blog by a Stoic

Stoicism has long surged in times of difficulty—the decline and fall of Rome, the American Revolution, the French Revolution, the Civil War, depressions, and periods of strife because it is a philosophy designed for difficult times. It says, in effect, you don’t control these alarming events going on in the world, but you do control how you respond. And in fact is a framework for responding with courage and virtue, and with the good emotions that accompany and sustain them: joy, caution and well-wishing. None of these inspiring figures were guilty of emotionless acquiescence.

~ Ryan Holiday from, https://dailystoic.com/secret-singular-philosophy-todays-politics-desperately-missing/

I’m certainly not going to transform my blog to be entirely about Stoicism. Not because others have already done so—others have, and have done it better than I could—but rather, simply because this blog doesn’t actually have a specific purpose. It’s simply one long stream of consciousness where I’m leaving a breadcrumb trail of my thoughts. That being said…

Stoicism is turning out to be a powerful toolset; an excellent fulcrum for leveraging change in my personal life. Over several years, I’ve become increasingly interested in it, and have read slowly, but steadily. Very recently, I started a morning practice I’ve labeled “philosophical reading.” It’s simply some time set aside in my mornings to read and reflect on philosophy.

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Show yourself first

If you should ever turn your will to things outside your control in order to impress someone, be sure that you have wrecked your whole purpose in life. Be content, then, to be a philosopher in all that you do, and if you wish also to be seen as one, show yourself first that you are and you will succeed.

~ Epictetus

Stoicism, with a capital ‘S’

Ancient Stoics were all about living in the moment, a goal achieved by cultivating self-control and self-awareness through meditative practices, though not necessarily of the om-chanting variety. They “thought about thinking” by considering their emotions from a rational perspective, reflecting on the ethics of their decisions, and constantly reminding themselves that while they had no power over what happened in life, they did have power over their responses to it. 

~ Chiara Sulprizio from, https://dailystoic.com/stoicism-cultural-moment/

“Ancient Stoics,” as in, people who lived in antiquity who were Stoics. Stoicism is ancient, in the sense that it predates the modern religions, (that is, all those you can name.) But it’s distinctly modern in the sense that it’s prefectly suited to today.

If you take one thing from this little missive of mine, let it be that being “stoic” in the common English usage, (stoic: n., one who is seemingly indifferent to or unaffected by joy, grief, pleasure, or pain,) has nothing to do with Stoicism, as a philosophy. And a great one for your daily life at that.

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Focus your attention

One of the most powerful things you can do as a human being in our hyperconnected, 24/7 media world is say: “I don’t know.” Or, more provocatively: “I don’t care.” Most of society seems to have taken it as a commandment that one must know about every single current event, watch every episode of every critically acclaimed television series, follow the news religiously, and present themselves to others as an informed and worldly individual.

~ Ryan Holiday from, The Daily Stoic, p39.

Stoicism is a terrific tool. (It’s not about suppressing your emotions.) One of the practices is to pay attention to where your attention is. If I know I’m not going to do anything with this information—this news show, this political argument, this batshit-crazy conspiracy theory, this story, that solicitation, this bit of entertainment, that bit of distraction . . . If I know I’m not going to do anything with this information, then it turns out that it is trivial to not be distracted by things. People think I’m ignoring things, or that I’ve not noticed things. I’m simply choosing where to allocate my attention, (and therefore my time and efforts.) I choose to be in control of where my attention is placed. Only then can I apply it where it will do good.

What in your life can demand your attention? Are you okay with each of things that you just thought of?

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On splitting

Caution: seemingly disjointed thoughts ahead, followed by unifying insight.

I hope.

I’m pragmatic and rational with the usual dose of emotions thrown in, because, human. I also find that I too often ignore the messaging coming from my body and my brain. I sometimes get into deep work on something technical, and I have trouble knowing when I should stop. (Answer: A few hours in, at a place where I know what I should do next. Never work until stuck; Don’t stop there.) I push everything too far and then crash mentally, or even physically.

I’ve recently found I have Lyme disease. “Boooo!” But the treatment—at least, the initial treatment option—is a simple antibiotic called Doxycycline. “Yay, modern science!” Which I take twice per day on an empty stomache and it makes me pretty nauseous. “Booooo,” (more vociforously.) I usually eat dinner by 6:30pm, and the evening 8:30pm pill isn’t usually bad. But the 8:30am pill on a totally empty stomach is nausea-roulette about 40 minutes later.

Splitting is the name for all-or-nothing thinking: You’re either with me, or against me. This project is suceeding or failing. I am a sucess or a failure. Partly this comes from focusing on outcomes; I set lots of goals, and I set them high on purpose, so usually I don’t reach them. “Booooo,” combined with some splitting leads to, “I suck.”

In Stoic parlance, a “dispreferred indifferent” is something you do not prefer, and over which you have no control and are therefore indifferent to the outcome. (Stoicism crib notes: Almost everything is an “indifferent” since you fully control only your own thoughts.) Vomitting around 9am every day is definitely a DISpreferred indifferent. I can drink plenty of water, I can pay attention to my posture, (unexpectedly it drastically affects my stomach reaction,) I can avoid laying down, I can avoid getting up, etc. …and it’s still nausea-roulette.

I have had a superlatively enjoyable week since starting this medication.

Wait, what?

Seriously. Something about having this [actually quite minor] regular nausea thing seems to be treating my splitting thinking. “Oh, nice it’s time to work on this cool thing I want to see suceed!” “Oh, nice it seems to be time to vomit!” “Oh, nice that was just a wave of nausea!” “It’s really going to be hot outside today, but it’s cool on the patio for now. Nice!” “Oh, are we vomitting now? That’s nice too!” “Oh, I have an idea for something to do this afternoon. Nice!” It seems to have all just run together into this general state of, “nice!”

Ok, yeah, that may be pretty messed up. But, gotta go, it’s 8:30.

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Let the news come

And what better use could you make of that time? A day that could be your last — you want to spend it in worry? In what other area could you make some progress while others might be sitting on the edges of their seat, passively awaiting some fate? Let the news come when it does. Be too busy working to care.

~ Ryan Holiday

Time management

The caveat is that this quadrant can be mistaken as something that shouldn’t be part of life, but that is not true. It is really important to have a balanced life between work and your personal life. You need downtime to not get burnt out and that is where quadrant four comes into the picture. The challenge is you allocate most of your time to quadrant two, with just enough of time spent in quadrant four to get by.

~ Thanh Pham from, http://www.asianefficiency.com/productivity/coveys-time-management-quadrant/

I disagree.

Everything in the UN-important half (the lower half in the diagrams) of the quadrant is the Bad Lands to be avoided. There’s no such thing as “work life balance.” I spent decades trying to fiddle with that balance. There is only life. I strive to do only important things. I strive to only do NON-urgent things by paying attention to what I should be doing. I strive for a wide variety of activities which are all necessary, important and not urgent. One might even say: “To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”

I have control over only two things: My thoughts and my actions.

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You begin to see common threads

The core of the philosophy seems to be this: To have a good and meaningful life, you need to overcome your insatiability. Most people, at best, spend their lives in a long pursuit of happiness. So today’s successful person writes out a list of desires, then starts chasing them down and satisfying the desires. The problem is that each desire, when satisfied, tends to be replaced by a new desire. So the person continues to chase. Yet after a lifetime of pursuit, the person ends up no more satisfied than he was at the beginning. Thus, he may end up wasting his life.

~ Peter Adeney from, http://www.mrmoneymustache.com/2011/10/02/what-is-stoicism-and-how-can-it-turn-your-life-to-solid-gold/

Mr. Money Mustache is fun and chock-full-of challenges to re-think, and shrug off the western, consumerism mindset. (Which I, at least, have grown up with.) Here he is discovering Stoicism back in 2011. It pleases me greatly when I find common threads appearing in the various people and places that I follow.

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Imposter syndrome… for the win!

while it is always a good idea to question one’s own work, and to be open to outside criticism, if you are a professional in a given field there probably are good reasons to think you know what you are doing, especially when your work gets repeatedly validated externally.

~ Massimo Pigliucci from, https://howtobeastoic.wordpress.com/2018/03/15/stoic-advice-impostor-syndrome/

One of the things I particularly LIKE is the imposter syndrome aspect of my podcast.

“…wait. wat?”

Yes.

You see, there’s an entire universe of “perform interview” skills that I don’t have, and I’m loving learning something entirely new. It’s also pretty much orthogonal to my previous life experience — “listen,” had to learn that. “empathize,” had to learn that. Even this weird thing you have to do to imagine everyone who is listening and try to read the minds of people you are imagining… it’s bonkers. I love it.

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Your clear conscience

Your clear conscience gives reason to be confident; still, since many external factors have a bearing on the outcome, hope for the best but prepare yourself for the worst. Remember above all to get rid of the commotion. Observe what each thing has inside, and you will learn: there is nothing to fear in your affairs but fear itself.

~ Seneca from, https://howtobeastoic.wordpress.com/2018/03/07/seneca-to-lucilius-courage-in-a-threatening-situation/

What — exactly, specifically — is under your control?

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