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Q&A

301 – Q&A Episode: Morning Routines, Mantras, and Quarter Life Crisis

This week I sit down and answer listener questions. I talk about how to apply Stoicism on morning routines, what mantras I use in my life to help keep me in the right mindset, how to detach from abusive people, and advice for managing a quarter life crisis.

 Transcript:

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

This week's episode is a question and answer episode. I've got a couple of questions that you sent in to me and I'm going to just Sit down. It's going to be me on the mic, just talking about some of the questions that you asked and do my best to get my Stoic perspective on them and how you might be able to improve some things in your life.

So let's start off with question number one, which was all about morning routines. So the Stoics didn't have any particular morning routine, although Seneca did advise that we take time to journal every single morning, and I'm sure that he did. He was a very prolific writer, writing to his nephew, Lucilius, in the letters of Lucilius.

I think there are 112 or 120 of those. Plus he wrote a number of plays, a bunch of essays, a bunch of treatises. And, so we, we know from that, that he wrote quite often, Marcus Aurelius did talk about, making sure that when you get up in the morning, that you prepare yourself for the day. And so obviously we have Meditations.

We didn't know if he initially wrote them in the morning, but there was a pretty good chance that he did before he started his day to help get his mind focused. So my personal routine is that I get up every morning and I do yoga. So I find that as I get older, making sure that everything is well stretched out, just makes me feel better all throughout the day.

And normally after I do yoga, I will do some weights. Unfortunately, I've had to take some time off because I have stitches in my left hand and I have to wait for the cuts that I have to heal up. So, yeah. But I found that physical exercise in the morning is probably one of the best things you can do. It gets your blood flowing, it gets a good start to your day, and you generally just feel better all throughout the day when you do that.

Some other things you can definitely add into your routine, like I said before, journaling is a big one. I struggle with this sometimes. I forget to write in my journal for a couple of weeks and then I'll get back to it. But I do find that it helps to focus my mind on the day and get some of the, the chatter that is going on a little more under control.

I also think that meditation is incredibly important. And again, I've kind of fallen off on this at different times and then I'll go back to it. But meditating is how you get to really pay attention to the thoughts that are going on in your head. While journaling is, is a good way to do that as well, depending on how you, you kind of operate, but I find that meditation is very powerful. And a few years ago I did a, a morning routine where I got up and I meditated for 60 minutes for 60 days in a row. And it was quite an experience. And I found that. It really changed my brain, for lack of a better term. It kind of rewired how things worked for me.

And I found that I was better able to be aware of my thoughts. Not just when I was meditating, but throughout the day when I felt something was, was frustrating me, or I was feeling anxious about something because I had practiced for 60 days for 60 minutes of just paying attention to all the thoughts going on in my head.

It makes it much easier for me to identify the things that are distressing me and to slowly kind of move those thoughts in a better direction, which helps improve my mood overall. So I think that a morning routine for each person is individual. You need to find what works best for you. But I would recommend, like I said, something athletic in some way, whether that's going out for a short run or a walk in nature or jumping on your Peloton, or if you have a rowing machine, whatever it is, just 20 to 30 minutes.

Every single morning of good exercise is a fantastic thing. And then do something for your mind to get it going. And that's where journaling and meditation come into play. I'm sure there are other possible routines that you can add into it, but, but at the bare minimum, doing at least 20 minutes of each of those things, I think is a great way to jumpstart your day and keep you going.

So let's move on to the next question. Next question is, do I have a daily quote or mantra that helps me to stay on my Stoic path. Hmm. And I thought about this when I read this and I don't necessarily have a particular mantra, but as I've been working on this book for, on Stoicism, that should be coming out in the fourth quarter of 2024, one of the things, the ultimate theme that keeps coming up with the Stoics was this focus on living in accordance to virtue. And what they mean by that is they have four cardinal virtues, which are wisdom, courage, justice, meaning how we treat other people, and temperance, which is roughly translated in different times to mean moderation and self discipline.

And what I like about, that idea and constantly thinking, you know, is this me living according to virtue? Am I living in a way that I feel good about in my life? Am I living with integrity? And that focus on virtue that the Stoics have, the reason why it is so important is because when you live according to virtue, when you are judging every single action that you're doing against: “Is this the right thing to do?”, then you can feel good about anything that you do because you are always living according to your values and principles.

So I think that might be probably my, my mantra, if you will, that helps keep me on that path is living with integrity: “Is this the right thing to do?” There's some others that are always very, very helpful, like Amor Fati, you know, when, when things are, when things are going not in the way that I like and I'm stressing about them.

It's just to remember that “What is this that I am trying to control that I can't control?”, because usually anxiety, stress, anger, those types of things come up because we're trying to control things that we can't. Whether that's things that are just happening to us, you know, external events, natural disasters, those kind of things. Or if it's other people, and I think that most of our, most of our frustrations come with dealing with other people.

And again, those are things that are outside of our control. So for me, just remembering that, you know, I need to love my fate. I need to love everything that happens to me. I need to just relax and kind of go with the flow of things because if it's something that I can't control, then why should I stress about it?

So I think that's another one that's incredibly helpful for me. I know that a lot of people also, for them, memento mori is a big one, because it reminds them that at any moment they could leave this life, and that they should remember death. And some people think that's very morbid, but I've found in most things in Stoicism that there's always two sides to everything, and with Memento Mori, it's not just that you remember death and you could be dead at any moment, you could be dead tomorrow, it's that, while it's important to live really well right now, and to do things in the right way, and to do things in a way that you are proud of, if you also take the longer view of that, it also means that you're going to be dead soon. So why are you stressing about this thing? Because in the long run, in the universe, the, the, the expanse of the cosmos and the timeline of the universe, we're just a tiny blip. We are nothing. We are incredibly small and that's incredibly empowering.

So I have this cartoon that I've found, and I sent it off to my kids because I really, I just thought it was so perfect. And in the first frame it shows this person and they have this sad face on and they're, you know, they look very distressed and it has a, you know, the caption underneath that says, “No one gives a shit.” And then in the second frame, it showed the same person but with more of a happy face on and like with their hands raised up and they were joyous and it's saying, “Nobody gives a shit!”, meaning, well in this case, we are so worried about what other people think and we're so worried that people don't really care about these things, but, you, if we frame it, you know, it's the same thing, just in a different perspective. That in one case, we look at it, oh, nobody really cares about this. But then when we think about it, well, nobody really cares about this.

So we can make mistakes, we can do things wrong, and we can just be free to be who we are. And so I think that learning how to reframe things, and in this case, reframing memento mori, and that this thing that I'm so stressed about in a hundred years, in a thousand years, it's not going to mean anything.

It's not going to be anything that maybe anybody will remember. But then on the flip side of it, how we live each and every day and being present is incredibly important, even though in a thousand years it may not be. But having that two sides on that perspective, I think is also very helpful for me to make sure that I'm, I'm doing things in the right way and that I'm doing things that I'm going to be proud of throughout my life and my career, also, living in the present.

Alright, on to question number three. How do you detach from others who have abused you and are destructive to you? This is a tough one. So, I had a friend of mine recently who we sat down and we chatted because They broke up with their ex a while back and they have a kid together and they're really struggling, or he's really struggling with it because, she's incredibly selfish. And because she's always kind of manipulating him around and she gets angry at him over all kinds of things because she knows that that's a way to control him.

And the reason why it's hard to detach from people who cause these problems for us is that we love them, or at least at one time we loved them and we were close to them. And because their opinion to us and their opinion about us mattered. Because we wanted their approval. Because we wanted them to love us. We wanted them to care about us. And I know this is something that I've struggled with in my life.

My last relationship was tough in many ways. And, I didn't always act in a way that I was proud of. And it wasn't necessarily always because of my partner. We had issues that, that, a lot of them stemmed from problems that I had – the trauma that I grew up with in my life. And so, learning how to have a healthy relationship where I could trust that another person had my best interest at heart was something that I wasn't very good at.

And I didn't really realize a lot of that until later. We kind of reached a place in the relationship where things were just not really repairable and the reason why it's hard to detach from these people is because like I said at one point we did love them. We cared about them very very deeply. But if there's one thing that I've learned in this world is and this may sound incredibly selfish, but it's not, is that the only person who is truly truly looking out for you is you. Everybody in this world is selfish in their own way.

They're looking out for what they think is in their best interest. And you need to make sure that if you're in this kind of dynamic with somebody that continues to manipulate you or harms you in some way or the relationship, maybe they aren't manipulating you. Maybe it's just that…how to put it?

Often times, people act in ways, like I said, that they think is in their best interest. And that's not always in our own best interest. And you can't be the best person that you want to be, if you are constantly feeling like being around another person, being around a certain person, sets you off. And even when you try to be Stoic, it can be very, very challenging, just because we don't just have emotions based upon the thoughts that we have, we have all of this unconscious stuff that's been going on and has built up over years and decades.

And so, oftentimes we get into patterns with people that we don't even recognize. And so, how do you detach from them? I think physical distance obviously is something that is, is important if it's a relationship that's not working out for you. And that sometimes can be challenging because you care about this other person.

And they could be a family member, they could be somebody that, you know, you were a partner with. It could be a kid that you, that you helped raise. But making sure that you take care of yourself is the most important thing because that way you can be the best person you can be and then you can be helpful to others.

But if you constantly feel like you are not being your best self and that anytime you're around this other person, you start to behave in a way that isn't good for you. Taking that space can be incredibly important. And if you are in a place where you're around somebody who's toxic for you, then you need to make sure that you do the things you need to, to step away from that.

And that's kind of what setting boundaries is. So in a physical space, you need to step away and set boundaries physically. And that usually means getting away from that person. In a mental space, it means setting boundaries on that. And setting boundaries is very, very challenging, and it often times upsets the status quo of a relationship.

Because you're stepping in and saying, “Hey, you can't treat me like this anymore. This is how I need to be treated. And if you don't…”, then you let the other person know what your response will be. That may be that if you're around them and they start behaving in a certain way and you've asked them not to, that you get up and leave.

But communicating those boundaries is important. And it doesn't mean though, that the other person will follow them. It's just you simply saying, this is how I need to be treated. And if you're not going to treat me this way, then this is the action I'm going to take, all with the assumption that you cannot change them, and they still have the choice to still act that way or not act that way. That's kind of up to them, because they're not something that you can control. I know that was a little bit rambling, but I hope that was helpful to the person who asked that question.

Okay, my last question. How do you use Stoicism in managing a quarter life crisis?

So I'm kind of at the opposite end of that. I'm at my midlife crisis, if you will. But looking back on where I was when I was 25, I was in college. I was just about to, I think I was in my junior year by that point. Maybe my senior year. And, yeah, it would have been my senior year. And, yeah. Yeah, it's, it's an interesting time. There's a lot of change going on through that.

Because while you're no longer a teenager, you're not being taken care of by your parents anymore, you are expected to be an adult. You're expected to get out there into the world and to find your way. And that's an incredibly turbulent time. Oftentimes you're getting married at that time or finding a more long term relationship.

You're thinking about possibly having kids in the next few years, if that's something that you want. So Stoicism isn't something that is just you, you know, just applicable in only certain times of life. Stoicism is something that is applicable for all stages of life, and I think that the challenges you're going to be dealing with at that point.

You know, like I said, finding a partner, possibly having kids, getting your first job, or your first important job. Stoicism is there for you in all those situations. So I think if you work on making sure that you practice the basics, that you understand what you can and can't control, will help you dramatically.

And again, the only things you really have control over are the way that you think about things, your perspective, your thoughts, your opinions about things, your judgments, your choices that you make, and the actions that you take. And that's it. And I know that that's a really hard thing for a lot of people because it feels like you have no control in your life.

But I like to think of it in the opposite way. If you only have control over those few things, that only gives you a few things to worry about. It allows you to focus on the things that you can actually do something about and let go of all the rest. So, if you get a job and maybe you don't do your best at it and you end up getting fired, okay, what can you do in that situation?

You can just, you know, you can look at the way that you handled yourself at the last job that you had. You can think if there are things that you might do in the next job you would have. Maybe you, maybe you ruffled some feathers. Maybe you didn't put in the time necessary. Maybe your skills weren't up to par.

So those are all things that you can control. You can control how you interact with your coworkers. You can control your skill set. You can control your expertise on things. Maybe you're in the wrong industry. And maybe that's a time for you to reevaluate that and decide that you want to try something else.

The nice thing is, when you're at that age, it's a lot easier to kind of pick up and try different things. So, my oldest kid is 22 and is trying out different jobs and has had several jobs over the last few years trying to figure out what it is that they want to do. And they may not know for another few years, and that's okay.

They decided that that was the route they wanted to take in their life, and I'm very proud of them. My other kid is going to college, because that's what he wants to do. And he's really pushing forward on that, and he's got two more years to go. And I'm really proud of both of them, and they're on very different paths right now.

But they're both good people, and they're both trying to do the best that they can, and explore this world without fear, and recognizing I did my best to teach them Stoic teachings. Unfortunately, I found them later when they were a little bit older, but talking with them through these things and helping them to understand what it is that they have control over and what it is they don't, I think is one of the most important things.

The next big thing, at your age is that as you grow in your career and you make choices about partners and things like that, is that there's going to be plenty of opportunities for you to do things that maybe aren't the best for you and that maybe aren't the best for the world. So I think recognizing that living according to virtue, you know, are you being wise? Are you being kind? Practicing justice in the way that you treat other people?

Doing the right thing all the time and getting into that habit when you're at that age, rather than allowing yourself to do anything that's questionable in your business or in your relationships. You know, being very honest with your partners, not, not cheating on them, I think would be obviously a great place to start, but trying to be as honest and candid with people as you can, I think is also something that's very helpful rather than hiding behind the facade that you have of how you think you're supposed to be in this world.

Take the time in your twenties to discover who you want to be and be that person unapologetically. Be honest, be not just honest, but practice candor. Meaning don't just say that everything I tell you is true, but everything that I tell you is true and is vulnerable. And learning how to be vulnerable like that takes away a lot of fear because if you can learn to be vulnerable with people who care about you and people around you, then you don't feel like you have anything to hide from other people.

And I think that that's, that's why a lot of people, you know, really respond to other people who are authentic and who don't put up a front of what other people want to see all the time, but work hard to just be exactly who they want to be. And if you're not sure about that, that's okay.

Choose some role models. Find some people that, that you look up to and respect. And figure out what it is that you look up to them for, and what it is that you respect about them. What attributes do they have? How do they handle themselves? I think that's a good way to start to develop your character in your 20s, is making sure that you find good role models and good mentors.

I think that would be my best advice. And there are lots of really amazing people out there in this world. And as divided as the world feels right now, and it feels like everything is chaotic, because in many ways it is. But the world has always been a bit chaotic. It's just now we're much more exposed to it.

And we just have a lot more things going on in our lives. So I think figuring out who you want to be at this time in your life is probably one of the most important things. And Stoicism is a great framework to figure out a lot of those things.

So, this is, like I said, this is the Q& A episode. I don't do these very often. Mostly because they become a little unstructured and that's a bit challenging for me. I would much rather…, there's a safety in having a structure of a regular podcast episode that I write out. But I'm trying to get better about just being able to take ideas and sit down and talk about them with you, like I would talk with a friend. So if this feels a bit rambly, this is me testing some things out and trying to find a different way of doing the podcast in some ways, because I want to make it more personable, I guess. I mean, I think it is pretty personal because I'm pretty open about most things in my life.

But going forward, if there are questions that you would like me to answer in episodes, I would really appreciate it if you would comment on this. This will be on a video on YouTube and some, you know, there'll be clips of it on other social media. And you can find me on those platforms and pop me a question.

I would love to hear if there's anything that I can answer with my 52 years of experience, because I've been through a lot. And I've learned a lot. And I've been really working hard to do what I just gave advice to the 25 year old who's struggling with the quarter life crisis, is figure out the kind of person that you want to be and be that person.

And I wish that I'd had that courage back at that age to really do that because I was really living my life for other people all the time. And that was part of being in the Mormon church, because there's a way that you're supposed to live that people want. you to fulfill all of these specific requirements, and it wasn't really what was going on inside. It was much more about, “did everything look a certain way? Did you check all these boxes?” And I was pretty unhappy and I didn't know how to break free of a lot of that. And it's been a long journey for me to get to this point, but I feel like I'm working hard to be the kind of person that I want to be.

And at this point I, I like who I'm becoming. And it's been really quite a journey. And I'm glad that you out there in podcast land have been along this journey with me for the last six years. So this is episode number 301, and it's still amazes me that it's still going after this amount of time. And that's really because of all of the joy that I've gotten in making this, and all the comments and emails and messages that I get from you guys about how this has helped you. And I, that really touches me and it makes it feel like this work that I'm doing of trying to talk with people about these things is really working. And I'd love to hear it from you guys. I know that probably maybe one or two percent of you actually write me messages, but I would love to hear more.

So find me on social media and let me know what you think. Alright, that's the end of this week's Stoic Coffee Break. As always, be kind to each other, be kind to yourself, and thanks for listening. I also just want to remind you, like I said before, follow me on social media. If you're watching this on YouTube, go ahead and subscribe to this. You can find me in on Instagram and threads at stoic.coffee and TikTok and Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, and YouTube at StoicCoffee.

Thanks again for listening!


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Categories
Transformation

291 – Finding Your Genius: Flipping Your Flaws Into Features

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

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

—Harriet Braiker

Attributes, Characteristics, and Context

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

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

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

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

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

Shifting Perspective

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

— Marcus Aurelius

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

— Albert Einstein

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

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

The Overthinker

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

The Introvert

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

— Susan Cain

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

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

The Risk-Averse

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

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

The Stubborn

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

— Ralph Waldo Emerson

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

The Daydreamer

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

The Procrastinator

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

Embracing Who You Are

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

— Chinese Proverb

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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


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Interviews

289 – Interview with Mark Tuitert: Olympic Gold Medalist Speed Skater and Stoic Author

This week's episode is an interview with Mark Tuitert, an Olympic gold medalist speed skater and Stoic author. We sat down in his home outside of Amsterdam and had a wonderful conversation about discipline, handling stress, forgiving parents, and about his new book The Stoic Mindset. I hope you enjoy this episode as much as I enjoyed the conversation. You can find out more about Mark Tuitert at https://marktuitert.nl

You can also watch the interview on YouTube.

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

This week's episode is an interview with Mark Tuitert. Mark is an Olympic gold medalist speed skater. He's from the Netherlands, which is where I'm living at the moment. And Luckily, his agent contacted me just as I moved here, and I was able to go down to his house and do an interview with him. And he just is working on a book right now called The Stoic Mindset, which should be coming out in the US and Canada and the UK in April.

We sat down, we talked about stoicism, we talked about his Olympic career, and we talked about how he was able to use stoicism to help him overcome a lot of challenges and eventually end up winning a gold medal in the Vancouver Olympics. So I had a really great interview with Mark, really enjoyed sitting down and chatting with him.

(I did mangle his name at the beginning of the podcast interview, but since then I've learned how to pronounce it properly.)

I hope you enjoy this interview with Mark Tuitert.

So hello everybody, today is my first live interview for the Stowe Coffee Break podcast. I'm here with Mark Tuitert so we're actually here in the Netherlands. I just happened to be here when we got contacted by him and it, so this worked out. So this is my first time actually doing a live interview and filming it.

So hopefully this will go well.

Mark: Do we actually have a coffee break? Here we go. Or a tea.

Erick: So for me, this is rather exciting because like I said, this is this is all new. And. I guess let's just jump right into it. First off, why don't you go ahead and introduce yourself to my audience?

Mark: My name is Mark Tuitert.

I was an Olympic speed skater and speed skating here in Holland is a pretty big sport. So I was a professional athlete between my 18th and well, 34, 34 years old. And after that, I have now my own company, I'm a motivational speaker, I write books mainly also about Stoicism I'm a big and avid fan of the Stoics.

So yeah, for me, I'm a father of two. I love music. I love sports. I love life. But I've had some challenging situations as an athlete, as an Olympic athlete. And I still work for television sometimes I go to the Olympics and do commentary.

Erick: Oh nice nice. So you're your agent sent me over a copy of your latest book. You want to talk a little bit about that?

Mark: Yeah. Sure. Yeah, The Stoic Mindset. Yes I always used a lot of wisdom From philosophy during my sports career. So within my career I I had to deal with a lot of pressure being an Olympic athlete. I missed out on two Olympics actually in 2002 and 2006 by various reasons. We can dive into that later probably.

And that were really challenging times for me. So I had to deal with overtraining with. My parents in a divorce situation with pressure of sports, with pressure of well, the public here in Holland, speed skating is a big sport. So you have a lot of pressure. You can earn money with it, of course, but on the other side, missing two Olympic games was for me a tough situation because I've been training for four years for the one Olympics in 2002 in Salt Lake City training for four years for the Olympics in 2006 in Turin and I missed out on those.

So for me, I had one chance to train for Vancouver another four years. And during that time I read a lot and I really was intrigued by the meditations of Marcus Aurelius, by the sayings of Seneca, of Epictetus, and I really, during my career as I got older and a little bit wiser, I used these. texts and philosophy, philosophical ideas to yeah, not only be, be a better person or make wiser choices. And that helped me a lot. Leading up to the Olympics in 2010. For me, that was the pinnacle of my career, probably last chance. Mm-Hmm, . I I could start on an Olympic games and two or three weeks right before these games.

I did everything I could within my control to be the best athlete I can be. And I had to dive deep for that in my whole life. And yeah, for me, that was life changing. So, what, what my mindset was right before these Olympic Games, I think was really stoic. I don't judge my parents for what they do.

I don't look at competitors, what they do. I don't worry about the journalists, what they write about me. I only focus on my internal state of mind, my mindset. That's what I call the stoic mindset in my book. And so I, I, I concentrate on my, yeah, my inner voice being. Stable being yeah, being a voice of courage.

So not dealing, not pushing away the fear because you feel fear right before an Olympic Games. Absolutely. Working with it. So not pushing it away. Stoic. Yeah, could be in our English or Dutch language. Pushing feelings away. Not like that at all, but just embracing the fear, embracing the challenge.

And just look at yourself. No, I give everything I have. I can look in the mirror. I know I did everything I could to get here. I'm 29 years old. I was in Vancouver. Probably this is going to be the last chance you get on an Olympic Games. Yeah, absolutely. And that's you're nearing your retirement age as an athlete.

Yeah. So these things for me were Yeah, these thoughts that They were thoughts that kept me grounded and It's not that I didn't aspire to a big goal. I aspired to win Olympic gold, to be the best speed skater I can be. So that's what I wrote a book about. So how can you give everything you have, dream big, reaching your goals, but still detach from the negative emotions resulting you know, with that road leading up to that big goal.

And for me, that helped a lot. And after two, three years ago we had difficult times with my company first energy gum. COVID was happening production wise, things were going the wrong way. So I was really challenged. Yeah, I learned how to deal with this, and I see a lot of people struggling with this, so why don't I write it down in a book so people actually can, yeah, maybe learn something from it.

And it's not like I want to point the finger, but I want to tell my story so people can relate to that. And they don't relate probably to winning an Olympic gold medal, but relate to the journey, relate to the setbacks, dealing with pressure, dealing with Things that are not in your control, dealing with chaos.

That's where I find the beauty in Stoicism. It's like for me, how can you keep standing upright in the storm of life? Like Marcus Aurelius did, like Seneca did, like all these great thinkers and people did who adopted this philosophy. 

Erick: So what was it that first drew you to it? Do you remember how you found Stoicism?

Mark: Yeah. Well, I was always intrigued by history and in, in, in school, I loved history. And the first time I was really challenged by a situation was when I was 19, 20 years old. I was the hotshot talent in speed skating. I signed a big contract. I, well, I was on under the pressure of the Olympics of 2002 coming up.

I did a lot of interviews. My sponsor paid me a fair amount of money so there was a lot of pressure on me, but I still was living at home with my parents who were going through a divorce. So me being the oldest son, I tried to intervene between the two people I love and that didn't work out.

Actually, it, yeah, for me, what happened was I yeah, I, what was sort of a flight into the one thing I thought I could control that was training harder. So for me. I trained harder and harder and harder. I trained seven days a week, 2, 3, 3 times a day. So rest days, or I don't do rest days, you know? Yeah, I just grind.

Wake up early, go to bed late and grind it through. But that's not how you become fit mentally and physically and emotionally. I was wrecked the winter of 2002. I missed out on these Olympic games. I was overtrained. Lying on my bed, I was sick. So I couldn't train that winter. I missed the Olympic Games.

And that was, for me, that was like a sort of an epiphany. Like, how can we fool ourselves like this? How can we think we know how it works, life works, no? If I put the hours in, and of course you have to work hard and put hours in to get somewhere, but we can get blindsided, we can have blinders on, and I had that.

So as I was really fascinated how that worked, like, how can I fool myself? I have to reflect on myself so that this doesn't happen again. I have to learn from this. So I read a lot about overtraining, about how psychology works. But I also read by then when I was 20 years old, beautiful text of Mark Aurelius.

So I read parts of the meditations already. And a beautiful quote of, of Marcus is that the impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way. And for me, yeah, that's, that's, that were the first lights of stoicism that I thought, Hey, that's, that's a really, really beautiful way of thinking through setbacks, not as the end of the road, but it's an obstacle in your path and it's up to you to find a new direction in life.

So that's actually my first chapter in my book. That you can use obstacles or setbacks as a signpost. So what does this teach me? How do I deal with this? And from that point on I found a new journey with a new coach. And it went really well within two years. I was a European champion and everything happened.

In the right way, but I still was not there. It's not really, really what stoicism clicked for me was in the years leading up to Vancouver. But I learned through the years it, yeah, it sort of evolved. 

Erick: Yeah. No, I think that I think that over training is probably very common in a lot of sports. So I know that so I used to cycle a lot, not competitively or anything like that, but I used to cycle a lot.

and there'll be times when I'd just be riding, you know. You know, two, 300 miles in a week. And while for Tour de France athletes, that's easy, but I have a full time job and kids and all that kind of stuff. And it was, you know, I basically wore myself out and you reach a point where your body just says, Hey, that's fine that you want to do that, but you can't and learning to step back and go, okay.

And so I think over the years I've worked hard to try and develop that, that attitude of working hard enough. Yeah. And resting enough. Yeah. And that has really made a big difference on that. And finding that, like Stoic teaches, finding that temperance, that moderation. Yeah. And it's that balance of those two that's really going to get us there.

Mark: Yeah, exactly. It's the self discipline, the moderation you have to find. And of course, especially when you're young, you can grind. You have to grind. It's beautiful. There's something, there's beauty in there too. Yeah. To have a big dream and give it all you have. But it's a really thin line in blinding yourself.

So that's what I found is beautiful in stoicism. It's the practical philosophy side of it. Yeah. And we don't philosophize about concepts and abstract things. You can really philosophize and how, how is this helping me to lead a good life and what does it mean to lead a good life? What is that? Absolutely.

Is that winning an Olympic gold medal? A lot of people, a lot of athletes I know. Are under the misconception that if you win the medal, like entrepreneurs, if they sell the company, if you do this, then it's all been worthwhile. So you look back from that gold medal to your career and then you can say it's worth it.

But that's, that's the other way. That's the wrong way of thinking about it. It's a guaranteed failure for yourself. If you look at it like that, if you think of happiness like that, if you think of success like that. So you can still chase that gold medal But I think you really have to reflect on what it means to be successful.

What does it really entail? 

Erick: Yeah, very true. I think that One of the things that for me I actually approached this topic on my podcast last week. It was like, how do you stay content while you're striving for your ambitions?Yeah, and it's I people think of them as you would do one or the other like if I'm content with my life I'm not gonna be ambitious And it's not that, it's that you find contentment on the path, you don't find contentment, it's not an end point, it's not a static state of being, it's while you're journeying along, you find contentment there, while you're heading towards your ambitions, and if you can do that, you enjoy the whole thing all along the way and you're having a great time the whole along the way. 

Mark: And you can have hard times and you can have challenging times. And sometimes you feel sad or you feel lost and that can all be a part of that journey. But that's what life is, right? I find it beautiful in Epictetus or in Stoics.

Accept the reality of life. You know, it's not a dream or something far away. What life entails so it's to accept that and not run away from it, but yeah, don't shy away from that 

Erick: So I wanted to ask you, what are your daily practices in stoicism? What are the things that help you? Each and every day, because in Stoicism, we talk a lot about having practices, about having kind of rituals that we follow to help remind us to live these things and to get us there.

Mark: What are your practices? Well, I'm not like the dead ritual guy that has an agenda and says I'm doing, I'm doing this at six o'clock and then at eight o'clock, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. What I really do is before when I wake up and when I go to bed, I take a couple of minutes to reflect. That's it.

Actually, I, I, I make sure I, I, I am thankful for what I encountered that day. Thankful for everything. Also, if it's hurting or it's sadness, I'm thankful for that. And that helps me a lot. So when I go to sleep, like Seneca says, before we go to sleep, we have all encountered fortune or the mistress Fortuna.

And I find that it's a beautiful thing to do when you, right, before you go to sleep, what are you thankful for and what are the things you still have to learn on your path there because we're all prokoptons, right? We're all stoic learners. We're not the saints. We're not the Holy Spirit. We're not God.

We're human beings. So I'm not a natural stoic. I'm an athlete. I want to win gold. I want to beat everybody. I want to challenge myself. I want to go out there. So stoicism for me is like a really a sort of framework. And I use these reflections every day when I wake up and when I go to bed. Also thinking of death, contemplating death memento mori what, what if I look back at the end of my life, hopefully it will, I will be old.

My, my grandmother is a hundred years. She's still. Is alive I hope to reach that age, but if you look back at your life, did you make wise choices? Were you chasing the right things, not the wrong things? Were you in connection with the people around you, the people you love? So, so these reflections help me every day.

Am I doing the right thing? For me to say at the end of this life or even at the end of this day, because you don't know if there's a next one. Are these the choices I want to make? Am I on my own path? Am I leading my own path? For me, stoicism is a sort of way to reflect on that. And that's what I write in my book to the stoic mindset.

It's, I don't embrace stoicism or I don't teach stoicism through my book. Like this is stoicism, like a religion or a dogma – far from it. I think everybody, you can see it as an inspiration and a school of thinking, learning to think better, to look at life in another way. And that's what helps me a lot. So it's up to you.

It's not like we don't have a teacher to put it into practice, but it's not like we don't have a teacher saying, Oh, you can do that. Or you can do that. No, it's for me, it's a relief and a way of expanding my view and and doing it in a non judgmental way. That's what I tell myself every day too. What, what are the things you're judging others about?

What's the judgment you can withhold? What's the reflection you can do on this?

Erick: I think for me kind of , to kind of clarify, or to kind of put a point on that, the way that I've talked about it, and because I've had people ask me, it's like, so what is the difference between this and a religion? Yeah.

And you, you nailed it. It's, it's the dogma. There's no dogma with stoicism. It's about, these are tools, these are mindsets, these are principles. And because they're principles, they're flexible, they're, they allow you to adapt to any situation. You filter it through the principle, you know, is, am I using courage?

Am I being wise? Am I being just? Am I being, 

Mark: Disciplined? And probably you know, right? If you're not making a wise choice, you sometimes you do that and you know, yeah, you know, this is not a wise choice, but I still do it anyway.

Erick: Exactly.

Mark: Okay. But then you cannot fool yourself. Right? 

Erick: Exactly. And, and the thing is, is it's, for some people that's harder. Some people want religion. They want a dogma because it's easier to follow, you know, you know, that's fine, too Yeah, and it's fine if that works for you But I think that I think that that's what attracted stoicism to me was that I grew up Mormon And so I was a very dogmatic religion, and I tried living all of the principles exactly the way they said and I was still unhappy.

I was miserable for so much of my life and so I left the church and that it wasn't until like I said about seven years ago when I finally found stoicism, and it was suddenly like, “Why didn't I know these things growing up these things could have really changed my life?” I learned what I can't control I learned how to change my perspective on so many things 

Mark: and It's freedom of thinking it is way more freedom. It’s funny that stoicism started off and then Christianity came in between and now Stoicism is on the rise again probably and then I think it will be for a couple of thousand years. So it's what suits you and for me too, for me getting rid of the dogmas. So I'm, I'm really also a little bit, there are also people of course who say, Hey, this is not stoic or that's, that's not stoic.

And I find that amusing because this is philosophy. It's not like a set of rules you have to abide to. It's a way of thinking which you want to adopt because it enriches your life and it expands your thinking. Without judging and that's I think the beauty of it. 

Erick: Yeah, I find that funny when somebody says when I I'll look on the reddit Stoicism forum sometimes and answer questions on there from time to time and I do think it's funny when somebody says well That's not stoic.

Yeah, whatever and I'm just like that's are you sure? I mean you're being very judgmental You see according to which stoic exactly you could say I don't think that follows stoic principles very well, and explain why but just to make a judgment, and you be the arbiter of, well that's not stoic. You know, you could say that that behavior doesn't seem to follow the principles, and I think that that's where, where for me, I like kind of having that, like I said, I like having that flexibility, because it allows you to, because life is full of nuance.

It's not black or white, it's not, It's not right or wrong all the time. It's things somewhere in the middle. It's like, for me, my favorite movies are the ones where you kind of like the villain. That there's empathy for the villain because nobody's all bad and nobody's all good. And I like it when people are darker and they're a little messier with things.

Because that's the way life really is. And I think stoicism allows for that messiness in life, and I think that's very important. Oh yes, it does. I think so too. And I think that too many, and I think that that's why it's becoming more and more attractive to people, because life is so complicated.

And I wanted to, I guess that kind of leads into one of my next questions is stoicism in modern life. I mean, how do you think that stoicism can help us with our fast paced technology to the world? 

Mark: Well, I think we, we get distracted a lot by, by phones, by news, by social media posts. People really are getting used to just putting their thoughts and their judgments out there and we have to react.

So it's a reaction. Yeah. Society. We react on reactions. Yeah. So we react, but nobody takes a step back and reflects and think, Hey, why am I doing this? Why is somebody hurting me? Or what do I feel? You know, if on Twitter or X or whatever you call it these days, if somebody reacts and has a vile opinion or about me or I am on television and, and, and somebody.

It hurts me, it really is, I think, why is, what you could do, and I think this is really stoic, like, why does this hurt me this much? Why? Is the opinion of one, one person, of me, valuable? It might be, it might be somebody I respect or somebody gives me feedback in a, but if I respect someone, he gives me feedback in a, in a way I can do something with that, that, that's.

That's what I find valuable, but that wouldn't hurt me actually. Right. So why does it hurt me? Is it my ego? Is it something I want to push back on? And like, well, you this and you that that's the, that's the impulse you have. Right. That's what, what the Stoics teach, teach us is like, okay, the impulse is there.

Of course, if somebody cuts me off in traffic. My first impulse I'm going to do something to you, you know and I think the beauty of stoicism is to take a step back and think about, okay, somebody, do I give this person the power to make me feel like this? Like Epictetus would say, you're complicit.

In the story, if you react, you can also detach from that story, leave your own life and let the impulse flow away and use your thought on why this matters. So for me what really helped me is when I, in 2006, I missed the Olympic games. I was in the final five others in the final six of touring and I was lost.

I did really well in tests. I had a perfect score. I had a great condition. My technique was good. Where I missed out on the Olympics again, because I, I fell in the strangest places during a race, right? In the corners I fall, like out of nothing. I was unstable. So I thought about this again, like not trying to work harder or react, but take a step back and say, where is this coming from?

So I had a mentor, I had a great conversation with a mentor of mine and he really showed me a beautiful thing. He said, okay, what do you, he asked me a question, how, where do you stand you towards your father and mother? Because my father and mother were still fighting each other in the divorce situation.

And I put myself in between them. I was the one, you know trying to fix the situation. And I thought. Also, if I fix the situation, I find rest. And if I find rest, I can become a good athlete. So I have to fix the situation. But I learned to see it the other way around. This is not my situation. This is not my fight.

This is a fight between two people I love, but it's not my fight. I have to step out of this fight and say that. I said, Mom, I'm not your co fighter in this fight. This is you. This is me. I have my own path. And I went to my father and that's where judgment comes in. I was really angry towards my father. So a lot of anger and that's what a Stoics teach us.

And I think the beauty of Stoicism is. You can't get rid of that anger. That anger has got nothing to do with my father. Epictetus would say, we have our, our things that happened to us. I mean my parents divorcing. And then on the other hand, we have these emotions, but there's something in between.

That's your judgment of the situation. So it was my judgment of my father that causes the anger. It's not my father. I would, and it's, we all do this, right? We blame someone for the feeling we blame the person, or we blame the situation and that's totally not stoic. So Epictetus really, I thought that resonated with me.

So I talked with someone and Hey, I know this. This is from Stoicism, it's from Epictetus, right? So I, I thought about this, and I asked him what to do. He said, just call your father up, just do that. And I did that, without judging him. Yeah. It's my judgment, not his. So I asked him questions, and I, that's I think what we should learn to do more often, and that's what the Stoics, and we all learned from Socrates.

Don't think you know this. Don't think you're the right person for this. Don't think your judgment is how the world works. It's your judgment. Yeah. So if you ask a good question and be really honest in your, in you wanting to know the answer. So I, I called my father up and I said, I miss him and let's get into contact with each other again.

So I, I withhold my judgment. Of course, I judge him somewhere for what happened, but I tried to not intervene. Let that judgment intervene between our situation. And even up to this day, I, I, I, now I can say I'm 43 years old. I, that whole judgment is gone. It's gone. Yeah. I love my father for who he is.

And yes, he has his troubles and his dark sides, but Hey, look in the mirror. I don't? So, so for me, it was really, am I a better 20, 30 years older? These reflections. Do I know what it feels like to have not any contact with your sons for six years? No, I don't. So instead of judging him, it's wiser to try to let him into my life again.

Yeah, and my father was there when when I won Olympic gold medal. So it was, that was great and in these four years between 2006 and 2010. I didn't feel any anger, so the anger faded and what made that situation better for me in my life was my life became better because my choices became wiser because they were not fueled by anger.

I could become a better athlete, more relaxed. That sort of paradox, right? The balance, what we talked about. So I was more relaxed I could dive deeper with training, I could work harder and I become a better person, but also a better athlete. And that's, for me, that was the one thing I needed to really get the best outta myself and to become Olympic champion.

Erick: Yeah. Yeah, I can relate to that very well. I had to. A lot of anger towards my father as well. Yeah. So my parents got divorced when I was 20, when I was 20 years old. Yeah, yeah, same age. Yeah, and and when I found out why and found out all the reasons for it, and I was, like I said, I grew up Mormon. I was on my mission in Austria when I found out.

Oh, yeah. And I was, I was very angry. I was. I came home, I tried to talk to my dad a little bit about it. He was very evasive about things. And then unfortunately we never got to really reconcile because he died just a few years after that. So, just completely out of the blue. So, his pancreas just started eating the rest of his organs and he died within 10 days.

But over the years as I've gotten older and wiser, and I've had kids of my own and recognize how challenging that is, learned to really work to forgive him and to understand him because, you know, with the fact that he was dead, all that hate did, all that anger did was hurt me. And so trying to understand him, because he wasn't all bad, there were plenty of things about him that were great.

But when they weren't, it was really awful. And so it was like, about an 80 20 split. Like, 80 percent of the time, he was good. 20%, he was awful. And so I, now I'm at that point in my life where I can look back on that and just appreciate it. The good things.. He was smart. He was funny. He was kind. 

Mark: Yeah.

Yeah. I think, yeah, that's a beautiful way of saying it. And I, that's also what I find fascinating is somebody to, to, to change that perspective. Yep. You don't need the other person. Actually, the person cannot be there anymore. It's your perspective, which you can change. 

Erick: And that was the thing that I learned was that I had to change my perspective about my dad.

And I choose that perspective. It's not that I ignore the bad things he did. He was very abusive when we were growing up. At certain points. But I can still appreciate the good things that he gave us.

Mark: That's what Epictetus says, right? I found it beautiful in his sayings. He said too. It's your parents, you don't get to choose your parents.

That's what's given to you. So you better learn and love what's given to you. They can be challenging, they can be bad, they can do horrible things, but they're your parents. And I always pushed that thought away. People say, hey, it's, it's your father. I say, yeah, well, to hell with that. But it's true. It's like, it's exactly what Epictetus says and what the Stoics, these wise people tell us.

It's like, you can be angry at your neighbor or your brother, or you can wish another father, but that's not the case. This is reality of life. And it's your role as a son to be a good son, to watch your father or to watch your mother and to respect what they've did. You don't know. You don't know where they come from.

They have their burdens. They have their share which, which they take on their shoulders and you don't know what that's like. So you can judge them, but you don't know. 

Erick: Yeah, and the only, and the thing is, is like I said, when you hold on to that, you're the person that gets hurt. You're hurting yourself.

It's that old Confucius saying, like, holding on to anger is like holding on to a hot coal that you want to throw at somebody. The longer you hold on to it, you're the one that gets burnt. And I was just like, I remember I read that when I was a teenager and I was like, that's an interesting idea. And then as I got older and found stoicism, I'm like, there's the coal again.

There's the coal. 

Mark: Totally get that idea. It's so powerful that you can just. You know, just so you can get rid of these negative emotions. That's, I think, the beauty in the way of thinking in Stoicism is philosophy. 

Erick: Yeah, absolutely. So I want to touch on something that I know is, it's probably one of the hardest topics in your book.

And that's about your mother's suicide. How did that impact you personally? And what was it that, maybe in Stoicism, maybe it was something else that helped you get through that? Because I imagine that was an incredibly hard thing. 

Mark: Yeah, it was really hard. So my mother was severely depressed. The hardest choice I ever had to make in my life in 2010, right before the Olympics was to call my mother up and ask her not to come to Vancouver, just stay home.

And she was there when I first stood in the ice. She was there going with me to training, et cetera, et cetera. So I love my mother but, but for me, there was, I think we all, that's the challenge we all face in life. We have our own path to take. We have to find our own path. And for me, I was heading. I my life where I had to really choose my own path and make hard decisions.

So I called my mother up and said, mom, I love you, but I cannot handle you being there emotionally, physically. So please don't come. And she couldn't handle that trip because she was not in a good way and not in a good position in life. Two years later, she committed suicide. And that's, that's sad. That's, that's terribly sad.

But what for me clicked after that was. And I look at it. It's not, dying is not, for her, of course, dying was a sort of a relief. Because she was in a lot of pain. And I cannot comprehend what it's like to endure that pain. I know people who are depressed. I know people who have thoughts of doing that. And I know, thank God, a lot of people who get through that and enjoy life.

Again, she couldn't. So And she's stubborn. And she has a powerful will. Ha ha! So she really, for her, it was a relief. So the, the, the pain is on us as sons or as and, and that's there, there is no love without pain and, and, and that's what life is like. So it's painful. So. With negative emotions, I, I don't say they're, I'm, I'm not against pain.

If, if it's natural pain, if it's there, it's, it's real, it's okay. It's hurts, but hey, this is life. I don't have to push that back. It's there. So I let that pain come through. And for me, the real pain was not in that moment. She, she died or committed suicide. It was more in the, at the 10 years leading up to that point, she didn't have a life.

Yeah, she was depressed and she couldn't handle it. You know me with my stoic mindset. I'm like just think this different. She couldn't she just couldn't .And we tried. So for me, it was letting go of that and letting go of controlling her life or controlling her decisions. So finding peace in the decision she actually made and not only finding peace in that, but also not wanting to change that.

That's of course, I want her to be there, but for me, I want, that's me, as a son, I want my mother to be there. My oldest daughter was just born. So I'm like, You have your first grandchild and you don't want to be here anymore. And I thought about it and probably it's for her. And she know the, she know how this feels to have a grandchild.

And, and then there's such a disconnect with the way she was feeling for herself. So you, I cannot comprehend that. So for me, what, what I find beautiful in Stoicism is, okay, I have my life. And I want to, the way I can commemorate or honor my mother is to live to the full extent of my life. That's what I can do with the people around me I love, with my brothers, with my children.

And that's what I, that's my mission. I can do that and I can show another way. And I don't get my mother back for that, but my mother lives through me. Her love is still there and that helped me a lot. So death is not something I fear or abolish or abandon from my life. It's there. And I'm gonna be there with my mother and it's gonna be there for me.

But that the only thing I want is to live and go out there in life, not hold back, not hold back on love, not hold back on being pushed back by negative emotions. So let go of these negative emotions, clear space for joy, for zest, for freedom, for living. And and if death comes, then I can look back if I have the chance.

Maybe it's swift, maybe not and say to myself, wow, this is this has been a work of art. That's, yeah, that's how I look at it. 

Erick: Yeah, I hope I hope I can get to that point as well. And right now I'm, like I was telling you earlier, I'm kind of in a state of flux of just finding my, my own path right now.

And I can appreciate what I've, what I've done in my life and accomplished, but I feel like I could do so much more. And sometimes I, I struggle with that because I don't feel like I've done anything great in my life yet. I don't have any, like, I don't have a gold medal that I can look back on, but I can at least look at, you know, I've got two great kids who turned out to be great people.

And I, I, I enjoy being around my kids. They're happy. They have their struggles, but they're just, they're good people. And they grew up, you know, even though my, my ex wife and I divorced when they were pretty young they grew up with two fairly supportive and healthy parents. And that's been That's something that I didn't really get because, you know, my dad, like I said, was very violent.

He was very, very tortured soul. And so,

Mark: yeah, so you broke the cycle.

Erick: Definitely broke the cycle.

Mark: Yeah, that's great, man.

Erick: Yeah, yeah. My sister one time, like, she, her biggest insult is you're just like dad. And there was one time where she saw me and my kids and she's like, You're not like, dad, you're a good father.

Oh, I was like, oh, wow. Thanks. Yeah. So

Mark: I would like to, we, I think a lot of people ask me this question if I, if I give motivational talks here in Holland and, and, and abroad too. A lot of questions, and I talk about this, I talk about the death of my mother. I talk my, about my parents. I, I share deeply personal stories also because I don't want to be a, a taboo or anything around that.

This is what happens in life. So for me, the question I get a lot is if it's hurting me or I feel guilt. And I could let go of that guilt too. So it's also again, Epictetus, you can blame other people. You can blame the situation or you can blame yourself. You cannot, you can also do not do that. Right. Don't blame other people.

Don't blame the situation and don't blame yourself. I did everything I could. I love my mother, but this is her choice. She wanted this. So we better abide to her wish because it's her wish. It's not my, I, my wish is that she would be here also in pain, but don't let her go. So I don't feel guilt in that way.

And like for you, you know, it's not, we put a lot of pressure on ourselves. I think in modern society too, to be accomplished or be a good person. So of course we also feel guilt or we don't feel enough. And we have to, I think, get rid of that idea of not being enough. Or feeling guilty, of course you can make your, you make your own decisions and you're responsible for these decisions and that can be shitty decisions.

Yes. And you bear responsibility for that. It's not to. To wane off the responsibility. But if you do that and you do it with a intent, well, well intended, yeah. You should think of it every day, like it's a stoic reflection maybe. So where, where I, I don't have to feel guilty because I did what I could.

Did I do this? Did I make the right decision? Yes. Then I don't have to feel guilty. Do I feel accomplished? Maybe not, but me being the best person there is, that's an accomplishment. If we could all do that, raise beautiful children, that's the accomplishment. That's where, and that's great. That's enough. We don't have to add anything to that.

We want to. We want to build legacy. We want to be known until the end of their careers. Like Marcus Aurelius said, like Alexander and 

Erick: his stable boy, 

Mark: you know, they're, they're both buried. You can't see any distinction between their bones. What are you talking about? It's you. It's your own path. And you have to take that path.

Nobody else can do that for you. And that's, I think, the challenge in life that's, that's, that's hard. But that's where I think the purpose lies and the motivation lies and the beauty lies, it's the pain and the beauty, it lies there. And that's the road you follow. It's no, I'm not good enough. It's no guilt.

That's not there. You know, in the, Zeno of Citium, the original founder of stoicism. These were all ideas that were not there. Jealousy. You know, if we can get rid of these human ideas, which function right, they make us win gold medals because like, I have to beat that other guy. So it's not, there's nothing wrong with it.

But it's not good or bad in a, in an ethical sense. It's not a good life. 

Erick: Yeah, it just, it's, it is, it is what it is.

Mark: Yeah, it can be beautiful. It can, it can, I've, I derive a lot of pleasure from it and I love that. But that's another concept of being happy or feeling fulfilled. 

Erick: Yeah. And I think that, that we do sometimes feel that drive, like we have to accomplish something in our life.

And the thing is. We don't, we don't have to accomplish anything. You don't. What we have to do is be a good person. But, often times, when we, 

Mark: And we have to, sorry, but, Go ahead. This is funny, because, You say we have to be a good person, Or you don't have to, You know, these are all also normative thoughts. If we look at Socrates, and his questioning, And his style of questioning, If you're not good enough, Or you have to be a good person, These are, normative thoughts.

You know, when you're looking back at Socrates and what he learns is if you challenge yourself, challenge yourself or others with questions, let's say Socratic questioning. I did courses on that because I find it a beautiful instrument. And Epictetus uses it in his colleges. So you can ask, so, okay, you have to be a good person.

Why? Why is that? That's a question, why do we have to be a good person? 

Erick: Why do you have to be? And also, what defines a good person? 

Mark: What is a good person? Yeah. And why do you have to be Or do you want to be a good person? Why do you want to be a good person? Do you? You can also say, well, I don't feel great about myself, but I have to be a good person.

So I can feel great about myself. I have something like that. You know, it's, it's all, we, we, we make up stories in our mind, of course. Yeah. So the challenge is I think to really challenge these thoughts. So why is this? Stoicism, when it comes down to the four categories the values, you know, the temperance justice.

Courage, wisdom, practical wisdom. If you think through it and you ask yourself these questions, you get down to the core of this. That's what you cannot debate, actually, because that's what, if you think about it, is what a great person or a good person, that's probably what it looks like. 

Erick: Exactly. And for me, what I found fascinating was I've been studying some Socrates lately, because that was something that I found the Stoics and was like, oh, wait a second.

Basically the Stoics took Socrates stuff and this is the conclusions they came to using the Socratic method. Yeah, so basically he gave them the tools and they're like, hey, well, we're gonna refine it a little bit more. What I really liked about that was, like I said, they they used it and then they came to these conclusions.

So it's like, so they distilled down a lot of hard questions for us and answered some of those. But we can still use that same methodology to help answer any other questions for us. And so I've, that's one of, for me, that's been great coming from the stoics and then slowly working back into Socrates and trying to understand those things.

And I wanna get better about using that and think through that more. I, I think I use some of it naturally, but not in a more, in that kind of formal way. Yeah. So that's something I've been reading a book by Ward Farnsworth. He's a professor at the University of Texas, and he's written a couple of books on Stoicism and other philosophy, and he has one that's about the Socratic method, and it's like a practical handbook, and I remember, I was like, so I read part of that, and then I was like, okay.

So, yeah. Got rid of it because I have to sell my house and get rid of all of these things and so I need to go buy the e books so I can finish reading that book. But it was so good and he does such a great job of explaining it, you know, why, the how and everything but in a way that's very approachable.

It's not very dry like a professor, it's actually, you know, he's a good writer and so. . Yeah. 

Mark: That's a great method. It's really, you can learn it and practice it and it's hard to do. Yeah. 'cause you have to put your own judgment out of the situation. 

Erick: Exactly. And that's hard. Exactly. Go well. Well I know what good is.

We'll do you Yeah, of course. This is good. Yeah, exactly. Or why is that , why is it good? 

Mark: And then you, and I think that's a weird stoicism you, if you think about it. And that's, I think the, the, the nature part where the nature part comes in. The ethics, the logic, and the physics. It's. Like this is how nature works.

This is works. This is how life works. This is how the world around us works. And if you call it God or will or et cetera, et cetera, it doesn't really matter. This is, yeah, this is the way we see nature works. So if you use your reasoning. And you use the, the, the, the, the knowledge, you know, about nature and the, the, the, the knowledge that we are social animals, so we connect with other people, learn from other people, can question other people.

I think you derive these ideas from stoicism. If you, if you think of it, well, that's, you come down to this. That's for me, actually, where I. And I ended up with, in Stoicism, it's like, okay, if you follow all these philosophical ideas, you know a little bit about how the world works, how we work as people, then this is what I find most fitting.

Erick: Yeah, it seems to be the most close to, you could say, almost a universal truth. Yeah, yeah, exactly. Or a set of universal truths because, one because they're principles so they can be applied and there's a bit of flexibility but also it just seems like the natural end to those questions. Yeah, yeah. Okay, yeah.

And that's, that's what I like about stoicism is that it's not an absolute you have to do these things. It's a. It's, here's the end result. And if you apply this in almost every situation, you will find this works and this is true. True. And, and I haven't found a situation where it hasn't worked. And so for me, that's been, yeah, that's why it's been so life changing for me because it helped me to see so many errors in my own thinking about things and my own reactivity and I used to be, I used to be much more hotheaded.

And now I'm much more calm about things like, like the other day, somebody sent me a really nasty note on Instagram because they didn't like a 60 second video that I put up and they were like, I can't get my time back and swearing at me. And I was like, wow. And at first I was like, you know, I, like you said, I felt that anger and I was just like, well, that's his problem.

Mark: You know, or like the stoics would say if it's his. reasoning So it's funny if, if somebody takes time to react on a message that took 60 seconds and he takes another 60 seconds to react, that's, that's okay. You've thought about this before you reacted like this. That's what, that's what you can define as stupid.

Erick: Exactly. And so I, I just was like, but I felt that little zing of like, and I had to just be like, okay, well, and oftentimes when I do that, I take even one further step back and I'm like, Wow, if somebody feels that way or feels that upset about something so small like that. Yeah, 

Mark: imagine where they are in life.

Erick: Exactly. It almost, it made me feel sorry for them. And I have a little bit of empathy towards them. I'm just like, wow, that's, that's tough. If you're, if you're that upset because I had a 60 second video that you thought was me just rambling because I talk, I was in Florida at the time because I'm talking about the weather in Florida and then I, I, I proceeded to finish my lesson.

It was like, you know, 15 seconds of, Hey, here's the weather like this. It's kind of cool, blah, blah, blah. And then the, you know, the rest of the 60 second video was talking, you know, I think I was like, Hey, I'm going to be doing a Q & A session. Once you dance, you know, go ahead and post some questions here and I'll try and put them in there.

And I was like, wow, if he's that, if he's that upset over that. Wow, I feel, I feel kind of sorry for him. 

Mark: Yeah, I think that's an empathic, empathetic way of looking at a situation. 

Erick: Whereas before I would have been like, you're such a jerk. You're a jerk, no, 

Mark: you're a jerk, no, you're a jerk. 

Erick: Exactly. And so I decided that for me, it has been helpful because this allowed me to get more space in between that. Rather than reacting, I can respond better. And it's, it's definitely helped my life a lot. And I, I like not being reactive like that because I used to be much more reactive because it's how my dad was. That's how I grew up. Things, something upset you. It's just like, 

Mark: Oh yeah, that's how you're probably wired and what you saw around you.

So that's really hard to change, but it gives a lot of freedom to, to feel that, right? That's, there's the freedom or else you become a slave of your upbringing or your father or your, or your, or somebody else who hurts you. And you can, you can be a leader for yourself instead of being a slave to the situation.

Erick: Yeah, and it's been really, really helpful. And I'm not perfect at it. I mean, there's still times when I get upset about things. Then I just have to 

Mark: No, but I don't think Marcus Aurelius was or all these Stoics were. 

Erick: Yeah. And they understood that. And that's, that's what's so great about Stoicism. It's not about perfection.

It's not about that you don't get angry. It's about how you choose to deal with that anger, you know, do you let it just consume you? Do you let it be reactive? Do you give that pause and just let it feel and just take a breath and let it out and then choose your response and there are many ways to do that And you just have to figure out which one's gonna be most effective for you.

Mark: Yeah, it's a misconception Stoicism right that stoic means that there's no anger or there's no I'm a normal guy. I'm not in the ideal situation. I'm not in the ideal situation of course, but of course there is in normal life. I, when I give presentations, that's the first thing I've done. When I talk about my father and I tell my story of being angry, I, I ask the audience who's angry sometimes and all the hands go up, you know, I say, well, good. Welcome in life.

This is what you feel. It's not a, it's a misconception that stoicism or being stoic means that you don't feel that anger. No, it can be there, but we're grownups. We have the ability to reason, so we can make a conscious choice to not give into that anger, but to give, to take distance from it and think about it and react in a different way and let it go.

That's what we as wiser, grown up people could do. That's our capability. That's up to us. 

Erick: Yeah, and that's one of the things on my podcast. I talk a lot about people. I'm like, it's okay to feel all your feelings. Yeah. If you feel sad, okay. There are times where you want to feel sad. I mean, when somebody dies or If you love someone and you have to 

Mark: let go, that's sad.

Erick: Yeah, and you want to grieve. You don't want to not feel those things. No. You want to grieve and you want to feel the full, you know, range of emotions in life. That's what makes life great is that you have all of these. And, and I see that on the Reddit sometime, you know, people will be like, ah, I'm feeling so sad about this thing and I don't want to, you know, how do I get rid of this emotion?

And it's like. You just gotta go through it. Just feel it. The more you resist feeling sad, the more it's gonna come back and get to you. And if you're able to just kind of flow with it, you know, you follow nature. Your nature is, nature is that we are emotional beings. So flow with those emotions.

But, but, what we're talking about is not letting them do, make you, not letting them drive you to do stupid things. 

Mark: No, or not blaming anyone. Oh, you left me and now I feel hurt or sad. It's your fault. No, you're sad because somebody, you have to let somebody go or you don't want to let somebody go or else you wouldn't have felt sad.

So it's up to you. And not to change it, but to accept it. And feel it.

Erick: And accepting that. Absolutely. Accepting your emotions is an incredibly powerful tool. Because you're saying, it's one, it's acknowledging reality. I feel this way. That's reality. And 

Mark: that's the beauty where logic comes in.

And I write it in a chapter five of my book, The Stoic Mindset, it's about amor fati. Hey accept your fate and love it. I think that's a really hard thing, especially if life throws you around or you, you get hurt or you have a terrible disease you have to encounter. And I think it can be really hard.

I have an example of Vivian Mantel. She was an Olympic Paralympic snowboarder and she had a beautiful life. She was a beautiful person. I interviewed her for my podcast. She's here in Holland. She's like. The pinnacle of, of the radiation of positive emotions of beauty, but still she was diagnosed with cancer, which she died from, from two years ago, sadly.

And she knew this, she knows, she knows she was going to die, but she still did all these things in life, which with a positive attitude, she never complained. She was there. She was cared for other people. She was a beautiful person. So that's also what's possible in that situation. So I think the funniest thing is that that's what I find the beauty in Stoicism.

It's in that sense rational because If you have the choice, you, she had like she, there was a doctor and the doctor told her you cannot snowboard anymore and you're going to die. You have cancer. So the logical thing to lead a good life and a fulfilling life is to, and this is terribly hard and I, I, I'm healthy.

So it's for me, it's easy to say, but if I look at her the logical thing to do is the only thing you can do is not only accept that, but also love it. The reality of life. This is my reality right now. And you can come, you can push it away, you can get angry of it, but that hurts you. So the life you have left is not going to be good.

It hurts you. So logically, if you want to lead a good life, the only option you have is to accept it. And if, if, if you want to lead a really good life, love it. Yeah. And that's, that's so hard, but it's logically, it's the only option you have. 

Erick: There was a great article that I just read the other day and you'll love the title of it.

It's called “Welcome to Holland” Oh, yeah, and this woman wrote it and it was about how, kind of the story goes along. It's like so imagine you're planning a trip. You're going to Italy, you were excited. You wanted to go to Italy your whole life. You plan this trip. You've got it all down and you you make all the arrangements, you get off the plane, and the first thing that happens is, you, the stewardess, you know, welcomes you, and goes, “Hello! Welcome to Holland”.

You're like, wait a second, let's just go to Italy. 

Mark: What's going on here? Why is the sun not shining? Where's my pasta? Where's my espresso? 

Erick: So, and then you walk in and you're just like, but all these things I won't see. And, and, the woman who was talking about it, in regards to, sometimes the life that we want, flying to Italy,

it's not the life that we get. We end up in Holland. But if all we do is pine away for Italy and why we didn't get to Italy and life's unfair because we didn't get to go to Italy. Then we miss all the beautiful things about Holland. Yeah. We miss the windmills, we miss the canals, we miss

Mark: We miss the weather.

Erick: It's actually, I mean, I don't mind this weather. It's better. I lived in Minnesota for five years, so this weather is fine. 

Mark: Well, I, I, my holidays I go to Italy because I love, I love Italy. I want to go there too, but I, we're here at the waterfront and it freezes over here. It's beautiful.  

Erick: Absolutely. And that's the thing. It's just like all of the things here. Yes, we don't have, you know, Michelangelo's, but you have Rembrandt's here. You have Van Gogh's. 

Mark: Yeah, we have Amsterdam. It's beautiful. That's what Epictetus is to quote. Do not seek to have events happen to you as you wish, but wish them to happen as they do happen and all will be well for you.

Exactly. It's just that I could not understand exactly what I mean. This is, yeah, Mark Aurelius said not this is a misfortune, but to bear this worthwily is a good fortune. 

Erick: Yeah, absolutely. And so I, it was just funny that I stumbled on this article just a couple of days ago and I was like, that's so great. And I was like, given that I'm here…

Mark: So that's why you ended up here in Holland. You wanted to be here. 

Erick: I didn't know where I was going. So I just, “Welcome to Holland!” Yeah, it was, it was, it was, but I really like that kind of metaphor about that and I thought it was appropriate for where we are. So just, I guess we'll finish up with a few more questions.

Here's a good one. Advice for aspiring Stoics. So if somebody is interested in Stoicism, what advice would you give? Are there specific books, practices or thought exercises you'd recommend? 

Mark: Yeah. Yeah. Well, actually this is the question I got a lot especially during COVID and during presentation.

So the Stoic mindset, I really. I wrote it because it's an introduction into how you can think more stoic and how I deal with that. And there are 10 lessons in the book, which you can follow. So it's really an intro to stoicism. If you want to dive deeper, of course, I would say people yeah, get to the original text of Seneca, of Marcus Aurelius, of Seneca is easy to read.

It's a good intro. Marcus Aurelius. It's not something, you know, the meditations you, you, you probably will read from A to Z within an evening is more, you read it through it and you contemplate and, and Epictetus, it's a little harder to, to, to follow and grasp, especially the whole bundle. So, but it's definitely worthwhile, I think, if you look at the Stoics and think of where they come from and what situation they were in life and it's unfortunate that we don't have all the texts of the early Stoics.

Yeah. And, and if you think of the Greek empire and the Roman empire and the Greek city state, Athens. What happened there? It's a beautiful way where these, these people went through challenges. So, so read them and think about that. What, what does that mean? If you, you know, if you're the emperor of Rome and you encounter not only the loss of children and the betrayal of your best general, but also a pandemic that ravages your empire, how do you deal with that?

How do you keep sane? How do you keep doing the right things? So if you wanted the leadership lessons, start with Marcus Aurelius. If you want to have a friend who gives you some friendly and more worldly advice, go to Seneca. If you want to have a teacher who sometimes is stern and tells you what to do, look for Epictetus.

So that's. Where I would start off with and with practices. Yeah, for me making the distinction between what is up to you or what is not up to you is really powerful. Stephen Covey borrowed it of course from Epictetus and it's beautiful I think because if There's a high pressure situations that that's what I always do.

If I have a hard time, I tell myself, okay, if I have to let someone go or it's a situation I am having trouble with handling or a companion in my company, which, which I have a situation with or a confrontation with it's okay, what's up to me. What's not up to me. It's my internal state. I can do the things for myself in a good manner.

I focus on the right things to do. And I work hard for that, but the reaction of the other person is not up to me. The goal we want to reach as a company is not up to me, especially in COVID you can make a perfect business planning. You can think of products coming your way and then COVID happens and everything goes down the drain.

Every plan you had. So it's not only the output, it's the input you put in. You have to devise a new plan. You have to sit together, et cetera, et cetera. So try to do that. And for me, like I said, at the end of your day. Like Seneca did, try to think of, I think thinking of death, it sounds a little scary or not natural for people to do, but I think that's a liberating thought.

If you think about death, it's for me, it's liberating in life. I write in my book, one of the principles I write about is death makes life more epic. Yeah. Thinking about death, about the end, makes Life more epic because it makes you think about the choices you make. Are these good choices? Do you stand by them?

Do you live a life where you live a life according to your values? Do you live the hardest thing people ask themselves when they die? If they have regrets, the regrets always revolve around that they didn't lead their own life. They led a life what other people wished for them or put upon them. Yeah. So that's powerful stuff.

You should think about that every day, not at the end of your life, but right now. Yeah. 

Erick: I think most people regret the things they didn't do. 

Mark: Yeah, exactly. So live a life with no regrets. And of course, like again, you will have some. You have some. You will do stupid stuff. You're a human being. 

Erick: Yeah. And you may regret the dumb things you did, but I find that the things that I regret the most are the things that I didn't do, or the chances that I didn't take.

You know, I, you know, yes, there's some things that I did and I wish that I hadn't done them because they were tough, but I learned from them. And so I don't necessarily regret them. I, I may not think fondly on them, but I don't necessarily truly regret them. 

Mark: No, but if you see a herd of people doing something and it becomes right, or it becomes, that's why these questions are so powerful.

What is good? You know, is it something we do in the society? Is it, is it the norm? Is this in a society which we follow? Does this, is this your way you really want to live or is this your own path or do you follow a safe path, which everybody will not judge you or everybody won't be mad at you or et cetera, et cetera.

So there are a lot of powerful things working against. We have freedom for us. To reach our full potential and to break through these barriers. To break through the mold and to open up and be free with regards to other people. It's not like, well, I'll do whatever I want and woohoo, freedom. Yeah.

That's not what real freedom is. So what is it? Well, maybe Stoicism has pretty good answers on that. 

Erick: but yeah, I mean, for me, that's kind of why I'm here. It was that it, it was actually kind of scary and there were times I mean there's even, you know, time leading up to here where I just kind of panicked and be like, what am I doing?

And I'm like, well, this is crazy. I'm just coming over 

Mark: You come over to Amsterdam, maybe live here, et cetera. 

Erick: Yeah. And I have no idea what I'm doing. I'm just making it up as I go along and trying to find new opportunities and try to see what I'm supposed to do in this life. And so right now it's very much exploring and it's, it's scary at times.

I'm just like, what am I doing here? I don't know what I'm doing, but I'm meeting people. I, you know, I met some people at a meetup last night that were really cool. Just getting out there and trying to make things happen. I mean, I never would have gotten to do this if I hadn't. No. And this has been great.

I've been really enjoying this. 

Mark: So you have to sit with the discomfort. You have to sit with the chaos. You have to. Do not change it, but sit with it. And I think that's I think, yeah, there, there, there's beauty on the other side. If you want to go there and sometimes things happen, you never would have imagined.

Erick: And since I've been here, there've been some days where I'm just like, ah, what am I doing here? I should just go home. It's much more comfortable there. You know, I know all these, I know, I know people, I know how life lives, you know, trying to navigate things here because I don't quite speak Dutch yet, so working on learning that.

I mean, I speak German, so I understand, I understand a lot of it and it's actually made a big difference. I can understand, I can sit in most conversation and understand most of what's going on. 

Mark: And it's funny, you know what, because I have, I'm, I'm going to the world championships in Canada and Calgary for speed skating commentary on television.

And I love Canada. I love going to the Rockies and I thought about, Oh, I have to, maybe I want to go there a couple of days earlier and see it. And I do that because I'm gone from home a long time. And it's such a. It was really, I said, well, if I think about this two days, I really already could have made the choice to go two days earlier.

I don't have to think about it. Just do it and see what I do because I want to do that. So why not? Yeah. There are 10 reasons why you couldn't or shouldn't, et cetera, et cetera. And there's one reason like, let's, I want to do it. Let's just do it and see what happens. Yeah. And that's the thing is you, that's so small.

This is a small example. 

Erick: Yeah. And I mean, I, I know that if I didn't come that I would regret it. And I had a good friend of mine, she kept saying that. She's just like, if you don't go, you will regret it. So just, you're living, you're living a dream that you've wanted to do for quite some time. And that so many people would love to do. And you have this opportunity. You are in, you are in a place where this works for you, so you better go do that. And I'm like. Thank you. 

Mark: Oh, that's great, man. Just kind of resetting my mind. That's kind of funny because I thought, hey, we have a digital conversation, maybe through a podcast, but you're actually here.

So, okay. Now I know the story. 

Erick: Yeah, no, it's been great. All right. I think kind of exhausted most of my questions. Is there anything else that you want to add to it? So go ahead and tell people where they can find you. And anything else you'd like them or you want any socials that kind of thing.

So go ahead. Yeah. 

Mark: You can always find me through Instagram, Twitter LinkedIn, Mark Tuitert. And my surname is T U I T E R T. 

Erick: And I will put that in the show notes for the episode. So if you want to go find him, you can find him. 

Mark: So you can find me here with contact info. I do speaking engagements and my book, the stoic mindset is out in April in the US, Canada, UK.

So I'm really excited to to, to tell my story. I hope. Yeah. But with maybe even if it's one person I can relate to or have an impact on in life and get into contact with stoicism in that way. Yeah. That will be worthwhile for me. So I would love to come over to the U. S., to the UK, to Canada to to deliver my story.

And thank you for being here in the Netherlands. 

Erick: Yeah, and thank you for inviting me into your home. I really appreciate it. Yeah, no problem. This has been really great. So, all right. Thank you. All right. That concludes our interview. Like I said, I'll have a bunch of stuff in the notes for the podcast.

And thanks again for listening.

And that's the end of this week's Stoic Coffee Break. I hope that you enjoyed this interview with Mark Tuitert. And as always, be kind to yourself, be kind to others, and thanks for listening.

Hey friends, just wanted to give you a quick reminder. If you aren't following me on social media, you really should. So I do post videos from time to time on Instagram and Threads and X, formerly Twitter. I'm also going to be posting this interview on YouTube and I will be adding more and more video content to YouTube, more long form stuff.

So hop on there and find me. So on instagram and threads, it's stoic.coffee. On x/twitter, it is @stoiccoffee. As well as on LinkedIn, you can find me there at StoicCoffee. Alright, thanks again for listening. Bye.


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

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Thanks again for listening.

Categories
Q & A

284 – Q & A – Daily Life, God, Difficult People, and Politics

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

So this week's episode is going to be a little bit different. I've been traveling quite a bit. I am now in Amsterdam. And so I put a post out on social media a couple of weeks ago. I guess about a week or so ago, that I'm going to do a question and answer episode. This is the first time I've done this, but I thought it might be interesting to give it a go.

So, I had some people on social media ask me some questions, I also asked some of my friends for their questions about Stoicism and just kind of about life and philosophy in general, and we'll see how this goes.

So the first question that I got was: What are some common mistakes people make when trying to practice Stoicism, and how can I avoid them?

So, the first mistake that most people think about stoicism is that stoicism is about repressing your emotions. That it's not showing any emotions when you are dealing with something that you're struggling with. And this is really not the case. Stoicism is about emotional awareness. It's about making sure that you are in touch with your emotions in a way that allows you to manage them better.

That you have control over your emotions and yourself rather than letting your emotions control you and this comes with, really working on your awareness about yourself awareness about the way that you think. The way that your emotions come because of the things that you think because remember when you are struggling with an emotion. Emotions are created by the thinking that you have, and that your thoughts are the things that lead to emotions and it also can create a feedback loop because emotions can impact your thinking.

So for example, if someone says something that you consider to be rude, it's your opinion of what they said that makes it rude. It's your opinion that causes the emotions that you feel about what they said. And by recognizing that it's your opinion that is causing the emotions, you get to choose how you let those emotions impact you and the actions that you take.

So that for me is probably. One of the most common mistakes that people make it when they start to practice stoicism, you're not cutting off emotions. You're just becoming more aware of them so that you can actually do something about them and manage them rather than having them control you.

So the next question is: How did you discover stoicism or what made you start studying it?

So, I first heard about Stoicism from Tim Ferriss. He mentioned the book, The Guide to the Good Life: The Art of Stoic Joy by William B. Irvine. And he said it was a book that changed his life. And Tim reads lots of books, makes lots of recommendations. And for me, when Tim says, hey, this is a book that changed my life, it caught my attention.

And I also was curious about the title. Or the subtitle, The Art of Stoic Joy. Because to me, I only knew stoic as somebody who is, you know, very rigid and very emotionless. And so stoic joy was something that I liked the contradiction, so I thought I'd give it a read. So I got the book, and I read through it, and there were a lot of good ideas in it, but it didn't quite click the first time.

And I knew that there was something more to it, because as I listened to Tim's podcast, I would hear again and again, hey, you know, talking about stoicism, talking about stoicism. So I got the audio book and for about two or three months, I listened to it on the way to and from work. It was like a 15 minute commute.

And I kept having a lot of these aha moments every time I would be listening to it. And it was at that point that it really started to click for me. And I just kept having these moments where I'd be like, wow, that is an amazing idea. I never thought of that. I never knew that the world worked this way.

So at that point, I bought the daily journal that Ryan Holiday has, and this was back in 2017. And just at the beginning of 2018, so I could write it in the new year. And I started journaling, and my New Year's resolution was to start a podcast. And I wasn't sure what I wanted to start a podcast on, I had all kinds of ideas.

And I figured since I was learning about Stoicism, I would just do a podcast on Stoicism and it was supposed to be just a practice podcast. I would just practice making a podcast and I would talk about Stoicism because I needed a topic to talk about. And then things kind of took off and here we are today.

Next question is: What is the best way to practice Stoicism on a daily basis?

I think there are a lot of ways that you can practice Stoicism, but there are a few things that I've always found helpful and I know it's going to sound like I'm repeating the same thing, but these are all things that. It'll allow you to practice Stoicism on a daily basis.

I think that reading something from the Stoics such as Meditations or writings by Epictetus and Seneca or Rufus Masonius are always, always something good to add to your day. If it's, if Stoicism is just something that you're getting into, Ryan Holiday's books are also a great way to get a good introduction if you find the ancient text a little bit hard to follow. I think there are lots of great books out there that can be incredibly helpful. And I even like to mix in things by like Buddhist writers like Thich Nhat Hanh.

Now, another thing that I talk about a lot is meditation. And even though I've kind of fallen off the wagon with this and have not been practicing it every day like I used to, gaining that awareness of your own mind is incredibly helpful for emotional awareness and emotional management.

So a few years ago, I challenged myself to meditate for 60 minutes a day for 60 days in a row. And it was challenging. It was something that was very, very hard. And I found that usually the first half hour to 40 minutes, my brain was just kind of like randomly firing off thoughts and thinking about all kinds of things.

And then the last, you know, 20 – 25 minutes would be where I kind of find some peace and I could watch my thinking in a much more relaxed way. But I found that doing that exercise really helped me to have an overall ability to manage my thinking better. So it, it kind of did a big reset. Like my brain worked through a bunch of stuff and so my anxiety levels overall are much lower. And I find that when I need to, when I'm feeling anxious about something, I can just stop, take a deep breath and I'm able to manage my thoughts quite a bit better.

And so it's something that I'm working on getting back into every day. Probably do it a bit shorter than that, but if you can, I highly recommend doing that exercise. It's hard. It's very, very hard, but I found that from that point on, I was a lot more in control of how I could think about things. Another thing to understand about meditation is it doesn't mean that you just have to sit quietly in a room for 30, 60 minutes, whatever.

It can be just walking out in nature and paying attention to your thinking. It can be just taking a moment on the bus and just pay attention to your thinking. And just taking some time, even just 10 minutes a day to just sit down and allow yourself to be bored and to pay attention to your thoughts. And the goal of meditation, at least for me, is to not necessarily relax, but to become much more aware of what my brain is doing, what my brain is thinking of. And it's a, it's a very valuable skill because it's hard to manage your thinking if you're not aware of what you're actually thinking.

And the last way that I recommend, again, these are all simple tools that everybody talks about. So for me, I find that sitting down and writing in my journal is a good way to get everything that's kind of stirring around in my head. It's also a meditative practice for me.

So sometimes when I'm feeling anxious about things or I'm unclear about what I need to get done in my life, I just sit down and do a brain dump. And just whatever comes to my mind, I just start writing it down. And it takes what's spinning around in my head and puts it down on paper so one, it's easier to see and two, it's much easier just to be able to organize those types of thoughts.

So if meditation isn't your thing, maybe try journaling. I think that either of those two practices will really help you to become aware of your own thinking, which is a big part of how you can practice stoicism in your daily life much better.

So the next question I got is an interesting one, but I think I'll, I'll address it. And the question is: Is “God” a pronoun, the name of an all powerful man, or is “god” an ancient word meaning the totality of an infinite universe, and why?

So, this is an interesting question, and not something that is really particularly answered by Stoicism, so this is just my opinion on it, and, for me, I would tend to fall on the second option.

So, I think that god is just a way to try and explain why there is something rather than nothing. And because this is such a mysterious area, people from the beginning of time have tried to understand where we came from, why we're here, and where do we go when we die. And the truth is, we don't know.

I mean, we do know that there has to be something at the beginning. There has to be something that created everything that exists. There is some kind of force, a creative force that exists, otherwise there would be nothing. But to assume that it's some old guy with a beard or to ascribe or assume that we know what this person wants us to do or believe is not something that I just, that I can’t follow.

I mean, we tend to anthropomorphize things that we don't understand. And throughout history, people have claimed to know what this all powerful being wants us to do. And usually it's what that person wants us to do.

So the next question: How can I develop a stoic mindset when it comes to dealing with difficult people or situations?

I think the most important thing you can do is to not take anything personally, even if it is. When you can put some distance between you and what the other person is saying or doing, then it gives you choices. And if you're constantly being reactive to what someone else says or does, then you're not the one that's in control.

They are.

So one of the easier ways to do this is when you can recognize that what the other person is saying or doing is just their perspective. It's just their opinion. Just because someone said something doesn't mean that it's the truth. And if it is the truth, well, you should be open to it. You should be open to taking in things that are factual, even if they are uncomfortable.

I think the bigger part of this is that if someone can get you easily stirred up, well, that's your problem and not theirs. Yes, they may be an asshole and they may say stupid or mean things, but it's your opinion of what they're saying that gets you stirred up. It's the thoughts in your mind that create the emotions you feel, and those emotions drive your actions.

If you can simply take in the things that they are saying is just that, that they are words that are coming out of their mouths, then you can be curious about what they are saying and think about it. And honestly, I think that being curious about what others are saying And why they are saying it is one of the fastest ways to not let others get under your skin.

An example of this where I failed recently was when I was a podcast guest just a couple of weeks ago. Now, the podcast host was a pretty hardcore Catholic who had some very hardline views on some things that I disagreed with, and I found myself getting very defensive and things got a little bit heated.

It was still civil, but I was definitely riled up. And I was not really trying to understand his point of view or to be curious about why he believed the things that he did. And after the interview, I had some time to sit and think about how I didn't live up to my stoic ideals. I realized that I hadn't been curious, but I just wanted to prove that I was right, or at the very least prove that he was wrong.

And it was certainly a learning space for me, because I want to be curious. I want to try and understand others, even if I don't agree with them. And while I feel like I failed, I also feel like I learned something for the next time I talk with someone like him.

Next question: Who would Marcus Aurelius vote for?

Oh boy, this is going to be a thorny one, which is why I saved it for last. I'm assuming that the person who asked it is referring to the presidential race between Joe Biden and Donald Trump. And right now politics in the U. S. and in plenty of other countries is very divisive. But let's not fool ourselves.

Divisive politics is nothing new in the world. It just feels very amplified because of social media and the fact that we have so much more news available to us that we didn't have until the last 25 years or so. So let's walk through this and think about how we should choose our elected leaders. When we think about Marcus Aurelius and how he tried to govern, we see a leader who was unselfish, who was principled, he was thoughtful and patient.

He tried to be a leader who served those that he governed. He did his best to govern in a way that benefited as many people as possible, not just those who were on his side. He was not there for his own enrichment or glory. In fact, he sold items from the palace to help pay debts that needed to be paid.

He didn't live lavishly, but he lived plainly in order to focus on the job of running the empire. He was faithful to his wife, even though there were rumors that his wife had had affairs outside of their marriage. A good example of him trying to live up to his stoic principles was when Marcus was emperor, there was an attempted coup by Avidius Cassius, who was actually a trusted friend and a loyal general to the emperor.

And this betrayal was a major test of Marcus Aurelius stoic principles. Because he was faced with a very difficult situation that could have led to a lot of anger and revenge. However, Marcus demonstrated his commitment to Stoic principles by showing mercy and forgiveness to Cassius instead of seeking retribution. Which would have been the normal thing for most other emperors at that time.

So with that said, you have to ask yourself, which of the people running for office is doing their best to live up to these principles? Which one is trying to serve the whole nation and not just those that follow him? Which one speaks out about trying to find ways to bring us together and find things that we have in common rather than trying to create divisions between us?

If you look at what each of them actually says and does, and not just what you hear on partisan news channels, then I think you'll find a pretty clear distinction between them. The question is, are you willing to seek out that information, or are you just sticking to the news channels that say the things that you like to hear? Have you picked a side?

Now, I'm sure a lot of you were disappointed that I didn't directly choose a side, but I think that's part of the problem. There are no sides. I think a big problem is that politics has turned into nothing more than rooting for a side like you would for a football game. And people want their side to win.

I want the person who will be the best leader for all of us to win. I want the person that is doing their best to serve all of us. Not just someone who is seeking power for their own glory and to pour down favors onto those that they consider to be loyal to them. So when you look at the candidates, there's a few things I want you to think about.

Do you filter everything that happens from one party through a negative bias? Do you look at the politicians for the things that they do and actually say or do you gloss over it and simply follow it because it's your side? Now understanding your own perspective on it can be very, very helpful because then you can look at somebody for the things that they actually do and the things they actually say and see if it lines up with you.

I mean, personally, there are people on both sides of the political aisle because in the U. S. that's pretty much what we have is two sides, that when they do something good, when they put in legislation, when they say things that try to bring us together, I support that. I don't have a side that I choose and go, yep, I'm just going to follow this one blindly.

I will criticize people on the political party that I generally follow when they do things that are really stupid or when they do things that aren't helpful. And I'll do things such as when there's somebody on the other side who does good things, I'll praise them and support them because I think that it's not about which side.

It's about how do we govern in a way that is beneficial to the most people. And while we may disagree on that, we need to be able to come together and actually talk about that and be willing to listen to people and understand their point of view. And I think that's the hardest thing, is that we get stuck in this way of thinking that other people think just like us.

And if we don't understand where someone is coming from and what their values are, what's important to them, they may choose a candidate who is just saying the things that they want to hear. Even if that candidate isn't standing up for the principles that we truly believe in.

Now the Stoics have four virtues, and I think that that's probably one of the best places to start to pick out a political candidate, and the four virtues are wisdom, courage, justice, and temperance. Is the political candidate you're looking at wise? Do they take in science? Do they take in learning? Do they take in experience and try to apply it in a way that, again, helps the most people? Are they courageous and willing to stand up for their beliefs and their principles even when they're getting knocked down pretty hard for those things?

Are they in search of justice or are they looking out for vengeance or revenge? And lastly, are they moderate? Are they willing to listen to people on both sides? Are they willing to have the self discipline for themselves to not let their baser emotions, their baser impulses come out and lash out angrily at their opponents, but that they do their best to reach across and try to treat their opponents with respect and compassion and try to govern and not just rule? And I think that's really probably one of the best things that you can filter any political candidate for.

So that's the end of this week's episode. Like I said, this is something new that I'm trying out. If you have any questions that you want to send to me, I will probably do another episode like this and hopefully you will have some good questions for me to answer about stoicism, about how to look at the world through a stoic perspective, how to apply stoicism in your daily life.

I think there are a lot of things you can do and the more detailed the question, the more I appreciate it. I'd really like to get some good ideas generated through this. So I'd appreciate it if you'd send me your questions. And as always be kind to yourself, be kind to others and thanks for listening.


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

Stop by the website at 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. 🙂

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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
entrepreneurship

283 – Interview With Gavan Wilhite

Hello friends! This weeks episode is an interview with Gavan Wilhite. Gavin is a longtime listener of my podcast and he contacted me a few months ago to chat about some things. We had a great conversation. He's a serial entrepreneur and he's got his fingers in a lot of different pies. We talked about entrepreneurship, about making an impact on the world and doing the things that we can do with the tools that we have.

We also touch on how stoicism is a powerful tool if you are running your own business and how that helps you to be a much better leader, because I think that as we can see from the throughout history, the good leaders all seem to display stoic principles in their lives.

Gavan is a smart, compassionate, and just an all around great guy. I hope you enjoy the conversation as much as I did. (Sorry there’s no transcript. The transcription service I use really messed the whole thing up and I haven’t gotten it cleaned up.)


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, LinkedIn, and 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
wisdom

278 – The Truth About Lying

Do you lie? Do you believe that everyone lies? Why are some lies acceptable? Why should we allow people to lie without repercussions? Today I want to talk about the different kinds of lies and deceptions, and what we can do to be a bit more honest, and a little more aware when others are trying to deceive us.

“We tell lies, yet it is easy to show that lying is immoral.”

— Epictetus

Why do we lie?

For most people, we lie because it gets us what we want. When we lie, it implies that we either want to gain something by deceit, or that we know what is best for the person and have the right to impose our will on them.

Sometimes we lie because it greases the social wheels and avoids conflict. Like when we tell someone that their hair looks great even when it doesn’t, it’s because we don’t want the other person to feel bad. We’re keeping the social situation from getting uncomfortable or awkward. When someone asks how we are doing and we say we’re doing fine, even when aren’t, it’s because we don’t really want to talk about it.

In other cases we lie to avoid punishment or to somehow avoid the consequences of telling the truth. In my own life, I often lied to my father to avoid getting beaten because of something that he disapproved of. I would lie at church so that I didn’t get in trouble with the bishop. In either case, telling the truth was something that was not rewarded, so like any self-preserving person I would simply tell them what I thought they wanted to hear.

Sometimes we lie to inflate our importance and impress others. We may embellish a story that we tell to others to get them to like us or think more highly of us. We may make our accomplishments on our resume sound more impressive than they really are so that we can get that job that we want.

Sometimes we lie to manipulate or control others. By deceiving others we may get them to do what we want. We see this in political rallies all the time. There are some politicians who will simply say what they think others will want to hear even if they know they aren’t true. Whether that’s demonizing others with differing politics or those that are weaker or have no political power, they say things that will get others riled up because when people are upset about something they’re easier to control.

We Want to Believe

“Liars are the cause of all the sins and crimes in the world.”

— Epictetus

So why do we fall for lies? Why do we believe some people even when they don’t have the facts on their side?

For the most part, we fall for lies because as humans we want to believe other people. Society runs smoother and generally works better when we assume that others are telling the truth. The benefits of believing that others are communicating honestly outweighs the cost of being deceived from time to time. Also, most lies that people tell are usually inconsequential and cause little or no harm.

Because we generally believe others, or at least want to believe others, it makes us particularly gullible, and targets for those who are good at deceiving others. Timothy Levine, a professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and author of Duped: Truth-default Theory and the Social Science of Lying and Deception writes:

“People are typically honest unless they have a specific reason to communicate deceptively, and people tend to believe others unless suspicion, skepticism, or doubt is actively triggered”.

Another big problem is that we all like to think that we are able to know when people are lying to us. But in study after study, we’re not that good it. We tend to believe people that sound confident and self-assured, even if they are misleading us.

One of the most interesting aspects of deception is when we look at it through the lens of the Dunning-Kruger effect. The Dunning-Kruger effect is a cognitive bias where someone overestimates their knowledge and abilities in an area, but lack the metacognition to recognize their own incompetence. They will speak with strong opinions as if they’re an expert, yet they really know very little.

When it comes to deception, this has an effect on both sides. Because we tend to trust others when starting out, when someone speaks confidently we tend to believe them. And on the receiving end, because we think we are experts at knowing when people lie to us, we overestimate our own ability to know when others lie to us.

Future Liars… um… Leaders

“False words are not only evil in themselves, but they infect the soul with evil.

— Plato

“The men the American people admire most extravagantly are the most daring liars; the men they detest most violently are those who try to tell them the truth.”

— H. L. Mencken

Susan Cain, in her book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking talked about how she was in an information session for prospective Harvard Business School students. They were told that they should “speak with conviction…even if you believe something only 55%, say it as if your believe it 100%”.

Think on that for a moment. These are MBA students at one of the top business schools in the world. These are future managers and leaders of companies. Rather than working with data to come to conclusions that are sound and well founded, with exceptions clarified and doubts well-aired so that they can prepare for them, they are instructed to lie in order to get people to follow them. It’s as if their being trained to emulate the Dunning-Kruger effect.

One high profile case of this includes Elizabeth Holmes who defrauded investors of hundreds of millions of dollars with her biotech startup Theranos. Her ability to project confidence and believe in the product that her company was selling even though she knew it didn’t work got some of the biggest inventors in Silicon Valley to put money into her company.

Sam Bankman-Fried, who was the founder of FTX, which at one point was one of the largest crypto trading firms was so convincing about his abilities that he defrauded investors and traders out of billions of dollars. When FTX fell apart, the effect rippled through the crypto markets and even into the larger financial sector.

Confirmation Bias

“It is discouraging how many people are shocked by honesty and how few by deceit.”

— Noel Coward

Often times we believe others because it’s something that we want to believe. Confirmation bias is when we tend to look for evidence that something we want to believe is true and ignore contradictory evidence. This happens because we want to believe things that align with our opinions or fears. The more evidence we find that supports our ideas, the better we feel about ourselves. We gain confidence in ourselves because we feel like our opinions are correct. It soothes the ego, and bolsters the identity that we have of ourselves. In other words, we like to feel like we are right.

Confirmation bias is also a cognitive shortcut. It’s often a way to deal with ambiguous situations or ones where we don’t have enough information. We latch onto an idea because we need some clarity, and search for anything that confirms our idea so that we’ll be able to move forward. If we remain in doubt for too long or wait until we have enough information we might get stuck and not take any action at all.

Look in the Mirror

“My philosophy means keeping that vital spark within you free from damage and degradation, using it to transcend pain and pleasure, doing everything with a purpose, avoiding lies and hypocrisy, not relying on another person's actions or failings. To accept everything that comes, and everything that is given, as coming from that same spiritual source.”

— Marcus Aurelius

“This is an era of universal hyperbole. Every day delivers a new banality disguised as an emergency. Distrust your first reactions. Begin with the assumption that you are overreacting. Conserve your emotional energies for your real concerns.”

— @TheStoicEmperor (twitter)

So how do we make sure that we don’t fall into the trap of deceiving others? How can we get better about being truthful ourselves so that we don’t spread misinformation?

Most of us think that we’re honest and that we don’t lie to others. But if we’re really being honest with ourselves, we all lie and deceive to some extent. We may not even notice it. We might not be directly honest with someone or we will omit things because we don’t want to hurt their feelings, or we’re afraid that they will get mad at what we have to say. We also need to be aware of when we are not taking responsibility for ourselves. We may obfuscate or omit details so that we shift blame or lessen the consequences of our actions.

I think within each situation we need to act according to our principles. We also need to think about what we are trying to accomplish. Just because something is true and you are trying to be honest doesn’t mean that it needs to be brought up. Sometimes there are things that just don’t need to be said because they are are not important to the conversation.

But, with that said, it is not an excuse to not have difficult conversations. Sometimes, candor is exactly what is needed so that there can be clear communication and mutual understanding. In both situations it comes down to thinking about handling yourself according to your principles. Are you treating the other person with kindness? When you are speaking candidly, are you using it as a way to belittle or manipulate the other person? There are ways to be candid and yet show discretion and still hold to your principles.

Be willing to recognize that you could be wrong. Just because you hold an opinion about something doesn’t mean that it is correct, or that it even matters. When you get new information, be willing and open to changing your opinion. There is nothing wrong with changing your mind. In fact, the more you are willing to change your mind, the easier it is to grow.

You can also ask yourself if you even need to have an opinion about this thing. Does it matter if you have an opinion about it? Does holding that opinion make you more or less compassionate to others? Does it help you to be kinder to everyone around you? If it doesn’t then maybe you need to reexamine your opinion, and maybe even get rid if it.

Lately, ask yourself is it possible that the opposite is true? Be willing to look at something that you believe strongly in and try to hold the opposite opinion and see things from a different point of view. Taking the time to make sure that you can see the world from a different perspective can help you to see the world in a better light.

Honestly

“We swallow greedily any lie that flatters us, but we sip only little by little at a truth we find bitter.”

— Denis Diderot

“Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth.”

— Marcus Aurelius

So what can we do to be more aware of when we’re being lied to?

A lot of why we believe people who lie to us is that they are often telling us the things that we want to hear. They are things that already align with our point of view or opinions. They feed our ego. We need to be willing to be skeptical about our own beliefs. We need to be willing to adjust our opinions. We need to be like a scientist and work with the best information that we have, and change our opinions and our point of view when we get new data.

Like most things, I think that we need to be clear about what our principles are. When we are clear about our principles, then it doesn’t matter who we are listening to or what they are saying because if it doesn’t align with our principles we can disregard it, or at the very least examine it dispassionately.

When we get too attached to who is saying something, then we often lose our objective point of view. It doesn’t matter what political party, gender, race, or any other difference that someone has, we should view what they have to say with how well it aligns with our principles, regardless of who they are. When we stick to our principles, then the message matters more than the messenger.

Watch your emotions. If you are getting really emotional about something, there’s a good chance you’re being manipulated. People who are masters of deception will play off your emotions as much as they can. When you are feeling a strong emotion about something, it’s easier override your rational thinking, and you’re more likely to make impulsive and irrational decisions. Learning to be dispassionate when you need to be can help you to take a step back and objectively look at what others are trying to convince you of.

Trust but verify. Next, verify from the most reputable sources you can find. Look at the track record of the places you get your information from. How often have they been wrong in the past? How often to they present opinions as facts? Part of the reason that we have institutions and agencies in our governments is so that they carry on the practices and procedures that help us move forward as a society. Often people who are trying to deceive us will attack those very institutions to further their own agendas.

Opinion vs facts. Be careful when someone states their opinion about something as a fact. We see this on news channels all the time, especially when it comes to politics. When someone states something as being true that sounds like an opinion, challenge them. Ask them for the facts to back up the things that they are saying. Often simply asking for the data or where they got their information from will expose that they either made it up, or they will actually get you the information that you requested.

This happened to me a few years ago when a friend contacted me and was trying to convince me of some pretty far fetched conspiracy theories. I told him that I’d need to see some real data from some reliable sources. He kept telling me to “do my own research” and I would “find the truth”. I kept politely asking him for his sources so that we could be on the same page. When he couldn’t offer me any reputable resources he just got more and more upset till he finally got so angry that he blocked me.

When it comes to political arguments, a good sign that the person you’re listening to is trying to deceive you or convince you of something that probably isn’t good for society is when they demonize or dehumanize others. Blaming others for what’s wrong in your life or the world is a typical tactic of demagogues. If someone can’t convince you of something using rational arguments and clear data and has to resort to tearing down others to try and win you over to their side, that should be a good indicator that someone is trying to manipulate you.

Conclusion

There’s lots of BS in the world. It’s been even said that we live in a post truth world because there is so much disinformation online. People hold onto their opinions so tightly that we can’t even agree on the basic facts of what’s going on to the point where it’s hard to know what the truth is.

The best way to handle ourselves in this chaotic environment is to make sure that we verify our information from reputable sources. We need to be aware when someone is trying to manipulate us through our emotions. We can filter what we hear through the lens of our principles so that we are not too attached to the opinions of any particular person or group. We can take the time to be a little skeptical of everything we hear. And most importantly we should be willing to question our own opinions, and change them when necessary because in doing so, we can grow and move a little closer to the truth.


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, threads, 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

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
wisdom

276 – The Zen of Zeno: Exploring the Art of Stoic Patience

Are you a patient person? Do you pay attention in your life or are you just rushing through your day? Today I want to talk about how patience is one of the most important attributes you need to live a full life, and reach your goals.

"A man who is a master of patience is master of everything else."

— Epictetus

Fast

We live in a world of instant gratification. We’re used to getting almost anything we want easily and quickly. When you buy something on amazon, you get it just a day or two. You want to see a movie, listen to that certain song all you have to do is open your phone or your computer. Want a date or to order dinner? There’s an app for that.

But when it comes to personal growth or achieving our goals, often things don’t move that quickly. We may learn something and want to improve ourselves, but we are creatures of habit and changing behaviors and well worn thought patterns is not something we can just decide and change instantly. While I wish it were just as easy opening the menu of an app and choosing a few options, it takes consistency, and to be consistent takes patience.

Patience

“Man conquers the world by conquering himself.”

— Zeno of Citium

Patience is something that needs to be practiced and cultivated. Our world is all about instant gratification and trying to get your attention all day long. They even have a term for it – the attention economy. Your attention is so important that they are willing to do whatever they can to get your attention. The more that apps and advertisements have your attention, the more likely you are to buy whatever it is that they are selling.

Impatience

"Patience is power. Patience is not an absence of action; rather it is 'timing' – it waits on the right time to act, for the right principles and in the right way."

— Fulton J. Sheen

Impatience is a non-acceptance of reality. When we are impatient, we are expressing our frustration with reality for what it is and wishing that it was something else. We are registering out discontent with the now and want it to be something different than what it is.

When we are patient, we have a strong sense of awareness. We are present where we are. We give the now – where we are, what we are doing, and what we want to accomplish our full attention. If you wonder why the quality of your work is not where you want it to be, notice how much attention you pay to what you are doing.

Years ago I decided that I wanted to learn to play the cello. I got myself a nice cello, hired a teacher, practiced a minimal amount of time each day, and dutifully showed up for my lessons each week. While I made some progress, I felt frustrated because I wasn’t progressing as fast as I thought I should. I assumed that because I already knew a lot about music that my previous skills would help me to be proficient in a short amount of time. But after a year, I quit.

Looking back on it years later, I realized that I was too impatient. I had expectations of where I thought I should be after a certain amount of time. When I didn’t hit those expectations, I found excuses about why I wasn’t making the progress I wanted. Excuses like, “I was just too busy to practice like I needed to”, or “Maybe the cello is just not my thing”. In reality, it was simply that I needed the patience to put the time and attention to my practice to get to the level that I wanted to be at.

Procrastination

Patience is not procrastination. Procrastination is about doing anything other than what you are actually trying to accomplish. It’s about distracting yourself from the task at hand, because there is some feeling of discomfort attached to what you are trying to get done. Patience is the opposite of procrastination. Patience is about taking your time with what you are doing so you give it your full and undivided attention. Patience is about sitting with the uncomfortable so that you can accomplish what you set out to do.

Falling Behind

"Patience is a form of wisdom. It demonstrates that we understand and accept the fact that sometimes things must unfold in their own time."

— Jon Kabat-Zinn

One of the reason why many of us struggle with patience is that we feel like we are falling behind. In each culture there are often markers of what means to be successful. We may see others around us making some kinds of achievements and feel like there is something wrong with us when we aren’t as successful as our peers. We may have also created expectations around ourselves and where we should be, and if we’re not there we start to feel like we are failing. We begin to feel stress, which ultimately leads to us not getting things done on time, or at the level that we know we can.

Do it Well

When we choose patience over rushing, then we do whatever it is we are working on better. Whether we are washing dishes, weeding the garden, or coding an application, when we choose to be mindful and give it our attention, the quality will almost always be better. When we take our time to do something well, then we also almost always save time because we aren’t rushing. When we rush we’re prone to do things poorly and make mistakes that slow us down and will often create issues that we will have to fix later.

Focused attention can save us time in the long run.

Patience is Optimism

When we are patient, we are also optimistic. When we choose to put the time and energy into doing whatever we are doing so that it is done right, we have faith that putting focus into our task is worth it. It means that we have decided that our task, whether that’s teaching a child how to play soccer, writing a book, or sweeping the kitchen floor, is worth our time and attention.

Listening is Understanding

“Formulating an opinion is not listening.”

― Rick Rubin, The Creative Act: A Way of Being

Often we don’t have patience when we are reading a book or listening to someone talk. We hurry through the book we are reading. We put the podcast on double speed. When listening to someone we may try to rush ahead and generalize their message, rather than taking the time to really understand the subtleties and nuances. We try to get the information out as fast as we possibly can. But collecting information is not the same as understanding something.

When we rush ahead we miss the subtext, what is hinted at, implied, or said between the lines. We also miss the joy of discovery and play with the material or person we’re listening to. When we seek to understand, we take the time we need. We allow for discovery. We let what we’ve learned sink in. We may even pause to consider what we’ve heard, or go back and reread a paragraph that has something deeper that we may have missed on the first pass.

The internet is full of information, but what is more important than all the information that is out there is we understand what we are consuming in a deeper way. Finding the right book or the key information is good, but unless we internalize it, reflect on it, and understand how to apply it, then it just stays in the realm of knowledge, and never makes its way to wisdom. Wisdom takes patiences.

This is why Socrates asked so many questions. He didn’t just want information, but he wanted to understand the information that he had. Being able to recite all the facts about something does you little good if you do not truly understand what it means and are able to use that information in a wise way.

Attention

“I live my life, I live it slowly. I take my time, I’m in no hurry.”

— Seal

In order for us to pay attention, we need patience. Attention takes times, energy, and effort. But to do anything well, it needs our attention. Good relationships take attention. Raising children takes attention. Creating art, building a business, or developing a new skill, all of these things take attention. Attention is your greatest resource in anything you do.

So often we simply sleepwalk through our lives because we aren’t paying attention. We have a list of things that we need to get done, and we push through those, often on autopilot. We do this all throughout the day with whatever it is we are doing. Going for a run, shopping for groceries, driving the kids to school. We pay so little attention to what we are doing that the day just slips by and the next thing we know we’re brushing our teeth and heading for bed.

Consider how different your life might feel it you gave your life the attention you would give to performing open heart surgery. Rather than mindlessly crossing things off our daily checklist, think of how much more engaged with your life would you be if you gave it focused attention. You would still get all the things done on your checklist, but you would be much more present with each moment. You would have been more immersed in each step of each task. Taking the time to slow down and be present enriches each moment. It gives each moment more weight and focus.

Attention is Love

Growing up, one of the most important people in my life was my grandmother. What I remember most about her is the attention that she gave me when we talked. Whether that was me excitedly telling her all the details of my latest wrestling match or theater performance, or talking about the girls at school, I always felt like what I said mattered to her. I felt like I mattered. She asked questions and never rushed me. I felt loved around her because she didn’t just give me her time, she gave me her attention.

Do you give attention to the people in your life? Are you patient with them? Are you present and attentive with your family and friends or are you too busy scrolling on your phone? Even with the challenging relationship that I had with my father, the things I remember most are not the material things he gave me, but the interesting conversations that we had about things like the cosmos and chaos theory. It was his attention that I wanted.

Thinking Takes Time

"Patience is the companion of wisdom."

— Saint Augustine

Good thinking takes time. When we are rushed or stressed, our ability to think drops dramatically. Our ability to consider and come up with more options is reduced. This is why people in chaotic situations often make terrible decisions. This why soldiers practice in situations that are high stress so that they can slow things down and make good decisions under fire.

Now, most of us don’t need to make decisions under that kind of stress. We usually have time to sit down and think things over. But how often do you take that kind of time? How often do you sit at your desk and just think? Or sit down and write out your thoughts so that you can examine them a bit more rationally? Or maybe go for a walk to consider something? Taking your time to consider something is always a good choice because it allows your mind to consider more options and survey the landscape. You’re often better able to see the whole picture and have a broader view than when you’re rushing into a decision

Practicing Patience

“Patience is bitter, but its fruit is sweet.”

— Aristotle

So how do we get better about practicing patience?

Patience is really about mindfulness. It’s about slowing down and taking your time. When you are doing something, be as mindful as you can be. At first, this will not be easy. If your tendency is to rush, you’ll want to get through something rather than experiencing it. Can you slow down? Can you start to notice details? Can you see how thoroughly you can do something? Can you find ways to do each task well and improve how you do it? I think you’ll be surprised at much pleasure you can get just by trying to do each step just a little better.

Limiting Distractions

The more you can limit distractions, the easier it is to be patient. If you’re in a conversation with someone, try putting your phone on airplane mode so that you can give them your full attention. If you’re working on a project make sure that your workspace is clean and organized and that other projects or distractions are out of the way.

For example, when I write a podcast episode, I will often take my laptop out of my office and sit on my front deck to write. Because I can only use the screen on my laptop rather than the large monitors in my office, it is harder to get distracted with other web pages or apps.

Discomfort

"Patience is the ability to idle your motor when you feel like stripping your gears."

— Barbara Johnson

I often talk on this podcast about getting comfortable with the uncomfortable. This is one of the most important skills that you can develop. When you choose to face discomfort head on, you are able to learn to relax when things are challenging. You are able to do what needs to be done even if it is not what you might consider fun or enjoyable. It is about taking control of yourself, and your emotions and pressing forward even when you don’t feel like it.

Being patient can feel uncomfortable. Whether that’s working on a project, creating a piece of art, or trying to make changes in our lives, we want to get things done fast. We fixate on the end goal, and miss out on enjoying the process. When we are patient, we are able to bring mindfulness to the process, and be present rather than just running on autopilot.

When you are working on a project or reading a book, set aside an amount of time where you are only allowed to work on the particular task or nothing at all. By forcing yourself to confront the uncomfortable feelings, you’ll start to develop the capacity to just sit with them. You’ll be able to be okay with with how you feel and not reach for distractions to alleviate the discomfort.

Observations on Boredom

One of the most interesting things that I’ve noticed when I really pay attention to a task that I consider boring like washing dishes or doing yard work is that I will often have random ideas or inspirations that pop up that have nothing to do with what I’m doing. By giving my focus to the task, it seems to take my full conscious attention, which allows my unconscious to work through something else, and give me answers in other areas where I felt stuck.

Conclusion

Time is the most precious resource we have. By learning to slow down and be patient with the time you have, you use it wisely. As I get older, I feel the weight of having less time ahead of me than I have behind me. I want my time to last as long as possible, and I want to use the remaining time I have on this planet to accomplish what I want. I’ve found that the more patient and mindful that I am in my everyday tasks, the days seem to slow down and last longer. And while patience is not about productivity, by practicing patience and attention we actually end up being more productive. Patience helps us to do everything we do at a higher level, and helps us be more present and really experience everything in our lives more fully.


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.
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
opinions

272 – Drop Your Opinions, Live Your Principles

Do your opinions get in your way? Do your opinions cause issues in your relationships? What would happen if you weren’t so attached to your opinions? Today I want to talk about why we should be willing to let go of attachments to our opinions and how doing so can help you live a happier life.

“Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth.”

— Marcus Aurelius

Perspectives

“Be disentangled from all perceptions. They are not you.”

— Brian Thompson

The stoics talk a lot about how our opinions are one of the things that cause us the most stress in our lives, and that we can, at any point, choose to not have an opinion about something. Now what exactly does this mean? I mean, the stoics seemed to have some pretty strong ideas about what life is about and how to live. Is this is ironic? Does it mean the stoic are wrong?

When the stoics talk about having an opinion on something, they recognized that an opinion is just our perspective on something. It is not something that is a fact. The problem is that we often treat them like facts, and get so attached to them that we’re willing to end friendships, and exclude people from our lives because they don’t hold the same opinions as we do.

Judgments

"It is not things themselves that disturb people, but their judgments about those things."

— Epictetus

First, lets talk about the different kinds of opinions that we have, and some of the downsides to each of them.

Opinions are often judgments that we have about something. Usually these are based on some experience we have which cause us to form an opinion around something. While taking time to judge things properly is important, we need to be careful that we don’t make sweeping judgments or fall into black and white thinking. For example, we might see some bad behavior by someone and make a judgement that they are a bad person without knowing the whole context of a situation.

Beliefs

“Opinion is the enemy of reason. We prefer the plausible to the true.”

—Epictetus

Beliefs are simple strongly held opinions. It is not something that is based on facts, because if it were based on facts, then it wouldn’t be something that you would need to believe in. Often, we will justify our opinion on something by claiming that it is something that we “believe”, but this doesn’t make it any less of an opinion, or immune from scrutiny. In fact, I think that it’s highly important that we examine the things that we claim as beliefs. Any time someone claims that they “believe” something, just remember that they are simply sharing their opinion.

Principles

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

— Marcus Aurelius

I also want to differentiate between something that is a principle versus something that is an opinion. Generally speaking, a principle is a fundamental, foundational value that guides our actions. An opinion, on the other hand, is a specific idea or view about something that may or may not be based on a principle.

In other words, a principle is like the foundation of a house, while opinions are the different rooms and decorations that can change over time. You may hold a principle of treating others with kindness, but have opinions about what kindness means in different situation. We may also have opinions that do not necessarily reflect any deeper principles, such as having an opinion about whether pineapple belongs on pizza, which of course it does.

Another key differentiation of principles and opinions is that principles tend to be focused on things that are in our control, like our own thoughts and actions, while opinions might be more focused on things that are outside of our control, like what others think or do.

Opinions

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

— Marcus Aurelius

So why do people hold onto and defend their opinions so strenuously?

Often, people defend their opinions because they are afraid of being wrong or looking foolish. The insecurity that comes from being wrong about something can drive people to defend their opinions, even if their opinion is unhelpful, damaging, or downright wrong.

Another reason why people feel such a strong attachment to their opinions that they want to feel certain about how they view the world. The world is a complex and confusing place that is not easy to understand or make sense of. For some, ambiguity and uncertainty are very uncomfortable, and so they look to find answers that make sense to them to reduce their anxiety. Often these ideas are not well thought out, but they speak to the persons preconceived ideas of how things are, so they latch onto them.

Another key idea in Stoicism is to recognize the role that emotions play in shaping our opinions. When we're attached to an opinion, it's often because we're feeling a strong emotion like anger, fear, or pride. If we can take a step back and try to identify the underlying emotion, we can then question whether it's serving us well.

Probably the biggest problem we run into with attachment to our opinions and beliefs is they can become part of our identity, meaning that we see our beliefs as part of our self concept or self image. We see letting go of a belief as letting go of a part of ourself. When we hold onto opinions this tightly, we feel like changing our opinion would threaten who we are as person, and in some cases, it threatens our reality.

Attachment

“Everywhere, at each moment, you have the option: to accept this event with humility; to treat this person as they should be treated; to approach this thought with care, so that nothing irrational creeps in.”

—Marcus Aurelius

So what happens when we hold on to our opinions too tightly?

When we're too attached to our opinions, we can become closed-minded, defensive, unwilling to change our minds, and even hostile toward others who disagree with us. In our need to be right, we can alienate others, such as friends and family members. This can make it harder to find common ground, come up with creative solutions, and understand where others are coming from. In other words, it can create rifts and make it harder to connect with others.

Growing up mormon, I lived in a culture that was so sure that their beliefs and opinions were the correct ones, that those with differing opinions were not welcomed. Because of this attitude, I’ve had friends who’ve been excluded from their families because they had different political opinions or religious beliefs. Their families decided that their attachment to their beliefs and opinions was more important than reaching out and trying to include those who thought differently.

Rightness

When we’re too attached to our opinions or beliefs, we can use them to justify things that actually go against our principles. We’ve seen throughout history that people believing in the rightness of their opinions or beliefs has led them to do pretty awful things. From the Crusades to slavery to the Nazis of World War II, we have seen what happens when groups of people have a belief or opinion that they want to force upon others.

No Opinion

“Intelligence consists of ignoring things that are irrelevant.”

— Nassim Nicholas Taleb

So how can we get better about being less attached to our opinions, and have opinions that better serve us?

There is nothing wrong with having opinions. As I said earlier, opinions are just our perspectives and judgments on the world. Having opinions on things is how we navigate the world. It’s our attachments to our opinions and beliefs that can cause us issues.

One of the things the stoic talk about is that we don’t have to have an opinion on everything. There are plenty of things that we don’t need to waste our energy on, because we have no control over them, nor do they have any impact on our lives whatsoever. For example, why would I care about what some celebrity wore to some awards show? It has no impact on my life, nor does my opinion of it impact anyone else’s life.

It’s Okay to be Wrong

“Strong opinions, loosely held.”

— Paul Saffo

“Uncertainty is an uncomfortable position. But certainty is an absurd one.”

— Voltaire

Another thing to realize is that you might be wrong. Your opinion is just an idea and perspective on something at a certain point in time. You should always be willing to update your opinions based upon new information because the world is always changing and you are always changing as well. It may mean that at some point in time you may hold the completely opposite opinion, or just not care about something because it doesn’t really matter in your life anymore.

I look back on a lot of the opinions I had when I was young and realize how uninformed they were. Some of that was because I just didn’t have enough information. Some of them were simply opinions that I inherited from my parents and the culture that I grew up in. I also just didn’t have enough experience in my life to really have an informed opinion.

Now that I’m older and have a lot more life experience, I can see how I held onto a lot of opinions that seemed so important I don’t even care about any more. I try to be more curious about other peoples opinions, and be open to them so that my opinions can be better informed.

Live Your Principles

“The universe is change; our life is what our thoughts make it.”

— Marcus Aurelius

Where our opinions are important is how well they help us live our principles, not be used as an excuse to skirt our principles. For example, if we claim to live the principle of justice, but we fail to uphold it for others that we deem undeserving based on something like their class, gender, or skin color, then we aren’t living by our principles. We have opinions we are using to selectively apply our principles. So when it comes to our opinions, we might ask, "Is holding this opinion useful?" and "Will this opinion make me more or less likely to act in accordance with my principles?"

We should also recognize that others may have different opinions on things, but can hold the same principles that we do. Often times is just that they have a different approach on how they think things need to be done. When we focus more on finding our common principles and less on our differences of opinion, it is more likely that we can find common ground to work together.

As I mentioned earlier, a lot of our opinions are about how we think other people should be or ways that they should behave. When we hold onto these opinions we end up driving others away from us because we think we have the right to tell others how they should act, and as the stoics taught, we don’t have control over other people.

When we’re willing to be less attached to our opinions, we are more likely to bring people closer to us. We are able to approach conversations with the goal of learning and understanding, rather than pushing them away because of our need to “win” be “right”. By cultivating an attitude of curiosity and openness toward others' perspectives, rather than immediately trying to refute or dismiss them, it allows us to see things from a different angle and perhaps gain a more nuanced understanding.

Conclusion

Everyone has opinions in life because it’s how we operate as humans. We hold onto ideas about how we think the world works, and they can help us make choices. But the more that we can be aware of our opinions, the better we can recognize that our opinions and beliefs are just our perspectives on something and not necessarily the truth about something. But most importantly, we need to make sure that our opinions don’t get in the way of living our principles.


Hello friends! Thanks for listening.
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Categories
self-improvement

264 – Personal Maintenance

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

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

— Thibaut

Personal Maintenance

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

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

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

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

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

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

Never Done

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

— Epictetus

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

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

Doing > Achieving

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

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

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

Big Effort, Little Maintenance

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

— Lao Tzu

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

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

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

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

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

Do It Well

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

— Ancient proverb

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

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

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

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

Do Hard Things

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

— David Goggins

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

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

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

Reduce

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

—Bruce Lee

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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


Hello friends! Thank you for listening. Stop by the website at 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
wisdom

240 – Interview with Trever Yarrish

Interview with Trever Yarrish
Interview with Trever Yarrish

Trever Yarrish is the owner and founder of Zeal Software and The Hiive co-working space. He is also a good friend and one of my favorite people to chat with about stoicism. He's an avid student of stoicism and brings many of the stoic principles and ideas into his companies and his personal life. We sat down and had a chat about life, work, family, and the importance of having a process for managing your mind and emotions.

Books mentioned in the podcast:
The Power of Giving Away Power
Existential Kink


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

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

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

Find me on instagram or twitter.

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

Categories
wisdom

239 – Lessons Learned

Lessons Learned
The Universe is Change

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lesson One: Failure is just missed expectations.

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

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

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

― Epictetus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Seneca.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Find me on instagram or twitter.

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

Categories
Thinking

231 – A Model of Thinking

A Model of Thinking
Photographer: 919039361464473

The stoics teach us that we have control over a few things – our thoughts, our choices, and our actions. In short, our will. So is there a way that we can get better with our thinking, and improve our outcomes? Today I want to talk about a model that can help us be more aware of how our thinking impacts us, and with that awareness, improve our lives.

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

—Marcus Aurelius

Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth.

Marcus Aurelius

One of the most important things that the stoics teach us is that our thinking, one of the only things that we have control over, is one of the most important things in determining whether we are successful in accomplishing the things we want to in life, and ultimately what determines our happiness. Because we can only experience life through our own subjective experience, we are the ones that ultimately determine how we judge what happens to us, and what meaning we give to those things.

A simple example of this is how the same thing can happen to different people, with wildly different outcomes simply because of the perspective a person has on something. For example, in study after study, people who suffered traumatic injuries such as losing limb or severe burns report that the initial impact of the injury can certainly cause depressions, anxiety, and other issues. But over time, most people end up reporting that their level of happiness returns to basically where it was before the accident. If they were happy before, they generally are happy afterwards. If they were depressed, they generally fall back into their same way of being.

There have also been studies on how people who have a sudden windfall of wealth through inheritance, the lottery, or some other channel, report that even with all this sudden good luck, after a few weeks or months the shine wears off and they are as happy or unhappy as they were before coming into wealth. Often when we get exactly what we want – a raise, a new car, or something else that we thought would bring us happiness, we find that it is only temporary.

So why is it that even when we change our circumstances to something that we are sure will make us happy, we often end up right back where we were? Because no matter what the circumstances are, we are still the same people. We still have the same way of thinking, and how we think, and the meaning that we give to things have a far greater impact on us than the circumstances themselves.

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

— Epictetus

So how do we get better at improving our thinking? As with most things, it comes down to awareness. If you want to know why you’re getting the results you’re getting, you need to know what you are thinking.

I’ve mentioned one of my favorite life coaches, Brooke Castillo several times on this podcast, and one of the best things that she teaches is what she calls “The Model”. The Model, is basically a simple yet powerful outline of how our minds work. It’s not anything new, and these ideas have been around for millennia, but it’s a nice encapsulation of what the stoics teach, so I’m going to share it with you here.

The first part of the Model are Circumstances. These are what the stoics would label as externals. This includes circumstances and events that happen. It’s simple what life brings your way. When you think of circumstances, they are things that are purely factual. They are things that you could prove in a court of law. Things like, “it is raining”, or “that car is red”, or “I am 50 years old”.

The next part are Thoughts. When you encounter circumstances and events, you have certain thoughts around them. This included both conscious and unconscious thoughts. This is the story that you are telling yourself about these events and circumstances, and what you think they mean. These are not facts, but rather your judgments, opinions, and impressions.

The next part is Emotions. Emotions are caused by your thinking. When you tell yourself a story about the things that are happening, you create emotions. You feel something. That could be anxiety. It could be joy. It could be fear. Whatever you are feeling, it is caused by your thinking.

The next part is Actions. Our actions are driven by our emotions. Emotion comes from the Latin “emovere”, which means to “move out, remove, agitate”. It’s from the same root as motive, motor, move, and momentum. Emotions are the things that get us to make choices, and take action.

The last part of the Model is Results. When we make choices and take action, we get results of some kind.

So how can we use this model in our lives?

If you want to understand how you are dealing with something in your life, you can use the model to help clarify why you are getting the results you have in your life. By filling in the information in each of these sections, you can get a rough but clearer picture of what’s going on.

If you’re in a place where you can sit down, I want you to pull out a blank sheet of paper. I want you to write down these 5 section, and give yourself some space to write next to them:

Circumstances

Thoughts

Emotions

Actions

Results

So let’s take an example and fill out each of these lines. The nice thing is that you can start with any section.

Let’s say that you get into an argument with your significant other at least once a week about the dishes. You get frustrated with them for just leaving the dishes in the sink rather than putting them in the dishwasher as you would prefer. Let’s fill in the lines and see how we can be more aware of our thinking. Remember, these can be done in any order. It’s kind of like putting a puzzle together, though for this for this exercise I’ll go in order just to illustrate the ideas.

In the Circumstances line we put, “My partner leaves dishes in the sink”, and “I have asked them to put them in the dishwasher.” That’s it. Those are the only facts in this story.

Let’s fill in the thinking line. “When my partner doesn’t put the dishes in the dishwasher, I feel like they are disrespecting me and they are doing it just to upset me.”

Next let’s fill in the Emotion line. You would write down something like, “I feel frustrated” or “I feel angry”. Remember these are emotions. You can’t put something like, “I feel ignored” because being ignored is an action attributed to the other person, and also, ignored is not an emotion.

In the Action line we would write, “I complain to my partner about dirty dishes being left in the sink.”

Lastly, in the Result line we might put something like, “My partner feels like they are being attacked and storms off”.

Once you have this filled out, you have a little bit more clarity into the situation. You can examine the thoughts you have around the situation. In this example, the thoughts are projecting a motive onto your partner. They may or may not be doing it to purposely upset you, but because of those thoughts, you feel angry, which drives you to complain to your partner, and start up the conflict again. When you are able to change your thinking around the situation, it can change your emotions and actions, which lead to different results.

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

Marcus Aurelius

In short, if your dealing with an issue and want to have some clarity around it, using this simple model is a great way to examine the situation a little more rationally. It’s a framework to start from to help you see where you may have some thinking errors. It can also be used in a positive light. If you are trying to get a certain kind of result, try filling this out and seeing what kind of thinking and actions might help you achieve the results you want.

Think clearly from the ground up. Understand and explain from first principles. Ignore society and politics. Acknowledge what you have. Control your emotions.

Naval Ravikant

Let’s say that you want to meditate for 30 minutes a day, but you find it challenging to do. Put “I want to mediate for 30 minutes a day” in the Results line. In the Actions line, you might put, “I schedule a break at 10 am on my calendar”. In the Emotions line, you might have something like, “I am excited about my 30 minutes”. In the Circumstances you might have, “I have a space in my house with pillows near a window.” And in the Thoughts line? “I know that after each session I feel more relaxed and feel more clear in my thinking.”

The mind is a pretty complex thing, but helping to gain some clarity in our own thinking can really make a world of difference. Using a model like this is a way to help improve our awareness of our thoughts and how that thinking leads to the results we get. And while this model is not all encompassing, it’s a great starting point to gaining insight to the stories we tell ourselves, which drive the actions we take, and the results we get.


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

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

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

Find me on instagram or twitter.

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

Categories
other people

230 – Our Human Contract

Our Human Contract
Ignorance leads to fear…

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

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

— Ibn Rushd

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Seneca

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

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

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

— Marcus Aurelius

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

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

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

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

— Epictetus

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

— Mokokoma Mokhonoana

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

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

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

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

— Epictetus

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

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

— Confucius

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

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

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

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

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


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

229 – Conscious Communcation

Conscious Communication

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

— Epictetus

Have you ever thought about how often we have judgments in our language? Are you even aware of how often we communicate our opinions and feelings about others? What if we could remove judgments from our language? Today I want to talk about ways that we can make our language more clear, and increase our ability to communicate non-judgmentally with others.

A few months ago I picked up a book called Nonviolent Communication by Marshall Rosenburg. The idea behind nonviolent communication, or alternatively what the author calls conscious communication is that there are many aspects of how we speak, and the way we hear things that cloud communication with others.

There are many aspects of nonviolent communication, but the part that I want to focus on in the podcast is one idea in particular. That idea is if we could strip out the judgments from our communication, then we could communicate more clearly with each other. Doing so would allow us to deal with issues for what they are rather than all the judgments about the issues, which often become a distraction or even a roadblock in communicating with others.

The process of communicating this way is not an easy because unconsciously we make all kinds of judgments in our language. Most of those judgments are what the author calls moralistic judgments, which are judgements about the rightness or wrongness of other according to our values. Each of us make value judgements about what principles we hold and how we think the world could best be served. When we make moralistic judgments we are comparing others to our ideal of what we think they should be or how they should act.

For example, if someone cuts us off in traffic, “they are an idiot”. If we think someone isn’t working hard enough, “they’re lazy”. If we don’t like the way someone dresses, “they’re dressed inappropriately”. All day long we are passing judgments on others, and ourselves, and we’re usually not all that aware that we’re doing it, and if we’re honest with ourselves, the stronger we feel about something, the more intense our judgment is about the idea.

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing there is a field. I’ll meet you there.

—Rumi

When we focus too much on classifying how good or bad or to what level others or ourselves are in relation to what we think they should be, we’re not paying attention to what other person, or ourselves might need. For example, if our significant other is wanting more affection from us than what we we’re giving, we might judge them as being too needy or clingy. We might argue with them to stop being so clingy or make it mean that we’re not good enough for them, rather than noticing they have some need that isn’t being fulfilled.

Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.

—Carl Jung

So how can we get better about communicating is ways that carry less judgment? As with most things, it takes awareness. Until we are aware that we’re doing this every day, it makes it challenging to change our behavior. The better we get at noticing when we’re passing judgement, the more progress we can make.

What it really comes down to is how well we can observe something or someone without evaluating. A way to practice this is to take whatever it is we’re saying and distill it to just the facts. If we only say the things in it that are verifiable or provable then we are already making a big step towards conscious communication.

In the book there is a great example where the author is working with a group of teachers who are frustrated with the principle because they feel he talks too much and overruns conversations. He asks the teachers what the issue is, and their answers include statements like, “He has a big mouth”, “He talks too much”, and “He thinks only he has anything worth saying”. All of these statements are judgements or inferences about the principle and not evaluations. It took some work to help these teachers come up with a list of specific behaviors and the outcomes of those behaviors, such as because of his extra story telling, meetings almost always ran over their time limit. Learning to separate our judgements from observations is not an easy thing to do, but pays huge dividends in communicating with others.

A simple exercise that can help us be more aware of the judgments we make is to practice separating observations from judgments. For example, if we meet someone, rather than thinking about how attractive or unattractive they are or how humorous or boring they are, we can practice just noticing factual things about them first. We can notice the color of their eyes, how tall they are, or the length of their hair. After that, we can pay attention to the opinions that we form about them, such as, “They have a pleasant speaking voice”, “They’re too tall or short”, or “They have great taste in clothes”.

Another key part of conscious communication is that we own our judgments, opinions, and feelings about a situation. If we think someone is lazy, rather than declaring that they are lazy, we can simply say, “In my opinion I think that someone that works less than 60 hours a week is lazy.” It is still a judgment, but we are owning that we are making a judgment. If we have a friend that dominates conversations, we might say, “I feel frustrated when talking with you when you interrupt me and don’t let me finish my thoughts.”

Let’s a talk a little more about value judgments. Value judgments in and of themselves are not bad. We each have principles and ideals that are important to us. We may value honesty or kindness or compassion or a host of other ideals that help us decide how we want to show up in the world. When expressing these ideals we also need to be careful not to attach judgments to them. When we express our values, we can do so in a way that expresses our feelings about it, without passing judgments on others.

For example, if we think that honesty is a very important principle, we might say, “I value honesty and people who are dishonest are awful and should be fed to a pack of coyotes.”, which obviously has a strong judgment attached to it. Instead we could say, “I value honesty, and I understand how it can be hard to do, so appreciate it when others are honest with me.”

The last bit of advice I can offer on this topic is to try and be more compassionate with your communication. Before you say something to someone, think about how it might be received. Think about how you might receive it. Is it something that would upset you if your friend or partner said it to you? Is there a way that you can remove any judgements and just state the facts? Are you saying this because you are trying to get the other person to change? The closer you can get to just stating the facts, taking out judgments, and not placing blame or having expectations, the easier it will be to work on the root of the issue, and avoid getting into an argument about how you think they are right or wrong.

One of the most important skills that we can develop in our lives is communicating with other people, and nonviolent communication is a process that can help communicate more clearly. The more conscious we become about how we’re communicating, the better we can connect with others. By learning how to separate our judgements and opinions from our observations we more likely to have our concerns received better, as well as keep the conversation focused on the real issue, and not our opinions about the issue.


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.

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Categories
wisdom

226 – Cognitive Dissonance

Cognitive Dissonance
It’s the Truth I’m After

Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth.

— Marcus Aurelius

Today I want to talk about one of the most interesting things about humans, the fact that we cling so dearly to our belief systems in face of contradiction evidence, often to our own detriment.

Why do humans resist changing their minds, even in the face of overwhelming evidence? How often have you changed your opinions when presented with new facts? How often have you actually changed your behavior when you learned new information? How often to you rationalize your opinion or simply deny facts because they don’t fit your belief system?

The human mind is a very malleable and flexible thing. It is because of this flexibility that we are able to survive in all kinds of environments and circumstances. Over time and through experience, we develop a belief system of how the world works. Much of this comes from the circumstances we grow up in. The culture around us, the family we are born into, even the physical surroundings can inform and influence our belief system.

A big reason why we have this ability is that the brain is a pretty good prediction machine, but it needs to have principles and ideas to work from. It’s job is taking past experiences and merging it with current information to try and predict what will happen next. It is precisely this ability that helps us to survive.

As a child, it is easy to be more flexible with our thinking, simply because we are inexperienced and don’t have a lot of knowledge. Everything is new to us at some point, so we’re naturally curious because just don’t know. Our brains are looking for more information and experiences in order to make better predictions. We try things and see how they work or don’t work, and adjust our expectations accordingly. With each new bit of information we’re able to make better predictions to help us survive, and ultimately thrive.

But while the human mind is flexible and adaptable, as we age, it takes effort to keep this flexibility of thinking. As we gain more and more knowledge and experience we are usually able to make better predictions of how we think things work. These in turn inform our opinions and judgments and hopefully help us navigate the world in a safe way so that we might live long and prosper. Where we run into trouble is when we decide that we have enough knowledge and information and turn those opinions and judgements into beliefs.

Often though, we are simply given beliefs by those we trust. This includes family, friends, teachers, leaders – anyone that we consider an authority. Many beliefs we pick up are not well tested or thought out. They are just ideas that have been around for a while. Many ideas are tenacious not because they are right, but because they reach a critical mass within a culture or community. Superstitions, religious beliefs, conspiracy theories are prime examples. Pretty much anything that is taken as truth without little to no evidence, site dubious sources, or are not open to exploration with new information can be categorized as beliefs.

A mark of an open mind is being more committed to your curiosity that to your convictions. The goal of learning is not to shield old views against new facts. It’s to revise old views to incorporate new facts. Ideas are possibilities to explore, not certainties to defend.

— Adam Grant

When something becomes a belief, whether from external influences or ones that we have created ourselves from our own experience, it turns into something that we no longer question, but defend from anything that might threaten that belief.

So why do we find it so hard to change our beliefs? What’s in us that we will deny and fight for our belief, even in the face of overwhelming evidence that we are wrong? What is the benefit of acting this way?

When we have a deeply engrained belief, and we come upon new information that shows that we could be wrong, we start to feel cognitive dissonance. Basically, when the mind has two or more contradictory beliefs, we start to feel tension as we grapple with the fact that something we thought was true, might not be true.

When we feel this disharmony, we have a number of options that we can take. We can take in the new information, adjust this belief that we have which will in turn change our behavior. We can can rationalize and make excuses for why it doesn’t really apply in this case so that we can hold onto our belief. Or, as what happens in many cases, we ignore or deny the information and go on holding the same belief.

Since our minds want to resolve this tension, it often takes the last option of just ignoring or denying the evidence in front of us is the easiest option. It’s the one that takes the least amount of work, and allows us to simply go on living like we had before. Change takes work and our minds are lazy and want to hold onto the status quo.

Most of us like to think that we’re good about receiving new information and adjusting our opinions and behaviors accordingly. But this is something that we all do, often without even really thinking about it. To illustrate this, I’d like to take an example from daily life. How often have you rationalized eating something that you know is bad for you, but you don’t want to give up? Maybe it’s your favorite ice cream or cookies whatever it is, you can find all kinds of ways to rationalize why you don’t have to give it up. You’ll point out that it has some healthy ingredients or that it’s convince yourself that it’s not that bad. Whereas if you were honest with yourself and truly wanted to eat healthier, you would simply remove it from your diet.

In my own life, it took me decades to let go of my religious beliefs, even though they never felt right to me. I had been told for so long from so many people I loved and trusted, that anytime something would come up that contradicted what I had been taught, I would find some way to rationalize it, or ignore it because I was scared to give up this belief. But once I finally had enough evidence that the church was a fabrication from it’s founder, I could no longer in good conscience stay in the church and so I left.

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

So how can be better about integrating new information into our way of viewing the world so that we have more informed opinions?

I think the Buddha was on to something when he said that the cause of suffering is attachment, and in this case we get attached to our ideas and beliefs to the point where we feel threatened when something comes along that might disprove them. Our ego identifies with these beliefs, and if we’re wrong we often feel like that means there is something wrong with us. When we can learn to be less attached to these beliefs and develop a mindset of curiosity, then we can take in information without feeling threatened. We can actually seek out information to see if we can prove that our idea is wrong so that we can get closer to the truth much quicker.

This kind of approach is not easy though. It means that we have to become more mindful of our thinking. We need to pay attention to when we’re feeling defensive about something because that is often a signal that we are feeling threatened by something. We also need to notice when we feel fear in our bodies. If we’re not in physical danger but we’re afraid because of what someone is saying, we should probably look closer at why we’re afraid.

While I like to think that I’m good a this, it has taken a lot of effort to not be as reactive and not feel like I have to defend my ideas. I still fail from time to time, and end up feeling defensive and end up in arguments, but I’ve certainly made progress on that front. I’m better about recognizing when I start to feel defensive about things. I pay attention to my body and any physical sensations. I try to ask questions, to help move me into a space of curiosity and learning, and out of that space of having to prove that I’m right.

Developing a mindset of curiosity takes mindfulness, patience, and a willingness to learn over wanting to be right, and is something that can greatly enhance our lives and relationships.


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.

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Categories
Coffee Break

223 – Changing Others

Changing Others
Epictetus

Living on this planet with other people can be very challenging at times. If you’re like me, sometimes you have a strong difference of opinion with someone, and you end up in an argument and spend a lot of time and energy trying to change the other persons mind. We see this play out on social media as well where people spend a lot of time and energy trying to debate other people to get them to change. Watching this behavior in myself and others, makes me ask the question:

Why do we spend so much time trying to change other people or expecting that other people will change for us?

We know that we cannot change others, but there’s a part of us that wants the world to change for us. Our brain looks for threats and danger outside of ourselves in order to keep us safe. When we’re uncomfortable, it’s challenging to just sit with those things that are uncomfortable so we look for a cause outside of ourselves. Maybe we don’t like what someone else said, or we disagree with their opinion. We think that if the other person would behave or think differently, then we would be happier. Rather than spending our time and energy looking inside and finding what we control in the situation, we try to change what we think is the cause.

The problem is that we misidentify the cause of our distress. We think the cause is someone or something else, but really it comes down to the story that we’re telling ourself. It’s the meaning that we give to what the other person said or did. We take their actions and words and interpret them to suit the narrative that going on in our minds. We spin what they other person says in a negative or positive light depending out our opinion of them.

One of the main reasons that we may try to change other people is that we want others to think like us. Human beings are very social animals and fitting in with others is very important. It’s part of what helps our survival. If there are more people who think like us, then we feel like our worldview is correct, and we feel safer. We feel like we’re part of how the world is supposed to be. When others disagree with us, we may feel like our worldview is under threat, which causes us to feel uncomfortable or even hostile. When it comes to an opinion that we hold very strongly, we may unconsciously feel fear when something comes along and challenges our beliefs. We don’t like the tension and so we try to change the other persons opinion.

I also think as humans we’re all a little lazy, or more to the point, our brains are lazy tries to be efficient. Taking time to figure out where we might be wrong or to figure out the the things we can control takes time and cognitive energy. It also takes energy to actually control the things we can. If we can get someone else to do the work, then we don’t have to. The problem with expecting others to do this kind of work, and to change for us, is that it makes others resentful, and the changes that we need to make don’t happen. Also, in the long run it means a lot more work for us if we expect others to change for us, we have to somehow convince all those other people to change to fit our worldview.

When someone is properly grounded in life, they shouldn’t have to look outside themselves for approval.

— Epictetus

So how do we work with this? How can we get better about recognizing and staying in a place where we don’t need to change other people in order for us to feel happy?

I think the first thing we need to do is ask ourselves why it is important that we change this other person? What do we get if they change their mind? What happens if they don’t? What are you making it mean if this person has a different opinion? What’s the story you’re telling yourself?

I think a lot of this behavior comes from insecurity. When we are insecure, we need others to agree with us in order for us to feel okay with ourselves. Our ego needs that validation in order for us to feel okay.

When we are comfortable with ourselves, we don’t need others to agree with us. Just as we wouldn’t argue with someone over whether 1 + 1 = 2, if we are really secure with ourselves, we would not feel threatened over someone disagreeing with us.

Don’t argue with people nor insist on showing them truth. Maybe it is you who needs to change your mind. Even if you are right you only incur resentment by trying to correct others.

—The Ancient Sage (@theAncientSage)

We also need to consider the fact that we might be the one who is wrong. Just because you think something and have an opinion about something does not mean that you are correct and the other person is not. When we take the time to really consider someone else’s opinion, we may find some problems with the opinion that we are holding. We would just realize that we had bad information and could adjust accordingly.

Lastly, we need to recognize that when we expect others to change for us, we give our power away because we are basing our comfort or happiness upon someone else changing for us. When we expect others to change for us, we are placing ourselves in the role of a victim. We’re unhappy and won’t feel happy until someone else changes and does what we want them to. Not a good way to to find equanimity.

Learning to let go of our ego and of our need to have other people think like we do can reduce a lot of stress in our lives. When we can listen to and be curious about other peoples opinions without taking it to mean that we’re wrong if we don’t agree with them. We can expand our worldview while at the same time preserve our equanimity.


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.

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Categories
Control

222 – Power Over Your Mind

Photographer: 919039361464473

The stoics are pretty clear that we control very little on our lives, but we do control the one thing that will make the biggest impact on our lives – our own minds.

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

—Marcus Aurelius

I like to think of this idea in two different ways. First, you have power over your mind, but not power over outside events. This lesson is challenging in so many ways because we want to have some semblance of control over our world. When we embrace this idea, it can be scary because we realize that we have so little control. Accidents, natural disasters, actions of others are all examples of things that we have no control over, yet can change our lives in profound ways.

I think that so much of the stress and anxiety we have in our lives comes from worrying about things that we have little or no control over. When we can learn to let go of what we do not control, we can release a lot of stress in our lives.

A good example of this is when I’ve applied for jobs in the past. Often I’d be really excited about a position, but after my interview I would be so stressed out waiting to hear if I got the job or not. Because I wanted the job so badly I would feel anxious because I had no control over it. There could be other people that were more qualified than I. There could be internal factors at the company that I had no influence over.

As I got older and wiser, I better able to handle waiting to hear back on job. I would do my best in the interview, then simply let go of any expectations, almost as if I had never even applied for the job. If I got the job, I was excited. If not, it wasn’t as big of a deal because I recognized that I did my part, and the rest was out of my hands.

The second way to look at this quote is that you have power over your mind, but outside events do not. Learning to recognize how you let outside events influence you is hard. Part of being a stoic is developing mental discipline so that outside events don’t have an outsized impact on your well being. I know that I often struggle and get spun out when things don't go my way. But the thing is, when we let outside events disrupt our well being, it doesn't change that outside event, and it often makes things worse.

Having a clear idea of what we can and can't control is for me the most fundamental principle of stoicism, and almost every other idea flows from there. This is also one of the easier concepts to understand, but so hard to actually implement. I know that I will spend the rest of my life trying to get a handle on this one principle.

How do you manage to clearly divide what you can and can't control? I think one of the biggest tools is to ask yourself a simple question: Have I taken action on everything that is in my power? Sometimes talking over your options with a friend or writing them down can help clarify what you have control over.

Self-control is strength. Right thought is mastery. Calmness is power.

—James Allen

This is one of my favorite quotes because it encapsulates several simple yet powerful inter-related principles of how to have more control over your mind. Each of these principles help support one another. When we master one, we are strengthened in the others. In a word, we become more anti-fragile – challenges don't weaken us, but actually do the opposite and help use become stronger and more resilient.

When we work to control ourselves, we develop strength of will. This means that when we set out to accomplish something, we are able to direct our minds and our bodies in situations where others slack off or quit. We are better able to ignore distractions. We are better able to ignore others that might try to interfere or keep us from reaching our goals.

When we practice right thinking, we become masters of our minds. We maximize the effect of useful thoughts, and we are aware of and minimize the damage of unhelpful thought patterns. We are better able to cheer ourselves on, and minimize the negative self talk that often derails us even before we get started. The more we master our thinking, the stronger our will.

When we are angry or upset, our mental abilities decline. We are less able to think creatively. Our vision narrows and we miss other options and possibilities. When we stay calm and keep our cool, we retain our power. We are able to think clearer and direct our will. In challenging situations, when others are losing their shit, we are able to not only survive, but thrive.

For me, taking some time each day to meditate helps me to cultivate more discipline over my mind. I get to know how I think and what I think. I learn the ways that I try to self-sabotage because of insecurities and self doubt, and build up defenses against them.

When we take the time to slow down and recognize what we're thinking, we are able to recognize those things that are outside of ourselves, and the impact they have on us. Whether that's the actions of other people or the weather or traffic or any other ousted event, cultivating self-awareness through mindfulness and meditation is the best tool to take control over our minds.


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

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

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Categories
philosophy stoicism

215 – The Space Between

"When force of circumstance upsets your equanimity, lose no time in recovering your self-control, and do not remain out of tune longer than you can help. Habitual recurrence to the harmony will increase your mastery of it.”
― Marcus Aurelius

Over the past few weeks, I've been thinking a lot about equanimity and how it may be the most important idea that the stoics came up with. And the more I look into it, the more I see that this is the one of the most important principles, and a foundation for being able to apply the other principles more effectively. We can also see how important this is in other traditions such as Buddhism, especially Zen Buddhism, also promotes the idea of calming the mind as one of the highest virtues.

So why would this be the case?

I used to think that equanimity was a byproduct of following stoic principles. That if you learned to control what you can, and let go of the rest, then you could find more peace of mind. But the more I dig into it, the more I find it is almost the opposite. The calmer your mind, the easier it is to see what is under your control and what is not. The more you can keep an even keel, the more you can make better decisions under pressure.

Now don't get me wrong, practicing stoic principles can certainly help you have a calmer mind. When you learn to identify what you can't control and let go of those things, it certainly can reduce stress in your life. But if you are constantly feeling stressed, this process is much harder because you're starting out at a disadvantage.

Taking the time to practice mindfulness puts you at an advantage because you're already in a state of mind that is helpful. It's like the difference between preparing for a fight versus just being tossed into the ring at a moment's notice. Equanimity, mindfulness, meditation… all of these should not just be an afterthought, or "nice to have", but should be considered essential tools to your stoic practice.

Stimulus and Response

Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. 
—Viktor Frankl

When you are upset, you are likely to sacrifice the wellbeing of tomorrow to appease the hurt feelings of today. Not a good trade. Subject your emotions to a cooling-off period before you allow them to guide major decisions.
—@TheStoicEmperor

One of the most important things that being mindful helps us do is think long term. If we are able to take that space between stimulus and response, and choose our response rather than just react, we are able to choose things that will benefit us better in the long run. If we are constantly in a space of reactivity, we let our emotions override our rationality and often do things that might feed whatever we need in the short term, but can have long term negative consequences. We are also less in command of ourselves and are much more easily controlled by others.

When can learn to take that moment to make a choice rather than react is one of the most powerful things that we can learn to do in our lives. Giving ourselves the power to choose how we respond in any situation is the ultimate expression of self control and power. The fact that we are always looking to make a choice, means that it's more likely we'll respond in a way we are proud of, and that ultimately leads to better outcomes for ourselves and those around us.

Monkey Mind

Peace. It does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble or hard work. It means to be in the midst of those things and still be calm in your heart. 
— Anonymous

Meditation and mindfulness are not the easiest things to do. Our minds are always on the run. The Buddhist have a great term for this called the "monkey mind". For many of us, when things get quiet, we get anxious and it feels like our minds are spinning even faster. What's really going on is that when you are not focusing on something, you see how busy your mind actually is. There is nothing wrong with this, it just is.

The most important thing that you can do with meditating is not to try and not think about anything, but to become more aware of what you're thinking. Meditation and mindfulness are just practices in awareness with each breath being like an anchor to maintain your state of observation. You take a breath, you notice a thought, you breathe out and just watch where the thought goes. Repeat.

Meditation and Mindfulness

Meditation is intermittent fasting for the mind. Too much sugar leads to a heavy body, and too many distractions lead to a heavy mind. Time spent undistracted and alone, in self-examination, journaling, meditation, resolves the unresolved and takes us from mentally fat to fit.
— Naval Ravikant

A skilled warrior controls and tames their anger and uses it as fuel when necessary, but never lets it drive their choices and actions. They know that letting anger or fear drive their actions is more dangerous than any enemy they may face. Doing our best to cultivate a mind that is thoughtful, calm, and patient prepares us to be more resilient when we feel anger or fear and want to lash out and say or do impulsive things.

Like most things, it's always challenging to take what we know and turn it into what we do. Turning our daily practice of mindfulness into something that we do as a habit is something we need to practice as often as possible. And the thing is that we will fail, because if we never failed, we would never need to be mindful because we would just be mindful all the time. We will fail in our practice, and then we'll remember to be mindful, which we will do for a while, until we forget, and then remember to be mindful…and repeat.

This never ending cycle becomes part of our practice to be a little better each day. To be a little more present each day. To live up to our ideals a little more closely each day. This is one of those ideas that is obvious, but still not easy to always follow. A good way to help set the stage is making a practice of meditation each morning to or journalling start the day off are always good ways to set the stage for the day. Then it's just about refocusing your awareness throughout the day with being mindful.

So what’s a simple way to practice mindfulness? Think of it like this: Just as a normal meditation practice is all about awareness of your thinking and bringing focus back to your breathing when your mind wanders off, mindfulness is a reoccurring meditation that you do throughout your day, to bring your awareness to your thinking. When you do this, you remind yourself to be as present as possible, to not worry about things from the past, because they cannot be changed, and to not stress about future events because they are unknown and have not yet arrived.

Conclusion

When you can be better about living in the present, which is what mindfulness is all about, you will be more attentive and deliberate about what you are working on. When you are more deliberate, you bring more of your faculties to bear, you do better work, and you make better decisions. When you practice meditation, you deliberately choosing to develop equanimity rather than just hoping that it just happens.


Hello friends! Thank you for listening. If this podcast speaks to you, join us over in the Stoic Coffee House. The Stoic Coffee House is a community built around the ideas of stoicism and the Stoic Coffee Break  podcast.
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Categories
Responsibility

208 – Radical Candor

208- Radical Candor

It never ceases to amaze me: we all love ourselves more than other people, but care more about their opinion than our own.

– Marcus Aurelius

Are you afraid to tell others what you really think or how you really feel? In this episode I want to talk about the idea of radical candor, and how committing to being honest about what you think and feel is one of the most challenging but rewarding things you can do.

Radical Candor

Let year I watched the TV series Picard, and one of the more interesting things I like about it was that there was order among the Romulans who follow a code of absolute candor. I really liked this idea because they do their best to be as truthful as possible, and they hold themselves to a high standard of being responsible for everything they say.

But radical candor is more than just saying what you think. It’s about being honest about how you feel about things. You’re not only being honest with others, you’re also being honest with yourself. And if you’re being responsible for everything you put out into the world, it gives you the opportunity to examine what you really think and feel about a situation.

Say What You Mean

When you decide to adopt radical candor, you speak clearly and honestly. You say what you really mean, and you mean exactly what you say. You don’t obfuscate or toss out ambiguous statements. When you don’t know something, you simply say you know, and you don’t pretend like you have all the answers.

Fear

So why don’t we practice radical candor as a society? Because we’re afraid of what other people will think of us. We’re afraid they might get upset by what we have to say, or they may no longer love us or they’ll possibly disown us. I know that in the culture I grew up in, I was afraid to say what I really thought about a lot of things at church because I was afraid I’d get in trouble. Questioning church doctrine was something that was frowned upon in the mormon church. If something didn’t make sense or was contradicted by evidence, you were told that you just needed to have more faith and trust the leaders. Asking too many questions made people uncomfortable. It was more important to be loyal than to be honest.

Lying

Some might think that radical candor would not be a good way to live your life, because we all have to “lie” from time to time to smooth things over. That if we went around telling the truth, we would simply ruffle too many feathers. Let’s consider lying from a stoic perspective. Is it okay to lie? What is the purpose of lying to someone? The purpose of lying is to deceive someone. When you lie to others, you are trying to control them. You are trying to make them feel something, or spare them from feeling something. You are trying to control or influence their actions based upon getting them riled up or upset, or convince them that situation is something other than it is. I would say from a stoic perspective, we should not lie.

Helpful

Sometimes, one of the most heartbreaking things for me to watch was American Idol. With thousands of contestants wanting to give it a shot, there were often people that would get up in front of the judges who clearly could not sing. Often it was Simon that would be the bearer of bad news and let them know that they didn’t have what it takes to continue on. But what was more heartbreaking than watching Simon put the kibosh on their dreams was the fact that no one close to these people ever took the time to be honest with them. If someone had stepped in earlier and said, “Hey, do you really want to be a singer? Then I would recommend finding a good singing coach.” That would have given them time and opportunity to develop the skills needed to compete.

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

—Thucydides

In Practice

So what would radical candor look like in practice? Does this mean that you would just be sitting around singing Kumbaya and sharing your feelings? Sure it could mean that. But in a more practical sense, it means taking time to think about what you have to say. When interacting with others, are you saying what you really think or feel or are you just running your mouth to fill the space? Are you expressing yourself clearly or are you leaving things vague and open to interpretation? The main reason behind radical candor is honest and clear communication.

Radical candor is about respecting yourself. It is about recognizing that you have the right to your own thoughts and opinions. It means that you when someone asks for your opinion about something, you do your best to be honest every time, even if it makes you or the other person uncomfortable. It means that you stand by the things you say, and just as important, that you take ownership of the things you say. You don’t change your opinion just please someone else, or try to spin things so they don’t upset some other person.

Not a Weapon

An important thing to remember is that radical candor is not a weapon. It is not an excuse to be an ass because you’re “just being honest”. It is not forcing your opinion on someone else or to shut down discussion by digging in your heels because you “have the truth”. Radical candor is about open and honest communication. It is about giving our honest opinion about something. It is about trying to express the world as closely as you see it. It’s telling your truth with clarity and compassion.

When you share your opinion about something, just remember it is just your opinion. It does not mean you have to tell the other person they are wrong. You can hold a different opinion than someone else. They don’t have to agree with you, and it is always possible that your opinion is incorrect.

Reciprocation

If you plan on adopting radical candor, then you need to be open to the being on the receiving end. In fact, you should welcome others to speak openly and honestly. Think of how your relationships would improve if you encouraged others to honest about what they really felt? There would be less having to guess what someone “really” means. There would be less miscommunication with other people because you are focused on trying to communicate clearly. It would engender a greater sense of trust because others would know that you really wanted to know what they think or feel.

Boundaries

Radical candor is also how you set boundaries with other people. It means that you’re honest about what you are willing to do or not do, and what is acceptable for how others should treat you.

Privacy

Nothing says you have to tell everyone everything that you think or know. You can always choose not to share your opinion. If someone presses you to talk about something that you don’t want to, you can let them know that this is a topic that you are not interested in talking about. This is being honest about what you think.

Confidence

Probably the hardest part about absolute candor is the fact that it takes confidence to say what you really think and feel and stick with it. If you’re not used to having your opinion heard or you’re insecure, then stepping up and voicing your opinion can be downright scary. But the more you step up and state what you think and feel, the more confident you’ll become. It becomes a virtuous self reenforcing cycle.

And the thing is, you’re probably going to ruffle some feathers, especially if there are people in your life that you have previously hidden your true thoughts and feelings from. There are people who may not like what you have to say. But if they don’t like the real you, why would you want to spend time with people that you have to pretend to be something other than who you really are?

Conclusion

Adopting a practice of radical candor is difficult. We’re trained from an early age not to upset others and to do our best to fit in. But when it comes down to it, when you hide what you really think and feel, you’re being deceptive, and you’re not letting others get to know the real you. It signals to other people that you don’t trust them with your thoughts and feelings. And this is something that I’ve really had to work on. I’ve had to let go of trying to find the right thing to say or the right opinion to have. But in doing so, my most important relationships have gotten much stronger because I’ve committed to trusting them with the real me.


Hello friends! Thank you for listening. If this podcast speaks to you, join us over in the Stoic Coffee House. The Stoic Coffee House is a community built around the ideas of stoicism and the Stoic Coffee Break podcast.

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

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

Categories
wisdom

203 – Belief Without Evidence is Wrong

It is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence.

— William K. Clifford, Ethics of Belief

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We all like to think that we are wise, that our opinions are well thought out, and that we’re smart enough to spot when we have inconsistent beliefs. Today I want to talk about why believing something without sufficient evidence is wrong, and that idea that how we come to a belief or a conclusion is more important than whether the belief or conclusion is correct.

Wisdom

One of the four virtues of stoicism is Wisdom. Wisdom is not just the acquisition of information, but the skill of properly applying the knowledge that we gain to make better choices and actions. It is our job to learn, to see clearly, and act upon the truth, but even more important than reaching the correct outcome, is having a correct process of learning and discovering the truth.

William K. Clifford was an English mathematician and philosopher in the late 1800s. He wrote a well thought out essay called “The Ethics of Belief”, in which he discusses how it is immoral to believe something without evidence, even if you end up being correct in your belief. But why is it so important to make sure that the process we use to form beliefs is sound? Because if you come to a belief based upon faulty evidence, then you can’t be sure that next time you use the same thinking that you’ll get to the correct outcome. Basically, you may think that you are smart because you got it right, but you didn’t. If you use the same thinking process, you may not be as lucky. Having a correct process helps you to be more consistent and to reach correct or more correct conclusions, more often.

Say, for example, you have a friend who is in the same math class you’re in. Your friend is an average student, and on a big test, they get a perfect score. Shortly after, you hear a rumor that your friend cheated on the test. You have no proof of this, nor do any of the people you talk to have any tangible proof, beyond their own speculation that the only way your friend could have done so well on the test, was to cheat. You decide to accuse your friend of cheating, and report them to the teacher.

Let’s look at the possible outcomes. Let’s say that your friend did not cheat, and after they are cleared of any wrongdoing, you retract what you said and try to make amends. You may have spoiled the friendship because you accused your friend with no actual evidence, other than the rumors spread by others.

Let’s say your friend did cheat, and you feel vindicated because you were correct. But should you? No. You are just as wrong as the first case because you made an accusation with insufficient evidence. It was just by chance that you ended up on the right side. You had no evidence to reason through that your friend had actually cheated. Based on the evidence you had, you made an assumption; you guessed. You had no right to come to the conclusion that your friend had cheated on the test. This is dangerous because once you have been “correct”, you are less likely to question yourself the next time because you guessed correctly this time.

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

Process Over Outcome

When we reach the correct answer but have an invalid process, we have not learned how to make better decisions, so we actually do ourselves a disservice. If we don’t understand why we’re correct, or at the very least admit that we just got lucky and guessed correctly, then we will never create a framework that helps us to be successful consistently.

For example, often entrepreneurs will get lucky. They’ll have a lucky break that may not have anything to do with them. Perhaps the weather happens to ruin their chief competitor. They’ll attribute their success to something else, such as their own brilliance or the superiority of their product, and are unwilling to attribute it to the luck of circumstance that broke in their favor. They may not really understand the lucky break that helped lead to their success. They think because they were successful once they know how to be successful again.

No real belief, however trifling and fragmentary it may seem, is ever truly insignificant; it prepares us to receive more of its like, confirms those which resembled it before, and weakens others; and so gradually it lays a stealthy train in our inmost thoughts, which may someday explode into overt action, and leave its stamp upon our character for ever.

— William K. Clifford, Ethics of Belief

Beliefs Lead to Action

Why is it so important that we don’t hold on to beliefs that are incorrect or based on insufficient evidence? The beliefs that we hold, even illogical ones that we think are just our private beliefs, influence the choices we make and the actions we take in our everyday life, and some that can have pretty serious consequences.

An example of this how beliefs can impact the choices people make can be seen in when we look at vaccines and the pandemic. People have been fed a steady diet of how they should distrust the government, usually by politicians for their own benefit – though I find it disingenuous because these politicians are usually seeking reelection, so they’re the ones running things. This continuous disinformation campaign from politicians, pundits, talk show host, and others with a hidden agenda has eroded trust in the institutions that are in place to help us a society weather such events.

As we’ve seen cases of the Delta variant climbing higher over the past few months, it comes because of this distrust. We see that 98% of those dying from Covid are unvaccinated, and it’s not because the vaccine is not available, but the majority are refusing to get vaccinated because of the distrust they have in the government and its institutions, distrust of science, or distrust of vaccines.

Because of this belief that they hold, evidence that is presented is filtered through this distrust. Experts who have spent their lives in the service of humanity, who have dedicated their careers, are dismissed as unreliable, or even threatened for presenting evidence contrary to this belief.

If someone is able to show me that what I think or do is not right, I will happily change, for I seek the truth, by which no one was ever truly harmed. It is the person who continues in his self-deception and ignorance who is harmed.

— Marcus Aurelius

You Want to Believe

So what are some of the reasons we believe things without sufficient evidence? When we come into this world, we are given a world view, a belief system from our parents, our religion, and our culture. This is not necessarily a bad thing. We’re taught traditions, beliefs, and stories about how the world is, and it’s how we learn how to function in the world. Where we run into trouble, is that most of us are brought up not to question the world around us. We get in trouble for not simply obeying the rules, and often shamed for asking questions about things we don’t understand.

In my own experience, I was taught that obedience to the church leaders was more important than anything else. I always found the idea of blind faith troubling, because it makes abuse of power very easy, and we have seen this happen time after time. Also, to me it makes a mockery of god. If god just wanted me to just be obedient, why did he give me a mind that wanted to find answers, to question things that seemed illogical, and try to make sense of the world? When I was told to ignore evidence because it went against the teachings of the church, it made me distrust the person teaching it. They were telling me to ignore my own sense of reasoning, logic, and to just take their word for it.

Now, religion is not the only place where we see misguided beliefs that are not questions. There have been plenty of beliefs, ideas, and theories taught in schools or treated as common sense that were taken as fact. There was no proof, but because they have been around so long, were just assumed to be true. For example, for centuries, women have been treated as if they were mentally inferior to men in science, art, literature, music, and many other fields. Because of these ideas, women were denied education, careers, and often treated as second class citizen, all because of a belief that they just were not on the same level as men. This allowed those in charge to point out that there were not a lot of prominent women in as proof that this was true, all the while ignoring the fact that women were denied opportunities to make any contributions, thus creating a self reinforcing belief. It has taken a lot of hard work for our society to move past these ideas, and we still have a long way to go.

On a personal level, we often create beliefs about ourselves because they were things we were told about ourselves, or conclusions we came to through faulty thinking. Maybe we think we’re not very smart or creative because our parent told us so. Maybe we believe we don’t deserve to be treated respectfully, because we’re been treated poorly by others. One that I struggle with from time to time is that I’m not worthy of being loved because I lose my temper. There are plenty of beliefs that we adopt because our brains try to make sense of the world around us.

If you want to improve, be content to be thought foolish and stupid.

—Epictetus

It’s Okay to be Wrong

So how to do we get better at challenging our beliefs? I think probably the most important aspect is that we need to be willing to be wrong. This is probably the hardest part. When we feel we are right about something, it feels good and we feel confident. We don’t like to be wrong because it feels uncomfortable and scary. So we avoid being wrong at all costs.

And how do try to avoid this? We’ll avoid admitting we’re wrong by discounting evidence that we don’t like. We’ll reinterpret or spin things in a way that shows our position in a more favorable light. We’ll double down on our position. We’ll get angry, which is a way to manipulate others to support our position. We’ll deflect and try to blame others for their shortcomings.

When we get comfortable knowing that we’re going to be wrong a lot, we can avoid a lot of anxiety and stress. We can be humble and think of ourselves as seekers of knowledge, not as the fountain of truth.

I think one of the best ways to start is to get comfortable with this is practice incorporating some of the following phrases into our language.

“In light of new information, I’ve changed my mind.”

“From the evidence provided, it looks like I need to rethink my position.”

“You make good argument. I’ll consider what you said.”

“I never thought of it that way. Thanks. Now I will.”

Once we are willing to be okay with being wrong, then we can take the time to ask more questions about our belief.

Where did I learn this? Who did I learn this from? What are their motivations behind promoting this belief? Understanding the source of this belief can help you be aware of conflicts of interest from others and yourself.

What evidence is available to support this belief? Are there scientifically rigorous studies, or experts in this area, that can help me learn more about it? We don’t suffer from a lack of information in this world. We suffer from a willingness to look objectively at that information and follow where it leads us, even if we don’t like the results.

How does this belief help me? Understanding this can help us see why we might unconsciously hold on to a belief. Often we want to hold on to a belief because it helps us. Maybe we find comfort in it because the alternative is too uncomfortable or scary. Often, just asking this question alone can help us see that a belief does not serve us, and we can work on letting it go.

Conclusion

The beliefs we have about the world guide our choices and actions. Doing our best to put our beliefs through a rigorous process can help us reach better conclusions. And even when we are correct, we should be willing to always work on refining our process of testing our beliefs. It is not enough that we have the correct answer. More important is how we got there.

—-
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 other people philosophy stoicism

185 – Needy

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Needy

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Transcript:

Hello Friends. My name is Erick Cloward and welcome to the Stoic Coffee Break. The Stoic Coffee Break is a weekly podcast where I take an aspect of stoicism and do my best to break it down into its smaller parts and see how we can apply it in our daily lives. I try to share my experiences, both my successes and my mistakes that hopefully you can learn from them and all within the time of a Coffee break. Today’s episode is called: Neediness.

Marcus Aurelius said:

“People exist for one another, you can instruct or endure them”.

Earlier this week I went to a movie theater. Now I know we’re in the middle of a pandemic so that seems like something odd that I would do because I follow science. I wear my mask and I’ve already got my second dose of the vaccine. But in this case it was a socially distance night at the movie theater. Friend of ours had rented out the theater so we could watch an old seventies kung fu movie and it was really a great time. It was a very small group of us in this whole giant theater, but it was really great to be able to spend time talking to some friends and having that kind of social interaction. And one of the things that I recognized, because I woke up the next morning feeling really happy and rejuvenated, was that one of the things that I need in my life is connecting with other people and being social. I’m an extrovert. So it’s not a big surprise, but I didn’t realize how much I missed it until the pandemic came along and made it so much more difficult to do those kind of things and to spend time with my friends.

So today I want to take a look at needs that we have and look at neediness through the lens of stoicism and how we can keep to our ideals, and understand how neediness is something that shouldn’t be looked down upon, frowned upon, but something needs to be understood. So I know that neediness in our society is something that’s always looked down upon and something to be avoided. And I think this is for a couple of reasons. I think one of them is because if you need something that makes you feel vulnerable, and if you tell somebody about some kind of need that you have, then that puts them in a position to have power over you.

I also think that a lot of this idea comes from the rugged individual society ideas that permeate our society, that we have to somehow make it on our own, that we have to be independent, that we have to forge our own path. And that said, and I think this has done a lot of disservice to us because in doing so, it also has helped reinforce a lot of these gender stereotypes that men have to be strong and unemotional and that if we’re emotional then we’re weak. So men are not able to ask for the things that they need because asking for anything that has to do with emotions is considered weak and that’s very, very frowned upon.

But on the flip side, women are supposed to be emotionally supportive for everyone else around them and to put their own needs on the back burner. And in this case we all get the short shrift, and I think this is something that’s been very damaging to our society. I think what we need to do is kind of re evaluate when we’re feeling needy about something not as a weakness, but as a signal that something is not being fulfilled in our lives.

Epictetus said:

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

For me this is one of the simplest and clearest ways to define what self improvement is. It’s saying: decide the kind of person that you want to be and then do the things to become that person. But I think before you can decide who you want to be, you also need to understand who you are, and understanding your needs is part of understanding who you are.

And the thing is is that we all have needs and we need to be okay with the fact that we have needs and to accept that we’re all vulnerable in plenty of ways and that’s okay. I mean we’re born needy and when we have Children, we don’t go, “oh my gosh, this kid needs food”, you know, we don’t tell them to buck up and to figure it out and go find their own food. No, we take care of them, we help them by satisfying those needs that they have.

I think that in stoicism we need to be careful because oftentimes we can fall into that trap of self denial. We think that because we can go without, then we should go without. And I don’t think this is really a good way to look at things. Yes, in stoicism, part of it is understanding what we can and can’t control, and in this case by identifying the things that we need, we can take actions and steps to take care of the things that we can control and then ask others to help us for the things that we can’t.

Now, in saying all of this, understanding and accepting that you’re needy, because we all are, does not make it so that your needs are somebody else’s problems. It is not an excuse to be selfish. What this is is that clarifying the things that you need and asking for help to get the things that you need and doing your part in fulfilling those needs as well.

Now, what kind of needs am I talking about? Well, they could be almost anything. Me for example, needing other people. There are there are things that we do need from other people. For myself, I need friendship and acceptance. I need that affection that I get from being with my friends.

We may have physical needs that we need to take care of, such as where we decide to live. I live up here in the Pacific Northwest and I love it. This is a fantastic place. And this is some place where I decided that I didn’t need the cold of Minnesota, didn’t need the cold and the strangeness of Utah, but what I did need was to live in a place that was pretty open minded and where the weather was fairly comfortable.

We can also look at our career. What is it that you need in a job for happiness? For example, in any work that I do, I need to be creative, I need to be building or making something because that’s how my brain works. If I have a task that is just strictly too repetitive, it gets really, really boring for me and I find that it’s not a good space for me to be in. What I need is to do very creative work, but I also need to have a lot of structure as well. I need to know what it is that I’m trying to get done and have the support, be able to get done. The things that I need to. So, working in a chaotic environment sometimes can be exceptionally draining for me.

We can also decide what we need in relationships. What kind of things do we need emotionally? What kind of affection do we need from our partners? Are we begin to public displays of affection? Do we need lots of physical touch or do any lots of emotional reassurance?

Understanding these things and being able to not look at them as weaknesses, but as things that help us thrive, gives us the tools and gives us the insight to be able to see that, recognize what we need and then ask for help, getting those needs fulfilled. And the thing is is they’re probably going to be plenty of people who won’t be willing to help you fulfill some of those needs. And that’s okay. That tells you that there’s somebody who’s not going to be able to help you get those needs met. And that’s not a bad thing. In fact, if they can be very clear about that, that’s actually a good thing, because you won’t be wasting your time trying to get them to give you something they don’t want to give you.

Learning how to communicate those needs and express them clearly is something that can be very helpful in almost any relationship, so when it comes to identifying your needs, there’s a couple of things you want to keep in mind. Be easy on yourself. You shouldn’t feel ashamed for the things that you need, and wanting the things that you want. You can define what you need by just being honest with yourself. And if you have someone that you can trust, you can also ask them and you can say, “Hey, what areas do I seem to be a little bit needy in?”, and look at that as just a signal. It’s a flag to let you know where something is kind of missing in your life.

I do think it’s important that you take the time to examine your needs and decide if, if this is a need that is helpful for you. Is it something that helps you to grow into the person that you want to be? Or is this something that’s detrimental to you? Just because you want it or feel like you need, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s good for you.

And then once you have those things sorted out, you can ask others around you to help you get those needs fulfilled. Now when we’re doing all of this, be very careful that you don’t take on other needs unless it’s something that you truly want to. I know there’s some people who get a lot of their needs fulfilled by serving other people and that’s okay. If that’s something that recharges your batteries, then do that thing!

Every single person on this planet has needs and the sooner that we can be honest about what we need, the sooner we can work on getting those needs met in healthy ways. And that’s the end of the Stoic Coffee Break.

Be good to yourselves, be good to others, and thanks for listening.


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Ask Coffee Break philosophy stoicism

181 – Askers and Guessers

Askers and Guessers

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“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

Last week I talked about asking for help. This week I want to delve into asking a bit further.

Guess Culture

I grew up in a Guess Culture. And what is a Guess Culture? A Guess Culture is one where the social rules are so ubiquitous that everyone knows them, or is expected to know them. It usually happens when most people around you hold the same beliefs about how things should be. When a culture is very homogeneous, for example, a religious majority, it’s easy to just assume that everyone knows the social rules. Outsiders who are new to a city, or even country, often find themselves flummoxed as they try to navigate all these unwritten rules that everyone else seems to know.

Ask Culture

On the other side, there is Ask Culture. This is where asking is encouraged, and guessing is considered rude. It happens in families or communities that encourage asking. For example, many of the sex positive communities have clear lines around asking and consent. It also happens in places where there are diverse kinds of groups and in order to navigate all their differences they have to ask.

I want to talk about each of these, and why becoming an asker can help improve our culture dramatically.

I came across the idea of Ask Culture and Guess Culture after reading an old a blog post from metafilter.com. In it, the original poster talked about how a friend of his wife was coming to New York and asked if it was possible to stay with them for part of the time. It was a very straightforward ask with no assumptions made that they had to host her and she even said, “Let me know if this might be a possibility…”. He thought the ask was exceptionally rude. The comments that followed were very interesting as plenty of people thought it was exceptionally rude, whereas many others thought it was respectful, and urged the poster to simply say “No”. Finally, a user called tangerine mentioned how this was a clash between Ask Culture and Guess Culture. I’ll read a part of it now, and I’ll leave some links in the show notes to this and some other articles that I found rather enlightening:

“This is a classic case of Ask Culture meets Guess Culture.

In some families, you grow up with the expectation that it’s OK to ask for anything at all, but you gotta realize you might get no for an answer. This is Ask Culture.

In Guess Culture, you avoid putting a request into words unless you’re pretty sure the answer will be yes. Guess Culture depends on a tight net of shared expectations. A key skill is putting out delicate feelers. If you do this with enough subtlety, you won’t even have to make the request directly; you’ll get an offer. Even then, the offer may be genuine or pro forma; it takes yet more skill and delicacy to discern whether you should accept.

All kinds of problems spring up around the edges. If you’re a Guess Culture person — and you obviously are — then unwelcome requests from Ask Culture people seem presumptuous and out of line, and you’re likely to feel angry, uncomfortable, and manipulated.

If you’re an Ask Culture person, Guess Culture behavior can seem incomprehensible, inconsistent, and rife with passive aggression.”

After reading this, it amazed me at how many things just clicked. I grew up in a Guess Culture where everyone around me was Mormon or understood how Mormon culture permeated every aspect of life in Utah. When I would meet people who had just arrived and were not familiar with the church, I would often end up explaining how things worked. I would often get responses such as “Really?!” or “Are you serious?!” when explaining some of the unwritten rules of the road.

There are traits for each type:

Guessers

  1. Are used to just “knowing” what the “right thing” to do is because that’s what everyone else around them does
  2. Consider asking a direct question as creating conflict and they are usually conflict averse
  3. Want you to guess as well
  4. Find it difficult to directly tell you the truth.
  5. Feel you are challenging them if you ask them direct questions
  6. Feel resentful when you ask, because you’re supposed to “know” what is rude.

Askers

  1. Ask because they don’t know
  2. They don’t want to make assumptions.
  3. Are okay with “No” as an answer.
  4. They want the truth and find it confusing that asking considered offensive.
  5. Have a higher level of communication because they want things to be clear.

Now mos I have found that living as a Guesser causes a lot of stress. Leaving things ambiguous and trying to guess what someone else might want leads to uncomfortable situations. Whereas I thought I was doing something nice, the other person found it rude that I didn’t ask before I acted. If I had taken the time to ask, I would have gotten buy in from the other person, and we both would have been happy.

As I delve into this, remember the point of becoming an Asker is to improve communication with people around you. And for some, especially for those that live in a Guess Culture, this is going to seem like you are learning to be rude. It’s going to be uncomfortable. It may be especially challenging if the people closest to you are Guessers.

Honesty

When we work on becoming Askers, the most important thing is to be honest. We’re honest about our intentions. We’re clear about our ask. We ask because we really want to know. Learning to be as honest as possible is hard. In many cultures, and especially Mormon culture, we’re trained not to rock the boat. We’re trained to “be nice” which is code for don’t say things that might make others feel uncomfortable. A big problem with this thinking is that it means we have to figure out what might make others feel uncomfortable, but we won’t know what that might be unless we ask. It’s really stressful!

Most people never see everything eye to eye, so we should be cautious of those that agree with us too easily. There’s a high probability that they are not being completely honest and may just be telling you what they think you want to hear. The more comfortable we are with telling the truth and hearing the truth the better we can deal with life and trust those around us.

When we work on becoming an Asker, we’re also expecting others to be honest. When we make an ask, we want the truth. We want the other person to let us know if it is something that they don’t want to do.

For example, say that you’re out on a first date, and you ask your date if they’d like to go to your favorite Italian restaurant. Now maybe your date doesn’t like Italian food or is gluten intolerant. Would you be offended if they asked to go somewhere else? Personally, I would be more upset if they didn’t because I want the date to be enjoyable for both of us.

Boundaries

I’ve often talked about boundaries on this show and I think they are helpful as we learn to be Askers. When we’re trying to be more honest, it does not mean that we have to tell everyone everything. It means that we need to be honest about what we’re feeling and thinking. This is where defining and respecting boundaries comes in. For example, if someone asks you about something you don’t really want to discuss, you don’t have to tell them. Informing them with something like, “I’m not comfortable talking about that topic” is a straightforward way of setting your boundaries. If you notice that someone is uncomfortable with something you’re asking about, you can ask them if it’s something that they don’t want to discuss, and we can respect that.

Becoming an Asker can also help a lot in professional situations. For example, say that you’re in the middle of a project at work and your boss comes to you with a new project to work on. If you’re a Guesser, you might just say yes and try to figure out how to fit it in with the rest of your work, knowing that it will put you behind. If you are an Asker, you ask which project is the priority, and how much time you should allocate to each. If your boss is a Guesser, this may be a bit of a challenge, but this kind of clear communication can help you reduce stress and conflict because you are bringing up your concerns and asking for clarification.

Be Okay With “No”

When a Guesser is in a situation where they have to say “No”, it makes them uncomfortable. They feel like the other persons should never have “put them” in that situation, or they should have asked in some very specific way that an Asker could not have known. This is frustrating for an Asker because they don’t see asking as being rude. They are trying to be clear, to understand, or to get consent.

Responsibility

Being an Asker also means that you take responsibility for what you say. It means that if others are uncomfortable with what you ask for, as long as you follow your core principles of honesty, open mindedness, and compassion, you do not need to apologize or feel bad about telling the truth. Remember, if someone else is offended because you asked a question, it is their thinking that caused their emotions. You did not “make them” feel anything.

Create an Ask Culture

Creating an environment in your home or work of an Ask Culture can reap significant benefits. It can strengthen the communication with those that you spend most of your time with. It can lead to discussions that are difficult and rewarding. For example, if kids have an environment where they feel like they can ask their parents about anything, it can lead to a higher level of trust. It means that when they’re struggling, they will ask you for help, rather than shutting you out. If employees feel like anything is open for being questioned, you can have the frank kinds of discussions that are needed to improve the workplace and the company itself. We should reward people for being honest, not “punish” them for saying something that we don’t like.

Conclusion

Becoming an Asker after living so long as a Guesser has been a challenge for me. It is uncomfortable because I was trained for so long to say the “right thing” or have the “right answer”. Sometimes being honest about what I want feels confrontational. It also feels vulnerable because I might get a “No”, which feels like being rejected. But being an Asker is about doing our best to be honest and expect honesty from others.

And “No” is a completely acceptable response.

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Further reading:

https://ask.metafilter.com/55153/Whats-the-middle-ground-between-FU-and-Welcome#830421

https://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2010/05/askers-vs-guessers/340891/

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Coffee Break philosophy self-improvement stoicism

180 – Ask For Help

Ask For Help

 

“Don’t be ashamed to need help. Like a soldier storming a wall, you have a mission to accomplish. And if you’ve been wounded and you need a comrade to pull you up? So what?”

— Marcus Aurelius

The Stoics teach us that we are part of the human community, that we’re here to help and support our fellow humans. We are social animals, and as much as we may think that we are independent, we’ve thrived as humans because of our cooperation. None of us can survive just on our own. We rely on each other in a very interconnected society.

Let’s look at a practical example of how we’re all physically reliant on each other. When you buy groceries from the store, you rely on all the people that built the store, run the store, and create food and other goods for that store. As much as you try, you can never be truly 100% self sufficient. Unless you walked naked out into the wilderness, used only what you could find, hunt, or harvest to create shelter and feed yourself, you are dependent on others.

Even understanding this basic principle, one of the hardest things for many of us in life is to ask for help.

Why? Why is this so hard for us?

There are a lot of reasons. Asking for help is being vulnerable. It is putting ourselves in a place where we might get rejected. We may feel like we are weak by asking for help. Societal ideas often reinforce this idea by promoting that we need to be strong and independent to be successful in life.

This is a lie.

Now some may think this a paradox of Stoicism. If we are to control what we can, doesn’t that mean that we should be self sufficient? Yes, we are need to control what we can, and be self sufficient. But controlling what you can, does not mean that you write off the rest of the world. It means that you do your part by managing your emotions and being the person that you want to be regardless of who other people think you should be. Asking for help is do something that we can control. Asking is communicating our needs, wants, and desires, and allowing others to choose to help us, or not.

Trust

For many of us, being able to ask for help comes down to trust. For those of us that grew up in difficult circumstances, we can find it hard to trust that other people won’t take advantage of us when we ask for help. We have a hard time trusting that someone else has our back. We may isolate ourselves physically, emotionally, or mentally so we don’t have to rely on other people.

This lack of trust can also lead to a lot of stress and unhappiness. When we interact with others, we’re often afraid that if we ask for something that we’ll be denied, so we often just do whatever we want without checking in with others. We may exclude others from our decision-making process because we are used to deciding things on how they impact us. Because we feel like we’re the only ones looking out for ourselves, we may not consider how our actions impact others.

Another impact this has on us is that we often try to take on too much and do whatever it is we’re trying to accomplish by ourselves because we don’t trust other people will help us. In a nutshell, we become control freaks because we don’t think that other people will have our best interests at heart, even if they have been supportive in the past.

Who Not How

So why should we trust other people? Why is it important to learn how to ask for help? To answer that question, I want to talk a little about a book I’ve been reading.

In their book “Who not How”, Dan Sullivan and Benjamin Hardy discuss how important it is to work with other people to accomplish the things we want to in our lives. They illustrate this point by discussing how Michael Jordan never would have had the success in his career on his own. In order to win as many games and championships as Jordan and the Chicago Bulls did, they needed to assemble the right team. This included Phil Jackson as coach and other stellar players like Scotty Pippen. Working together, they built one of the greatest basketball teams ever. Michael Jordan, for as truly talented as he was, never could have had such a winning career by himself.

“Do you have Whos in your life that give you the perspectives, resources, and ability to go beyond what you could do alone? Or are you keeping your goals so small to make them easier to accomplish them on your own? Do you really think you must be the one to put in the blood, sweat, and tears, bearing the whole load to prove your capability?”

— Dan Sullivan and Benjamin Hardy

When I read this, it really gave me pause. There are many things that I want to get accomplish in my life that I try to take on myself. And while I do have the skill to accomplish them from start to finish, I could get them done much quicker and have higher quality if I were willing to ask for help. I know that doing so also helps with organizing because I have to schedule something with other people in mind and not try to keep the schedule in my head. It also means that I could expand the size and scope of the project because I would have people onboard who would be stronger in areas where I’m weak.

Taking a little more from Who Not How:

“It can be easy to focus on How, especially for high achievers who want to control what they can control, which is themselves. It takes vulnerability and trust to expand your efforts and build a winning team. It takes wisdom to recognize that 1) other people are more than capable enough to handle much of the Hows, and 2) that your efforts and contribution (your “Hows”) should be focused exclusively where your greatest passion and impact are. Your attention and energy should not be spread thin, but purposefully directed where you can experience extreme flow and creativity. Results, not effort, is the name of the game. You are rewarded in life by the results you produce, not the effort.”

Personal Growth

Now much of what I’ve talked about focused a lot on career and work, but we can apply it to our personal lives. If we want to live healthy and happier lives, we all need people to help us where we lack in our lives. When we’re sick, it’s great to have someone willing to do those things that we’re cannot do for ourselves. We need friends who help support us when we struggling. When we share our lives with others and share our struggles, we also find out that we’re not the only ones that struggle. When we’re vulnerable, it allows others to be vulnerable and share their struggles with us. We get the chance to support others and be supported.

People also love to be supportive and helpful. For example, I was afraid to ask for contributions to my podcast for a long time. I was afraid of what others would think. But people have been happy to step up and support me in this endeavor. They’ve also offered some ideas that I’m working on to expand the reach and impact of this podcast, and find more ways to share Stoic principles with more people. They’ve also been vulnerable and shared their struggles with me, and I appreciate it. It’s helpful for me to know that I’m not alone in navigating the complexities of life.

Sharing our lives with others is also a source of a lot of joy. For example, camping with friends is something I really enjoy. Being able to connect with others out in nature certainly recharges my batteries. Sharing a sunset or sunrise with good friends is something that I look forward to.

We also need other people for us to see our flaws, because we all have blind spots in our own thinking and behavior. I know in my case having a partner who is stronger in areas that I’m weak has helped me become a better person. Her rationality, and she is a lot more rational than I am, her insights into people, and her ability to explain other points of view that I may not have considered have helped me grow in ways that I would not have been able to on my own. She’s also helps me see where I am weak, which is not always comfortable, and difficult to own up to. She holds me accountable to act like the person I’ve said I want to be.

How To Ask

So how do ask for help? Well, this is something that we don’t need to overcomplicate. We ask. We try to be as clear as we can in what we’re asking for. Sometimes we need to feel validated. Sometimes we need to vent. Sometimes we need help. But we ask. We need to make sure that we aren’t asking someone to do something that we should do for ourselves. Asking someone to change who they are because it doesn’t suit us is not a very healthy ask for either person.

With that said, we also need to be okay with someone refusing our ask. Just because we got up the courage to ask does not mean that the other person has to comply. Remember, we are all free to choose what we are and are not willing to do. We also should not guilt other people into doing what we ask. Trying to control and manipulate others is never a healthy way to get something done. If they aren’t willing to help, that’s okay. We now know that they are not someone we can go to for help in that specific area. They may help in other areas, so we also need to be sure that we don’t just write someone off because they aren’t doing what we want.

Asking for help is something that we can all get better at. The next time you are striving for your dream, or struggling with a problem in life, remember, many hands make light work.


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Coffee Break philosophy self-improvement stoicism

177 – Get Comfortable with the Uncomfortable

Get Comfortable with the Uncomfortable

 

“It is our own opinions that disturb us. Take away these opinions and resolve to dismiss your judgment about an act as if it were something grievous, and your anger is gone.”

— Marcus Aurelius

Over the centuries, the term “stoic” evolved from the original meaning of someone that follows the philosophy of Stoicism, to someone who does not show emotions.

When you look up the definition of stoic in the dictionary, it says:

“stoic: Not affected by or showing passion or feeling. Firmly restraining response to pain or distress.”

Stoics are not emotionless automatons. All humans feel emotions. Reading Meditations, Marcus Aurelius seems far from being cold and emotionless.

“If you do everything as if it were the last thing you were doing in life, and stop being aimless, stop letting your emotions override what your mind tells you, stop being hypocritical, self-centered, irritable.”

— Marcus Aurelius

Practicing stoicism is not about repressing emotions. It is not about pretending you feel nothing. It’s about understanding how your mind works, so that you can use it to benefit you and those around you. It’s about finding balance and equanimity. It’s recognizing that you have control over what you think, feel, and do. If you are swayed by every little thing other people say, or frustrated by outside events, you will be at the whims of your emotions. Others will easily control and manipulate you.

So why do people equate being stoic with being emotionless? I think it’s because anyone that follows the tenants of stoicism understands that emotions are like the weather. They come and go. They’re in a constant state of flux. Because they understand this, Stoics know that if you sit with uncomfortable emotions for a while, they will eventually change. They will pass.

Whenever you have a thought, you create an emotional state. Some are subtle and others can be powerful, but every single emotion starts from a thought. It could be a very conscious thought you are actively choosing to think about. It could be a non-conscious background thought that you aren’t particularly aware of.

When we’re offended or upset by someone, it says more about us than about the other person. The thoughts that create the emotion are our own, not someone else’s. If you are offended, it’s because you chose to be offended. Your mind creates every emotion you have. If you are the one creating your emotions, you also have the power to change your emotional state. By processing those difficult emotions, you are also taking responsibility for your emotions. You recognize you cause those emotions and you do not blame them on other people or events.

As Brooke Castillo, one of my favorite life coaches, says, “No one can make you feel anything without your permission.”

Other People

Another reason that people think of being stoic as being emotionless is that your reaction is being compared to how other people might react in the same situation. The person making the judgement has their own idea of how someone “should” respond. Because a Stoic does not react how they think someone should, it seems strange. It also means that it is someone else’s opinion, and as we all know, that is something we don’t have control over.

When we get comfortable with uncomfortable emotions we also do not take on other people’s emotions. Now what do I mean by this? When someone is angry or frustrated with us, they may try to use those emotions to control or manipulate us. We may feel it’s up to us to change in order to manage their emotions. It is not. Their emotions are theirs to deal with. It is not up to us to manage their emotional state. When we can learn to separate ourselves from someone else’s frustration or anger, we can act in a way that is calm and wise. We don’t let others control us.

Examples

Let’s look at some examples.

If someone says something rude or offensive to you, is what they said intrinsically offensive? Like if someone said that you looked like a warthog, would that offend you? It is only offensive because of your judgment. It’s only offensive because of the meaning that you give to it. Maybe you think warthogs are awesome and fierce, so you could take it as a compliment.

Another example. Say that you’re feeling down and sad about something. You feel that emotional distress. You may feel depressed. Suddenly someone says something that makes you laugh and suddenly your mood has changed. The feeling may not completely go away, but the intensity lessens. All because what your mind focused on shifted. The power those thoughts had over your mind moments before has faded.

Bad Choices

Succumbing to your emotional reactions can be a detriment to the task you are trying to accomplish. I remember seeing a new report after a particularly devastating earthquake in Haiti. Some aid workers were so disturbed by the devastation, they felt overwhelmed with shock and sadness. And while this is a natural feeling, getting stuck in that sadness made them far less effective than if they recognize they were making the tragedy all about them rather than the people they were there to serve. If they had taken the time to recognize which things are not in their control and focused instead on what they can control, they would have been much more effective.

Now I’m not saying that you shouldn’t shouldn’t feel what you feel. Having empathy and compassion for others is part of what makes us better humans. But learning to sit with those uncomfortable emotions and finding better ways to process them helps you and those around you in the long run.

Know Thyself

I think the most important tool in learning to sit with uncomfortable emotions, is that we need to identify what we’re feeling, and ask why we’re feeling the way we do. Are you angry? Fearful? Ashamed? Why? Often the reason that we feel uncomfortable is that there is truth in what someone said.

Maybe we’re insecure about something. Maybe we acted in a way we’re not proud of and we don’t want to own up to. Maybe there is some true injustice happening, and that’s feeling is a signal for us to step up and take some action.

To be a Stoic is to be striving to be a better you and being willing to stretch yourself when things are hard. It is being willing to develop strength in areas that others won’t. It means developing the mental fortitude to recognize how your emotions are impacting your thinking. It is finding healthier ways to process emotions. Maybe that means you go for a run or a walk when you’re angry. Maybe it means that you give yourself some time to just vent to a friend or even just out loud.

Just remember that an emotion is sensation in your body, and barring certain medical conditions, an emotion can’t physically harm you. It won’t kill you. Emotions are the drivers of our actions, which is why it’s so important to sit with them, especially when they are uncomfortable. Because emotions change and fluctuate so easily, we know that the emotion will subside just by thinking different thoughts. If we can’t sit with uncomfortable emotions, we’re prone to acting out in ways are harmful to ourselves and others.

Any time you have an uncomfortable feeling, don’t run from it. Embrace it and ask what it is trying to tell you. If you don’t understand what you’re feeling, how are you going to know how to respond properly? If you fly off the handle at every minor challenge or lose your cool when things don’t go your way, you’ll be easily derailed. The more you can sit with uncomfortable emotions, the better you will be at handling difficult situations.


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Coffee Break philosophy self-improvement stoicism

175 – Circumstances and Choices

Circumstances and Choices

One of the core tenants of Stoicism is understanding the things we control and the things we cannot control. Today I want to discuss this a bit more in depth.

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

— Epictetus

Circumstances and Externals

First, I want to focus on the things that we don’t have control over.

Our property is anything that we own. We don’t control what happens to our things. An earthquake, fire, or flood could ruin our home. Someone could crash into our car. Our computer or jewelry or money could be stolen.

Our reputation, or namely, what other people think of us. This is hard because we want to be liked by other people, and to some extent are driven by what others think of us. But simply put, we have absolutely no control over what other people think of us. As an aside to this, since we cannot control what other people think of us, this also means that we cannot control other people. Since other people’s moods and actions are driven by how they think, and we cannot control what they think, we cannot control other people.

Our office, or the position in life. This includes things like the circumstances of out birth. For example, we don’t control if we were born white or Black, Finnish or Filipino. We can’t control the nation that we are born in. We can’t control if we are born into a wealthy family. These are all things that are just pure luck.

This also includes aspects of our career or politic power. We can choose our career, but how successful we are is not up to us. We can work hard and make the best choices we can, but we often get promoted at work because of the choices of other people. We may choose to run for political office but we get elected to office because other people vote for us.

Probably the most surprising thing for many on the list of things that we don’t control is our body. You might think, well, I do have control over my body. Can you stop your body from breaking down? Can you stop simply make an illness stop? No, you can’t.

Thinking

Now that we clarified what things outside of our control, let’s dive into what we do have control over. Epictetus tells us we control how and what we think. Let’s take each of the things that he mentions and dissect it.

Opinions are our judgments about people and events. These are our beliefs about the world. These are formed by our experience, our knowledge, what other people have told us, and our own biases and superstitions. These are the things that we think of as “true”, and in a sense, they are true for us.

Motivations are the reasons and meanings that we give to things, or why we think things happen the way they do. When we make assumptions about why people do things, we are ascribing motivations to them. This is of course just our opinion about why we think they do something.

Desires are things we want, such as material things, career, personal pursuits and growth. These our own motivations. This is the “why” behind the things that we do.

Aversions are things we avoid, dislike, and may even hate. This is the “why” or the motivation behind the things we avoid or will not do.

These things that Epictetus has laid out are the things that influence our thinking. They are integral to our complete thought process. Each of these aspects is so important to understand because how we think is the key to the choices that we make, and the actions we take.

Choices

So when it comes down to it, our thoughts and choices are the only things that we actually have control over. Everything else is outside of our control.

Everything.

When you look at everything as a circumstance or a choice, it becomes much easier to see what our options are in any situation. When we clearly understand what our options, it is easier to make a choice, and those choices lead to actions, which lead to the results we get. We many not have many options. We may not like our options. They may completely suck. But the better we get at clearly recognizing our options, the more willing we are to make choices. The more choices we make, the better we get at making better choices.

Shifting to this way of thinking is not easy. From my experience, most of us go through life thinking that we have a lot more control over what happens to us. When we recognize that we have very little control over what happens to us in life, it can be downright scary, or it can be downright liberating.

The less we have control over, the more we can focus on the things that we do have control over. We can focus on understanding how we think. We can examine our opinions. We can see if our beliefs about things are holding us back or influencing us in a way that is detrimental. We can stop wasting energy on things we don’t control.

The most important thing that we can do each day is to practice seeing what our options are and making choices.

“If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.”

— Neil Peart (Drummer and lyricists of Rush)

It’s okay to decide not to make a choice. Sometimes we don’t have enough information, or we feel overwhelmed by too much information. Sometimes is not a choice that is worth our time. Steve Jobs and Barack Obama both simplified their wardrobes so that they did not have to spend time make choices they felt were unimportant. You can do the same. Choosing to not make a choice, or to delay a choice, is still making a choice. But by making it intentional, you are exerting control over your life.

Influence

Many of the things we cannot control, we may think that we have influence over. But I want to caution about this way of thinking. I think we should view things as either circumstances OR as things we can control. Why is it important to get rid of this grey area? Because believing we have influence over something is a messy area that can lead to very poor choices.

“Influencing” is not an action, it is just a perception. You can’t choose to influence someone or a situation. However, you can make a choice, take an action, and the result of that action may or may not influence someone or influence an outcome.

Influence is also something difficult, if not impossible, to measure. When you think that you have influence over something, you think that you have some semblance of control over it. By keeping things clearly in the categories of things you do have control over, and things you do not have control over, you are able to think more clearly, and you don’t fall victim to hubris.

Practice

So how do we become better at seeing our options and making choices? I plan on making an episode about how to make better choices, so that I can give it the focus that needs. But in the meantime, taking some time each day to write down your options when it comes a decision is a good place to start. You can also examine the choices you make each day and eliminate the ones that are not important.

Clearly seeing things we do and don’t have control over is a skill that can impact every aspect of our lives. It can help lower our stress and help us make better and faster decisions. It can save us energy by focusing on the important things in our lives and letting go of the rest.

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Categories
Coffee Break self-improvement stoicism

157 – Don’t Feed the Trolls

Don’t Feed the Trolls

 

Don’t be a dick.

One of the hazards of being alive is the fact that we’re never going to please everyone. We’re going to have people that will not like what we do. People are going to criticize whatever it is we’re doing. And in the 21st century, this is nowhere more apparent than in social media. This weeks episode is about how to be your best online.

I’m always amazed and saddened by the vitriol and hate that I see online, especially towards women. It’s as if the anonymity of being online, that separation of the digital world, they aren’t talking to a real person. I read comments and the like from others saying things that they would probably never say in person. That social pressure to not be an asshole somehow gets ignored. That distance gives them license to express their most vulgar selves with no repercussions.

Compassion

So how do we deal with criticism? How do we deal with vitriolic tweets and Facebook trolls?

“When someone criticizes you, they do so because they believe they are right. They can only go by their views, not yours. If their views are wrong, it is they who will suffer the consequences. Keeping this in mind, treat your critics with compassion. When you are tempted to get back at them, remind yourself, ‘They did what seemed to them to be the right thing to do.’”
— Epictetus

What Epictetus is reminding us here is that someone else’s opinion is just that – their opinion. It has very little to do with you but says volumes about them. What they are expressing is their view of the world. Often, they don’t have anything to truly criticize other than they don’t like your point of view. They may feel insecure about themselves, and they don’t like the facts presented because it threatens their worldview. I see this a lot in political areas. People often adopt an “us vs. them” mentality where anything that doesn’t come from their “team” is wrong. Often all they can do is threaten or insult the author because they can’t offer up any real counter-arguments.

The next thing Epictetus advises us it to have compassion for our critics. And why is that? Why should we be compassionate towards someone that says mean, cruel, vulgar things to us? Because they are the ones that suffer if their views are wrong. The fact that they can be so cruel tells you that they are pretty unhappy people if they can get so easily riled up and jump quickly to insults.

The easiest way to do this as well is to simply look at the facts. If all they have to offer is insults, then you can easily dismiss it because there are no facts involved. If they actually have something factual and logical, you should be delighted because then you have something you may able to learn from and improve yourself.

Confidence in Yourself

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

When someone does disagree with us, how do we react? Do we get riled up? Do we dash off an angry tweet to our critics? Why do we feel angry anyway? If we are acting in a way that we are proud of then nothing that someone else says should upset us. Usually, when we act in a way that comes from anger, we are insecure about something. If we are secure in who we are, if we are holding to our values, then others opinions don’t matter.

When we get into a flame war with a critic, we are no longer in charge of ourselves. When we let the opinions of others dictate our actions, then we are giving them control of us. If we get mad or get depressed because of the criticism of others, we have given them control over our emotions. We become the victim.

Being the Critic

So how should we act online, and in real life when giving criticism to others?

“If it is not right, do not do it. If it is not true, do not say it.”
— Marcus Aurelius

This simple maxim should be our guide in what we say and do. As Jiminy Cricket once said, “Let your conscience be your guide.” Or put more bluntly from Will Wheaton, “Don’t be a dick.” Most of us know when we’re being an ass and when we’re not living up to our best selves. If we have something honest and helpful to contribute, then do so. If not, it might be best to leave well enough alone. Spending time arguing with online trolls is pretty much a waste of time, and you really don’t change anyone’s mind. Usually, you end up getting dragged into a bunch of shit, and each side gets more and more dug in and convinced that they’re on the right side.

The world is full of haters. As we spend more time online and less time in person, and as political divisions become wider, I think we’re only going to see upticks in the vitriol. We need to be sure that we don’t get sucked into the vortex of online hate. By taking the time to be compassionate towards our critics thoughtful on our responses to other people and realize that they are coming from a place where they think they are doing what is best, then we could be part of the solution, not the problem.

—–

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

Categories
Challenges Coffee Break Fate

154 – The Paradox of Change

The Paradox of Change

 

The only way is through!

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

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

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

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

— Seneca

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

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

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

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

― Epictetus

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

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

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

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

― Marcus Aurelius

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

“Win or learn, then you never lose.”

— Anonymous

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

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

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

Categories
Coffee Break philosophy stoicism wisdom

147 – Look Within

How often do we look outside of ourselves to know what to do? How often do we doubt ourselves and look to others to find a solution to a problem? How often do we seek the opinions of others to feel like we’re on the right path? This weeks episode is about learning how to find the wisdom in yourself.

“Dig within. Within is the wellspring of Good; and it is always ready to bubble up, if you just dig.

― Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

The culture that we grow up in can have a huge impact on us as to how we view the world. If we’re lucky, we have parents, teachers, and friends that teach us how to listen to our own voice and know what we feel, and what is right for us. Many of us don’t get taught these lessons of self-reliance and self-confidence. We’re taught to please our parents, please our teacher, please our church leaders. Paying attention to what we feel and what we know is right for us is highly discouraged, or at the least given little attention. We grow up relying on the opinions of others to know what we should be doing. We look to see what kinds of relationships we should have. If and when we should get married. What kinds of jobs we should take. What kinds of shows to watch on Netflix.

The thing is, society doesn’t want you to stop and think for yourself. People who take the time to truly know themselves, are no longer easy to control. They are not easily manipulated. They are often poor consumers because they know what they want and don’t waste time or money on things they don’t.

In my case, the church taught me what I was supposed to want. So much of my life was wrapped up in pleasing the leaders and the members of my church. So much so, that I often didn’t know what I really wanted, or how I really felt about things. Even as a grown man, I often find it difficult to know what I really think or feel in a given situation.

When I’m working through what I want in my life, I will find myself looking for the right answer outside of myself because I don’t think that my own opinion is worth anything. I don’t trust that I’m smart enough to figure it out on my own, or that I have the right to decide what I want. To think for myself and do what is right for me, rather than what I think others think is the right thing.

To listen to yourself, to recognize your own wisdom is a scary thing because it means that you are responsible for the results you get. You are responsible for all your failures. You are blazing your own path, rather than parroting what someone else does. You are claiming your life as your own.

It’s also hard because when you decide what you really want to go after, it’s really scary to think that you might not get it. Often you choose someone else’s dream because if you fail, then it’s not that big of a deal.

“When you confine yourself to only those things that are under your control, you cannot be defeated. Don’t be fooled by outward appearances. People with more prestige, power, or some other distinction are not necessarily happier because of what they have. There is no reason to be envious or jealous of anyone. If you lead a rational life, the good lies within you. Our concern should be our freedom, not titles and prestigious positions. The way to freedom is not to be too concerned about things we don’t control.”

— Epictetus

What does Epictetus mean by we can’t be defeated? If we only measure success by the things that we can control, we can never lose. We should never measure success based off of something that we can’t control, in this case gaining a powerful position. He also warns us not to be fooled by what others have because they may not be happier. This means that we should not define our happiness based on what others think is successful.

For example, if I measure the success of my podcast based on how many people are listening, then I will always lose. But if my measure of success is that I put out an episode each week that is important to me, then I am successful. If I feel like I’m improving, that I’m growing personally, then I’m successful.

Epictetus reminds us that if we do our best to be rational, to act on the things that we have control over and let go of the rest then we will find the good inside of us because we will see no need for jealousy or envy because we pursue what we deem as good and important. When we care less about the opinions of others, then we are free from all stress and striving and competition. We don’t care what others think so we do things that are good for us, not what others think we should do, and this is where true freedom lies.

Learning to listen to and trust yourself, and to think critically is a very important part of living a good life. It means that we learn to let go of what everyone else thinks is good for us, and we act on the things that we have control over, and trust that if we do our best, to be honest with ourselves we’ll make good choices. We may make mistakes from time to time, and we’ll fail, but we’ll learn and we’ll grow, and we’ll be free because we are living the life of our choosing, not someone else’s.