The Daily StoicWednesday, 1 February 2017 · 23 min read · books
We’re not trying to ace tests or impress teachers. We are reading and studying to live, to be good human beings – always and forever.
Here are my highlights from The Daily Stoic, a modern take on Stoic philosophy.
A morning ritual
Stoics advocated the practice of journaling, not so much for the activity itself as for the moments of reflection. As we write down your thoughts, fears, and hopes down on paper, we offer ourselves a chance to look inward and examine our inner thoughts.
Focus on the task at hand
At every moment keep a study mind on the task at hand with strict and simple dignity. You can do this if you approach each task as if it is your last, giving up every distraction, emotional subversion of reason, and all drama, vanity, and complaint over your fair share. You can see how mastery over a few things makes it possible to live an abundant and devout life.
Zeno would say that nothing is more hostile to a firm grasp of knowledge than self-deception.
Both ego and self-deception are sworn enemies to our ability to learn. We live in danger of deluding ourselves into believing that we already possess what we wish to have.
It’s impossible for a person to begin to learn what he thinks he already knows.
You are not your body and hair-style, but your capacity for choosing well. If your choices are beautiful, so too will you be.
How appropriate that the gods put under our control only the most powerful ability that governs all the rest – the ability to make the right use of external circumstances – and that they didn’t put anything else under our control. Was this simply because they weren’t willing to give us more? I think if it had been possible they would have given us more, but it was impossible.
Everything is training
When your sparring partner scratches or head-butts you, you don’t then make a show of it, or protest, or view him with suspicion or as plotting against you. You should act this way with all things in life.
See each day and each situation as a kind of training exercise. The way you interpret your own mistakes and the mistakes of others is suddenly a lot more generous.
I’m learning. My sparring partner is learning too. This is practice for both of us – that’s all. I’m going to learn about them, and they’re going to learn a little bit more about me too.
Professionals don’t have to justify spending time training or practicing their work. It’s what they do, and practice is how they get good at it. According to the Stoics, your mind is the asset that must be worked on most – and understood best.
Setting an example
Would I be better saying words or letting my actions and choices illustrate that knowledge for me?
Let us set out whole-heartedly, leaving aside our many distractions and exert ourselves in this single purpose, before we realize too late the swift and unstoppable flight of time and are left behind.
As each day arises, welcome it as the very best day of all, and make it your own possession. We must seize what flees.
Our well-being lies in our actions
If your happiness is dependent on accomplishing certain goals, what happens if fate intervenes?
If an actor focuses on the public reception to a project – whether critics like it or whether it’s a hit they will be constantly disappointed and hurt. But if they love their performance – and put everything they have into making it the best that they’re capable of – they will always find satisfaction in their job.
Likewise, we should take pleasure from our actions – in taking the right actions – rather than the results that come from them.
Our ambition should not be to win, then, but to play with our full effort. Our focus is not on what happens but on how we respond. In this, we will always find contentment and resilience.
Have a good day
Here is how to guarantee you have a good day: do good things. Any other source of joy is outside your control or is nonrenewable. But this one is all you, all the time, and unending.
Well-being is realized by small steps, but is truly no small thing.
One does not magically get one’s act together – it is a matter of many individual choices. Make no mistake, while the individual action is small, its cumulative impact is not.
You must build up your life action by action, and be content if each one achieves its goal as far as possible – and no one can keep you from this. But there will be some external obstacle! Perhaps, but no obstacle to acting with justice, self-control, and wisdom.
Let Fate find us prepared and active: ready for problems, ready for difficulties, ready for people to behave in disappointing or confusing ways, ready to accept to make it work for us.
The serenity prayer
Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, Courage to change the things I can, And wisdom to know the difference.
Work on it
It is possible to curb your arrogance, to overcome pleasure and pain, to rise above your ambition, and to not be angry with stupid and ungrateful people – yes, even to care for them.
How do you think others do it?
They worked on it. They made it a priority. They solved it like they would solve any other problem: by dedicating themselves to finding a solution, making incremental progress until they did.
An archer is highly unlikely to hit a target she did not aim for.
You are certain to miss without a target. Spend time to think about what’s important to you, what your priorities are. It’s not enough to act - you must act in the right direction.
Do we focus on the ways we have been wronged, or do we use what we’ve been given and get to work? Will we wait for someone to save us, or will we get active in our own rescue?
Rise and shine
On those mornings you struggle with getting up, keep this thought in mind – I am awakening to the work of a human being. Why then am I annoyed that I am going to do what I’m made for, the very things for which I was put into this world? Or was I made for this, to snuggle under the covers and keep warm?
How does what you do every day reflect, in some way, the values you claim to care about? Are you acting in a way that’s consistent with something you value, or are you wandering, unmoored to anything other than your own ambition?
Received without pride, let go without attachment.
Remind yourself that your precious one isn’t one of your possessions, but something given for now, not forever…
Leisure without study is death – a tomb for the living person.
Start with where the world is
That we accept the world as it is does not in any sense weaken our desire to change it into what we believe it should be – it is necessary to begin where the world is if we are going to change it to what we think it should be.
You have two essential tasks in life: to be a good person and to pursue the occupation that you love. Everything else is a waste of energy and a squandering of your potential.
What is it that only I can do? What is the best use of my limited time on this planet?
The most valuable asset
But the wise person can lose nothing. Such a person has everything stored up for themselves, leaving nothing to Fortune, their own goods are held firm, bound in virtue, which requires nothing from chance, and therefore can’t be either increased or diminished.
Better at what?
Self improvement is a noble pursuit, but it’s possible for vanity and superficiality to corrupt this process. Let’s not confuse getting better at stuff with being a better person.
We’re tight-fisted with property and money, yet think too little of wasting time, the one thing about which we should all be the toughest misers.
Many times an old man has no other evidence besides his age to prove he has lived a long time.
It’s not that we have too short a time to live, but that we squander a great deal of it. Life is long enough, and it’s given in sufficient measure to do many great things if we spend it well. But when it’s poured down the drain of luxury and neglect, when it’s employed to no good end, we’re finally driven to see that it has passed by before we even recognized it passing. And so it is – we don’t receive a short life, we make it so.
It wasn’t so much that the words brought me into a full understanding of events, as that, somehow I had a personal experience of the events that allowed me to follow closely the meaning of the words.
The purpose of all our reading and studying is to aid us in the pursuit of the good life (and death.) At some point, we must put our books aside and take action.
Living our lives is the only way to understand what any of this means.
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