This is the last time

There was, or will be, a last time for everything you do, from climbing a tree to changing a diaper, and living with a practiced awareness of that fact can make even the most routine day feel like it’s bursting with blessings. Of all the lasting takeaways from my periodic dives into Stoicism, this is the one that has enhanced my life the most.

~ David Cain from, https://www.raptitude.com/2021/09/the-last-time-always-happens-now/

This is by far the most important thing I’ve learned in my several decades. I’ve written about this previously, try my “perspective” tag for some tastes, but this item bears endless repeating. Do it as if it is the last time. Think of it, in the moment, as if it is the last time. And for a bonus multiplier—but don’t do this too often or you get disappointed too—think about that thing you’re about to do, the same way. Tomorrow, when I ____ , that will be the last time I get to _____ .

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Control

We have far more control in our lives than many embrace. We create or co-create our experiences in life, and each day is a new opportunity to be fully engaged in the present moment. It’s the present moment where glimpses of our potential are revealed and expressed. A living masterpiece is not drawn on a canvas or etched in stone or inked by pen. It’s the pursuit and expresssion of applied insight and wisdom.

~ Michael Gervais

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I disagree with, “[w]e have far more control…” because clearly we actually have no—absolutely no—control. If that strikes you, I suggest you pause. Imagine something you have control of. Now imagine the scenario where your control is taken away. I’m not trying to scare you; there’s nothing here you don’t already know. All of the “control” is fleeting; that’s not actually control. That an illusion of control.

If I could change that quote I’d just quibble with that first, “control,” and suggest it be changed to “choice.” Because the rest of that quote is frickin’ powerful. Literally every person has choices. For me, my “worst case” choices are quite rosy. (“First World Problems” is the meme.) There are certainly people who are literally only able to choose among various evils.

The illusion of control is toxic. But the reality of choice is empowering.

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Where to start

I had a nice dinner conversation the other day wherein someone asked me to send them more information about Stoicism. I went looking for the perfect blog post to share, and couldn’t find one. So this is now it. ;)

There’s like a thousand things I could share. Don’t get snowed under by this stuff; Don’t try to read/do all of this…

The book I suggest starting with is The Daily Stoic by Ryan Holiday. This is a good book to just pick up each morning, spend 2 minutes reading, and move on.

If you want to read something which specifically explains Stoicism, I recommend A Guide to the Good Life: The ancient art of Stoic joy by W Irvine. This is an easy read that covers what the ancient Stoics wrote, and how their philosophy can be adapted to modern times.

There’s a good podcast interview with Irvine on a podcast called Philosophy Bites. It’s short episodes (~half hour) where the host and a guest talk about one topic in Philosophy. (There are ~500 episodes.) Irvine’s episode is a great introduction to what is Stoicism.

http://philosophybites.com/2015/06/william-b-irvine-on-living-stoically.html

If you want to read blog posts, my site has a tag for Stoicism. The posts are going to be widely varied, and have lots of links to other things, (as well as all my posts being tagged to lead to other things within my blog.)

You can also dive into some people who sometimes write explicitly about Stoicism but whose work is just generally good to read. Here are links to the corresponding tags on my web site. You can skim/scroll/page through my blog posts to find an interesting place to jump into these other spaces…

David Cain writes a web site, Raptitude.

Leo Babauta writes a web site, Zen Habits.

Enjoy!

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Before the fall

Pride is generally an emotion encountered only when looking backward. But we can also experience it when looking forward to each day, each month, each year, each decade, and even to the end of our life when imagining what we were able to accomplish in that time.

~ Chris Bailey from, https://alifeofproductivity.com/what-do-you-want-to-be-proud-of/

I’m also familiar with, “Pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.” I’m not certain the meaning of haughty, although I’d bet that one who exhibits indignation, (anger or annoyance provoked by what is perceived as unfair treatment,) would qualify as “haughty.”

And I sometimes joke that “indignation” is my other superpower.

All of which, I suppose, it a good thing. There are situations where indignation is righteous. But I’m well aware that my indignation—when it flares—is not. So maybe this exercise of looking forward could be a way to refine my pride? If I imaginatively project forward I can consider something I’d be proud of. Then, if I imagine not succeeding at that something, the pride disappears… and does indignation appear?

Does that seem right? …if success or failure in something, which is never actually in my control—reminder: the dichotomy of control—determines whether I experience pride or indignation, is that something actually one worth pursuing?

Could I find instead something about which I’d feel pride regardless of success or failure?

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Paralysis

I’ve been up for more than two hours today. I’m completely paralyzed by too many things to do. At this point—this point right here where I’ve opened the text box to write a blog post—I’m simply flailing. Simply grasping at any action.

Where’s the actual problem though? The paralysis isn’t from external pressures; it isn’t that I cannot figure out how to get things done in time, or on budget, to meet other’s expectations. All the expectations come from myself. This is a theme which has come up previously here multiple times.

Luke 4:23 springs to mind. What would I suggest if someone came to me with these exact symptoms, and asked me for help? I’d suggest visualizing what would success look like.

“It would be not this feeling!”

Yes, okay. Can you describe the current feeling?

“It’s a frenetic, cacophony of ideas and options, making me feel like progress—progress is clearly possible upon each idea and option, but progress upon any idea or option feels pointless.”

I notice you said, ‘feels pointless’, … why use ‘feels’ rather than ‘is’?

“Because I know that I could easily finish, at an awesome level of execution, any one of these things. So just picking one of them, arbitrarily, for discussion, progress on that one would move it towards completion.”

Are you saying that working on any of one of them— when you focus on that line of action alone— that actually feels like a good idea?

“Well, yes.”

If considering one feels okay, but considering all of them makes working on them feel not okay…

“But how do I choose? How do I be sure that I can finish all of them— all of these projects?”

You are aware that you cannot be certain to finish anything. This last thing you’ve said is a fact of life, because of the dichotomy of control. If you’ve only chosen to work on virtuous things— let’s take that as a given— then all these things you’re struggling to pick among… they’re all nothing more than preferred indifferents. Pick one, since they are all equally awesome. Chop wood. Carry water.

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Intelligently

The ideal agent’s frame of reference is thus her whole life, represented as accurately as a human being can remember its history and imagine its future, and lived as intelligently as a human being can exploit its possibilities.

~ Lawrence Becker

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The rational soul

Characteristics of the rational soul: Self-perception, self-examination, and the power to make of itself whatever it wants. … It surveys the world and the empty space around it, and the way it’s put together. It delves into the endlessness of time to extend its grasp and comprehension of the periodic births and rebirths that the world goes through. It knows that those who came after us will see nothing different, that those who came before us saw no more than we do, and that anyone with forty years behind him and eyes in his head has seen both past and future—both alike.

~ Marcus Aurelius

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Forward. Backward. Preferred. Dis-preferred.

Like any good algebraist, he is made to think sometimes in a forward fashion and sometimes in reverse; and so he learns when to concentrate mostly on what he wants to happen and also when to concentrate mostly on avoiding what he does not want to happen.

~ Charlie Munger from, https://fs.blog/2016/04/crashing-planes-mungers-system/

That item from a list of six elements, originally from the best pilot education program in existence, made me realize there’s this thing that I do. For me it’s such an intuitive, automatic thing, but it occurs to me to share it to make it explicit.

Let’s begin by thinking about planning and learning. (I’m done. You are now thinking about planning and learning. :) Next, we’ll trot out three magnificently useful, relative adverbs: how, when and why. Six sublime questions instantly appear:

How do I plan?
When do I plan?
Why do I plan?
How do I learn?
When do I learn?
Why do I learn?

I’ve certainly spent a lot of time thinking about those questions. For example, I’ve a bunch of blog posts about knowledge systems that came from thinking about, “how do I learn?” I could spend all my time thinking about those six questions. Exploring those questions, understanding myself, and learning in general, are fine projects to spend time on. But it’s tough to get started. Each of those questions is a deep, Alice in Wonderland rabbit hole.

What I want to share is how to use a different framework to flip the entire process over. I want to share my way of making progress on those fine projects without intentionally working on them. Things happen. Thoughts arise. (Your experience may be similar to mine?) The following framework will take anything—happenings or thoughts—and guide it into being deep work on those six questions.

Simply ask:

Forward or backward in time: Is the event in the future or past? Am I thinking about the future or past?

And…

Prefer or dis-prefer: Do I prefer or dis-prefer the event? Do I prefer or dis-prefer what I’m thinking?

For me, the act of examining something—an event, a thought—in the light of those questions, (forward/backward? preferred/dis-preferred?,) leads me to learning about one, and sometimes several, of those six, big questions.

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No too hot. Not too cold.

Self-motivated, self-starting individuals are incredibly motivated to find their weaknesses. It’s not far-fetched to say that some of us actually seek to make ourselves perfect — rational, calculating beings making the right type of decisions at just the right times. But we’ve learned from Star Trek; we don’t look to eliminate emotion either and turn ourselves into Mr. Spock. We want just the right amount of emotion in our lives.

~ Shane Parrish from, https://fs.blog/2016/03/five-percent-better/

Here’s the two-pronged approach which has been working for me:

First, I remind myself to resist my innate urge to make things worse. Don’t add energy to emotions themselves, nor to things which cause emotions. Emotions are real. We are emotional beings. Emotions get their due. And no more. If things are going badly: relax, they won’t last. If things are going well: relax, they won’t last.

Second, I take note of—literally in my journal—things which cause me to be emotional. It turns out that sometimes I can simply eliminate chronic causes. My goal isn’t to remove all the causes; That’d be a stoopid plan. But sometimes a pain in my foot is simply caused by a stone in my shoe, and is easily removed.

Those could be summarized as, “reminding myself, and taking note.” Those two things are always possible, and always easy. The hard part is remembering to do them. But if I simply—as in: gently, and with self-kindness—do those two things when I do remember, they slowly become habitual. I can’t say I even understand what, “…just right,” would be. But I know for sure what, “just right,” is not.

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Mirror image of negative visualization

The fatalism advocated by the Stoics is in a sense the reverse, or one might say the mirror image, of negative visualization: Instead of thinking about how our situation could be worse, we refuse to think about how it could be better.

~William Irvine, A Guide to the Good Life

I use negative visualization very often. “What could possibly go wrong?” is one of my favorite interjections. Everyone thinks I’m making a joke—and in part I am—but what I’m really doing is actually thinking about what could actually go wrong.

I’ve learned, (slowly after far too much struggle because: i dumb,) that the more simple I can keep my life, the better. I want to be clear: The complexity I wrestle with—and which wins and beats me down—is all stuff I’ve invented. Not simply accepted, but outright invented. Things I want to create or see get done or ways I can help when someone asks and on and on and on. My brain is a snow globe of ideas.

And that all springs from my apparently hardwired drive to make things better. So, practicing refusing to think about how it could be better.

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