Thank you so much for reading this, the first blog post that I've written on this page.
I hope you're going to love it.
The idea that I want to talk about today is Stoicism. Stoicism is a philosophy that came to me at the right time in my life. It was a time when I was living in Tacoma, Washington. I was in a studio apartment paying $550 a month for rent. I was pretty fat, at 6'1 240 lbs. I was depressed. I was anxious. I was working a job which brought in maybe $1,500 a month after taxes, and the commute back and forth to work, the gas money and bridge toll took up $200 and 20 hours of my time alone each month.
Long story short, I was floundering and lonely in a new city. But learning Stoicism was the first in a series of steps that led me to a place where I'm pretty happy with how my life is going right now (although I'm always hungry for more.)
One day because I didn't have work I went to the library looking for any sort of idea that might make my life better, that might alleviate some of the stresses that I felt living in this new city.
I made a beeline to the philosophy section.
After quite a bit of searching I found this series of little pocket books, the size of one of those pocket Bibles that people hand out on streetcorners. There were 20 or 30 of them, each one a SparkNotes summary of a school of philosophy.
I checked out every single one.
I walked to the park, and from 10:00 in the morning until 7:30 at night I read every single one of those 20 books. Although I didn't go super deep, I got the gist of all these different schools of philosophy.
The idea of Stoicism more than any other idea stood out to me. So much so that I bought a book called "Letters from a Stoic" by a guy called Seneca, and that book stayed in my backpack for two years. It stayed on my person at pretty much all times as I left college to do freelance web work and find my own way.
What really stood out to me and why I love that book so much is the idea of responsibility. The idea of recognizing that there are things that you can control, and there are things that you can't control. Then, knowing the difference, focusing on mastering what you can control, and mastering the ability to choose how you feel about those things which you can't.
That idea, at a time in my life when I felt pretty hopeless to effect some positive changes that I wanted to see in my life, was massively important.
The idea that you dictate your own circumstances, make your own life, and make your own state of mind, has been one that's stuck with me and been instrumental in anything good that I feel has happened to me in the years since living in Tacoma.
If that isn't enough reason to learn a little about stoicism, I just want to share one more selling point why you should check out Stoicism. Seneca, was the wealthiest man in the Roman Empire during the time that Nero was emperor.
Let that sink in.
Seneca was richer than Nero. He had everything. He had massive tracts of land, and dominated financially. He was actually so rich that Nero had him killed out of jealousy.
It is a massive blessing to be able to pick up a book and download into your brain the thought processes of a guy who at that time was one of the most powerful people on earth, and still so humble that on the weekends he would go live homeless in the woods eating nothing but dry bread because he wanted to remember that poverty wasn't so bad.
1) Only read a few books (or follow a few people)
First off, I wanted to start with Senecas strong encouragement to limit your consumption of books. You can take that a little bit less literally these days. He advocated sticking with the same five or 10 books and reading them over and over again. These days, I think that piece of advice, rather than being outdated, is actually more important.
If you consider the internet and social media as a series of books, you would want to not read too much. You wouldn't want to over consume this stuff. You wouldn't want to follow 300 YouTubers and watch everything they make. Aside from how much time that would take to watch all the videos, you would become so scatterbrained that no new information would stick.
If, instead, you do what Seneca advised, and focused in on only those people that you want to influence the way that you think, then you can use social media as a massively powerful tool to improve your life.
If on the other hand you over consume and are always on the hunt for new and better content, you start to get massively confused and unfocused. As a generation, we have so many potential role models on the internet that often it can lead to paralysis by analysis. Like every area of life though, you can choose to focus on the vital few or the trivial many. You can focus on two or three well chosen people to follow and reap much better rewards than following 20 if you pick the right people and apply what you learn.
If you can go out there and pick one idea a day that you think is going to make your life better, over the course of a year, two years, five years, 10 years, this habit will actually lead to the change in circumstance and the change in attitude that you're so desiring if you're a self-development minded man. And all it takes to make this habit work for you is the discipline to minimize the content you consume, and cherry pick a few ideas to act on each day.
2) Commit 100% and take massive action
Seneca called this idea of 100% commitment "The futility of halfway measures" the idea being that if you want to make any change in your life, recognize that it's going to take a lot of effort. It's going to be painful. Know that choosing to do something new means that you're letting go of something that you used to do, and that often feels like a loss.
Your brain hates to lose anything. Even if that old habit is destructive, your brain would rather stay with the destructive habit it knows than adopt an unknown habit it doesn't. Seneca used the metaphor of a knot, like the Gordian knot to describe the process of change.
The knot is a metaphor for all of the negative habits that you've built up or let accumulate in your life. That knot of bad habits is often one which is tempting to slowly untangle but the issue is often so complicated that only one solution will get the job done, drawing a sword an hacking the knot in half. More often than not, we're unable to slowly untangle. Better is a bold action, a drastic change in behavior.
I was listening to the fitness and personal development YouTuber Elliott Hulse once and he told this kid that was addicted to playing Xbox games seven, eight, nine hours a day, that he had to grab his Xbox, go outside and dash it on the ground to break his bullshit addiction.
That is a practical philosophy. Recognizing the failure of willpower over time, take a drastic action that commits you even after your willpower has failed.
Burn the boats.
The closing point of the importance of 100% is that none of us gets to choose how long we live. You might be hit by a bus later today, or choke on a ham sandwich tomorrow, or come down with a terminal illness in 18 months.
Although you don't get to choose how long you live, it is within your control to choose how you live. In this moment and every moment, you can commit yourself through bold action to live a live according to your conscience.
Rather than be adrift in the wind and living a life of confusion and lack of progress, you can chart a course through bold action and follow it for the rest of your days.
Don't allow yourself to be like those people who although old in years, are children in the distance those years have helped them cover.
Seneca compares such people to boats which have been buffetted around a harbor during a storm, sure they have moved a lot but in the end they haven't even left port.
Chart a course, take bold action, commit 100% according to your consience, set your sail and rudder to move you in a set direction over the years, and live so that if you departed suddenly it could be without regrets.
3) Trust the God within (your intuition)
I know that in today's day and age, the idea talking about a god within or a god at all might be a super unpopular idea, and if this idea makes you uncomfortable, feel free to replace the term god within with "intuition." Deep down, we have a massive amount of intelligence and a gut-level feeling that's wickedly intelligent and that knows ultimately what's best for us.
I'm sure you've had this experience, your gut tells you that you shouldn't date that girl, or you shouldn't do this stupid thing, or you shouldn't stay in your current job, or you shouldn't quit your current job, or that you shouldn't be going to this college, or that you shouldn't be in this program, whatever. Your gut tells you something, and of course you ignore it.
Six months down the road, a year down the road this lack of trust in your intuition bites you in the ass, if you had trusted your gut, it would have been better in the long run.
We men are very guilty of using our logic and overriding our intuition. We could learn from women to trust our guts and hunches more often.
Seneca talks about something that I thought was exactly on point. He shares this idea that as you treat your in-dwelling god, so does it treat you.
Let's say you have a gut feeling that you would like to become a painter and sell your work to coffee shops. Deep down you know that this is what would make you happy. Logically, you override this desire and say, to yourself "but there would be many lean years of making $20,000 a year and I probably would never make it big." Because of this supression of your intuition, things might be fine for a year, or 5, maybe 10 but eventually you will end up self sabotaging whatever other career path you take until you become a painter. Or your lack of passion will shine through at work and you will get fired and be forced to admit that your initial hunch may indeed have been the more secure and joy filled path.
The most interesting and timely idea about the in-dwelling god, is the idea that now more than ever you can earn a living doing pretty much whatever you want. You can make a side project, a social media presence, an eBook, a coaching program, a freelance service, etc... that makes you $1,000 to $10,000 a month (and potentially a ton more.)
We literally are living in a world now where the opportunity of the internet, and all these new businesses and all these new moneymaking ideas that exist in the world, is probably the safer path than going to school in a lot of ways.
Now more than ever, you can actually abide by your own conscience, actually focus on your own inner genius and actually make whatever your intuition demands pay the bills. Although Seneca of course couldn't predict history, his ideas are useful now more than ever, because now, more than ever, you can abide by that conscience in every facet of your life.
4) Remember that you're going to die
There's plenty of stuff on Instagram, and on YouTube, and on Facebook about like, "Memento mori" and "you only live once" but these idea are oversimplifications of Stoic ideals. I wanted to share with you a couple of the insights from Seneca's insights into death that you can actually use to make yourself more grateful, and more motivated.
The first distinction about death is that all of your past memories feel as if they happened at the same time. If you think back on when you were five years old, six years old, seven years old, eight years old, 20 years old, all of those memories, to you, are in the past, and if you are like most people, they all feel like they're in the same place.
When reflecting on the past, there is no sense of time between the moments. I would challenge you to remember a memory when you were 5 and another when you were 15, can you feel what a decade feels like? Or, much more likely, do these two memories feel as if they are isolated moments? It is impossible to get a sense of more time by reminiscing on the past, and so the memory of time feels like it passes infinitely swiftly. This realization that you can't create more time by reminiscing on the past should spur you to action in the present.
A second, more poetic attitude toward death is a beautiful metaphor Seneca used. Imagine that you are a soldier in an army. You and all of your band have just been beaten and now you are in full retreat, running away from the enemy who is in hot pursuit. As you are running, you are throwing off your shield, your sword, stripping off all your armor. Lightening the load to ensure that you can escape.
That is just the way that Seneca advises us to treat death. Recognize that it is right on your heels in all moments, and that you are beating a retreat. You need to throw off all the dead weigh of wasted time in your life and live life to the full. Of course you don't have as much endurance as the forces of nature so they will eventually catch you, but by throwing off all the dead weight in your life, you can prolong the chase.
The last idea I'll leave you with is that we should know death at key moments in our day-to-day. Seneca describes a couple of key moments where he practices respect for death. When he wakes up and gets out of bed, he says, "I might never step foot back in this bed." When he goes to sleep, he says, "I might not wake up in the morning." When he leaves his house and he goes outside, he says, "I might not come back home" when he's coming back home, he says, "I might never leave this house again."
Although the probability of any one of these statements being true is tiny, they are of huge practical significance. By using regular moments as a trigger to remind you to appreciate how rare and how unique each moement of life is, you can ensure that you don't waste a moment, that you truly live life to the full and do what makes you feel alive and full of joy.
What moments in your day will remind you to remember death?
5) Move through the world with confidence
Confidence is a buzzword but very often there is no practical advice about how to create a feeling of confidence. Seneca was practical though, and provided a formula to become more confident. To him, confidence was living in accordance with you own conscience in all moments and doing nothing which would arouse fear, envy, hatred, jealousy, etc... in other people. A noble, challenging, and practical goal.
He describes how when you do something that arouses hope, envy, hatred, fear, contempt in other people, that means that that action is going to come back and bite you in the ass at some point potentially. It is like you are waiting for the shoe to drop for your past mistakes. If you were a jerk to a waiter, the next time you are in the restaurant, you are anxious about them spitting in your food. If you flip someone off on the road, you are worried that they will key your car if they see it in town. You get the idea.
On the other side of the coin, if you act in such a way that you don't have anything to fear then you will be expecting only good things to come to you, and that's the root of confidence. Because then you can enter the world knowing that all of those little positive things that you left, all those little bits of good karma that you left all, in every interaction that you've had, are going to come back to you, and that means the world is going to be a friendly place. The root of confidence is doing what is right according to your own conscience and according to other peoples well-being.
I believe with all my heart that although the world is so often painted as a terrible place in the main stream media, we are living in the best time to be alive. We are living in a moment so rich in opportunity that it is mind boggling.
I also believe that stoicism is the perfect mentality to approach a world like ours. One that is constantly changing, and risky.
I believe that the people who will win in the near future and the people who will be able to squeeze this moment in history are those who are best able to master their fears and skepticism and take bold action to use the changing technological landscape. And stoicism enables action by removing fear.
That is really what I take away the most from Stoicism, the knowledge that if you can master your mindset and rule yourself, that the circumstances around you really don't matter. Winners have always won and will continue to win no matter the environment, and you can make yourself a winner by developing winning philosophies.
I hope you enjoyed this blog post. Leave your comments below, leave your questions below, leave all your ideas below, and let me know what you'd like me to write about next, because I really, really enjoy producing this stuff and want to offer as much value as humanly possible.
- Talk to you next week,