Tag: Marcus Aurelius

9 Stoic Practices That Will Help You Thrive In The Madness Of Modernity

9 Stoic Practices That Will Help You Thrive In The Madness Of Modernity

When Zeno of Cyprus was shipwrecked and stranded on Athens, he wasn’t expecting any good to happen.

Having lost everything and with not much else to do, Zeno wandered into a bookshop and was quickly absorbed by the teachings of Socrates. After studying with the great philosophers of his time, he decided to impart his wisdom to anyone who would care to listen.

Thus the philosophy of Stoicism was born. Zeno’s teachings would quickly spread and would be adopted by both slaves and kings alike. As he would later joke: “I made a prosperous voyage when I suffered shipwreck.”

But that’s not where the story of Stoicism ends. Centuries later, the philosophy remains as relevant — if not more so — in modern society. These https://miramarretreat.org/ of stoic practices will help bring calm to the chaos we face today.

9 Stoic Practices That Will Help You Thrive In The Madness Of Modernity

1. Develop An Internal Locus Of Control

“Man is disturbed not by things, but by the views he takes of them.” — Epictetus

Much of what happens in life is not within our control. The Stoics recognised this undeniable truth, and focused instead on what they could do.

Born a slave, it would seem that Epictetus had no reason to believe he could control anything. He was permanently crippled from a broken leg given to him by his master. Epictetus would live and die in poverty.

But that wasn’t what Epictetus thought. He would say that even while his property and even his body was not within his control, his opinions, desires, and aversions still remained his. That was something that he owned.

It’s easy to get frustrated today. We’re so used to comfort that even the slightest inconvenience provokes outrage within us. If the internet takes a second longer than it should or if traffic stalls for a minute, the natural instinct is annoyance if not rage.

It isn’t any of these breakdowns that are making us unhappy. The unhappiness stems from the emotional response that we have chosen. The onus is on ourselves to ensure that we don’t let external events affect our internal state of mind.

Once we internalise that, it becomes clear that we have the power to be happy regardless of our circumstances.

2. Guard Your Time

“We’re tight-fisted with property and money, yet think too little of wasting time, the one thing about which we should all be the toughest misers.” — Seneca

The Stoics understood that time is our greatest asset. Unlike any of our material possessions, once lost, time can never be regained. We must therefore strive to waste as little of it as possible.

Those who squander this scarce resource on minutia or entertainment will find that they have nothing to show for it in the end. The habit of procrastination and putting things off will come back to haunt us. Tomorrow isn’t guaranteed.

On the other hand, those who give away their time freely to others will also find that they are no better than those who waste it. Most of us allow people and other obligations to impose on our time too easily. We make commitments without giving deep thought to what it entails. Calendars and schedules were meant to help us. We should not become a slave to them.

Regardless of which end of the spectrum we fall into, time is of the essence. We think we have a lot of time, but we really don’t.

3. Don’t Outsource Your Happiness

“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 opinions of himself than on the opinions of others.” — Marcus Aurelius

Much of what we do stems from our primal need to be liked and accepted by others. Disapproval from our social group had serious repercussions in the past. It would have likely meant exile and eventually death in the wilderness.

That’s still true to some extent today. But how much time and effort do we spend trying to win the approval of others? What is it costing us?

We spend money we don’t have, to buy fancy things we don’t need, in order to impress someone we don’t care about. Our choice of career or lifestyle is centred around how others perceive us, rather than what is best for us. We are held hostage and pay a king’s ransom every day, with no guarantee that we will ever be free.

In contrast, the Roman statesman Cato sought to lead a life that was independent of the opinion of others. He would wear the most outlandish of outfits and walk in the streets without putting on shoes. It was his way of accustoming himself to be ashamed only of what deserves shame, and to despise all other sorts of disgrace.

That was the only way in which he could stand up to Julius Caesar, whom he recognised was consolidating too much power. It enabled him to make the big decisions when it counted, without fear of disapproval.

We have much to learn from him. Far better for us to live life on our own terms and ignore the opinions of others. Happiness should never be outsourced.

4. Stay Focused When Confronted With Distractions

“If a person doesn’t know to which port they sail, no wind is favourable.” — Seneca

Modern-day capitalism has given us an abundance of options.

Whether it’s food, travel, or entertainment, we have far more to work with than our predecessors did. Yet, this hasn’t clearly benefited us. When presented with so many options, we become paralysed by indecision.

This is known as the paradox of choice. Our brains haven’t been able to keep up with modern day advances and are overwhelmed when presented with so much information. Because it’s so difficult to make a choice, the default choice is to maintain the status quo.

It’s one of the core problems we face in our daily lives. With so many options, we never really commit to a path. We either put off making a decision or pursue multiple activities all at once. The result is that we never really make headway into anything at all.

The Stoics emphasised the need for purposeful action. We must take care not to be merely reacting to our circumstances, but to live intentionally.

5. Toss Away Ego And Vanity

“Throw out your conceited opinions, for it is impossible for a person to begin to learn what he thinks he already knows.” — Epictetus

One of Epictetus’ biggest frustrations as a teacher was how his students claimed to be want to be taught, but secretly believed that they knew everything.

It’s a pain all teachers know and most of us would recognise. At the heart of it is ego and arrogance. The thought is that we’ve learnt enough and are better than our contemporaries.

Nowhere is such thinking more dangerous than today.

The information of today is not only insufficient for solving the problems of tomorrow but can very well be the obstacle for sharper thinking as well.We are in an age where we’re merely one step away from being disrupted in virtually every industry. Even in ancient times Marcus Aurelius has remarked, “the universe is change, life is an opinion”.

This is why the most brilliant minds of today spend a good portion of their time reading. They understand that there is always wisdom to be gleaned, whether from the past, present, or future.

We would be wise to do the same. Always stay a student.

6. Consolidate Your Thoughts In Writing

“No man was ever wise by chance” — Seneca

Of the many things we can do daily, none are as important as looking inward. The act of self-reflection forces us to question ourselves and examine our own assumptions of the world. It’s how the answers to some of the world’s biggest questions have surfaced.

Keeping a journal remains one of the most effective ways for mindfulness. It boosts creativity, increases gratitude, and serves as therapy all at once. The benefits are numerous. Your thoughts and feelings become clearer in writing than in your mind.

The Stoics were well aware of that. The most powerful man in the Roman empire, Marcus Aurelius would dutifully take the time to record his observations and feelings whether at war or in peace. It’s what we know today as Meditations.

While everyone from athletes to entrepreneurs benefit from Marcus Aurelius’ wisdom today, it is clear that the biggest beneficiary of his writing and thinking was himself. The clarity of thought and accountability brought by his journal kept him virtuous when anyone in his position would have likely erred and become a tyrant.

Take the time to journal. It’s not difficult and the rewards are immense.

7. Stand Your Ground

“In doing nothing men learn to do evil.” — Cato

In a profession that is often based on compromise, Cato was stubborn and steadfast in his beliefs. He was taught that there were no shades of grey. All virtues were one and the same virtue, all vices the same vice.

It seems like an unreasonably high standard. It’s undeniable that many feats have only been made possible through compromise. Yet it seems that the pendulum has swung too far today: we forgo our principles in the name of tolerance or for profit.

Cato infuriated both his political allies and enemies for his sheer refusal to compromise. He demanded that his friends and family adopt the same stance, without leaving room for any flexibility. But adherence to this impossible standard also earned him unshakable authority. By default, he became Rome’s moral arbiter of right and wrong.

We can’t all be like him, but there is a lesson to be learnt. If you stand for nothing, you’ll fall for everything.

8. Imagine The Worst That Could Happen

“Nothing happens to the wise man against his expectation” — Seneca

Much has been said about the power of positive thinking in recent times. We are taught that optimism and affirmations are the key to leading a happier life. But that’s not what the Stoics believed.

They felt that this practice invited passivity into our daily lives. It encourages us to simply hope for things to get better instead of taking concrete action. Rather than deny the harsh realities of life, they decided to embrace it.

They regularly conducted an exercise known as premeditatio malorum, which translates to a premeditation of evils. The goal was to imagine the worst events that could possibly happen to them. For some, it was a loss of reputation. To others, it was financial ruin and poverty. But common to all was the eventuality of death.

What would things look like if everything went wrong tomorrow?

How would I cope with that situation?

Should this change the way I live today?

These were some of the questions they asked themselves. The exercise never failed to yield valuable rewards. The Stoics took cautionary measures to ensure that the undesirable outcome would not eventuate. Even when it failed, they lived better for they had contemplated how they would weather the adversity they were faced with.

We should be brutally honest with ourselves and never be afraid to confront reality. That is the best way we can prepare for success and be ready for failure.

9. Remember That Nothing Endures

“Alexander the Great and his mule driver both died and the same thing happened to both.” — Marcus Aurelius

In the grand scheme of things, none of what we’ve achieved matters.

It’s a sobering thought. We all experience the world like we are at the centre of reality. That creates an illusion where our importance is inflated. We see ourselves as the protagonist in our own story.

But the truth is this perception exists only in our minds. Everyone around us walks around with a similar mindset, but each of us are insignificant in the long run. Even the brightest minds such as Edison and Newton would eventually be relegated to a footnote.

There is no need for us to conform to irrational expectations and external pressures. Neither do we need to chase accomplishments in the hope of building a legacy. None of us these things last.

All that matters is we live life on our own terms. It is the only way we can truly say that we have lived a good life.

The Stoic: 9 Principles to Help You Keep Calm in Chaos

The Stoic: 9 Principles to Help You Keep Calm in Chaos

Not only does philosophy teach us how to live well and become better humans, but it can also aid in overcoming life’s trials and tribulations. Some schools of thought are for more abstract thinking and debate, whereas others are tools that are immediately practical to our current endeavors.

The principles within Stoicism are, perhaps, the most relevant and practical sets of rules for entrepreneurs, writers, and artists of all kinds. The Stoics focus on two things:

  1. How can we lead a fulfilling, happy life?
  2. How can we become better human beings?

The goal of Stoicism is to attain inner peace by overcoming adversity, practicing self-control, being conscious of our impulses, realizing our ephemeral nature and the short time allotted—these were all meditative practices that helped them live with their nature and not against it. It’s important that we understand the obstacles that we face and not run from them; it’s vital that we learn to transmute them into fuel to feed our fire.

It’s important that we understand the obstacles that we face and not run from them.

Our guides to Stoicism today will be its three renowned leaders: Epictetus, Marcus Aurelius, and Seneca.

Epictetus was born a slave at about A.D. 55 in Hierapolis, Phrygia, located in the eastern borders of the Roman Empire. Early in his life he had a passion for philosophy, and with permission from his owner, he studied Stoic philosophy under the master Gaius Musonius Rufus. After Nero’s death—the fifth Roman emperor who ruled with tyranny and cruelty—Epictetus began to teach philosophy in Rome and then later in Greece where he founded a philosophical school teaching Stoicism—among his students was the future emperor of Rome, Marcus Aurelius.

Marcus Aurelius was born in A.D. 121, considered one of the greatest Roman emperors to have ever lived, and wrote in his journal during the dull moments of a war campaign. In his journal, which inadvertently became the book Meditations, served as reminders for Stoic principles that focused on humility, self-awareness, service, death, nature, and more.

Seneca was also a Roman Stoic philosopher, statesman, a tutor and advisor to Nero. His work involves dozens of essays and 124 letters that involve topics like education, friendship, civil duty, moral obligation, humility, self-awareness, self-denial, and more. He had many admirers like Montaigne, Tom Wolfe, Emerson, and John Stuart Mill.

The Stoic: 9 Principles to Help You Keep Calm in Chaos

I’m going to share some of my favorite principles from the Stoic school of philosophy, most of them pertaining to these three thinkers. If embraced and exercised regularly, Stoic tenets will champion your creativity, facilitate your workflow, and improve your overall state of mind and life. Creative work requires us to be vulnerable, committed, adaptive, and courageous, and that requires a mindset that can readily negate distractions or negative impulses while focusing our hearts and minds on what’s important. It’s a tough balancing act.

Without a philosophy to guide our work and life, we will relentlessly succumb to our excuses and distractions. We will make the comfortable mistake of acting on our moods (“I’m just not feeling it today”) and not on our principles.

1. Acknowledge that all emotions come from within

“Today I escaped anxiety. Or no, I discarded it, because it was within me, in my own perceptions  not outside.”  Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

It is not outside forces that make us feel something, it is what we tell ourselves that create our feelings. A blank document, canvas, or unmarked to-do list is not inherently stressful—it’s your thoughts that are stressing you out.

Many of us want to place blame and responsibility on external objects because it’s easy to do, but the truth remains that all conflicts start internally, in our minds. When we flee from reality—a deadline, an urgent email—we are doing nothing but harming ourselves and undermining our self-discipline.

The next time you run into an obstacle and feel resistance, don’t look at what’s around you. Instead, look within.

It is not outside forces that make us feel something, it is what we tell ourselves that create our feelings.

2. Find someone you respect, and use them to stay honest

“Choose someone whose way of life as well as words, and whose very face as mirroring the character that lies behind it, have won your approval. Be always pointing him out to yourself either as your guardian or as your model. This is a need, in my view, for someone as a standard against which our characters can measure themselves. Without a ruler to do it against you won’t make the crooked straight.”  Seneca, Letters From a Stoic

When I first started my blog and called myself a writer, who could I look up to? The courses at my university were irrelevant to my aspirations and desires. Luckily, the Internet provided access to great writers, their stories, work, and admonishments. I can point to someone I respect and say, “Ah, look at the value they provide, their work ethic, their platform—that is worth learning from.”

Whatever you do—create apps, draw portraits, write books, or make animation films—there are individuals that you can learn from. You can study their story, works, techniques, successes and failures. You can listen to interviews or even reach out to them by sending an email. You can discover patterns of success and apply it to your life.

What’s important to realize is that this isn’t an exercise of comparison. If you don’t get a book deal in eight months or if your product doesn’t hit #1 in the first week, like your role model, that doesn’t make you a failure. Instead, how can you learn from your heroes? How are their teachings and principles helping you grow, learn, and create? Everyone, no matter how successful they are, has heroes/mentors to look towards.

3. Recognize there is life after failure 

“Does what’s happened keep you from acting with justice, generosity, self-control, sanity, prudence, honesty, humility, straightforwardness, and all other qualities that allow a person’s nature to fulfill itself? So remember this principle when something threatens to cause you pain: the thing itself was no misfortune at all; to endure it and prevail is great good fortune.”  Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

You can spend months or even years on a project, only to watch it be criticized, or worse, ignored. I once worked on a project thinking that it would do fairly well. I spent an entire year on it, and it was my most vulnerable work to date.

The outcome was similar to having a baby and all the doctors laughing out loud, saying, “My goodness that is an ugly baby.”

That’s what failure feels like when you share a part of you. But recovering from that failure is a practice, a mindset—in fact, the lessons that I internalized from that experience is helping me do better work. The thinking goes: No failure, no growth.

No failure, no growth.

4. Read purposefully, and apply your knowledge

“Don’t just say you have read books. Show that through them you have learned to think better, to be a more discriminating and reflective person. Books are the training weights of the mind. They are very helpful, but it would be a bad mistake to suppose that one has made progress simply by having internalized their contents.”  Epictetus, The Art of Living 

Reading books on marketing or business or creativity will supply endless dots that have potential for connection to develop a more in-depth awareness, but what will ultimately make you effective at that craft is by applying it. Reading prepares your mind, even helps you avoid foolish mistakes, but at the end of it all there must be the result of some action: a failure, maybe a success, or a lesson.

The purpose of education is to internalize knowledge but ultimately spark action and facilitate wiser decisions. Reading self-help books will, in that moment, make you feel inspired for a change. But are you following your principles when you have a troll, rude customer, or angry stranger in your face?

5. Challenge yourself to be brutally honest

“‘A consciousness of wrongdoing is the first step to salvation.’ This remark of Epicurus’ is to me a very good one. For a person who is not aware that he is doing anything wrong has no desire to be put right. You have to catch yourself doing it before you can reform. Some people boast about their failings: can you imagine someone who counts his faults as merits ever giving thought to their cure? So—to the best of your ability—demonstrate your own guilt, conduct inquiries of your own into all the evidence against yourself. Play the first part of prosecutor, then of judge and finally of pleader in mitigation. Be harsh with yourself at times.”  Seneca, Letters From a Stoic

It’s hard to change habits if you aren’t aware as to why you didn’t do your work today and chose to watch Netflix instead.

It’s important to be mindful of the urges that obstruct us from showing up, engaging, committing, and being present. “Why, exactly, am I feeling this way?” Get to the bottom of that. Investigate it. Dissect it. When you feel resistance, use that as a cue to go forward. The challenge, of course, is training yourself to think that way.

This isn’t about talent or some unconscious reflex. The practice of self-awareness—to think about your thinking—in how you think, feel, and behave is a muscle. The more you use it, the stronger it becomes.

When you feel resistance, use that as a cue to go forward.

6. Reflect on what you spend the most time on 

“A key point to bear in mind: The value of attentiveness varies in proportion to its object. You’re better off not giving the small things more time than they deserve.”  Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

That troll on your Twitter feed? It’s probably best to not respond. You don’t need to tell them where the unfollow button is located; I’m positive they know. That email? I know it’s fun connecting, but can it wait?

In my own observations, people who do excellent work, who master their craft, do so because of their ability to prioritize. They honor every hour of their day. If we put cameras behind our heroes, would our work ethic compare? Our focus? Our determination to get things done?

The other day I was genuinely shocked at how much time I spent spectating on Instagram, watching other people live their lives and eat boats of sushi. Although these little breaks throughout our days are okay, we must be mindful of how we interact with our distractions (or is that addictions?).

A lot of spectating and flicking our finger on Guerrilla Glass is time that could be spent creating the stuff that people want to see.

7. Remind yourself: you weren’t meant to procrastinate.

Whenever I have trouble waking up or getting started, I read this passage:

“At dawn, when you have trouble getting out of bed, tell yourself: ‘I have to go to work—as a human being. What do I have to complain of, if I’m going to do what I was born for—the things I was brought into the world to do? Or is this what I was created for? To huddle under the blankets and stay warm?—But its nicer here

So you were born to feel ‘nice’? Instead of doings things and experiencing them? Don’t you see the plants, the birds, the ants and spiders and bees going about their individual tasks, putting the world in order, as best they can? And you’re not willing to do your job as a human being? Why aren’t you running to do what your nature demands? 

—But we have to sleep sometime

Agreed. But nature set a limit on that—as it did on eating and drinking. And you’re over the limit. You’ve had more than enough of that. But not of working. There you’re still below your quota. You don’t love yourself enough. Or you’d love your nature too, and what it demands of you. People who love what they do wear themselves down doing it, they even forget to wash or eat. Do you have less respect for your own nature than the engraver does for engraving, the dancer for dance, the miser for money or the social climber for status? When they’re really possessed by what they do, they’d rather stop eating and sleeping than give up practicing their arts.  Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

8. Put the phone away and be present

“Nothing, to my way of thinking, is a better proof of a well ordered mind than a man’s ability to stop just where he is and pass some time in his own company.  Seneca, Letters From a Stoic

It’s not that we live in an age of distractions, but rather an age where we are failing to teach and embrace mindful motives. To me, a child in a restaurant playing a game on her iPad is no different than an adult flicking through Instagram when friends are around. Both scenarios are moments of connection (to the people around you, not through your screen), communication, and enjoyment.

To be present as well as learning to be alone is a habit. Some people are really good at it because they make time to do it—in fact, they need it or else they would go mad.

Throughout your day find a moment, however fleeting, to just sit and be still. Doesn’t matter where you are. Take a few deep breathes, put your phone on vibrate so there’s no chance of interruption, and just reflect on the series of events that took place throughout your day. When you’re working, be ruthlessly present. Let your mind focus on the task at hand, what you’re trying to accomplish, and do it with diligence, patience, attentiveness, and care. Sooner or later, you’ll realize how much of an asset this is to your creativity and overall quality of life.

When you’re working, be ruthlessly present.

9. Remind yourself that time is our most precious resource

“Not to live as if you had endless years ahead of you. Death overshadows you. While you’re alive and able  be good.”  Marcus Aurelius, Meditations 

What I particularly love and find challenging about Stoicism is that death is at the forefront of their thoughts. They realized the ephemeral nature of humans and how this is repeated in many facets of life.

It provides a sense of urgency, to realize that you’ve lived a certain number of hours and the hours ahead of you are not guaranteed as the ones you have lived. When I think of this I realize that everyday truly is an opportunity to improve, not in a cliché kind of way, but to learn to honestly appreciate what we are capable of achieving and how we are very responsible for the quality of our lives.

This makes our self-respect, work ethic, generosity, self-awareness, attention, and growth evermore important. The last thing any of us wants to do is die with regret, hence why following principles of Stoicism puts your life into perspective. It humbles you and should also deeply motivate you.

Lastly, in the words of Seneca, “We should hunt out the helpful pieces of teaching and the spirited and noble-minded sayings which are capable of immediate practical application–not far far-fetched or archaic expressions or extravagant metaphors and figures of speech–and learn them so well that words become works.”

The way we lead our lives and do our work must embody the principles that we practice. Less comparing, criticizing, and consuming; more creating, learning, and living.