraid to step up and share our gifts. And to be honest, I think the world can use a lot more of our talents and abilities. When we let fear get the better of us, we really miss out on contributing to the world in a positive way.

One of the example of where I really struggle with this is in creating this podcast. Each week I sit down and write and share my thoughts about stoicism and living a good life. The thing is, I really struggle with living these principles myself. There are times when I feel like such an imposter because I fail to live up to the standards I have set for myself. Most of the topics that I share on this podcast come directly from the things I’m struggling with in my own life. I keep doing it because it’s always a time for me to reflect on the things that I’m struggling with and hopefully help inspire others to keep pushing through.

There are several strategies and principles from Stoicism that can help us gain confidence in ourselves and overcome these insecurities. Here are a few key ideas to consider.

Focus on what you can control. One of the central tenets of Stoicism is the idea that we should only concern ourselves with things that are within our control, and let go of those that are outside our control. By focusing on what we can control – such as our own thoughts, attitudes, and actions – we can gain a sense of agency and empowerment that can boost our confidence. When we are able to let go of the things that we can’t control, we are able to use our energy towards things where we can an impact, and let go of the things where we have no impact.

Another key principle of Stoicism that goes hand in hand with control is that of acceptance, or the idea that we should embrace whatever comes our way, whether it is good or bad. This doesn't mean we should simply resign ourselves to our circumstances, but rather that we should learn to accept them and make the most of them. The act of acceptance is really just acknowledging and accepting reality. The more are able to just accept things as they are, and not wish they were something different, the better we can develop a sense of inner peace and resilience that can help us feel more confident and self-assured.

The only thing we have control over is our own thoughts and actions. When we focus on improving ourselves and living according to our values, we gain confidence and inner peace.

– Zeno of Citium

We can practice mindfulness. By focusing on the present moment and accepting things as they are, we can reduce anxiety and cultivate a sense of peace and inner strength. This can help us to approach challenges with a clear mind and the confidence that we can handle whatever comes our way.

When we practice mindfulness and being present, we are also not worrying about the future or ruminating on the past. Remember, mindfulness is not zoning out, but it is being as present in your body as you possibly can. It’s about noticing how your body feels and all the sensations of being alive in this moment.

Don't let what you can't do stop you from doing what you can do.

— John Wooden

I think the biggest killer of self confidence is its polar opposite, self doubt. Often times we fail simply because we let self doubt creep in. We let that internal voice, our ego, that wants to keep us safe and avoid failure, knock us off our path. This is really one of that saddest things because we often truly have the skills to accomplish our goals, but because there is a risk of failure, our ego is trying to protect us. If we don’t try, then we can’t fail. And the thing is, we going to fail. A lot. We’ll probably fail more times than we succeed, and our culture failure is often seen as one of the worst things you can do.

I know a systems engineer that worked for Nike a few years ago. He was tasked with fixing a server that managed the sales system in their company stores. One time he made a mistake and misconfigured the server and their sales system was down for a few hours. Unfortunately, they were fired. Rather than looking at this as a chance to learn where their systems had some weak points, the management decided that it was more important to punish the person who cause the system failure. This was an opportunity to learn something, but it was squandered because they wanted somewhere to place the blame more than they wanted to find the weak points in their system.

One of the the way that we can learn to accept and even appreciate failure is by developing mental discipline. Mental discipline is the ability to control our thoughts, and by extension our emotions. By practicing techniques such as mindfulness and learning to look at things through multiple perspectives, we can become more aware of negative thought patterns and emotion states that can hold us back and instead cultivate a positive and confident mindset.

Be confident in your own abilities. Believe in yourself, and others will believe in you too.

— Marcus Aurelius

The last point that I want to talk about is one of the most difficult things for many people, myself included. Far too often we let the opinions of others dissuade us from stepping up and becoming the person that we want to be and doing what we want to do. We stop ourselves from being our authentic and true selves because we’re afraid that others may not like us, or even reject us.

And this is not an irrational fear.

Earlier in human history, if you were cast of the tribe, it could mean your death because of lack of food, shelter, and protection. But the thing is, even though it can feel like it’s the end of the world, in our modern society, you can always find somewhere to fit in, and find people that like you for you. But more than anything, if someone doesn’t like who you are when you are being authentically you, then they are not your people. They are not your tribe. Your worthiness as a human and as person does not come from what others think of you. It does not come from your successes or your failures. It is simply there because you are a human being on this planet.

Self-confidence is not something that can be given to you. It must be earned, through hard work and determination.

— Aristotle

We aren’t always confident when we start a task or a project. But the most important thing is that you start it anyway, and gain that confidence along the way. It may take a while to be good at something, and the first step is have confidence that you will get better with each step.


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. 🙂

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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
Control

232 – QTIP

QTIP
It is our own opinions that disturb us

How often do you take what other people say and do personally? How often do you feel like you have to “fix” someone else’s mood? Today I want to talk about emotional responsibility, and how it can lead a stronger sense of self and keep you from getting pulled into other peoples emotional mayhem.

Not to display anger or other emotions. To be free of passion and yet full of love.

—Marcus Aurelius

The other day I was talking with my therapist about how I feel like I’m dealing with conflict a little better in my life. I was talking about how I was getting better about not trying to control or change other people’s emotions, and how that was very liberating. In doing so I’m able to just let them be annoyed or frustrated or upset with me without having to do anything about it. And she used a great turn of phrase, she said, “QTIP. You quit taking things personally.” I laughed because I’d never heard that before, but it was a great shortcut to keep that idea in mind.

If we seek social status, we give other people power over us: we have to do things calculated to make them admire us, and we have to refrain from doing things that will trigger their disfavor.

—William B. Irvine

Why do we find it so hard to just let other people be annoyed? Why do we so often feel like we have to fix how they feel?

For many of us, we confuse trying to fix other people emotions with being nice. We’re raised to find ways to keep the peace, and often that includes us finding ways of placating others or take on other peoples emotions. We may even take the blame for things that we had no control over just to try and keep others happy.

One of the hardest things that I’ve had to learn in my life was how not to taking things personally. If someone is upset with me, I find it very challenging to just let them be upset with me. I usually try to either fix whatever is upsetting them, or I try to change how they are feeling by arguing with them about why they are wrong to be upset with me. And you know, that never really works. When you try to change how someone feels about something, they often get even more upset or resentful because you are invalidating how they feel. You are letting them know that their emotions are not acceptable.

Think about how you feel when you tell someone about how something they did impacted you, and rather than listening and hearing what you have to say, they start trying to argue about why you shouldn’t feel the way you do. Talk about feeling dismissed and invalidated. When someone is upset with you, it is not your job to fix their emotions. You don’t need to change how other people feel. Let them be mad, frustrated, and upset with you. It’s their right to feel what they feel. It is not your place to try and change them. And the thing is, that’s not something you need to take on. It’s not your job to manage their emotions. It’s theirs.

Now many of us this can be challenging. When people are responding to you, often it really has nothing to do with you but more to do with their trauma and baggage. I know that when I’m upset about something, I’ve often reacted in way that later, upon reflection, wasn’t really even related to what the other person did. I reacted to what they said or did in a way that had more to do with my past than what happened in the present.

Our brains are constantly using past data to try and predict future outcomes. If you have lots of bad data from growing up in a dysfunctional family or suffered some kind of trauma or abuse, sometimes your responses aren’t going to be appropriate to the current situation.

For example, because my dad was so unpredictable, when he was annoyed about something it could quickly escalate into something very volatile. So when someone close to me is annoyed, my brain screams “danger!”, and will often overreact. It’s gotten much better, but it has taken tremendous effort to reprogram those responses.

As a recovering “people pleaser”, I often feel like it’s my job to try and fix other people’s moods. A big reason for this is because growing up, I had to be conscientious of my dad’s emotions because if I didn’t, I could end up being beaten. I had to be on guard all the time and find ways to soothe him or make him happy to keep myself safe.

So does this mean that you should just be calloused and not care about how other feel? I mean it’s their emotions to deal with, right? I think there is a fine balance between not taking on other emotions and being an ass. Humans are always trying to subtly and not so subtly manipulate and persuade each other. Most times it’s harmless and often beneficial. But there are those that try to emotionally manipulate others to try and take advantage of them. Blaming others for their moods or for the problems in their lives, throwing tantrums, and guilt tripping are all things that I’ve seen people do to each other, and I’ve done my fare share of it as well.

It is our own opinions that disturb us. Take away these opinions then, and resolve to dismiss your judgment about an act as if it were something grievous, and your anger is gone.

—Marcus Aurelius

So how can we get better about not taking on others emotions and not taking things personally? By taking responsibility for your own emotional management, and encouraging others to do so as well. When you are responsible for your emotions, you have a good handle on where those lines are. You don’t take responsibility for emotions and actions that are not yours.

When you take the blame for things that you have no control over, it does little to really solve an issue. This also robs others of the chance to take responsibility for themselves. Each of us need to be clear about what is ours to manage, and was is not.

The other thing is that you can’t fix someone else’s emotions anyway. The stoics teach us pretty clearly that out thinking is what distresses us. If the other person is upset abr something, it’s their perspective on things that is causing their distress, and it’s something they need to figure out. What we can do on our side is support them and do our best to reign in our emotions to help defuse situations whenever possible.

We’ve all been on both sides of arguments where we blame others for how we feel, and have had other blame us for how they’re feeling. Neither of these perspectives do a very good job of helping us manage ourselves and support others. When we practice being a little more dispassionate and to quit taking things personally, the more we’ll be able to be in control of ourselves, and support others in managing their own emotions, which helps create more emotionally balanced relationships, and helps each of us be a little more kind and patient with each other.


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
Thinking

231 – A Model of Thinking

A Model of Thinking
Photographer: 919039361464473

The stoics teach us that we have control over a few things – our thoughts, our choices, and our actions. In short, our will. So is there a way that we can get better with our thinking, and improve our outcomes? Today I want to talk about a model that can help us be more aware of how our thinking impacts us, and with that awareness, improve our lives.

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

—Marcus Aurelius

Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth.

Marcus Aurelius

One of the most important things that the stoics teach us is that our thinking, one of the only things that we have control over, is one of the most important things in determining whether we are successful in accomplishing the things we want to in life, and ultimately what determines our happiness. Because we can only experience life through our own subjective experience, we are the ones that ultimately determine how we judge what happens to us, and what meaning we give to those things.

A simple example of this is how the same thing can happen to different people, with wildly different outcomes simply because of the perspective a person has on something. For example, in study after study, people who suffered traumatic injuries such as losing limb or severe burns report that the initial impact of the injury can certainly cause depressions, anxiety, and other issues. But over time, most people end up reporting that their level of happiness returns to basically where it was before the accident. If they were happy before, they generally are happy afterwards. If they were depressed, they generally fall back into their same way of being.

There have also been studies on how people who have a sudden windfall of wealth through inheritance, the lottery, or some other channel, report that even with all this sudden good luck, after a few weeks or months the shine wears off and they are as happy or unhappy as they were before coming into wealth. Often when we get exactly what we want – a raise, a new car, or something else that we thought would bring us happiness, we find that it is only temporary.

So why is it that even when we change our circumstances to something that we are sure will make us happy, we often end up right back where we were? Because no matter what the circumstances are, we are still the same people. We still have the same way of thinking, and how we think, and the meaning that we give to things have a far greater impact on us than the circumstances themselves.

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

— Epictetus

So how do we get better at improving our thinking? As with most things, it comes down to awareness. If you want to know why you’re getting the results you’re getting, you need to know what you are thinking.

I’ve mentioned one of my favorite life coaches, Brooke Castillo several times on this podcast, and one of the best things that she teaches is what she calls “The Model”. The Model, is basically a simple yet powerful outline of how our minds work. It’s not anything new, and these ideas have been around for millennia, but it’s a nice encapsulation of what the stoics teach, so I’m going to share it with you here.

The first part of the Model are Circumstances. These are what the stoics would label as externals. This includes circumstances and events that happen. It’s simple what life brings your way. When you think of circumstances, they are things that are purely factual. They are things that you could prove in a court of law. Things like, “it is raining”, or “that car is red”, or “I am 50 years old”.

The next part are Thoughts. When you encounter circumstances and events, you have certain thoughts around them. This included both conscious and unconscious thoughts. This is the story that you are telling yourself about these events and circumstances, and what you think they mean. These are not facts, but rather your judgments, opinions, and impressions.

The next part is Emotions. Emotions are caused by your thinking. When you tell yourself a story about the things that are happening, you create emotions. You feel something. That could be anxiety. It could be joy. It could be fear. Whatever you are feeling, it is caused by your thinking.

The next part is Actions. Our actions are driven by our emotions. Emotion comes from the Latin “emovere”, which means to “move out, remove, agitate”. It’s from the same root as motive, motor, move, and momentum. Emotions are the things that get us to make choices, and take action.

The last part of the Model is Results. When we make choices and take action, we get results of some kind.

So how can we use this model in our lives?

If you want to understand how you are dealing with something in your life, you can use the model to help clarify why you are getting the results you have in your life. By filling in the information in each of these sections, you can get a rough but clearer picture of what’s going on.

If you’re in a place where you can sit down, I want you to pull out a blank sheet of paper. I want you to write down these 5 section, and give yourself some space to write next to them:

Circumstances

Thoughts

Emotions

Actions

Results

So let’s take an example and fill out each of these lines. The nice thing is that you can start with any section.

Let’s say that you get into an argument with your significant other at least once a week about the dishes. You get frustrated with them for just leaving the dishes in the sink rather than putting them in the dishwasher as you would prefer. Let’s fill in the lines and see how we can be more aware of our thinking. Remember, these can be done in any order. It’s kind of like putting a puzzle together, though for this for this exercise I’ll go in order just to illustrate the ideas.

In the Circumstances line we put, “My partner leaves dishes in the sink”, and “I have asked them to put them in the dishwasher.” That’s it. Those are the only facts in this story.

Let’s fill in the thinking line. “When my partner doesn’t put the dishes in the dishwasher, I feel like they are disrespecting me and they are doing it just to upset me.”

Next let’s fill in the Emotion line. You would write down something like, “I feel frustrated” or “I feel angry”. Remember these are emotions. You can’t put something like, “I feel ignored” because being ignored is an action attributed to the other person, and also, ignored is not an emotion.

In the Action line we would write, “I complain to my partner about dirty dishes being left in the sink.”

Lastly, in the Result line we might put something like, “My partner feels like they are being attacked and storms off”.

Once you have this filled out, you have a little bit more clarity into the situation. You can examine the thoughts you have around the situation. In this example, the thoughts are projecting a motive onto your partner. They may or may not be doing it to purposely upset you, but because of those thoughts, you feel angry, which drives you to complain to your partner, and start up the conflict again. When you are able to change your thinking around the situation, it can change your emotions and actions, which lead to different results.

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

Marcus Aurelius

In short, if your dealing with an issue and want to have some clarity around it, using this simple model is a great way to examine the situation a little more rationally. It’s a framework to start from to help you see where you may have some thinking errors. It can also be used in a positive light. If you are trying to get a certain kind of result, try filling this out and seeing what kind of thinking and actions might help you achieve the results you want.

Think clearly from the ground up. Understand and explain from first principles. Ignore society and politics. Acknowledge what you have. Control your emotions.

Naval Ravikant

Let’s say that you want to meditate for 30 minutes a day, but you find it challenging to do. Put “I want to mediate for 30 minutes a day” in the Results line. In the Actions line, you might put, “I schedule a break at 10 am on my calendar”. In the Emotions line, you might have something like, “I am excited about my 30 minutes”. In the Circumstances you might have, “I have a space in my house with pillows near a window.” And in the Thoughts line? “I know that after each session I feel more relaxed and feel more clear in my thinking.”

The mind is a pretty complex thing, but helping to gain some clarity in our own thinking can really make a world of difference. Using a model like this is a way to help improve our awareness of our thoughts and how that thinking leads to the results we get. And while this model is not all encompassing, it’s a great starting point to gaining insight to the stories we tell ourselves, which drive the actions we take, and the results we get.


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
Control

222 – Power Over Your Mind

Photographer: 919039361464473

The stoics are pretty clear that we control very little on our lives, but we do control the one thing that will make the biggest impact on our lives – our own minds.

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

—Marcus Aurelius

I like to think of this idea in two different ways. First, you have power over your mind, but not power over outside events. This lesson is challenging in so many ways because we want to have some semblance of control over our world. When we embrace this idea, it can be scary because we realize that we have so little control. Accidents, natural disasters, actions of others are all examples of things that we have no control over, yet can change our lives in profound ways.

I think that so much of the stress and anxiety we have in our lives comes from worrying about things that we have little or no control over. When we can learn to let go of what we do not control, we can release a lot of stress in our lives.

A good example of this is when I’ve applied for jobs in the past. Often I’d be really excited about a position, but after my interview I would be so stressed out waiting to hear if I got the job or not. Because I wanted the job so badly I would feel anxious because I had no control over it. There could be other people that were more qualified than I. There could be internal factors at the company that I had no influence over.

As I got older and wiser, I better able to handle waiting to hear back on job. I would do my best in the interview, then simply let go of any expectations, almost as if I had never even applied for the job. If I got the job, I was excited. If not, it wasn’t as big of a deal because I recognized that I did my part, and the rest was out of my hands.

The second way to look at this quote is that you have power over your mind, but outside events do not. Learning to recognize how you let outside events influence you is hard. Part of being a stoic is developing mental discipline so that outside events don’t have an outsized impact on your well being. I know that I often struggle and get spun out when things don't go my way. But the thing is, when we let outside events disrupt our well being, it doesn't change that outside event, and it often makes things worse.

Having a clear idea of what we can and can't control is for me the most fundamental principle of stoicism, and almost every other idea flows from there. This is also one of the easier concepts to understand, but so hard to actually implement. I know that I will spend the rest of my life trying to get a handle on this one principle.

How do you manage to clearly divide what you can and can't control? I think one of the biggest tools is to ask yourself a simple question: Have I taken action on everything that is in my power? Sometimes talking over your options with a friend or writing them down can help clarify what you have control over.

Self-control is strength. Right thought is mastery. Calmness is power.

—James Allen

This is one of my favorite quotes because it encapsulates several simple yet powerful inter-related principles of how to have more control over your mind. Each of these principles help support one another. When we master one, we are strengthened in the others. In a word, we become more anti-fragile – challenges don't weaken us, but actually do the opposite and help use become stronger and more resilient.

When we work to control ourselves, we develop strength of will. This means that when we set out to accomplish something, we are able to direct our minds and our bodies in situations where others slack off or quit. We are better able to ignore distractions. We are better able to ignore others that might try to interfere or keep us from reaching our goals.

When we practice right thinking, we become masters of our minds. We maximize the effect of useful thoughts, and we are aware of and minimize the damage of unhelpful thought patterns. We are better able to cheer ourselves on, and minimize the negative self talk that often derails us even before we get started. The more we master our thinking, the stronger our will.

When we are angry or upset, our mental abilities decline. We are less able to think creatively. Our vision narrows and we miss other options and possibilities. When we stay calm and keep our cool, we retain our power. We are able to think clearer and direct our will. In challenging situations, when others are losing their shit, we are able to not only survive, but thrive.

For me, taking some time each day to meditate helps me to cultivate more discipline over my mind. I get to know how I think and what I think. I learn the ways that I try to self-sabotage because of insecurities and self doubt, and build up defenses against them.

When we take the time to slow down and recognize what we're thinking, we are able to recognize those things that are outside of ourselves, and the impact they have on us. Whether that's the actions of other people or the weather or traffic or any other ousted event, cultivating self-awareness through mindfulness and meditation is the best tool to take control over our minds.


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. 🙂

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
amor fati

221 – Accept Life

Accept Life
Life is ridiculous and strange!

Over the last few weeks I’ve talked about self acceptance and acceptance of others and today I want to talk about acceptance of life, or Amor Fati.

Be content with what you have; rejoice in the way things are. When you realize there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you.

— Lao Tzu

What does it mean to accept fate?

It means that we learn to be at the very least accepting of every thing that life brings our way. We don’t have to love it, but we need to accept it.

Why is it so hard to accept fate? Why do we resist so much?

We want to have control over our lives. We have expectations that life should be a certain way. That people should act a certain way. We want things to just be the way that we want. There is so little that we have actual control over: our thinking, our judgements, and actions and choices. If we are constantly complaining about or wishing that things would be different than they are, then we are wasting energy on things we can’t control. Then we spend our lives feeling resentful over things that we don’t have control over. We’re constantly unhappy that life doesn’t measure up to our expectations.

Why should we accept life fate?

To do otherwise is actually foolish because it’s simply denying reality.

To complain is always nonacceptance of what is.

— Eckhart Tolle

You never know what life is going to bring your way. You may think that you want your life to be a certain way, but end up somewhere far different. Maybe that broken heart today is what leads you to a healthier relationship in the future.

Zeno, the founder of stoicism was in a shipwreck where he lost all of his cargo for his business. It ruined him financially, but it was through that loss that he came across the teachings of Socrates and other philosophers and eventually went on to found stoicism.

I made a prosperous voyage when I was shipwrecked.

-Zeno of Citium

We are also able to stay more present because we are less worried about what will happen in the future because we recognize how little control we have over the outcome.

We can focus on the process of whatever we’re doing, and let the outcome be what it will be.

When we let go of that we can just deal with life exactly as it is. We can be curious and excited to see what happens next.

Is acceptance the same as acquiescence?

No. Acceptance is just acknowledging reality.

It does not mean that we simply throw our hands up in the air and do nothing.

It means that we accept reality for what it is, then we look at what choices we have in the circumstances that we find ourselves in.

How can we learn to love fate?

At the very least, leant to accept. This helps free your mind from worry about things you can’t control.

Accept how little control we have over every thing.

Develop gratitude that life is exactly the way that it is supposed to be.

Embrace what life sends your way. Someone breaks your heart, now you have a chance to take what you learned into the next relationship. If your house burns down, you now have a chance to downsize and start over fresh.

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

— Marcus Aurelius

Think back on past things that may have been painful and find ways to accept those. We often feel regret over things that happened in the past and have a hard time letting go of feelings even though we can no longer change them. We can look back at those regrets and see that those regrets help shape us. Regret reminds us of choices we made that led to an outcome we were unsatisfied with. It’s a reminder to think longer and make different choices when faced with something similar in the future.

Once I grasped this whole concept acceptance, a quote by Epictetus that had long perplexed me started to make sense:

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

– Epictetus

When we just accept that things are going to happen as they will, we worry less about mistakes and blame. Mistakes, as they are generally thought of, are really just missed expectations. We recognize we can't control the outcome of anything, only the effort that we put into the process. The outcome will be what it will be. Blaming someone else or ourselves is to blame someone for missed expectations, for what we thought it should be, rather than accepting and dealing with things as they are.