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
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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Categories
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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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.
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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
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
Challenges

273 – The Four Types of Problems

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

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

— Epictetus

Types of Problems

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

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

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

Simple Problems

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

Complicated Problems

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

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

Complex Problems

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

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

Chaotic Problems

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

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

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

What’s the Problem?

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

—Seneca

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

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

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

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

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

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

Personal Development is Complex

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

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

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

Obvious Solutions

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

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

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

Complicated Solutions

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

— Epictetus

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

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

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

Complex Solutions

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

— Epictetus

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

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

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

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

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

Chaotic Solutions

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

— Seneca

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

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

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

Conclusion

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


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

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
Pain

266 – Finding Balance: The Paradox of Pain and Pleasure

Do you think that life should be all pleasure and no pain? This week I want to talk about the balance between pain and pleasure and why if you want more pleasure, you may have to add more pain to your life.

“If one oversteps the bounds of moderation, the greatest pleasures cease to please.”

—Epictetus

The Paradox of Pain and Pleasure

A few weeks ago, I had an episode called Suffer Well, and in that episode I talked about how we should be willing to put ourselves in pain deliberately because it teaches us how to deal with unexpected suffering. I also talked about how exposing ourselves to the right amount pain helps us grow, become more confident in ourselves, and find purpose in our lives.

This week, I want to explore the link between pleasure and pain from a slightly different angle. Last week I was listening to a two part episode on Hidden Brain, which is one of my favorite podcasts to listen to. The episodes, The Paradox of Pleasure and The Path to Enough talked about research into the connection between pain and pleasure and how if we are only pursuing pleasure, we can actually end up causing ourselves a lot of pain.

In the episodes, Dr Anne Lembke, who is Chief of the Stanford Addiction Medicine Dual Diagnosis Clinic at Stanford University, talks about how because pain and pleasure are colocated in the brain, when we experience pleasure and get a dopamine hit, the brain automatically tries to balance it out. Think of it like a seesaw, that as soon as you push on one side, the brain starts pushing on the other side to achieve balance, or what is called homeostasis. This is why when you indulge in something pleasurable, such as taking drugs, drinking alcohol, eating sugar, or even checking social media, your brain is constantly trying to balance things out. This is why we get a hangover, come down effects from things like drugs and alcohol, and reduced pleasure from social media.

This balancing act in our brains is why many people find pleasure when they do painful things. As I talked about in Suffer Well, when I’m out cycling and stressing my legs I notice that when I get home and I’m relaxing after my shower, I have this pleasurable buzzed feeling from the endorphins that my body produces after I exert myself. This is the same phenomenon as a “Runner’s High”, but on wheels. Almost any physical activity can generate similar effects. I know that I feel better after a walk, lifting weights, or even just 20 minutes of yoga.

Another example where pain can cause pleasure is when people who like to eat really spicy food talk about the pleasurable high that kicks in after eating something spicy. It’s because the body kicks in pleasure to help balance out the pain that you feel.

I like to think of this like Newton’s Third Law of Motion, which states, “For each action, there is an equal and opposite reaction”. It appears that for pain and pleasure in our brains, this is also the case. The more we pursue pleasurable things, the more we create a dopamine deficit, and the more we do things that are challenging and at times painful, we are rewarded with a natural dopamine increase.

Addiction

“A person who has built his life around pleasure is bound to be disillusioned. Hedonism is not sustainable, and it leaves a person empty. We are not meant to experience sustained pleasure. Therefore, to cope with the drab routine of daily existence, one must find meaning somewhere.”

— @TheAncientSage

While most people apply temperance to alcohol, we need to consider that almost anything can become an addiction. In fact, the researcher, Anna Lembke, talks about her own addiction that disrupted her life in a fairly dramatic way. And you might be surprised at what it was: romance novels. She became enthralled with the erotic portions of romance novels to the point where she would read until 3 or 4 in the morning even though she had to be at work early in the morning. She found herself reducing her time spent with family and friends. To keep others from knowing what she was reading, she bought a kindle. She was losing connection with the real world and escaping to fantasy in the pages of erotica.

Other addictions that are mentioned in episode include dugs, online gambling, pornography, shopping, food, video games, and even social media. We have so much instant pleasure at our fingertips we can easily find ourselves addicted without even really being conscious of what is happening. Because our brains are always trying to keep homeostasis, after a certain point, those pleasurable things can actually start to cause us harm.

Tolerance

Where we really start to run into issues with pleasure that when you keep doing something on the pleasure side, and you get that dopamine hit, then your brain tries to balance it out by reducing the pleasure you get from it. That means in order to get the same amount of pleasure you had from the previous hit, you have to have more. You can build up a tolerance to almost anything pleasurable, to the point where it starts to make you irritable, anxious, or even sick.

One of the most interesting things that I learned from this podcast is that often the thing that someone is addicted to is used not to treat the original issue, but to treat the comedown effect from the last use of it. Meaning that you use it, your brain counters it, then you have to use it again to try and block the negative effects from the last time you used it.

This was illustrated in the second episode of the podcast, where they talk about a patient named Delilah, who suffered from anxiety and depression and would smoke cannabis to help relieve those symptoms. But as Lembke worked with Delilah, she realized that the anxiety and depression that she was treating was actually being caused by the cannabis. She convinced Delilah to give up cannabis for 4 weeks to try and reset her dopamine levels.

After 4 weeks Delilah returned and talked about her experience. She said that in the first week she was vomiting violently because of the withdrawal from cannabis. She recognized that she had actually been addicted, and that her body had been changed by such chronic heavy use. After the four weeks of not using cannabis she said that she felt less anxious and depressed than she had felt in years.

Lembke herself talks about how when she gave up reading erotica, that the first two weeks she had terrible insomnia and even headaches as she was going through withdrawal symptoms from the lack of dopamine she was used to. She had to detox from the erotica in order to reset her dopamine levels.

Homeostasis

So why does our brain work this way? Why does it try to limit pleasure and reward us for pain? Because it’s trying to keep us safe and help us grow. How does it keep us safe? Because often those things that offer instant pleasure are things that are not good for us in the long term. A good example of this is hard drugs like meth or heroin. While in the moment they feel incredibly pleasurable, they take their toll on those that use them. Our brain is doing its best to keep us alive by putting the brakes on pleasure.

On the flip side, our brains reward us for seeking out the right kind of pain. For example, when we exercise, it is uncomfortable and at times painful, we grow stronger, can run faster, and our bodies work better overall when we subject ourselves to certain levels of pain and stress. By pushing on the pain side, we get our brains to reward us by releasing pleasurable chemicals.

Embracing Discomfort

“Why do I keep repeating harmful behaviors/habits when I know they are bad for me?” Because they give you pleasure or help you avoid discomfort. And you are too weak to let go of a little pleasure or to bear a little discomfort.”

— @TheAncientSage

So now that we know how the brain handles pain and pleasure, what can we do to take advantage of this knowledge?

One of the best and worst things about modern life how much access we have to comfort and pleasure. In fact, it been shown in studies that as our societies have more access to easy pleasures and comforts, we have higher levels of unhappiness. It seems that the easier our lives have become, the worse off we are. People in developed countries as a whole report far higher levels of stress and anxiety than those in less developed countries.

When we learn to embrace discomfort, we are not only strengthening ourselves, but we are actually able to find more pleasure. When we learn how handle things that are challenging, we actually get a natural hit of dopamine when we overcome a problem. Taking on the right amount of physical pain and stress we are also rewarded as our brain tips the seesaw over towards the pleasure side. Our brains reward us for doing hard things.

Escape

Another reason why we often seek out too much pleasure is to cover up our own pain or unhappiness. Often times the addictive behavior comes from trying to escape difficult feelings. While these feeling are uncomfortable and at times painful, when we try to numb them out with pleasure, then we are creating another problem on top of the one that we are trying to avoid.

When we are willing to step up and face the difficult feelings, then our brains actually reward us. I know that in my own experience when I step up and try to work through things, even though it’s hard, I usually feel better about myself. When I make a breakthrough and handle a challenging situation better, while it may not be the pleasure hit from a good whiskey, there’s an underlying good feeling of accomplishment that lasts far longer because I’ve made some progress.

Temperance

While listening to the episodes, it made me think about how the stoics teach us about the importance of moderation, also referred to as temperance. It is so important to the stoics, that it is one of the four virtues along with wisdom, justice, and courage. The stoics understood what neuroscience is discovering – that the pursuit of pleasure and the avoidance of pain, can actually cause us harm.

When we think about temperance or moderation, there’s often this idea that in practicing moderation we’re spoiling our fun. But the stoics knew from watching human behavior that the pursuit of nothing but pleasure and avoiding pain led to a life of excess and little growth. In fact, in writing about the pleasure seeking of the Epicureans, Seneca clearly states that when you seek out virtue first, then happiness will follow.

“Let virtue lead the way: then every step will be safe. Too much pleasure is hurtful: but with virtue we need fear no excess of any kind, because moderation is contained in virtue herself. That which is injured by its own extent cannot be a good thing: besides what better guide can there be than reason [as opposed to pleasure] for beings endowed with a reasoning nature? So if this combination pleases you, if you are willing to proceed to a happy life thus accompanied, let virtue lead the way, let pleasure follow and hang about the body like a shadow: it is the part of a mind incapable of great things to hand over virtue, the highest of all qualities, as a handmaid to pleasure.”

— Seneca

Here Seneca is pointing out that when we seek pleasure for its own sake, then too much can cause us harm. Seneca even points out, “That which is injured by its own extent cannot be a good thing”, he’s pointing out that sometimes pleasurable things can cause injury by using them to excess. For anyone who has had one drink too many, I think you can agree that there can be too much of a good thing.

When we act with virtue, then pleasure and happiness follow as a natural consequence. When we act with virtue it is also self regulating. You can’t harm yourself practicing moderation.

Conclusion

As the world moves faster and pleasure is easier to access, we find that people are lonelier and more unhappy than ever before because they are working against their own biology. The next drink, the next pill, the next bet, the next post gives us that next little hit of pleasure, but our own brain knows that easy pleasure always comes with a price. When we can instead learn to govern ourselves, to choose the harder path of growth and moderation, we can work with our biology, and find the pleasure in the pain.


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-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
Desire

262 – The Inverse Law of Desire

Do you struggle with getting the things that you want in you life? Are you unhappy because you are unable to achieve the success you want in life? Today I want to talk about an idea call the Inverse Law of Desire, and how it may be keeping you from accomplishing your goals in life.

“We humans are unhappy in large part because we are insatiable; after working hard to get what we want, we routinely lose interest in the object of our desire. Rather than feeling satisfied, we feel a bit bored, and in response to this boredom, we go on to form new, even grander desires.”

— William B. Irvine

We all have desires in our lives. These may be material items, achievements, or personal accomplishments. Maybe you want to have a partner or family or start your own business. Whatever it is, we all have something that we’re working for. But what if I told you that your desire might just be the thing that is getting in the way?

Inverse Law of Desire

“Desire is a contract that you make with yourself to be unhappy until you get what you want.”

— Naval Ravikant

There’s an interesting phenomenon from the Tao Te Ching that I like to call “The Inverse Law of Desire”. It’s about how when we really want something, it can backfire on us and cause us more distress. The more you desperately want something, the more you feel the lack of it.

The more you desire to be rich, the more acutely you’ll feel the lack of money you have. The more desperately you want to feel loved and accepted by others, the lonelier you’ll feel, regardless of who is around you and how much they support you. The more you desperately to cling to someone you love, the more likely you are to drive them away from you.

I think a good example of this is in the realm of dating. When you’re out on a date and you’re trying to be funny, the more likely it is that you won’t be funny. The more you can relax and not try to impress your date, the more likely you’ll enjoy yourself and have a good time.

The reasoning behind this inverse law is that when we desire something too strongly, what we actually want is the outcome, which is something that we can’t control.

On the opposite side, when we are willing to accept negative experiences, the less negative they seem. It actually becomes a positive experience. The easier you can accept when something goes wrong, the easier it is to learn from it and move past it. If you want to learn more about how to accept negative experiences, you should listen to episode 260 – Suffer Well.

Contentment

“I am happy because I want nothing from anyone. I do not care for money. Decorations, titles or distinctions mean nothing to me. I do not crave praise. The only thing that gives me pleasure, apart from my work, my violin and my sailboat, is the appreciation of my fellow workers.”

— Albert Einstein

So how do we get better at making sure our desires don’t sabotage us?

By learning to find contentment with what we have.

People often think that if you are content, then you will not strive to achieve anything, that you will simply be apathetic and never accomplish anything in your life.

This is a false paradox.

Contentment is a state of mind that is not dependent on external circumstance. Contentment is a choice, and is completely under your control. It is the ultimate self sufficiency because you are happy and content under any conditions. Your happiness is not dependent upon things that are external to you. When you have mastered this, ironically, it becomes much easier to improve your external circumstances.

This is why we need to learn to be content with what we have. When we can recognize and appreciate exactly where we are, then we are happy. We see that we don’t need anything more to make our lives complete. When we do this, then anything we strive for beyond our current state is because we choose it. We are able choose to do something from a place where we are already happy, rather than out of a place of stress and discontent.

This is something that I’m struggling with right now. As I’m pivoting from being a software developer to building a community around this podcast, it has been challenging. I created a 30 day challenge course in last month about developing self-discipline that went pretty well the first round, but as I’m preparing for the next round next week, I’m finding it harder to attract students.

At times, I can feel myself getting discouraged and want to quit because I really want this to succeed . The stress around not achieving the success that I want starts to seep over into my mood and impact my daily life. I have to work to be aware of this and remember that my life is still in a good place. I’m healthy, my kids are doing well, and even though there is a lot going on in my life, I’m doing okay. I also remind myself that in this big change that I’m making progress, I’m learning how to market my course and to get better on social media.

Passion About the Process

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

— Marcus Aurelius

Some people think you need to be passionate about what you are doing, and I don’t disagree. Being passionate about something can be a great driver, but often we are passionate about wanting the outcome of something. If you only do things when you feel passionate about them, then your effort may fall by the wayside when that passion dissipates. If passion were the only thing needed to become great at something, then I would be a Broadway singer, a famous movie actor, and a pro cyclist.

What you need to be passionate about is the process. You need to be passionate about doing the work. You need to be passionate about consistently putting the effort and the time needed to accomplish your goals. For example, great athletes love to practice as much as they love to compete. If you just rely on passion, then when things are hard, you may not show up and get the work done.

Self-Acceptance

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

— Alan Watts

Often times we have strong desires for something because we feel like we are somehow incomplete or lacking. We may feel like we have to achieve something in order to be fulfilled or feel worthy. But the thing is, if we are unhappy with ourselves and who we are, then achieving something does not cure that discontent. That feeling of discontent is something that is internal, and achievements are external.

The key to being content with what we have is being content with who we are.

Everything else is external to us, and therefore is not something that we can control. If self-acceptance is something that you struggle with, I highly recommend that you listen to episode 218 – Accept Yourself. There is great exercise that I talk about in that episode which was highly transformative for me.

Managing Desires

“A man thus grounded must, whether he wills or not, necessarily be attended by constant cheerfulness and a joy that is deep and issues from deep within, since he finds delight in his own resources, and desires no joys greater than his inner joys.”

— Seneca

“Some things are in our control and others not. Things in our control are opinion, pursuit, desire, aversion, and, in a word, whatever are our own actions.”

— Epictetus

When we learn how to manage our desires, then we are better able to pursue them because we choose to do so. We can pursue things because we decide they will make us better people and will help us grow, not because we believe they are a cure for our unhappiness.

If we can learn to be happy, or at the very least be at peace in our current situation, then we are able to operate from a place where we are in a better mindset. When we are stressed or discontent, it closes down our thinking. It’s harder to maintain an optimistic outlook. When we get stuck looking at the pessimistic view, then we are restricting our view of what is possible. We might still accomplish what we need, but we doing it feeling stressed, rather than enjoying the process.

This is where learning to be dispassionate can give you a healthy perspective on something. By taking a step back and being able to view things from a rational and less emotion driven perspective can help you focus on doing the work and not tying your happiness to the outcome.

This is what Steven Pressfield calls “turning pro”. You do the work because it’s your job. You show up and get it done because it’s what you agreed to do with yourself. I mean we all have shown up to jobs and did the work, even when we really didn’t want to because we needed to pay the bills. Applying that same attitude to things we are passionate about will help carry you through the tough times.

Conclusion

Learning to be content with what you have might be one of the best tool to helping you achieve your goals. When we are a slave to our desires, we are trying to control things that we don’t have control over, namely the outcome. When we can learn to be content with what we have and more importantly with who we are, then we can pursue our desires from a place of calm, even-mindedness, and in control of our desires.


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
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.

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Fear

257 – Face Your Fears

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

While we wait for life, life passes.

—Seneca

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

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

Purpose

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

Fears

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

— Marcus Aurelius

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

Simply put, it’s fear.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Back Up Plan

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

—Seneca

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

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

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

Memento Mori

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

— Seneca

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Courage

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

—@TheStoicEmperor (twitter)

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

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

Conclusion

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


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

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

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

Find me on instagram or twitter.

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

Thanks again for listening.

Categories
Coffee Break Health

249 – Strong Body for a Strong Mind

Do you take care of your body? To you treat it like a temple? Do you exercise it and strengthen it as much as your mind? Today I want to talk about how important it is to treat your body as good as, if not better than your mind.

It is impossible to live a pleasant life without living wisely and well and justly, and it is impossible to live wisely and well and justly without living a pleasant life. And the wise man needs to take care of his body just as a farmer takes care of his land.

— Epictetus

The stoics teach us that it is our mind and our perspective which creates our reality, and on this show I talk a lot about understanding our thinking so that we can be the kind of people that we want. We spend a lot of time focusing on the mind. But the other day I was thinking about some of the changes I’ve made to my physical environment that have made a big impact on my life, so today I want to talk less about the mind and more about the body.

It is necessary to care for the body, not for its own sake, but because it is the abode of the soul.

— Musonius Rufus

One of the most important things that we need to remember is that we experience the world physically, that is, through our bodies. It is through the senses that we perceive the world. If we didn’t have a body and senses, there would be no way to experience or interact with the world. The brain is reliant upon the input that it receives from the body. To neglect the body means that we experience the world in a less than optimal way.

The state that our body is in can have a very large impact on our perceptions of the world. If you’re tired or feeling unwell physically, it colors how you view the world. It can have a big impact your mood. It can also lead to poor decision making, which is why we are better served by making important decisions when we are well rested.

Physical Health

I maintain that the first step to freedom is to take care of one’s health. If a man is diseased in body, his mind will also be diseased.

— Seneca

I think that a good number of mental health issues can trace their source to physical health issues. If you aren’t taking care of your body, if you are eating only junk food or not getting the proper nutrition your body needs, it can make it challenging for you to think clearly.

If your body is not in good condition, then you are already starting at a disadvantage. This doesn’t mean that you need to become a gym rat and spend every free moment working out. It does mean that you eat a healthy diet, exercising every day, and getting enough sleep. It also means that we seek help if we have substance abuse issues with alcohol or drugs.

Alcohol

Over the past few months I’ve made number of changes that have impacted my life in a very positive way. The first major change was that over a month ago, I stopped drinking alcohol. I found that I was using it to avoid having to deal with difficult emotional situations and emotions. It had also became an almost nightly habit, though I found that I was drinking more on nights when I was particularly stressed. It also made me more impulsive and less able to manage my emotions and my temper.

Sugar

Around the same time, I decided to change my diet because I was having digestive issues fairly regularly. I stopped eating refined sugars, and replaced them with fresh fruits and vegetables. I’ve paying attention to things that don’t sit well, and avoid them. At times it has felt a bit restrictive, but then one night when I was out for dinner I decided to splurge on chocolate cake, and while it tasted delicious, I suffered for the next two days as my body processed all that sugar.

I had put on weight during the pandemic from drinking soda every day, as well as having desserts fairly often. Just removing alcohol and sugar from my diet has made a quite a difference. I’ve lost 8 pounds in last month. I had made other changes to my diet, but did not lose any weight until I removed them. I have been feeling much more mentally aware. I have a lot less problems with my digestive system, and I just feel better overall. I feel like I’m clean on the inside.

Exercise

The last big change I’ve made is that I’ve been doing 20 minutes of yoga or stretching every morning, as well as a minimum of 20 minutes of more strenuous exercise during the day such as waking, cycling, or rowing. Because a of healing shoulder injury I have not been lifting any weights, but with these exercise I find that I am building muscle. As I lose more weight I can also feel some of the formerly flabby areas of my body starting to tighten up. I also feel more awake and find that my mind and thinking have been much clearer. My mood is improved and I handle stress significantly better.

Sleep

In study after study, science has shown that sleep is one of the keys to good health. I know that when I don’t get enough sleep over an extended period, I’m more prone to catching colds or developing a sinus infection. Unfortunately, sleep is an area where I have been struggling over the years, and especially over the last 3 months. For some reason my body has gotten into a habit of waking up after 4-5 hours and most nights I’m unable to fall back asleep. I’ve been working to get better sleep and some nights I’m more successful than others.

In my quest of a good nights sleep, I have found a few things that increase my chance of a good night sleep. As I mentioned before, I’m eating healthier, reducing alcohol, and exercising everyday. I’ve been heading to bed at a reasonable hour, and I have wind down routine that includes some nice piano jazz, and a few minutes of meditation before my head hits the pillow.

Discipline

Another benefit that we get when we focus on taking care of out physical health, is that we develop more self discipline. If you find that you have problems with mental discipline, then practicing a sport or marshal art or almost any physical activity can help you develop more discipline that can be applied in other areas of your life. I find for me that they go hand in hand. When I’m taking care of myself physically, it is much easier to take care of myself mentally.

Conclusion

Moderation is freedom from that which is disgraceful and servile, while intemperance is the contrary.

— Epictetus

Now, I’m not saying all these things to brag about myself. I’m not saying that you need to stop drinking or enjoying dessert or that you need to hit the gym every day. I’m sharing what I’ve changed in my life that has been helping me live a better life. Many of these are things that I knew that I needed to change for quite some time, but I resisted.

Many of them I resisted for years.

I think that some of these, especially the alcohol, were ways of coping with stress in my life. I think as I made some of the bigger mental health breakthroughs in my life, it made it easier to finally decide to make the changes I knew would be beneficial for me. I didn’t need these things as crutches. I could face my challenges head on.

The stoics speak often of temperance, which means finding moderation and balance in our lives. For me, this means that I focus on keeping my mind and body healthy. It means that I make choices that are more beneficial in and help me feel better in the long run. And I’m finding that as I improve my physical health, I’m enjoying the the fact that I look better, feel better, and think better.

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Emotions

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

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

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

— Robert Greene

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

What are Emotions?

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

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

Vibrations

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

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

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

Avoidance

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

— Seneca

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

Addictions

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

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

Psychosomatic Disorders

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

— Elizabeth Gilbert

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

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

Toxic Masculinity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Riding the Waves

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

— John F. Demartini

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

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

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

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

So you have choice.

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

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

Practical Steps

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

— Kahlil Gibran

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Find me on instagram or twitter.

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

Categories
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
Perspective

241 – Mind Over Mood: The Stoic Art of Reframing

Mind Over Mood: The Stoic Art of Reframing
What do you really see?

One of the things we talk about a lot in stoicism is that it’s our perspective on something that causes our distress. So how do we change our perspective on things? Are there tools that we can use to help us view things differently? Today I want to talk about some of the things that get in our way of broadening our perspective, and what tools we can use to help change our perspective.

It is not the things themselves that disturb people, but their judgments about these things.

— Epictetus

Great minds do not always think alike.

— Anonymous.

One of the most important ideas in stoicism is that our perspective is what informs and colors our opinion about things that happen in our lives. Being aware of our own perspective is very challenging because we really only interact with the world through our own point of view and filters.

We have attitudes and biases that we are often not aware of which affect how we interpret the world and how we decide to respond to events and other people. Basically, we act based on our judgments, and our judgments are formed by what we think about a situation.

For example, say that we have two people, Jane and Tony, and they are walking down the street to a coffee shop. They pass by a group of teenagers with skateboards hanging outside a convenience store. Now when Jane sees them, she smiles and remembers how she used to ride a skateboard at that age and how fun it was to hang out with her friends. When Tony sees the same group of kids, he becomes tense and anxious because he remembers some kids in his neighborhood where he grew up that rode skateboards and used to chase him and beat him up. Each of them are seeing the exact same situation, but having completely different emotions about it based on their experience and their thoughts about the group of teenagers.

Reframing is a when we actively work on changing our perspective on something. First, we become aware of our thinking. Second, we question our thinking by looking for evidence, and using logic to prove or disprove our thoughts. Third, we correct errors in our thinking which helps us change what we make something mean.

So why is it important for us to improve our ability to change our perspective of how we view the world? When we learn how shift our perspective on things, then we are better able to see things as they are, and not just act on our first impressions. We need a fuller picture and have a clearer understanding, which helps us make better choices. Sometimes, just getting slightly different perspective on something can completely change how we view something.

One of the clearest examples of how reframing can radically change how we understand something is from the movie, The Sixth Sense. If you haven’t seen The Sixth Sense, I’m warning you now that I’m going to reveal some big spoilers. If you haven’t seen it, I recommend you watch it then come back and finish this episode.

The Sixth Sense opens with psychologist Malcolm Crowe, who is played by Bruce Willis, and his wife Anna, played by Olivia Williams, getting ready to go out to dinner. A patient of Malcolm’s break into their house and ends up shooting Malcolm and then killing himself. After this indecent, the movie introduces us to Cole, played by Haley Joel Osment, a frightened and withdrawn boy, who is now a patient of Malcom’s.

As the movie progresses we see that Malcom has been struggling to communicate with his wife and their relationship seems very strained. We also learn that Cole has the ability to see dead people, which is the cause of his fear. Malcolm helps Cole to try and understand how to deal with this ability, and the two begin to form a strong bond. Near the end of the movie, which up to this point has seemed like a relationship between a boy and his therapist, it is finally revealed that Malcolm is actually dead, but didn’t know that he was dead.

When it finally clicked for me that Malcom was dead, it shifted my whole perspective on what the movie was actually about. It was also fascinating how it changed Malcolm’s perspective on who he was, and what was really happening. When I went back and watched it again, it felt like I was watching a completely different movie. Scenes where it seemed like Malcolm was interacting with his wife or with anyone other than Cole, were completely changed knowing that Malcolm was dead, but was unaware of it. It was an extraordinary instance of my perspective shifting with new information.

So what can we do to get better with reframing the world around us so we can make wiser choices? There are a few practices that we can do which can really help change how we view a situation.

One of the first things we can do it to is identify cognitive distortions, which are common patterns of thinking that lead to negative or irrational thoughts. This is very inline with what Seneca meant when he wrote:

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

— Seneca

We see what we believe rather than what we see.

— Alan Watts

Some cognitive distortions include the following:

All-or-Nothing Thinking: This is where we think that things are one way or another, such as good or bad or black or white. This pattern makes it hard to see that there are shades of gray, that there are nuances in every situation, and in every person. It also makes is challenging to see that sometimes both options can be true.

An example of this comes from a listener who asked me how to reconcile self acceptance with self improvement. They felt that if they accepted themselves for who they were, it meant they were giving up on self improvement. But these things are not mutually exclusive. You can accept yourself and all your flaws, AND still want to improve. Just like how you accept a young child for who they are and all the things they are not good at, and want them to grow and improve.

Mind Reading: This is when we think that we know what other people are thinking. We may make assumptions of their opinion of us, or what their motivations or intent are without any evidence. This is something that I have struggled with throughout my life, much of it came from having to stay on my toes around my father. I was constantly guessing what he was thinking so that I could stay safe.

Personalization: This is when we take responsibility for things that are not our fault, or blame ourselves for things that are out of our control. This type of thinking can lead to feelings of guilt, shame, and inadequacy. Often, this behavior comes from living in a dysfunctional home. If there is one or more parent that doesn’t take responsibility for their actions and puts the blame on other members of the family, children learn to accept blame for things they haven’t done in order to keep the peace.

Catastrophizing: This is the tendency to exaggerate the significance of negative events, and to expect the worst possible outcome. This type of thinking can lead to feelings of anxiety, fear, and hopelessness. This pattern of thinking can lead people to feel easily overwhelmed because of the emotional weight they put on even minor events. It can also stop us from making progress in challenging situations because it makes them seem far more difficult than they actually are, leading to bad decisions or just outright giving up.

Once you become aware of these distortions, you can challenge them and reframe them into more balanced and realistic thoughts. Writing down your thoughts in a journal and answering questions such as, “Is this thought really true?" or "Is there any evidence to support or contradict this thought?” is one of the best ways to become aware of these kind of patterns and notice how they impact your thinking.

You can also discuss them with someone you trust if you find that more helpful. The point is to find a way to recognize those thoughts and question them in a rational and logic manner so that you can see things for what they really are.

Once you have a handle on what you are thinking and have made the effort to logic through cognitive distortions, you can use what you have learned to change how you view something. For example, rather than assuming that you know what someone is thinking, you recognize that you don’t know until you ask, or they volunteer the information. Rather than taking blame for things that you have no control over, you only take responsibility for your choices and actions, and let go of the rest.

For any of these practices to be effective there is a core skill that we need to develop. For me this one skill is the most important in Stoicism, and that is the skill of mindfulness. Now, I know that sound like a broken record because I talk about mindfulness and meditation a lot. The reason for this is that all other practices and processes we might use to improve ourself are dependent on awareness. If we are unaware of our thoughts, perspectives, and cognitive distortions, then it makes it nearly impossible to change anything.

Until we make the unconscious conscious, we will call it fate and it will rule our lives.

— Carl Jung

I’ve used this quote by Jung many times because it is such an important insight. Even just taking 15 minutes a day to sit and pay attention to you mind and observe your thinking can make a big difference. Remember, mediation is not about zoning out, it is about focusing your attention on your thoughts, your body, and your environment. Just as you would take time to work out to strengthen your body, meditation is taking time to strengthen your mind.

The ability to change and broaden our perspective is probably one of the most important skills that we can develop in our lives. It is also one of the most helpful, since the ability to see things from multiple perspectives gives a more holistic picture of a situation or event. A fuller picture can help you see and understand things you may have missed if you only rely on your own narrow perspective. It can help us understand other people and how they think, and handle situations in a way that is more beneficial to ourselves and those around us.


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
kind

236 – Nice vs. Kind

Nice v.s Kind
Kindness

Are you a nice person or are you a kind person? Do you know the difference? Today I want to talk about whether it’s better to be nice or kind.

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

— Seneca

I few weeks ago, I stumbled on a discussion on twitter of all place about the difference between being nice and being kind. It was an idea that I had never really thought about, so today I want to look at this idea from a stoic perspective.

I’m sure that most of us at some point when we were kids were told that we needed to be nice to everyone. We may have been scolded for not “being nice” when we said something that upset someone else, as if we had control over how that other person felt. This was often mixed in with being told that we’re being “unkind”, so I think the place to start is to define each of these terms.

The definition of being nice is, “Pleasing and agreeable in nature. Exhibiting courtesy and politeness”, whereas the definition of kind is, “Generous, helpful, and caring about other people”.

In Stoic philosophy, being kind and being nice are often seen as two distinct virtues. Being kind is generally considered to be an essential virtue, and as a fundamental aspect of being a good person. The Stoics believed that the key to living a virtuous life was to cultivate the four cardinal virtues: wisdom, courage, justice, and moderation. Being kind falls under the virtue of justice, since it involves treating others fairly and with empathy. On the other hand, being nice is typically seen as a less essential virtue, because it’s often more focused on pleasing others and avoiding conflict.

Since one of the most important things we learn is stoicism is that we cannot control what other people think or feel, we can see that sometimes people will be nice in an attempt to please or manipulate others. They are trying to control or influence how the other person thinks or feels about them.

On the other hand, being kind is very much within our control. Being kind is when we act in such a way that is helpful to others. We aren’t doing something just so that we look good or that others will like us. We are simply living our principles.

Life is so hard, how can we be anything but kind?

— Jack Kornfield

If we dig a little deeper in stoic philosophy, the difference between being nice and being kind can also be understood through the the concepts of moral goodness and moral worth. Moral goodness refers to actions that align with virtue whereas moral worth refers to the character of a person.

Being nice can include actions that could be considered virtuous, however, being nice does not necessarily require someone to have a virtuous character. For example, someone may give money to charity simply because it makes them look good, rather than because they genuinely care about the well-being of others. In this sense, being nice is a matter of moral goodness, but not necessarily moral worth.

On the other hand, being kind means having a virtuous character and doing actions that align with virtues. A kind person is someone who consistently demonstrates virtues such as compassion and generosity, not just in their actions, but in their overall disposition and character. Being kind involves both moral goodness and moral worth.

In his letter "On Tranquility of Mind," Seneca wrote, "The first step in a life of wisdom is to establish our moral worth, to make ourselves good men; the second is to become good at what we do." In other words, Seneca believed that in order to live a good life, we must first focus on developing our character and doing virtuous actions.

Similarly, Marcus Aurelius wrote in Meditations, "Waste no more time arguing about what a good man should be. Be one." This quote highlights the importance of not just talking about virtues, but actually practicing and embodying them in our lives.

I’ve noticed that some cultures are often kind, but not always nice. Others tend to be nice, but are not necessarily kind. When I lived in Austria, I found that the people were not always nice, and were often very blunt, but they were very kind and would often go out of their way to help friends and strangers in need. Of course, this is just a generalization because it will vary from person to person.

I think in many ways, being nice is more about the appearance of what you do, and kindness is about doing something because it’s the virtuous thing to do. It’s taking care of someone’s kids when they’re in the hospital and not just sending “thoughts and prayers”.

The last aspect of kindness that I want to touch on is that of self kindness. One of the key principles of Stoicism is that external events are beyond our control, and that our happiness is dependent on our own actions and attitudes. This means that being kind is not just about being nice to others, but also about being kind to ourselves and treating ourselves with the same compassion and understanding that we would show to others. In my own experience, I’ve found that as I’ve learned to be kinder and less judgmental to myself, it makes it easier to be kinder and less judgmental of others. In fact, I’ve found that the people who are often harsh on other people are usually really hard on themselves. By being kind to ourselves, we become less judgmental and kinder to others.

While being nice is often seen as a desirable quality, it is not as essential as being kind. Being kind involves treating others with empathy and fairness, and also involves being kind to ourselves. The difference between being nice and being kind can also be understood through the concepts of moral goodness and moral worth in stoic philosophy. While being nice involves performing actions that align with virtues, being kind involves developing a virtuous character which would drive you towards virtuous actions. In order to live a good life, stoic philosophers emphasized the importance of cultivating virtues in both our actions and our character which is essential for finding happiness and fulfillment.


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

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

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

Find me on instagram or twitter.

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

Categories
Future

233 – Anxious Future

Anxious Future
Anxious Future

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

The mind that is anxious about future events is miserable.

—Seneca

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

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

—The Stoic Emperor

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

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

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

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

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

― Epictetus

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Find me on instagram or twitter.

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

Categories
wisdom

213 – Think Long

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

— Seneca

When you're in the midst of a challenge it's really hard to think clearly. It's hard sometimes to remember that this moment is just this moment and will not be forever. In this episode, I’m going to talk about how thinking longer term can help smooth out the day to day rough patches and help you stay more resilient.

Short-term thinking makes people desperate, ungenerous, impulsive. Long-term thinking makes people calm, gracious, controlled.

— The Stoic Emperor

Short-term thinking is reactive, take no work, and often makes things worse. Short-term thinking is only focused on what you want in the moment. This can lead to being impulsive, reactive, and less of an ability to appreciate the consequences of your actions. Thinking short term means that you don’t have the patience to work things through and stick things out for the long haul. You’ll take short term gains over long term prosperity. You’re likely to give up easily because things don’t progress as fast as you want.

Long-term thinking is responsive, thoughtful, and takes practice. It’s being able to appreciate the intensity of the moment and doing the best you can, while keeping the longer term goal in sight. It helps you think through the consequences for your actions, and allows you to act well in the short-term. Big picture thinking helps you make choices in short term that will have a better chance of serving your long term interests. It also helps you to more realistic on the progress you’re making.

Why is Long-Term Thinking Important?

Misfortune weights most heavily on those who expect nothing but good fortune

— Seneca

When you think long term it gives you the opportunity to prepare for things that you otherwise not have anticipated. This is what the stoics call Premeditatio Malorum, or “to anticipate troubles”. When you assume that everything will just work out as you expect, you’re doing yourself a disservice and basically going in blind. When you prepare for things that could go wrong, then you are going in with eyes open and a willingness to work with what’s there, and not just fold because things aren’t as expected.

When we think long term it also helps us to get started. We recognize that our goals are going to take some time, and we can put our progress in perspective. We are willing to put in the work because we know that we’re not going to get this done quickly.

Preparation

Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity. 

— Seneca

When we think long term, we can keep our eyes open to opportunities that present themselves. We can put the work in so that we are ready for those opportunities. We can put in the time to position ourselves so that we can be in the “right time” and “right place”. If we’re only thinking short term, then we’ll never build up the skills that we need to be ready. We’ll miss the importance of taking on tasks that we may not like, but will help bring opportunities our way.

When we think long term we can also put the time in to nurture the relationships that can help us along the way. We can find those that are willing to help us along the path and are willing to support us on our journey. If we only think short term, we only think about people in the regards to how useful they are to us now, and if they aren’t useful to us as the moment, they are discarded.

Getting Started

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. 

— The Stoic Emperor

How often do we wait for the "right time" before we do something? Whether that's a new project, new habit, or even getting back on track, there is never going to be a perfect time. Waiting for the stars to align is just another excuse for procrastination, and short term thinking. When we think long term, we know that there will never be a perfect time, just today. So we take a step in the right direction every day, even if it’s just a small one.

We also need to look at why we're waiting. It may be that that real reason we are waiting for the right moment is that deep down we really just don't want to do it. And that's okay. Just be honest with yourself so that you don't feel guilty about procrastinating, and just own your choices.

Life is always going to be challenging, and when we are honest with ourselves and the circumstances around us we won't waste time procrastinating and placing the blame outside ourselves. We'll own it and do it, or not.

Perseverance

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

—David Goggins

Learning to persevere is one of the most important lessons that anyone can learn. We often want the thing we want right now and have little patience for things that take longer than we think they should. I think that one of the worst things that can happen to people is that they succeed too quickly. Later, when things get hard, they don't have the skills to push through and keep going when things are hard.

A great example of this in literature is the story of Odysseus in The Odyssey. What should have been a trip of a few weeks ended up as a journey of several years. While it is certainly a tale of adventure, it is also a story of perseverance and dealing with all kinds of obstacles along the way home. With each challenge he and his crew overcame, Odysseus learned and he grew. Because he had his eyes on the prize, he was able to act well in the moment because he knew what his ultimate goal was – to make it home to his wife and family.

In our daily lives, when we try to start up something new we will often think about how great it will be once we achieve our goal. We get caught up in the outcome, and forget that it's the process that is the most important. When we focus on enjoying the work, and doing good work especially when it's really hard, that's when we grow. It's only when we take on the scary and difficult tasks that we see what we're really made of.

Involved Detachment

Learn to detach yourself from the chaos of the battlefield.

—Robert Greene

While most of us will never have to engage in an actual battle, the commotion of everyday life can often feel like we're under siege. With the complexities of life that we all have it's easy to get bogged down in everything we need to get done.

When you think about it, our lives are more complex than those of our parents or grandparents. The amount of information we have access to, the sheer number of options we have when we go shopping, even the possibilities for jobs and relationships is pretty astounding. When I sit down to work on music, I have access to sounds and instruments and tools that allow me to create symphonies!

While all this choice is amazing, it can also be overwhelming. We can get lost in the sea of optionality. Some may find it impossible to begin because of too many choices. Just as on the battlefield, learning to clear your mind, and detach from the swirling emotions can help give you some clarity. Is that thing that's stressing you out really that stressful, or is it just the thought that you have about that thing that creates the emotions you feel?

So how does involved detachment help us think longer term? If you are able to be in the middle of a stressful or chaotic situation and stay calm and relaxed, you are able to respond to what’s going on around you rather than just reacting to everything and being pushed this way and that way. It allows us to gain perspective on what seems so important at this moment. Is it really that important? Is it worth getting stressed out over? Is stressing out about this thing going to help us?

A useful practice, though this is challenging, is to set aside a few moments, take a deep breath and think about how you'll remember this in 5 or 10 years time. Ask yourself if the way that you’re acting and the choices you’re making something you’ll be proud of? If it is something pivotal or life changing, then give it all your energy and focus. If not then breath, relax, and do your best, or maybe decide this is something to walk away from. Thinking long term give you that guiding star to help you achieve your goal. Without that guiding star, it making choices that benefit you in the long is nearly impossible because you haven’t put the time into know what you want in the long term.

Conclusion

Long term thinking is not an easy thing to do. We are conditioned in our world to get want we want when we want it. But learning to be patient puts you at an advantage over the crowd. When everyone else is focusing short term gains or the latest trend you are already thinking many steps ahead of them. When people treat relationships as transactional, you’ll invest the time and energy into friendships to help support you on your mission. When you think long, you have a purpose which helps you keep a clearer perspective on your every challenges. When you think long, you may not win every battle, but you’ll win the war.


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Categories
Coffee Break death Time

202 – Life Is Long If You Know How To Use It

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“While we wait for life, life passes.”

— Seneca

Time is the most important, the most in demand resource that we have in life. Are you spending yours wisely or do you let it go to waste? Today I want to talk about time, and how we can take some steps to be mindful of how we spend it.

“It is not that we have a short time to live, but that we waste a lot of it. Life is long enough, and a sufficiently generous amount has been given to us for the highest achievements if it were all well invested. But when it is wasted in heedless luxury and spent on no good activity, we are forced at last by death’s final constraint to realize that it has passed away before we knew it was passing. So it is: we are not given a short life but we make it short, and we are not ill-supplied but wasteful of it… Life is long if you know how to use it.”

— Seneca

How Much Time?

The most finite resource that each of us has is our time. We can always make more money, but making more time is not something that any of us can do. We only have a finite number of hours in our life, and we don’t even know how many we truly have. Which is all the more reason we should work on spending our time more wisely.

“Were all the geniuses of history to focus on this single theme, they could never fully express their bafflement at the darkness of the human mind. No person would give up even an inch of their estate, and the slightest dispute with a neighbor can mean hell to pay; yeta we easily let others encroach on our lives — worse, we often pave the way for those who will take it over. No person hands out their money to passersby, but to how many do each of us hand out our lives! We’re tightfisted with property and money, yet think too little of wasting time, the one thing about which we should all be the toughest misers.”

— Seneca, “On the Shortness of Life,”

Wasting Time

What are the time-suckers in your life? How much time do you spend on social media? How much time do you spend on watching Netflix on a given night? None of these things are bad in and of themselves. I enjoy good movies and art because those are things that I enjoy in this life. Life doesn’t need to be so serious and all about work, but we need to be thoughtful about how we spend our time, just as we should be thoughtful about how we spend our money. For example, I limit my time on Facebook since it such an easy rabbit hole to fall into. I can waste hours just scrolling and trying to stay up on everyone’s posts, soI limit myself to about 15-20 minutes a day to catch up with friends and see what’s happening in their lives.

When I was in college, I saw a talk given by movie critic Micheal Medvid. While I don’t see eye to eye with him on a lot of things, he said something that really stuck with me. He said talked about how at the time the average American watched an average of 28 hours of TV a week. And this was before we had Facebook or Netflix. He talked about the fact that it’s not that there isn’t enough quality media to watch. There’s plenty of good material. It’s that we lose a lot of our lives if we’re immersed in that much TV. We miss family connections. We miss out on living our own lives when we live by proxy of watching someone else’s life, real or fictional.

Intentionality

I want you to ask yourself, “what do I want to accomplish in my life?”. Do you know what that is? When you know that, every choice you make then becomes a simple question: “Does this get me closer to the vision of my life?” When you have a clear filter of what you want, it makes it easier to decide. Be aware though, once you know your purpose, there will be times when you have to pass opportunities that seemed more fun but do not help to fulfill the vision and purpose of your life.

But to be sure, it doesn’t need to be all about work and achieving your vision. I think part of having a good and happy life is to choose things from time to time that enhance your life that have nothing to do with your purpose of life. Watch films just for fun. Read books that are guilty pleasures. Have variety in your life and make sure that you enjoy the pleasures of being human! What it really comes down to is being clear and deliberate about the things that you choose to spend your time on. It comes to making sure that you really think about each “yes” and “no”.

Priority

Multi tasking is not really something we can do as humans, and yet we continue to think that we can do more than one thing at a time. But for me, the question is why? Why would you want to focus on multiple things? When you are not focused on the task at hand, then you are not deeply immersed in what you are doing. You do it less well, take longer to do it, and can easily miss out on some of the more subtle aspects of the task. I know that for me when I’m writing or working on music, the more focused I am, the more I enjoy the work, and the better my work is. I’m able to be more creative, come up with more interesting ideas, and discover concepts that I would have missed if I had not been immersed in my work.

I often hear the term that you have to “set your priorities”. The thing is, you can’t have priorities. Priority means “fact or condition of coming first in importance or requiring immediate attention”, meaning the concept is singular – at any given time, there can only be one priority. You may have a hierarchy of tasks on your todo list, but there can be only one priority at a time.

So what is your priority? This is going to be different for everyone. For some, family is their priority. For others, it may be their work. Others it may be service to a cause. There is nothing that dictates what your priority should be. Each person needs to decide for themselves what is most important for them. And why is important to have your priority figured out at any given moment? Because if you aren’t clear about what you are trying to focus on, it’s very easy to get distracted, and to get off track. If you don’t have a clear vision of where you want to go, then you’ll end up exactly where aim – nowhere.

And the thing is, it’s going to vary for each person. Everyone has different things that are of more or less importance than others. And we need to understand that what we find important is not going to be the same for others. And that’s okay. If everyone had the exact same priority, we’d have a very much less interesting world to live in. Understanding what your priority is at any given moment can help guide you in focusing on the things that are most rewarding.

Core Values

One of the areas that can help you choose what your priority is at any given moment is by understanding your core values. I’ve talked a lot about figuring out what your core values are in order to help you understand what should be at the top of your list. Knowing what is important to you and filtering things through the lens of your core values can help you quickly determine what is worth your time and effort and what you bump off your todo list.

Changes

As you move through the different stages of life, you’ll find that the things that were important to you in your teen years will be far different from those in your twenties. Those things that seemed so important in your twenties will change dramatically in your thirties. Every stage of life is space of learning new things. You’ll have different responsibilities and different things competing for your time. You’ll find that some things you thought were so important when you were in college seem ridiculous when you’ve you look back on them 10 years later. As we learn and grow as people, we’re always going to be changing.

Indecision

When we don’t know what we want to achieve in our lives, we can easily fall into a space of indecision. We get suck on trying to find the “right” path and often find ourselves with many interesting choices and unsure which way to go. I have often struggled with deciding where to focus my time outside of work. For a long time I would go back and forth between my different hobbies, choosing to focus on one for a while and then another. I felt guilty about it for a while, but looking back on how things have evolved in my life over the past few years, I wish that I would have been more gentle with myself and just enjoyed what I was working on. I was so worried about being successful at what I was doing that I didn’t always enjoy it while I was doing it. I can see now that switching back and forth was actually what I needed because, at certain times, I need different things in my life. I also needed to experiment with my different hobbies and see what worked and what was fulfilling. I think that is why I taking a year and a half off from the podcast was actually really helpful for me. It took the pressure off, so when I returned, I returned to it with pleasure because I missed the process of creating episodes and the personal growth that it helped me with.

If you’re in this place of indecision, that’s okay. What I would suggest is that you just do something. Even if you don’t know exactly what you want to do, just do something that seems interesting or fulfilling. You don’t have to be successful at it for it to be a good thing in your life. Focusing on being successful at something can take the enjoyment out of doing something. Not everything has to lead to some accomplishment, and you can always change your mind. Just doing something you truly love for the joy and pleasure of it as part of being human!

Conclusion

Anytime is a good time for us to look at what we’re spending our time on in life. Taking time to be sure that the things we’re spending our time on are moving us forward towards the kind of life we want to have is something we should do on a regular basis. By taking the time to evaluate if the goals that we have line up with our priority and our core values, we can be better at choosing those activities that enhance our lives. We can be sure to use our most precious resource wisely.


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

Categories
Coffee Break death

201 – You May Leave This Life at Any Moment

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

— Marcus Aurelius

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

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

—Seneca

Memento Mori

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

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

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

—Marcus Aurelius

Why are we afraid to die?

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

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

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

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

—Marcus Aurelius

What is Impotant?

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

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

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

—Gaius Musonius Rufus

Die Well

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

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

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

—Marcus Aurelius

Quality Over Quantity

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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


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

Categories
Coffee Break philosophy self-improvement stoicism

189 – What You Are Capable Of

What You Are Capable Of

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“I judge you unfortunate because you have never lived through misfortune. You have passed through life without an opponent — no one can ever know what you are capable of, not even you.” 

– Seneca

Have you ever thought about how much energy and effort we as humans put into seeking comfort and avoiding challenging things? So many things that we spend money on in our lives revolve around making things easier or more comfortable. Part of human evolution has been to seek comfort. We try to make things easier for ourselves. But in doing so, are we robbing ourselves of a chance to grow? In our search for convenience, do we end up weakening ourselves?

Pleasure and Discomfort

If you have ever seen the movie Wall-E, you may remember what one of the main things of the story lines is how, in our search for comfort, humanity has become lazy and unable to care for themselves without technology. They are extremely obese, and are unable to walk, or really do anything for themselves. They lay on powered lounge chairs, eat junk food all day, and do nothing but amuse and entertain themselves. Every physical need is taken care of by robots. In their ultimate search for comfort, they have allowed themselves to atrophy and become basically grown up children.

On the flip side of this, if you have ever been to a Spartan Race, you would have seen people purposefully put themselves in hard situations. They seek out challenges. They push themselves to see how much they can take. Trudging through mud pits, scaling rock walls, crawling under barbed wire fences, all in an effort to test themselves to see what they are capable of. It’s pretty intense and inspiring.

So why do we struggle so much with choosing what we know will be good for us? I think we need to understand that most things we do in life are done to avoid discomfort and seek pleasure. If you examine almost anything you do it life, you’ll find that most, if not all, of the things you do fall into these two categories. We stay stuck in  habits because we are unwilling to let go of pleasure or deal with discomfort.

So how do we change this? How do we get to a place where we are willing to forgo pleasure and bear some discomfort?

We change our perspective on what we consider to be pain or pleasure, and a key to this is changing our timeframe.

When we think short term vs. long term, it becomes more clear about what is pleasure and what is discomfort. The thing is, what is considered uncomfortable and pleasurable is often very subjective. We are the ones that judge whether something is a pleasure or a discomfort. What may be very uncomfortable for others, some may look forward to. What some might think is very pleasurable may be annoying for someone else.

For example, some people consider lifting weights to be painful and uncomfortable and avoid going to the gym. Others consider it to be very pleasurable, and invest significant amounts of money and time at the gym. In my opinion lifting weights is uncomfortable, and at times can be painful, and at the same time it also feels really good to work your muscles and to build your strength. The research shows that lifting weights is good for us because of the long term health benefits such as stronger muscles which help the body withstand injury, increased bone density, plus having the strength to do other activities in your life. When we think about this in short vs long term, then we see that short term discomfort leads to long term pleasure.

So what it comes down to, is which perspective do you choose and act upon?

Choices

Years ago, I found out that a close friend of mine was celebrating being sober for 12 years. He said he had been an alcoholic and it had caused a lot of issues in his marriage. At one point his wife him that he had to get his drinking under control or she was leaving. He didn’t really think it was a problem, but started attending AA meetings to appease her. Over the next few months as he heard more and more stories, from other members, he noticed how many of their stories were very close to his own experiences. He started to see how his actions had been causing pain to himself, and to those that loved him. It took a lot of effort, but he was able to stop drinking. He did this because he changed his perspective. He decided that he was willing to give up the temporary pleasure that drinking gave him. He decided the pain he was covering up with alcohol was something that he needed to face head on. Undoing so he gave up short term pleasure and avoidance of discomfort for long term pleasures of more control in his life and improving his marriage.

What Is Your Pleasure?

So when we’re facing challenges what steps can we take in order to be more effective at making better choices? I think first off, have a clear definition of what your pleasure is. Is having a strong body or a particular physical skill your definition of pleasure? Is having a good relationship with your partner or children your pleasure? Whatever it is, then approach each challenge that you have as a way to flex your muscles and improve your skill. Look at the challenge as the pleasure. Imagine what it would feel like if you were a master of it? How much pleasure would that give you?

Learning to flip your idea of what pleasure and pain is very important skill and is very much about perspective. If you can decide that the uncomfortable thing and overcoming challenges and something that gives you pleasure, then when those things come your way, you won’t run away from them, you’ll turn and face them head on, and you’ll know what you’re capable of.


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

Categories
Coffee Break philosophy stoicism

186 – Stuck In The Past

Stuck In The Past
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I want you to take a moment and think about the biggest regret in your past. Is there some choice you made that you still kick yourself for? Were there circumstances, such as physical or emotional abuse, that you had no control over? Maybe there was something that you did, or didn’t do, that you still regret? Maybe there was the “one that got away” or you chose this job over that job. Every one of us has regrets about the past.

Today I want to talk about how holding onto the past is something that spoils your present and poisons your future.

“All this hurrying from place to place won’t bring you any relief, for you’re travelling in the company of your own emotions, followed by your troubles all the way”

– Seneca

One of the core tenants of Stoicism is to be aware of, and to focus on what we can control and let go of those we can’t. One area that we don’t have control over is what happened in the past. It is not something that can we can change, yet it is one of the hardest things for us to let go of. Regrets are a prison of our own making, but we are the ones that hold the key to our escape. Learning how to untangle ourselves from past can bring us so peace and freedom to move more lightly in the present.

“Regrets are a prison of our own making, but we are the ones that hold the key to our escape.”

Why do we hold on to the past?

So much of our identity is wrapped up in the memories of things that happened to us and things we did or didn’t do. Experiences shape how we think the world works and our behavior in all kinds of situations. Our perspective on the past informs us of who we think we are.

As a thought experiment, what would happen if you woke up with no memory of the past? How would you know who you are? Would it change who you are as a person? How would you know what you like, dislike, feared or consider as important? Do you like peanut butter and hate whiskey? Do you appreciate rainy days or do you find them intolerable? If you had no memories of the past, you wouldn’t know what you think about so many things. It is our memories, and the importance that we give them, which inform how we feel about things in the present, and how we decide what we think is important.

Another difficult part of letting go of the past is that because our minds are prediction making machines, we get stuck in the trap of “if only” thinking. We think about how much better our life would be if only we had made a different choice, or if only we had been born into different circumstances. We play back all kinds of alternate scenarios of how we think things should have been. But this kind of thinking hold us hostage to the past, to something that cannot change.

Since you can’t change the past, how to you let go of the past? How to stop painful memories from holding power over your daily life? How do you let yourself out of the prison of your own mind? Since you can’t change your past, the only thing you can change is how you think about it. Your perspective on what those memories is what gives them a positive or negative meaning. By changing your perspective, you change what those memories mean. This is called reframing.

How do we reframe the past?

“Reason shows us there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”

— Seneca

By changing the story that we tell ourselves about the past, we can change what it means to us. For example, I grew up in a very chaotic environment. My father was often violent and angry, and there was a lot of fear in our home. Now I could focus on how terrible it was, but what good does that do me? If I spend my time thinking about how awful it was and how I was so afraid of my father, I keep myself in a place of unhappiness. I create my own prison from the memories of something that I cannot change.

But what if I decide to change my perspective? What I focused on how my father was smart, curious, and funny? How he used to make us laugh so hard that we’d be doubled over on the floor? Or how he would talk about fascinating ideas that he had just read about the cosmos, or chaos theory? What if I look at my father with compassion and empathy, and decide that it’s a lesson for me in learning how to forgive others, and how to be loving towards people who have hurt me? By changing what the past means, I can can use those experiences as lessons. I can decide to focus on the good things and reframe the bad things as lessons I can learn from. Holding onto the past and allowing it to impact me negatively, doesn’t change what happened, and it the person it harms the most is myself.

Amor Fati

Now some people may disagree with handling things this way. They may think that doing so minimizes what happened or that we’re denying what happened. This is not the case. The Stoic idea of amor fati, “to love your fate”, means that we need to embrace our past. Because we cannot change the past, the more we resist accepting and acknowledging our past, the more power we give it over our lives. When we acknowledge and accept what happened, we also get to decide what we make it mean. We can make dark memories feel awful, or we can look at them as things that we survived, and how we got through them.

Also, remember that everything that happened to you in the past made you who you are today. Every choice you made, every experience you had was something that you can learn from if you’re willing to look for the lesson. By reframing it, you can look at it as an experience that you survived, and figured out how to get through. Because of the choices you made, you became the person you are today.

One of my favorite examples of where I had a sudden shift in perspective that changed a whole experience, was when I watched The Sixth Sense. If you haven’t seen that movie, this is your spoiler alert. In the movie, Bruce Willis plays a psychiatrist who is trying to help a young boy who is struggling with the fact that he sees dead people. When Bruce Willis’ character finally makes the realization that he is actually one of those dead people, it completely changes the meaning behind almost every moment in the movie. When you watch the movie a second time through with this knowledge, it’s like watching a completely different movie. Just that slight change in perspective changes the whole meaning of the movie.

Life is challenging. None of us are going to have a perfectly carefree life without pain or struggle. If we let every less than perfect moment in our life sour our memories, then we can lock ourselves in a prison of perpetual unhappiness. You are the one that holds the key to that prison. That key is all in your perspective and the stories you tell yourself.


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

Categories
Challenges Coffee Break Fate stoicism

138 – The Greatest Obstacle to Living

The Greatest Obstacle to Living

 

“Putting things off is the biggest waste of life: it snatches away each day as it comes, and denies us the present by promising the future. The greatest obstacle to living is expectancy, which hangs upon tomorrow, and loses today. You are arranging what lies in Fortune’s control, and abandoning what lies in yours. What are you looking at? To what goal are you straining? The whole future lies in uncertainty: live immediately.”

– Seneca

Show Notes:

– Do you think too much about the future that you are not living in today?
– This quote from Seneca hits two really great points of the Stoics.
– Momento Mori, remember you will die, and because we could die at any moment, there really is no other time than now. There is now and not now.
– Amor Fati, love your fate. Because we have so little control over what happens to us in life, worrying about the future is worrying about something that may never happen.
– So when you think about it, the only thing you have control over is your choices at this moment.
– Many of the great philosophies and religions focus on mindfulness, of being in the present moment.
– What does mindfulness mean exactly? What does it mean to live in the now?
– To me it mean bringing my focus, my attention, my awareness to the present moment. To be fully engaged in my life, and not stuck thinking about how great things are going to be in the future, but to be present and involved with what’s going on around me and the work that I am engaged in.
– To be honest, I do get very stuck in the future. I think about all these great things that I want to do and create, or how much better it’s going to be….tomorrow or the next day or next week, and pretty soon, it’s next week and I didn’t get done what I wanted and I didn’t enjoy the things that happened.
– It takes effort to keep myself in the present and not get stuck thinking about the future. It’s a lifelong habit that I’ve built up and it’s not easy to break. But I have found that being more present and more focused on the moment, things seem more vivid and intense, it a good way. It’s like I’m more awake to the world. For example when I go on a walk in the wood near my house, if I’m making an effort to notice more of the world around me, the woods seem more colorful and the smells more sharp. It’s the difference between being half asleep and fully awake.
– Growing up, we’re often too focused on what life will be like in the future. When we’re in grade school we want to be in middle school. Middle school we want high school. Then off to college, career, family.
– And the thing is, whatever our future holds, it’s all going to happen anyway, so why not focus on enjoying today?
– Have you ever seen the painting A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte by Georges-Pierre Seurat? For those of your who’ve seen Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, it’s the painting that they stare at in the Art Institute of Chicago. It’s an amazing work of art that is made up of tiny points of unmixed paint. By doing so, your eye fuses the colors together to create the end color. So to create purple, Seurat would paint red dots next to blue dots until the eye saw purple. Seurat focused daily, deliberately putting each individual brushstroke to canvas, focusing on each small section to bring out the colors he wanted, until 2 years later the 10 foot painting was complete.
– Creating a life is the same way. If we take the time to lovingly and deliberately focus on and live in each day, in this present moment, then we have a great life each and every day. We never have a bad day.
– There’s a great quote by Steven Chandler in his book The Time Warrior. “Don’t create your year, create your day. Figure out the perfect day and then live it. The year will take care of itself. So will your life.”
– What can you do to create your perfect day?
– I think choosing what are the most important things for today, and then doing them with care, and focus. Let go of what you’ll do tomorrow. Tomorrow doesn’t yet exist, so is not real. Now is real, and now is the only time that you can do anything with.
– Don’t be busy, be effective. Are you doing something that matters or are you wasting time?
– Do it well. Don’t half-ass your way through something. Do it with care and focus and in a way that makes you proud.
– What can you do to keep yourself in the present moment?
– Slow down. This is one of the hardest things for me to do. But it takes time to live deliberately. We get too caught up in finishing, that we forget to enjoy the creating or the doing.
– Stop. Sometimes just stop and breath from time to time and look around and see the world, to be thankful. I know some people set reminders so they take time to re-center themselves.
– Write it down. For me, one of the most effective things I do is to get all the things in the future out of my head. I write them down so they don’t spin around in my head. I take care of it now, or I choose a time in the future to take care of it. When I do that, when I get it off my mind, it frees up brain cycles for more important things. When I don’t do that simple exercise, I spend time trying to hold onto all these ideas, and appointments and such, and half the time I forget them anyway.
– Living immediately helps you to worry less about the future, because your focus, your attention is on the present. This also helps you not feel overwhelmed because the future is not your focus. Now is the focus, so you only deal with the now, and ignore everything that is not now.
– Like Ferris Bueller says, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”


Photo by Patrick Tomasso on Unsplash