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Prepare For The Storm

This is the true athlete—the person in rigorous training against false impressions. Remain firm, you who suffer, don’t be kidnapped by your impressions! The struggle is great, the task divine—to gain mastery, freedom, happiness, and tranquility.
—Epictetus, Discourses, 2.18.27-28

Epictetus also used the metaphor of a storm, saying that our impressions are not unlike extreme weather that can catch us and whirl us about. When we get worked up or passionate about an issue, we can relate.

But let’s think about the role of the weather in modern times. Today, we have forecasters and experts who can fairly accurately predict storm patterns. Today, we’re defenseless against a hurricane only if we refuse to prepare or heed the warnings.

If we don’t have a plan, if we never learned how to put up the storm windows, we will be at the mercy of these external—and internal—elements. We’re still puny human beings compared with one-hundred-mile-per-hour winds, but we have the advantage of being able to prepare—being able to struggle against them in a new way.

* Source: The Daily Stoic by Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman

The Enemy Of Happiness

It is quite impossible to unite happiness with a yearning for what we don’t have. Happiness has all that it wants, and resembling the well-fed, there shouldn’t be hunger or thirst.
—Epictetus, Discourses, 3.24.17

I’ll be happy when I graduate, we tell ourselves. I’ll be happy when I get this promotion, when this diet pays off, when I have the money that my parents never had. Conditional happiness is what psychologists call this kind of thinking. Like the horizon, you can walk for miles and miles and never reach it. You won’t even get any closer.

Eagerly anticipating some future event, passionately imagining something you desire, looking forward to some happy scenario—as pleasurable as these activities might seem, they ruin your chance at happiness here and now. Locate that yearning for more, better, someday and see it for what it is: the enemy of your contentment. Choose it or your happiness. As Epictetus says, the two are not compatible.

* Source: The Daily Stoic by Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman

Don’t Make Things Harder Than They Need To Be

If someone asks you how to write your name, would you bark out each letter? And if they get angry, would you then return the anger? Wouldn’t you rather gently spell out each letter for them? So then, remember in life that your duties are the sum of individual acts. Pay attention to each of these as you do your duty … just methodically complete your task.
—Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 6.26

Here’s a common scenario. You’re working with a frustrating coworker or a difficult boss. They ask you to do something and, because you dislike the messenger, you immediately object. There’s this problem or that one, or their request is obnoxious and rude. So you tell them, “No, I’m not going to do it.” Then they retaliate by not doing something that you had previously asked of them. And so the conflict escalates.

Meanwhile, if you could step back and see it objectively, you’d probably see that not everything they’re asking for is unreasonable. In fact, some of it is pretty easy to do or is, at least, agreeable. And if you did it, it might make the rest of the tasks a bit more tolerable too. Pretty soon, you’ve done the entire thing.

Life (and our job) is difficult enough. Let’s not make it harder by getting emotional about insignificant matters or digging in for battles we don’t actually care about. Let’s not let emotion get in the way of kathekon, the simple, appropriate actions on the path to virtue.

* Source: The Daily Stoic by Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman

Only Bad Dreams

Clear your mind and get a hold on yourself and, as when awakened from sleep and realizing it was only a bad dream upsetting you, wake up and see that what’s there is just like those dreams.
—Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 6.31

The author Raymond Chandler was describing most of us when he wrote in a letter to his publisher, “I never looked back, although I had many uneasy periods looking forward.” Thomas Jefferson once joked in a letter to John Adams, “How much pain have cost us the evils which have never happened!” And Seneca would put it best: “There is nothing so certain in our fears that’s not yet more certain in the fact that most of what we dread comes to nothing.”

Many of the things that upset us, the Stoics believed, are a product of the imagination, not reality. Like dreams, they are vivid and realistic at the time but preposterous once we come out of it. In a dream, we never stop to think and say: “Does this make any sense?” No, we go along with it. The same goes with our flights of anger or fear or other extreme emotions.

Getting upset is like continuing the dream while you’re awake. The thing that provoked you wasn’t real—but your reaction was. And so from the fake comes real consequences. Which is why you need to wake up right now instead of creating a nightmare.

* Source: The Daily Stoic by Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman

Think Before You Act

For to be wise is only one thing—to fix our attention on our intelligence, which guides all things everywhere.
—Heraclitus, Quoted In Diogenes Laertius, Lives Of The Eminent Philosophers, 9.1

Why did I do that? you’ve probably asked yourself. We all have. How could I have been so stupid? What was I thinking?

You weren’t. That’s the problem. Within that head of yours is all the reason and intelligence you need. It’s making sure that it’s deferred to and utilized that’s the tough part. It’s making sure that your mind is in charge, not your emotions, not your immediate physical sensations, not your surging hormones.

Fix your attention on your intelligence. Let it do its thing.

* Source: The Daily Stoic by Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman

Pleasure Can Become Punishment

Whenever you get an impression of some pleasure, as with any impression, guard yourself from being carried away by it, let it await your action, give yourself a pause. After that, bring to mind both times, first when you have enjoyed the pleasure and later when you will regret it and hate yourself. Then compare to those the joy and satisfaction you’d feel for abstaining altogether. However, if a seemingly appropriate time arises to act on it, don’t be overcome by its comfort, pleasantness, and allure—but against all of this, how much better the consciousness of conquering it.
—Epictetus, Enchiridion, 34

Self-control is a difficult thing, no question. Which is why a popular trick from dieting might be helpful. Some diets allow a “cheat day”—one day per week in which dieters can eat anything and everything they want. Indeed, they’re encouraged to write a list during the week of all the foods they craved so they can enjoy them all at once as a treat (the thinking being that if you’re eating healthy six out of seven days, you’re still ahead).

At first, this sounds like a dream, but anyone who has actually done this knows the truth: each cheat day you eat yourself sick and hate yourself afterward. Soon enough, you’re willingly abstaining from cheating at all. Because you don’t need it, and you definitely don’t want it. It’s not unlike a parent catching her child with cigarettes and forcing him to smoke the whole pack.

It’s important to connect the so-called temptation with its actual effects. Once you understand that indulging might actually be worse than resisting, the urge begins to lose its appeal. In this way, self-control becomes the real pleasure, and the temptation becomes the regret.

* Source: The Daily Stoic by Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman

Protect Your Peace Of Mind

Keep constant guard over your perceptions, for it is no small thing you are protecting, but your respect, trustworthiness and steadiness, peace of mind, freedom from pain and fear, in a word your freedom. For what would you sell these things?
—Epictetus, Discourses, 4.3.6b-8

The dysfunctional job that stresses you out, a contentious relationship, life in the spotlight. Stoicism, because it helps us manage and think through our emotional reactions, can make these kinds of situations easier to bear. It can help you manage and mitigate the triggers that seem to be so constantly tripped.

But here’s a question: Why are you subjecting yourself to this? Is this really the environment you were made for? To be provoked by nasty emails and an endless parade of workplace problems? Our adrenal glands can handle only so much before they become exhausted. Shouldn’t you preserve them for life-and-death situations?

So yes, use Stoicism to manage these difficulties. But don’t forget to ask: Is this really the life I want? Every time you get upset, a little bit of life leaves the body. Are these really the things on which you want to spend that priceless resource? Don’t be afraid to make a change—a big one.

* Source: The Daily Stoic by Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman

Hero Or Nero!

Our soul is sometimes a king, and sometimes a tyrant. A king, by attending to what is honorable, protects the good health of the body in its care, and gives it no base or sordid command. But an uncontrolled, desire-fueled, over-indulged soul is turned from a king into that most feared and detested thing—a tyrant.
—Seneca, Moral Letters, 114.24

There is that saying that absolute power corrupts absolutely. At first glance, that’s true. Seneca‘s pupil Nero and his litany of crimes and murders is a perfect example. Another emperor, Domitian, arbitrarily banished all philosophers from Rome (Epictetus was forced to flee as a result). Many of Rome’s emperors were tyrants. Yet, not many years later, Epictetus would become a close friend of another emperor, Hadrian, who would help Marcus Aurelius to the throne, one of the truest examples of a wise philosopher king.

So it’s not so clear that power always corrupts. In fact, it looks like it comes down, in many ways, to the inner strength and self-awareness of individuals—what they value, what desires they keep in check, whether their understanding of fairness and justice can counteract the temptations of unlimited wealth and deference.

The same is true for you. Both personally and professionally. Tyrant or king? Hero or Nero? Which will you be?

* Source: The Daily Stoic by Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman