This story originally appeared on Medium on October 22, 2019.
There is no good or bad without us, there is only perception. There is the event itself and the story we tell ourselves about what it means. — Ryan Holiday, The Obstacle is the Way
A lot of us like our lives just the way they are. We have our daily routines, we have rituals we like to adhere to such as meals we eat, or the people we interact with. We like having a set of systems and routines to help us get through the day. But if these systems limit us due to fear of change, we are stopping ourselves from growing and living our best life. Here’s a fact: Change is inevitable.
We are all in a constant state of change, but seldom do we look at our lives in this way. Marcus Aurelius knew this, however, and reminded himself of such when he wrote:
Is any man afraid of change? Why — what can take place without change? — Marcus Aurelius, The Meditations
Change is not necessarily a bad thing, on the contrary, it can often be a good, leading to unexpected surprises which force us to grow. It is in our mindset that we determine whether or not change is a positive or a negative. In his bestselling book, The Obstacle is the Way, Ryan Holiday describes such when he says:
There is no good or bad without us, there is only perception. There is the event itself and the story we tell ourselves about what it means. — Ryan Holiday, The Obstacle is the Way
Adversity is what often leads to change and that is what builds us into stronger and better individuals.
In Carol Dweck’s book, Mindset, she states:
Mindset change is not about picking up a few pointers here and there. It’s about seeing things in a new way. When people…change to a growth mindset, they change from a judge-and-be-judged framework to a learn-and-help-learn framework. Their commitment is to growth, and growth takes plenty of time, effort, and mutual support. — Carol Dweck, Mindset
Is it so strange to look at change and see the potential for growth in it? As young children, we are fragile and weak but as we grow older, our bones strengthen, our understanding of life becomes clearer, our worldview grow larger. This is change and it has happened, and will continue to happen to us throughout our lives. Rather than fight this, we should embrace it.
Marcus reminds himself of the need to embrace change and events when he writes:
It’s unfortunate that this has happened. No. It’s fortunate that this has happened and I’ve remained unharmed. — Marcus Aurelius, The Meditations
Everyone is born into this world and experiences change and adversity. It is through our mindset that we are able to utilize these changes to our advantage. As Dweck continues in Mindset:
We like to think of our champions and idols as superheroes who were born different from us. We don’t like to think of them as relatively ordinary people who made themselves extraordinary. — Carol Dweck, Mindset
Think of yourself. You are not the same today as you were yesterday. Your hair has continued to grow while you went throughout your day. You have gone through different events, each impacting you in a way that forced you to act and react. Some of those actions and reactions were natural while others had to be learned on the fly because you had to pivot within the situation you experienced. Each event you go through is a stepping stone to growth so long as you continuously look at it with this mindset. We have set backs. We go through adversities. We face change. This is life but that doesn’t mean we do not, or cannot, learn from these events.
As Marcus Aurelius states:
The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way. — Marcus Aurelius, The Meditations
Keep an open mindset to change and you will see your life and knowledge expanding rapidly. Or keep a closed mindset, stay in your lane with your thought patterns, and experience a life half lived.
The key to a virtuous life is through growth, understanding ourselves and those around us, taking continuous action to advance ourselves so we can live our best life.
PS: If you liked this article and would like to read more of my content, please feel free to sign-up for my monthly newsletter here.
PSS: This article contains affiliate links to the books I referenced. This being said, I have read and evaluated each of the books prior to my recommending them through the links within this article.
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In honor of @ryanholiday newest book, Stillness is the Key, released yesterday. – It is the final book in his trilogy, the previous two being The Obstacle is the Way and Ego is the Enemy. For those who have been following us for a while, you know we’re constantly talking about both books and even referenced The Obstacle is the Way in our latest newsletter. – Check out @ryanholiday book (links to all in the bio) and reach out to him on social media and tell him how much you enjoyed the book(s). – These works, along with The Daily Stoic changed my life and view of the world. The books are filled with timeless advice which you can immediately put into action. – Thank you @ryanholiday for writing another fantastic book! #stoicwithin #stoicism #ryanholiday #stillnessisthekey
Do you have something you want to achieve? The majority of people have aspirations, goals, and dreams – things they want for their lives. It could be personal, financial, or business related. It could be any number of things. Unfortunately, more often than not, we allow things to get in the way of these goals, or we make excuses for why we have not yet achieved them, and, in some cases, we even self-sabotage to prevent ourselves from actually achieving what we desire. Often times, though, we have yet to achieve our desired state because we have not yet laid out the road for which we must walk.
EMBRACE THE MOMENT
A lot of the time, we know what we want, but we do not make strides to go after the desired goal because we do not know how to. We make excuses for ourselves such as “well, I don’t have the time right now, but in a month I will”, or, “well, I need to do X, Y, and Z before I can do anything else”. The problem with these excuses, and any excuse we make, is that it provides credence to inaction. One cannot achieve a goal or reach a desired outcome if they do not take appropriate steps towards that goal.
This is one of the biggest problems with “the law of attraction”. Many people think that all you have to do is believe in it and it will somehow come to you. What many fail to acknowledge is that the law of attraction, a vision board, or any other goal planner is only the first step. You must then take the second step to achieve the goal, you must take action, and after that you will need to take the third, and the fourth, and the fifth step. It is a constant effort to achieve what you want, but it all begins right here by embracing the moment and your goal.
If you’re having trouble starting, change your mindset a little. Remember that time on this earth is limited. It is the most valuable resource we have. Therefore, learn to embrace the here and now.
Think of what Epictetus said in the following Fragment:
Truly it is wonderful to love a thing for which we perform so many services every day.
Embrace what you have in the present moment, even if it is nothing more than a repetitive task you have to perform for work. Master that task. Your dedication to a single task and the mastering of it will carry over into other aspects of your life. That same dedication to something you may not want to do will transfer to your dedication to what you do want to do. Learn to grow yourself. Embrace the fact that you have control over the events of your life.
This is a cause for celebration because it means you have control over how hard you want to work towards your goals. Maybe you work a full-time job and only have time for yourself at night. Or the side business you have been trying to start is not growing as fast as you want it to. Embrace your time away from your goal. Use it as a way to let your mind rest from what you want to achieve so that when you do have the time to work on it, you can approach it with fresh eyes.
It is within your power to choose how and when you want to put in the work. But do not let this “absence of pursuit” become an excuse.
In Meditations, Marcus Aurelius reminds himself that he is in control of his life and what he makes of it:
All those things at which thou wishest to arrive by a circuitous road, thou canst have now, if thou dost not refuse them to thyself.
It is up to you to decide when you want to achieve your goals. But by no means does this mean it will be easy, which is why one who wishes to achieve their goal must embrace the here and now and go after it relentlessly. By embracing the goal, you understand the journey. You understand the end result of that goal is not the final destination. There is no magical time where everything just clicks and you have everything you want. Work must be put into our goals if we want to achieve them. We must embrace the journey to achieve our goal. It is through the journey that we learn more about ourselves, our goals, what works, and what doesn’t. Or as Ryan Holiday states in Ego is the Enemy, “You must sweep the floor every minute of every day. And then sweep again.”
CREATE YOUR BLUEPRINT
Okay, so you know what you want. You have picked your goal. You have stopped making excuses for why you don’t have it or haven’t yet taken action. You have faced the hard reality that it will take work, that no magic potion will achieve it for you. You have admitted (perhaps doggedly) that you are committed to achieving your goal and no longer making excuses. You take a breath and are ready to begin.
But where do you start?
You first must create a blueprint for yourself. Everyone’s goal or desire will be different so therefore every blueprint will have its own unique needs, but that doesn’t mean you cannot borrow their methods. I have found that the easiest way to create a blueprint to achieve a goal is to pyramid your goal (which I previously wrote about here). The idea of the pyramid is to place your goal on the top of the pyramid, and then take a hard, honest look at each layer beneath it, each layer representing a different phase of the process for which you need to complete in order to get to the top of the pyramid (and achieve your goal).
Each phase itself may be a single action or may have multiple actions involved.
Find your goal or thing you wish to achieve. Create a plan and strategize about how you will achieve it.
Let’s look at how this article came to be as a quick example of the process:
Top of Pyramid
Article on Having the Choice to Take Action
So I knew I wanted to write an article that was about choosing to take action on one’s life and providing some necessary steps to achieve that. This is the top of my pyramid for this article. The goal: write an article detailing/showing how people can achieve success in their lives through a simple process of creating a blueprint for their desires/goals.
Second Level of Pyramid
Write draft(s) of article
But in order for me to have that finished article ready for you to read, I had to first take the steps necessary for it to happen, I had to write a draft, or in this case, several drafts of the article until I felt like it was ready to be shared. This phase involved writing numerous drafts, expanding the article, then shrinking it in length, removing some material while putting in others. This was all about molding the product to how I wanted it to look and flow in its final form.
First Level of Pyramid
Research quotes and tactics for article. Outline main points.
Before I could even start writing a draft of the article though, I had to know what I was going to talk about within the article. This meant I had to flush out my idea, create an outline for the main points I wanted to talk about, and find the appropriate quotes I wanted to use within the article. This was the easiest part of the article for me because it was something that I did over the course of several weeks, just throwing together bullet points, beats, and quotes, and allowing a very rough idea of what the article would look like to form in my head.
So if we look at this from the beginning, we would see something like this:
First Level – Come up with goal (Write article about having choice to take action on one’s life). Then I had to execute on that idea and put together the appropriate material to help me succeed at my goal. From there, I was able to write the initial draft of the article (Level Two). But in Level Two, I learned not everything I thought for the initial outline would work, so I had to rewrite the article until I thought it was acceptable to share. Which brings me to the top of the pyramid, which is my completed article which you are now reading.
Is it perfect? Hardly. Did I finish it? Yes. Did I learn from the experience? Absolutely. I will be better next time because of it. And this is what life is about, trying, learning, and repeating. I set my goal, understood my levels of the pyramid and what would need to be put into each, and over time chipped away at the appropriate phases until it was complete.
So once we have our goal and have laid out the blueprint for how we will achieve it, we must learn to…
So now you have your goal and you have your blueprint for how you will achieve it. Now what? Well now you have to go after it.
You must take action.
You must pursue the goal.
Start with the base of your pyramid, making sure to do all of the appropriate things necessary to keep the pyramid stable. The bottom of the pyramid is your foundation, if it is not thoroughly thought through and executed, the later phases will have gaps as pressure moments. The base is the most important aspect of the pyramid model.
You must understand that you will, in all likelihood, fail. This is not the end. Failure in any pursuit is nothing more than an opportunity to learn. Did Thomas Edison create the lightbulb on his first try? No, not even close. He also had hundreds of patents which went nowhere. Do you know why? Because it is all about testing ideas and blueprints, seeing what works and what doesn’t, and then learning and growing from those experiences.
Understand that failing at your goal is part of the process. Learn from those failures. Get back up and keep going. Every successful person started in the same place, everyone who has achieved anything had to start by setting a goal, strategizing on how to achieve it, and taking a step towards it, no matter how big or small.
Your goals are achievable. They are within your reach. Set the goal. Strategize how you will attain it. Make incremental progress towards it. Learn from your mistakes and failures throughout the process. Keep pushing on.
Epictetus reminds us of the need for action in the Discourses when he says:
Every habit and faculty is preserved and increased by correspondent actions; as the habit of walking, by walking; of running, by running. If you would be a reader, read; if a writer, write. But if you do not read for a month together, but do something else; you will see what will be the consequence. So, after sitting still for ten days, get up and attempt to take a long walk; and you will find how your legs are weakened. Upon the whole then, whatever you would make habitual, practise it; and, if you would not make a thing habitual, do not practise it, but habituate yourself to something else.
You need to move and take action. Don’t sit and wait. Go after it.
It is within your power to achieve what you desire.
Don’t waste time.
You are the pilot of your own life.
Embrace the moment you have. Create a blueprint for what you want. Take action to achieve it. Repeat as many times as necessary.
The choice is yours.
We’ve enlisted the help of Marcus Aurelius, Epictetus, and Seneca to assist us in providing even more additional guidance to help you live your most virtuous life. Want to see what wisdom they have to provide? Complete the form below and join our private monthly newsletter. Oh, and did we mention there’s also free goodies for signing up?
We all have ego within us. It is natural to have self-esteem or self-importance, and it is right for us to pursue these emotions if we do not possess them. Some people have confidence naturally, it is innate within them. Others have to work to find these emotions from within. But there is a difference between having these healthy emotions and the destruction they can cause once we allow them to write the story of our lives. Once ego begins to rule our actions in a destructive way, we must learn to kill it. More often than not, however, we cannot see when the two start to blur.
Ryan Holiday finishes his book, Ego is the Enemy, with the following message, “Every day for the rest of your life you will find yourself at one of three phases: aspiration, success, failure. You will battle the ego in each of them. You will make mistakes in each of them. You must sweep the floor every minute of every day. And then sweep again.”
What Holiday is speaking about here is that no matter what happens in your life, your ego will come into play. Whether you are aspiring for something, succeeding at a goal, or failing, your ego will roar its ugly head and try to convince you otherwise. You will hear the small voice in your head start creeping in. When you are succeeding, it will tell you you are unstoppable, nothing can befall you. When aspiring, it will tell you others have only achieved success earlier than you through shortcuts and cheating. And when failing, it will remind you that those around you cannot see your genius, that you are right and everyone else is wrong.
Before Apple was the Apple we all know today, it was a company run by Steve Jobs and his ego. Through a series of events, Jobs’ ego led to his ousting from the company he spent his life building. He could not get out of his own way and wanted to control every aspect of the company the way he wanted it. He did not want to listen to his board of directors or others input. And so, he fell from grace. He would spend years studying what went wrong and where he miscalculated. He would study philosophy and management and would come to have an understanding of where his faults had lay. Through yet another series of events, including starting a brand new computer company, NeXT, and that company later being bought by Apple, Jobs would return to his original home of Apple and once again regain control of his throne at the company, this time with the skills necessary to take the company, and himself, in the direction that was needed to succeed, not just for himself, but for the betterment of Apple.
This is not to say Jobs went from being an intolerable tyrant to being a saint to work with. Even once he regained control of Apple, he was known for his demanding vision for perfection and his verbal outbursts. But he had, to some degree, learned to recognize when others were right and when it was time to listen to others’ voices and not just his own. All one has to do is look at how well Pixar flourished under Jobs. He came to learn that the studio and its employees were good at what they did and didn’t need him over their shoulder studying what they did and critiquing every little detail. As Ed Catmull writes in Creativity, Inc., “In the time I worked with Steve, he didn’t just gain the kind of practical experience you would expect to acquire while running two dynamic, successful businesses; he also got smarter about when to stop pushing people and how to keep pushing them, if necessary, without breaking them. He became fairer and wiser, and his understanding of partnership deepened…”
Sometimes, it is necessary to fall in order to once again stand. To paraphrase Arthur Schopenhauer, it is through loss that teaches us the worth of things.
Robert Half once was quoted as saying an “ego trip is a journey to nowhere.” I would rephrase that and say it is a trip to destruction. You may be able to get away with ego here or there, but eventually it will catch up to you.
Ego is an addiction. Once you feed it, it needs to be fed again. In Little Shop of Horrors, the musical and film, Seymour, the protagonist, is gifted with a plant, the Audrey II, from outer space. As the story progresses, we learn the plant requires blood in order to survive. But what starts out as a single drop of blood to feed the plant quickly turns to murder, the plant always wanting more and more blood to feed off of.
This is ego. Always requiring more. Never satisfied. Always looking for the next bit of praise or recognition, always looking for more and more blood to feed its insatiable hunger.
Now compare Jobs to that of Jeff Dean. His name might not be as familiar but his impact on the world has been just as important. In Daniel Coyle’s phenomenal book, The Culture Code, Coyle explains how Dean, a Google engineer from Minnesota, changed the game for Google’s AdWords, helping move Google from a multimillion dollar company to multibillion. According to Coyle, “Dean’s fix unlocked the problem… In the year following Dean’s fix, Google’s profits went from $6 million to $99 million. By 2014, the AdWords engine was producing $160 million per day, and advertising was providing 90 percent of Google’s revenues.”
The catch? Dean doesn’t remember the accomplishment, and this is because he saw it as regular course of business. As Dean explains to Coyle, “I mean, I remember that it happened. But to be completely honest, it didn’t register strongly in my memory because it didn’t feel like that big of a deal. It didn’t feel special or different. It was normal.”
Dean’s story is a lesson in humility. What’s most important in situations like this is the team. The end-goal for the collective group. Nothing is guaranteed and all can be lost tomorrow. How we work with each other today for the betterment of the group is what is most important.
So how can we be like Dean and keep our egos in check?
We must start by finding actionable steps we can take to ward off ego once it begins to rule our actions. One way is to have an accountability partner, someone who will be frank and honest with you. This person can be a significant other, close friend, or colleague. They are there to keep us in check when we begin to allow our ego to direct our life story.
We must learn to be open. Ego feeds into paranoia. It tells you others are encroaching on your genius, that they want everything you have in life and will destroy you in order to get it. It tells you life is a zero-sum game and there can only be one winner.
We must understand that there are things within our control and things that are not. How we react to the world and our situations is within our control. It was within Dean’s control to find a solution to the Google AdWords problem. Dean could have asked for a promotion, he could have left and gone to a new organization if he didn’t get it. He could have done any number of things. But instead he responded by saying it was normal course of business. He understood his position within the larger picture of the company, and he understood it was within his control to fix the problem at hand. He found the solution and put that out into the world without need or desire to be recognized. Understanding what is in our control will help center us and quiet the ego. It is about the work we do, not the recognition we receive for it. In either case, ego will be there, knocking on the door asking to be let in. But by understanding ourselves and our control over our emotions, we know we don’t have to let it in.
Remember our time on this earth is limited. None of us know when that time will come to an end. We must therefore make the most of our time, not in a zero-sum game, but in the game of impact. What are you providing this world? Are you making the most of your time? As Seneca writes, “If each one could have the number of his future years set before him as is possible in the case of the years that have passed, how alarmed would those be who saw only a few remaining, how sparing of them would they be!”
What Holiday’s book, Ego is the Enemy, reminds us is that it is not about the self. It is not about feeding the ego. It is about the work. What we’re putting out into the world. The differences we’ve made to those around us. As Holiday says, “You must sweep the floor every minute of every day. And then sweep again.”
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We each have our own individual lives and situations. We have unique backgrounds and traits that have made us who we are today. But yet one persistent trait that seems to follow us all is the need and desire to compare ourselves to others.
In the ever evolving world of social media and the celebrated celebrity status, we find that comparing ourselves to people of power, authority, and celebrity, whether it be real or fake –especially on social media-is prevalent throughout each and every day.
We jump onto Facebook or Instagram and see our friends at Coachella or having what seems like a better birthday than we had. We see the trips and glorified lives in which our friends are constantly living and we cannot help but feel the comparison of our own lives to those we see.
This is prevalent in the business world as well. How many times have you looked at your job and been happy or content with it only to jump on LinkedIn and see a former classmate with a better job or job title? Or a coworker who “phones in” their work but is paid twice as much as yourself?
A recent study showed that millennials are spending more money today than they historically ever have for one simple reason: fear of missing out.
With our world now so interconnected and easily accessible to the masses, we are constantly inundated with the ability to compare ourselves to those around us, and in turn, feel as though we are failing, or in other cases, less than what we actually are.
This provides a path for negative emotions to arise which can destroy us. It brings about anxiety that we are inadequate; jealousy and envy that someone has something we do not; resentment and dissatisfaction with what we do have which lead to the lies we feed ourselves to cope with the resentment and envy. How often have you heard that little voice in your head say, “He only got the promotion because his father owns the company.” Or, “Well, her boyfriend is rich so obviously he could fly her to Europe for a quick trip.”
In Robert Greene’s latest book, The Laws of Human Nature, he explains, “We almost never directly express the envy we are feeling… all of us feel envy, the sensation that others have more of what we want.” But how do we fight off these emotions when we are constantly being reminded of other people’s “fantastic” lives? One way is to remember that there will always be others who have more than us, and it is about what we have, in the present moment, that matters most. What we do not want to do is allow these emotions to erode our wellbeing. By allowing the amalgamation of these negative emotions to rule our mind, we risk losing the present moment, and in turn, risk allowing those emotions to control our actions. As Robert Greene states, “Sitting with one’s envy over a long period of time can be painful and frustrating. Feeling righteous indignation against the envied person, however, can be invigorating. Acting on envy, doing something to harm the other person, brings satisfaction… although the satisfaction is short-lived because enviers always find something new to envy.” Being envious of others creates a never ending cycle of negativity within our lives. We must work to combat these emotions.
In his fantastic book, Ego is the Enemy, Ryan Holiday directly addresses the problem of social media and how it plays into our comparison with others. “Almost universally, the kind of performance we give on social media is positive. It’s more “Let me tell you how well things are going. Look how great I am.” It’s rarely the truth: “I’m scared. I’m struggling. I don’t know.”
Long ago, Theodore Roosevelt proclaimed that comparison is the thief of joy, and that quote has never been more prevalent than today due to how interconnected and accessible everyone is.
But this is not a 21st century problem. The stoics themselves suffered all of the same emotions we currently do, albeit through different circumstances. They did not have social media and were not as easily connected to others as we are today. But think about Epictetus, born into this world as a slave to a wealthy family nearly 2,000 years ago. How easy would it have been for him to grow up seeing the riches of others and allow those emotions of cynicism, anger, and resentment to dictate and control his fate?
In his journal, Meditations, Marcus Aurelius, the most powerful man in the world at the time, had to remind himself to be present and only concerned with himself. He stated, “How much time he saves who does not look to see what his neighbors says or does or thinks.” Marcus knew that comparing himself to others did nothing but waste time. He accepted what he had, accepted the cards and fate he was dealt, and made the most of that time and opportunity. “Love the hand that fate deals you and play it as your own.” In essence, he loved and accepted his fate. Amor Fati.
But comparison doesn’t end there. It also blinds us to the positives we have in life. By always comparing ourselves to others, we risk losing the most important thing within our control, the present moment. Epictetus himself even stated, after a prized possession of his was stolen, “a man loses only that which he already has.”
We must therefore fight the urge to compare ourselves to others. It does us no good to sit and dwell on what we do not have. We have the present moment, and what we make of that time. Nothing more.
But how does one go against fighting this urge? We cannot simply shun our friends or social media. We cannot isolate ourselves to a cave and never see another human being again. We must learn to coexist in the world with the knowledge and acceptance that there will always be a tiny voice in our head, egging us on to compare ourselves or our situation to others. But we must train our mind to be strong against this. We must fight this temptation and extinguish it.
In his amazing and simple book, Love Yourself Like Your Life Depends on It, Kamal Ravikant explains a technique James Altucher taught him. He states in the book that when a useless thought enters his mind, he immediately cuts it off with two simple words, “Not useful.” This simple yet profound technique is the beginning of finding ways to control negative thoughts that take you away from your purpose in life and the present moment. By cutting off the serpent’s head, you are stopping the thought in its tracks. At first, it may not work. You may say “Not useful” and the thought still lingers. But your mind is a muscle, and thus must be built up the way a weightlifter might build up his body. By repeatedly performing this act, you are creating new grooves in your mind, and from that, new synapses will form to conquer your negative thoughts as they arise. You will get to the point where your reaction is no longer envy or jealousy, but rather, indifference.
The same goes for thoughts of people comparing themselves to you. Does it truly matter if someone compares themselves to you? You have your life, with your own goals and desires. They have the same for themselves. As Robert Greene advises, “It is a fact of social life that there are always people who are superior to us in wealth, intelligence, likeability, and other qualities.” So who is someone else to come in and compare their life to your own? Does it make you feel better to know you have more than someone else, or that you are more successful than others? Does it provide you a boost of confidence? A feeling of accomplishment? If so, you may need to check your ego. As Ryan Holiday states in Ego is the Enemy, “Silence. The ability to deliberately keep yourself out of the conversation and subsist without its validation. Silence is the respite of the confident and the strong.”
When it comes to comparison, Epictetus himself also states, “It is actually a good thing to be thought foolish and simple with regard to matters that don’t concern us. Don’t be concerned with other people’s impressions of you. They are dazzled and deluded by appearances. Stick with your purpose. This alone will strengthen your will and give your life coherence.”
We must therefore form actionable steps and exercises to control and extinguish the negative emotions from our lives. We must learn to stay present in the current moment; we must appreciate the fact that we have our own lives which are populated with our own goals, desires, and wants; we must realize that we are in control of ourselves and our lives-there will always be things outside of our control, but stoicism is about understanding what is in our own control and accepting those that are not; we must make the most of our time on this earth and work, ever so diligently, to grab hold and achieve our purpose; we must find ways to properly create new neurological pathways so that when we do feel those pangs of envy arise through comparison, we are no longer affected by them; and we must create the work and environment we want for our lives.
Because at the end of the day, as Epictetus stated, you must “Make the best use of what is in your power, and take the rest as it happens.”
The day has finished. We have spent today thinking about the following question:
If I am to leave life at this exact moment, what would I regret?
It has been well said, at one point or another in your life, whether by a friend or family member, that at any moment, you could step outside and be hit by a car, or a bus, or a [fill this in with a any other heavy piece of machinery].
But why is this so important?
Because death creates life.
It is death, the end of something that brings the beauty to the world we live in. It brings an understanding that everything is finite, whether it is the tree outside your window, or your own life. It is the scarcity that brings life to the forefront of our mind and heart.
So if life is so short, or fleeting, then why live with regrets?
I think the Daily Stoic said it best:
Marcus Aurelius was emperor of Rome. His untitled writing, commonly known as Meditations is an important source of Stoic philosophy.
“The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.”
He means that everything, no matter whether it is good or bad is an opportunity to practice virtue.
Don’t be surprised by failure, expect it, in fact, embrace it and seek after obstacles in your life which seem uncomfortable.
It is here where your character will be tested and most importantly moulded and developed.
The Stoics called negative visualisations the premeditation of evils. The idea is to envision the worst possible scenario. An example could be twisting your ankle before you run.
Assimilate this idea into your daily actions and you will be rewarded.
Epictetus is famous for what he called the dichotomy of control which describes what is in our control.
We can apply this to failure.
The moment you start to regret something in the past you’re fundamentally acting against something which is out of your control and so there’s no practical reward from doing so only frustration and anger.
We should learn from the past and our failures, but to regret, to ponder and to revisit our previous attempts and then look at present with disdain is a crime to your character.
Therefore, we cannot live our lives with regret towards the past. Nor can we live with fear of the future. We must push on as if today is the last day we have.
As Seneca reminds us:
“No man can have a peaceful life who thinks too much about lengthening it … Most men ebb and flow in wretchedness between the fear of death and the hardships of life; they are unwilling to live, and yet they do not know how to die.”
We must learn to therefore live. We spend too much of our time wasting our lives, worrying about things that never even come to fruition. Seneca even remarks as such saying:
“There are more things, Lucilius, likely to frighten us than there are to crush us; we suffer more often in imagination than in reality… What I advise you to do is, not to be unhappy before the crisis comes; since it may be that the dangers before which you paled as if they were threatening you, will never come upon you; they certainly have not yet come… Accordingly, some things torment us more than they ought; some torment us before they ought; and some torment us when they ought not to torment us at all. We are in the habit of exaggerating, or imagining, or anticipating, sorrow.”
Live today without regrets. Do not fear what may never come. Remove emotion from decisions and realize today may very well be your last. How would you want to live it?
Meditations -Marcus Aurelius
The Daily Stoic – Ryan Holiday
The Tao of Seneca – Volume I – Seneca the Younger, Presented/Prepared by Tim Ferris
The Tao of Seneca – Volume II – Seneca the Younger, Presented/Prepared by Tim Ferris
The Tao of Seneca – Volume III – Seneca the Younger, Presented/Prepared by Tim Ferris
Letters from a Stoic – Seneca the Younger
On the Shortness of Life – Seneca the Younger
How have we grown from this? Did we execute any differently today because of this? Do you feel that you have new tools to accomplish tomorrow?