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Anger Is Bad Fuel

There is no more stupefying thing than anger, nothing more bent on its own strength. If successful, none more arrogant, if foiled, none more insane—since it’s not driven back by weariness even in defeat, when fortune removes its adversary it turns its teeth on itself.
—Seneca, On Anger, 3.1.5

As the Stoics have said many times, getting angry almost never solves anything. Usually, it makes things worse. We get upset, then the other person gets upset—now everyone is upset, and the problem is no closer to getting solved.

Many successful people will try to tell you that anger is a powerful fuel in their lives. The desire to “prove them all wrong” or “shove it in their faces” has made many a millionaire. The anger at being called fat or stupid has created fine physical specimens and brilliant minds. The anger at being rejected has motivated many to carve their own path.

But that’s shortsighted. Such stories ignore the pollution produced as a side effect and the wear and tear it put on the engine. It ignores what happens when that initial anger runs out—and how now more and more must be generated to keep the machine going (until, eventually, the only source left is anger at oneself). “Hate is too great a burden to bear,” Martin Luther King Jr. warned his fellow civil rights leaders in 1967, even though they had every reason to respond to hate with hate.

The same is true for anger—in fact, it’s true for most extreme emotions. They are toxic fuel. There’s plenty of it out in the world, no question, but never worth the costs that come along with it.

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

You Don’t Have To Have An Opinion

We have the power to hold no opinion about a thing and to not let it upset our state of mind—for things have no natural power to shape our judgments.
—Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 6.52

Here’s a funny exercise: think about all the upsetting things you don’t know about—stuff people might have said about you behind your back, mistakes you might have made that never come to your attention, things you dropped or lost without even realizing it. What’s your reaction? You don’t have one because you don’t know about it.

In other words, it is possible to hold no opinion about a negative thing. You just need to cultivate that power instead of wielding it accidentally. Especially when having an opinion is likely to make us aggravated. Practice the ability of having absolutely no thoughts about something—act as if you had no idea it ever occurred. Or that you’ve never heard of it before. Let it become irrelevant or nonexistent to you. It’ll be a lot less powerful this way.

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

Did That Make You Feel Better?

You cry, I’m suffering severe pain! Are you then relieved from feeling it, if you bear it in an unmanly way?
—Seneca, Moral Letters, 78.17

The next time someone gets upset near you—crying, yelling, breaking something, being pointed or cruel—watch how quickly this statement will stop them cold: “I hope this is making you feel better.” Because, of course, it isn’t. Only in the bubble of extreme emotion can we justify any of that kind of behavior—and when called to account for it, we usually feel sheepish or embarrassed.

It’s worth applying that standard to yourself. The next time you find yourself in the middle of a freakout, or moaning and groaning with flulike symptoms, or crying tears of regret, just ask: Is this actually making me feel better? Is this actually relieving any of the symptoms I wish were gone?

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

Fear Is A Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

Many are harmed by fear itself, and many may have come to their fate while dreading fate.
—Seneca, Oedipus, 992

“Only the paranoid survive,” Andy Grove, a former CEO of Intel, famously said. It might be true. But we also know that the paranoid often destroy themselves quicker and more spectacularly than any enemy. Seneca, with his access and insight into the most powerful elite in Rome, would have seen this dynamic play out quite vividly. Nero, the student whose excesses Seneca tried to curb, killed not only his own mother and wife but eventually turned on Seneca, his mentor, too.

The combination of power, fear, and mania can be deadly. The leader, convinced that he might be betrayed, acts first and betrays others first. Afraid that he’s not well liked, he works so hard to get others to like him that it has the opposite effect. Convinced of mismanagement, he micromanages and becomes the source of the mismanagement. And on and on—the things we fear or dread, we blindly inflict on ourselves.

The next time you are afraid of some supposedly disastrous outcome, remember that if you don’t control your impulses, if you lose your self-control, you may be the very source of the disaster you so far. It has happened to smarter and more powerful and more successful people. It can happen to us too.

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

Don’t Seek Out Strife

I don’t agree with those who plunge headlong into the middle of the flood and who, accepting a turbulent life, struggle daily in great spirit with difficult circumstances. The wise person will endure that, but won’t choose it—choosing to be at peace, rather than at war.
—Seneca, Moral Letters, 28.7

It has become a cliche to quote Theodore Roosevelt‘s “Man in the Arena” speech, which lionizes “the one whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly …” compared with the critic who sits on the sidelines. Roosevelt gave that speech shortly after he left office, at the hight of his popularity. In a few years, he would run against his former protege in an attempt to retake the White House, losing badly and nearly assassinated in the process. He would also nearly die exploring a river in the Amazon, kill thousands of animals in African safaris, and then beg Woodrow Wilson to allow him to enlist in World War I despite being 59 years old. He would do a lot of things that seem somewhat baffling in retrospect.

Theodore Roosevelt was a truly great man. But he was also driven by a compulsion, a work and activity addiction that was seemingly without end. Many of us share this affliction—being driven by something we can’t control. We’re afraid of being still, so we seek out strife and action as a distraction. We choose to be at war—in some cases, literally—when peace is in fact the more honorable and fitting choice.

Yes, the man in the arena is admirable. As is the soldier and the politician and the businesswoman and all the other occupations. But this is a big but, only if we’re in the arena for the right reasons.

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

Steady Your Impulses

Don’t be bounced around, but submit every impulse to the claims of justice, and protect your clear conviction in every appearance.
—Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 4.22

Think of the manic people in your life. Not the ones suffering from an unfortunate disorder, but the ones whose lives and choices are in disorder. Everything is soaring highs or crushing lows; the day is either amazing or awful. Aren’t those people exhausting? Don’t you wish they just had a filter through which they could test the good impulses versus the bad ones?

There is such a filter. Justice. Reason. Philosophy. If there’s a central message of Stoic thought, it’s this: impulses of all kinds are going to come, and your work is to control them, like bringing a dog to heel. Put more simply: think before you act. Ask: Who is in control here? What principles are guiding me?

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

On Being Invincible

Who then is invincible? The one who cannot be upset by anything outside their reasoned choice.
—Epictetus, Discourses, 1.18.21

Have you ever watched a seasoned pro handle the media? No question is too tough, no tone too pointed or insulting. They parry every blow with humor, poise, and patience. Even when stung or provoked, they choose not to flinch or react. They’re able to do this not only because of training and experience, but because they understand that reacting emotionally will only make the situation worse. The media is waiting for them to slip up or get upset, so to successfully navigate press events they have internalized the importance of keeping themselves under calm control.

It’s unlikely you’ll face a horde of probing reporters bombarding you with insensitive questions today. But it might be helpful—whatever stresses or frustrations or overload that do come your way—to picture that image and use it as your model for dealing with them. Our reasoned choice—our prohairesis, as the Stoics called it—is a kind of invincibility that we can cultivate. We can shrug off hostile attacks and breeze through pressure or problems. And, like our model, when we finish, we can point back into the crowd and say, “Next!”

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

The Source Of Your Anxiety

When I see an anxious person, I ask myself, what do they want? For if a person wasn’t wanting something outside of their own control, why would they be stricken by anxiety?
—Epictetus, Discourses, 2.13.1

The anxious father, worried about his children. What does he want? A world that is always safe. A frenzied traveler—what does she want? For the weather to hold and for traffic to part so she can make her flight. A nervous investor? That the market will turn around and an investment will pay off.

All of these scenarios hold the same thing in common. As Epictetus says, it’s wanting something outside our control. Getting worked up, getting excited, nervously pacing—these intense, pained, and anxious moments show us at our most futile and servile. Staring at the clock, at the ticker, at the next checkout lane over, at the sky—it’s as if we all belong to a religious cult that believes the gods of fate will only give us what we want if we sacrifice our peace of mind.

Today, when you find yourself getting anxious, ask yourself: Why are my insides twisted into knots? Am I in control here or is my anxiety? And most important: Is my anxiety doing me any good?

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