I have a problem

If you find yourself wanting to speed up the reading process on a particular book, you may want to ask yourself, “Is this book any good?”

~ Ryan Holiday from, https://ryanholiday.net/13-reading-strategies/

Long-time readers will be well aware of my self-diagnosed problem with books. I’ve spent a lot of time reading about reading about books, but this list by Holiday made me think about a few things in a new light. Yes, of course; It’s a post by Holiday so it’s going to have some ancient Stoic philosophers in it. Schopenhauer had a sublime lament about time for reading. Holiday’s strategies won’t help you there. There’ll preserve some of your reading time for, well, more reading. But I still think the hardest part about reading is making it a priority. (Recall: “I don’t have time to…” is bullshit.)

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Quite nice

[T]oday, let’s seek to be better than the things that disappoint or hurt us. Let’s try to be the example we’d like others to follow. It’s awful to be a cheat, to be selfish, to feel the need to inflict pain on our fellow human beings. Meanwhile, living morally and well is quite nice.

~ Ryan Holiday

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Go to sleep

In the military they speak of sleep discipline–meaning it’s something you have to be good at, you have to be conscious of, something you can’t let slip. We only have so much energy for our work, for our relationships, for ourselves. A smart person knows this and guards it carefully. A smart person knows that getting their 7-8 hours of sleep every night does not negatively affect their output, it contributes crucially to their best work.

~ Ryan Holiday from, https://ryanholiday.net/go-to-sleep/

Sleep. sleep sleep sleep sleep sleep sleep sleep sleep sleep sleep sleep sleep sleep sleep sleep sleep sleep sleep sleep sleep sleep sleep sleep sleep sleep sleep. Sleep? Sleep!

Know that old trope about if you could go back and tell yourself something, or send yourself a letter? …and most people—including me!—say something like: No I wouldn’t because I’d not be who I am now without those mistakes! Yeah no ima take that back. Note to past self: Yo! Go the f*<k to sleep.

And maybe… just sayin’ spitballin’ here… try gettin’ up early if you really want to jump back on whatever it is you think it’s worth staying up for tonight… ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ what do I know.

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Fear and misery

The Stoics knew that fear was to be feared because of the miseries it creates. The things we fear pale in comparison to the damage we do to ourselves and others when we unthinkingly scramble to avoid them. An economic depression is bad; a panic is worse. A tough situation isn’t helped by terror—it only makes things harder. And that’s why we must resist it and reject it if we wish to turn this situation around.

~ Ryan Holiday

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Who’s in charge?

But then [Seneca] gives the real reason: “The body should be treated more rigorously that it may not be disobedient to the mind.” I think about that every morning just before I crank the knob. Who is in charge? The courageous side of me or the cowardly side? The side that doesn’t flinch at discomfort or the side that desires to always be comfortable? The side that does the hard thing or the side that takes the easy way?

~ Ryan Holiday from, https://ryanholiday.net/do-something-that-scares-you-every-day/

This made me think. Usually, I share others’ writing because I thought highly of it. In this case, I’m hesitant to say this, however: I’ve never thought my body was in charge.

Certainly(!) I have reflexes and bodily functions or urges which my mind has no control over. Certainly flinching (under cold water for example) is something you can learn to reduce. I’ve always thought of my mind as the one who’s not always the best captain of the ship. I don’t need to train to put my mind in charge of my body.

Recently I hurt my back. The story begins with my doing some truly pathetic, free-weight exercises to strengthen my back. I over did it. Then I ate poorly and wound up bloated and a few pounds heavier. Then I went rock climbing and worked on a problem (a challenging combination of moves and skills, in an easy to access location rather than 2 hours up some mountain, so one can spend time with it) that involved maximum–strength pulling with my arms while pushing with my legs. Boink! Ow, my back. I managed to calmly pack my 20 pounds of things into my pack, walk back to the car and drive myself 3 hours home. There were a myriad of things that could have set me off in the moment, on the drive, and in the coming days: acute pain, inability to sleep well, the inability to reach my feet or wipe my butt, the fact that I did it all to myself while trying to improve my body, drivers on the highways and people who tried to talk to me, the overall setback, … so many things. But instead, I was reasonable with everyone. I did what I could do, rested and recovered. A week later—just as I knew I would be—I’m back to where I was before I picked up the free-weights. Ready to try again at improving myself (and planning an even more gradual start.)

So I’m inclined to say: My mind is clearly in charge, even under duress.

What I was thinking about, in that first sentence here, was if I have trained to put my mind in charge, that means there’s room for more training.

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The more you say

The more you say, the more likely you are to blow past opportunities, ignore feedback, and cause yourself suffering. The inexperienced and fearful talk to reassure themselves. The ability to listen, to deliberately keep out of a conversation and subsist without its validity is rare. Silence is a way to build strength and self-sufficiency.

~ Ryan Holiday

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Better choices

And Stoicism, it could be said, is a philosophy about how to make better choices. This is what we see in a book like Meditations. We see Marcus Aurelius journaling, working to get better at choosing. Choosing the right things to value, the right things to think, the right things to focus on, the right response to a difficult situation.

~ Ryan Holiday from, https://ryanholiday.net/8-choices-that-will-make-your-life-better/

One of the first things you learn about philosophy is that the word means “the love of truth.” It’s the sort of clever thing a much younger version of myself would have bludgeoned others with. “See me study philosophy!” I long ago learned to set aside such cleverness.

Fortunately I learned that philosophy—at least, the sort I’m interested in—is about self-improvement. The proof of my work shows in myself… in my actions and the way I think, and is noticeable to those who care to pay attention. (I’m not suggesting that everyone should pay attention to me.) Surprisingly, at the deeper level of self-improvement, reminding myself that “philosophy” means “the love of truth”, has returned to being a great thing to trot out regularly… as a reminder to myself.

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Rules for living

Stoicism, in theory, is a philosophy. As a practice, it is a set of rules to live by. The Stoics believed that life was complicated—more importantly, that it was exhausting. So to create rules was to help ensure that we stay on the right path, that we don’t let the complexity and the nuance of each individual scenario allow us to compromise on the big, high standards we know we hold.

~ Ryan Holiday from, https://dailystoic.com/12-rules-for-life/

This is an enormous post. Normally something of this size would be twelve, separate posts. It’s nice to be able to leisurely read through this. I’ve gotten enormous return on my investment of time from these rules. I often remind myself, however, that these are aspirational. These are the ideals for which I’m striving. They are not the reef upon which I’m planning on smashing the ship through strict adherence.

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By which handle

It’s easy to think negative thoughts and to get stuck into a pattern with them. But forcing myself to take the time not only to think about something good, but write that thought down longhand was a kind of rewiring of my own opinions. It became easier to see that while there certainly was plenty to be upset about, there was also plenty to be thankful for. Epictetus said that every situation has two handles; which was I going to decide to hold onto? The anger, or the appreciation?

~ Ryan Holiday from, https://ryanholiday.net/gratitude-is-a-daily-practice/

The idea that there are two handles to every impression is a blazing reminder that impressions are neither inherently good nor bad. It is our own reasoned choice which adds that evaluation.

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Choose two

Life is about tradeoffs. When we know what to say no to, and we know why, we can say yes with comfort and confidence to the things that matter. To the things that last. Work, family, scene. You can have two if you say no to one. If you can’t, you’ll have none.

~ Ryan Holiday from, https://ryanholiday.net/work-family-scene/

The words “work”, “family”, and “scene” are of course maleable. I’d argue there’s a fourth—”self” or “health” would be the word I’d choose—and the admonition should be expanded to, “choose any three.” None the less, there something that feels to me very true about it being necessary, in the way the gravity is necessary to obey, about picking two of those three. There was a time when I chose work and scene. It was interesting, for a while. It wasn’t what it was cracked up to be. What’s your list, and which are you choosing?

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