Stoicism

The Manual – Epictetus

The Manual – by Epictetus
Date read: 10/24/18. Recommendation: 8/10.

Enjoyed the Ancient Renewal translation by Sam Torode. I’m always eager to read any new or updated translation of the classics. I’ve always found Epictetus to be one of the more inspiring Stoic philosophers. This is a great introduction to Stoicism for those interested in the philosophy. It’s also a great refresher for those already familiar. He discusses themes of impermanence, substance, expectations vs. reality, mental toughness, and authenticity.

See my notes below or Amazon for details and reviews.

My Notes:

Sphere of control = free, independent, strong
Beyond sphere = weak, limited, dependent

Impermanence is the nature of all things.

Expectations vs. Reality:

  • “In preparing for any action, remind yourself of the nature of the action.”

  • Going to a pool? Remind yourself of the usual incidents.

  • “Is some oil spilled or wine stolen? Say to yourself, ‘Accepting these annoyances is the price of my peace and tranquility. All good things come at a cost.’"

You are responsible for you:

  • “People who are ignorant of philosophy blame others for their own misfortunes. Those who are beginning to learn philosophy blame themselves. Those who have mastered philosophy blame no one.” 

  • Don’t blame another for your state of mind, your conditions is result of your own opinions and interpretations.

  • “Do not wish that all things will go well with you, but that you will go well with all things."

  • "Follow your principles as though they were laws.” 

Substance:

  • “Do not take satisfaction in possessions and achievements that are not your own…What, then, is your own? The way you live your life."

  • Cannot always choose your circumstances, but you can always act well in your current position.

  • “If you truly wish to become a philosopher, you must gain self-control, give up friends who are bad influences, and be prepared to face ridicule and scorn, and be willing to give up honors, offices, riches, and fame.” Not to say you shouldn’t acquire these things, but the true philosopher is never dependent on these things.

  • “If you can acquire riches without losing your honor and self-respect, then do it. But if you lose what is dearest to you, no amount of money can make up for it."

Humility = Harmony

  • “If you are praised by others, be skeptical of yourself. For it is no easy feat to hold onto your inner harmony while collecting accolades. When grasping for one, you are likely to drop the other."

  • “A philosopher is one whose thoughts and emotions are internally anchored…When she fails, she takes responsibility. When she succeeds, she smiles to herself."

Defer Judgment:

  • “It is not the person who insults or attacks you who torments your mind, but the view you take of these things.”

  • "Do not be fooled by how things first appear. With time and greater perspective, you can regain inner peace."

  • Observe subtleties, “Do not mistake your impressions for the whole truth."

Memento Mori:

  • “Continually remind yourself that you are a mortal being, and someday will die. This will inspire you not to waste precious time in fruitless activities, like stewing over grievances and striving after possessions."

Mental Toughness:

  • “If you are diligent and consistent, those who ridiculed you will come to admire you. But if you abandon the path near the start because of their laughter, you are truly worthy of scorn."

  • “If you find yourself acting to impress others, or avoiding action out of fear of what they might think, you have left the path."

  • Use the world and your current situation as a practice ground for your philosophy

Authenticity:

  • Fulfillment is found in a life best-suited to your attributes and abilities.

  • "Find significance within yourself.” Don’t lose your honor striving for perceived significance.

How to Be a Stoic – Massimo Pigliucci

How to Be a Stoic: Using Ancient Philosophy to Live a Modern Life – by Massimo Pigliucci
Date read: 6/24/17. Recommendation: 4/10.

New addition to my library of Stoic philosophy. I didn't feel like it brought enough original ideas to the table, based on the books already out there. It's essentially a walkthrough of Epictetus. If you're looking to get into Stoicism, check out A Guide to the Good LifeEgo Is the Enemy, or The Obstacle Is the Way. Or go straight to the source and read Seneca or Marcus Aurelius. 

See my notes below or Amazon for details and reviews.

 

My Notes:

Stoicism is not about suppressing or hiding emotion–rather, it is about acknowledging our emotions, reflecting on what causes them, and redirecting them for our own good.

"Einstein's God": the simple, indubitable fact that Nature is understandable by reason....Identification of God with Nature.

Stoicism, like any life philosophy, may not appeal to or work for everyone. It is rather demanding, stipulating that moral character is the only truly worthy thing to cultivate; health, education, and even wealth are considered "preferred indifferents."

Such "externals" do not define who we are as individuals and have nothing to do with our personal worth, which depends on our character and our exercise of the virtues.

A decent human life is about the cultivation of one's character and concern for other people (and even for nature itself) and is best enjoyed by way of a proper–but not fanatical–detachment from mere worldly goods.

"We must make the best of those things that are in our power, and take the rest as nature gives it." -Epictetus

Past cannot be changed and you can only affect the here and now. This recognition takes courage–not the kind needed in battle, but the more subtle, and yet arguably more important, kind needed to live your life to your best.

One of the first lessons from Stoicism, then, is to focus our attention and efforts where we have the most power and then let the universe run as it will. This will save us both a lot of energy and a lot of worry.

Stoic ethics isn't just about what we do–our actions–but more broadly about how our character is equipped to navigate real life. We live in far too intricate social environments to be able to always do the right thing, or even to do the right thing often enough to know with sufficient confidence what the right thing is to begin with.

In other words, by all means go ahead and avoid pain and experience joy in your life–but not when doing so imperils your integrity. Better to endure pain in an honorable manner than to seek joy in a shameful one.

We must have wisdom–the ability to navigate well the diverse, complex, and often contradictory circumstances of our lives.

The Stoics adopted Socrates's classification of four aspects of virtue: wisdom, courage, temperance, and justice.

"As we pity the blind and the lame, so should we pity those who are blinded and lamed in their most sovereign faculties. The man who remembers this, I say, will be angry with no one, indignant with no one, revile none, blame none, hate none, offend none." -Epictetus

Medea lacks wisdom and is affected by amathia, the sort of dis-knowledge that brings ordinary people to make unreasonable judgements about certain situations that then lead them to what outsiders correctly perceive as horrible acts.

As he [Andrew Overby] explains: "Depressed people are rather self-aware; in fact, they are too self-aware, and too negatively so, often deriding themselves for small infractions of their own idealized standards, putting themselves down for not being perfect even in a world they recognize as being full of imperfections and human capital squandered. Part of depression is fixating on failures in the past, ruminating continually on past events or circumstances, and even drawing a kind of negative confidence from them. This type of thinking is antithetical to good outcomes at the present time, at least the vast majority of the time."

"Stand by a stone and slander it: what effect will you produce? If a man then listens like a stone, what advantage has the slanderer?...'I have done you an outrage.' May it turn out to your good." -Epictetus

All the major Stoic authors insist that it is crucial that we reflect on our condition and truly make an effort to see things in a different light, one that is both more rational and more compassionate.

Death itself is not under our control (it will happen one way or another), but how we think about death most definitely is under our control.

Epictetus is reminding us that if we are afraid of death, then it is out of ignorance: if we knew or truly understood more about the human condition–as a horse trainer knows and understands horses–then we wouldn't react the way we do to the prospect of our own death.

Singularity: the moment when computers will outsmart people and begin to drive technological progress independently–and perhaps even in spite–of humanity itself.

But our sage disagrees with the judgment of the thief, whose conclusion he finds highly questionable: he gained an iron lamp, but in the transaction he lost something much more precious–his integrity.

It is more helpful to think of people who do bad things as mistaken and therefore to be pitied and helped if possible, not condemned as evil.

"When I see a man in a state of anxiety, I say, 'What can this man want? If he did not want something which is not in his power, how could he still be anxious? It is for this reason that one who sings to the lyre is not anxious when he is performing by himself, but when he enters the theatre, even if he has a very good voice and pays well: for he not only wants to perform well, but also to win a great name, and that is beyond his own control." -Epictetus

Stoic principles:
- Virtue is the highest good, and everything else is indifferent.
- Follow nature...we should strive to apply reason to achieve a better society.
- Dichotomy of control. Some things are under our control, and others are not.

Stoic virtues:
- Wisdom: Navigating complex situations in the best available fashion.
- Courage: Doing the right thing, both physically and morally, under all circumstances.
- Justice: Treating every human being–regardless of his or her stature in life–with fairness and kindness.
- Temperance: Exercising moderation and self-control in all spheres of life.

Epictetus exhorts us to practice what is arguably the most fundamental of his doctrines: to constantly examine our "impressions"–that is, our initial reactions to events, people, and what we are being told–by stepping back to make room for rational deliberation, avoiding rash emotional reactions, and asking whether whatever is being thrown at us is under our control.

Reverse clause: Reminding us that we may set out with a particular goal in mind but that events may not go the way we wish. That being the case, our choices are to make ourselves miserable, thereby willfully worsening our situation, or to remember our overarching goal: to be a decent person who doesn't do anything that is unvirtuous or that may compromise our integrity (like behaving obnoxiously in reaction to another's obnoxious behavior).

^There is a nice analogy in Stoic lore meant to explain the point...dog leashed to the cart.

"For every challenge, remember the resources you have within you to cope with it...Faced with pain, you will discover the power of endurance. If you are insulted, you will discover patience. In time, you will grow to be confident that there is not a single impression that you will not have the moral means to tolerate." -Epictetus

If someone succeeds in provoking you, realize that your mind is complicit in the provocation.

"Let silence be your goal for the most part; say only what is necessary, and be brief about it." -Epictetus

"In your conversation, don't dwell at excessive length on your own deeds or adventures. Just because you enjoy recounting your exploits doesn't mean that others derive the same pleasure from hearing about them." -Epictetus

A Guide to the Good Life – William B. Irvine

A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy – by William B. Irvine
Date read: 5/8/17. Recommendation: 9/10.

There's no better modern introduction to Stoicism. Contrary to today's understanding of the term as a lack of outward emotion, it's a life philosophy which cultivates rationality, appreciation, and joy. Irvine discusses the practicality of Stoicism, how it applies to our every day lives, and the importance of adopting a coherent philosophy of life that suits us as individuals. He hits on key concepts in Stoic philosophy and wraps them in a modern, logical context. I originally read this book over a year ago, and almost every single word struck a chord with me. It was one of my first encounters with Stoicism and I was surprised to find it matched almost identically with my existing worldview, which I had pieced together over the years.

See my notes below or Amazon for details and reviews. 

 

My Notes:

The Stoics feel somewhere between the Cyrenaics and the Cynics: They thought people should enjoy the good things life has to offer, including friendship and wealth, but only if they did not cling to these good things.

The sage is to Stoicism as Buddha is to Buddhism.

Greek Stoics: Primary ethical goal was the attainment of virtue.
Roman Stoics: Retained this goal, but we also find them repeatedly advancing a second goal, the attainment of tranquility.

Stoic tranquility: psychological state marked by the absence of negative emotions, such as grief, anger, and anxiety, and the presence of positive emotions, such as joy.

Roman Stoics argue tranquility and virtue are connected. Someone who is not tranquil, who is distracted by negative emotions such as anger or grief, might find it difficult to do what his reason tells him to do: His emotions will triumph over his intellect. This person might therefore become confused about what things are really good, consequently might fail to pursue them, and might, as a result, fail to attain virtue.

According to Epictetus, the primary concern of philosophy should be the art of living: Just as wood is the medium of the carpenter and bronze is the medium of the sculptor, your life is the medium on which you practice the art of living.

Negative visualization: spending time imagining that we have lost the things we value. The single most valuable technique in the Stoics' psychological tool kit.

As we go about our day, we should periodically pause to reflect on the fact that we will not live forever and therefore that this day could be our last. Such reflection, rather than converting us into hedonists, will make us appreciate how wonderful it is that we are alive and have the opportunity to fill this day with activity.

Hedonic adaptation has the power to extinguish our enjoyment of the world...Negative visualization is therefore a wonderful way to regain our appreciation of life and with it our capacity for joy.

One reason children are capable of joy is because they take almost nothing for granted. To them, the world is is wonderfully new and surprising.

By contemplating the impermanence of everything in the world, we are forced to recognize that every time we do something could be the last time we do it, and this recognition can invest the things we do with a significance and intensity that would otherwise be absent. We will no longer sleepwalk through our life.

Our most important choice in life, according to Epictetus, is whether to concern ourselves with things external to us or things internal. Most people choose the former because they think harms and benefits come from outside themselves.

The trichotomy of control:
-Things over which we have complete control: goals we set for ourselves
-Things over which we have no control: whether the sun rises tomorrow
-Things over which we have some but not complete control: whether we win while playing tennis. Setting internal rather than external goals (playing to the best of your ability, not to always win).

It will clearly make sense for us to spend time and energy setting goals for ourselves and determining our values. Doing this will take relatively little time and energy. Furthermore, the reward for choosing our goals and values properly can. Indeed, Marcus thinks that the key to having a good life is to value things that are genuinely valuable and be indifferent to things that lack value.

Marcus thinks that by forming opinions properly – by assigning things their correct value – we can avoid much suffering, grief, and anxiety and can thereby achieve the tranquility the Stoics seek.

Musonius would point to three benefits to be derived from acts of voluntary discomfort:
1) Harden ourselves against misfortune that might befall us in the future.
2) Grow confident that we can withstand major discomforts so they aren't a present source of anxiety. Training to be courageous.
3) Help us appreciate what we already have.

Someone who tries to avoid all discomfort is less likely to be comfortable than someone who periodically embraces discomfort. The latter individual is likely to have a much wider "comfort zone"

The worse a man is, the less likely he is to accept constructive criticism.

There will be times when we must associate with annoying, misguided, or malicious people in order to work for common interests. We can, however, be selective about whom we befriend.

If we detect anger or hatred within us and wish to seek revenge, one of the best forms of revenge on another person is to refuse to be like him.

When you don't respect the source of an insult, you should feel relieved. If he disapproves of what you are doing, then what you are doing is doubtless the right thing to do.

The political correctness movement has some untoward side effects. One is that the process of protecting disadvantaged individuals from insults will tend to make them hypersensitive to insults...Epictetus would argue we shouldn't punish these individuals, but instead teach them techniques of insult self-defense.

"Unless reason puts an end to our tears, fortune will not do so." -Seneca

The advice that we respond to the grief of friends by grieving ourselves is as foolish as the advice that we help someone who has been poisoned by taking the poison ourselves or help someone who has the flu by intentionally catching it from him. Grief is a negative emotion and therefore one that we should, to the extent possible, avoid experiencing. If a friend is grieving, our goal should be to help her overcome her grief.

By allowing ourselves to get angry over little things, we take what might have been a barely noticeable disruption of our day and transform it into a tranquility-shattering state of agitation.

People are unhappy, the Stoics argue, in large part because they are confused about what is valuable. Because of their confusion, they spend their days pursuing things that, rather than making them happy, make them anxious and miserable.

Stoics value their freedom, and they are therefore reluctant to do anything that will give others power over them. But if we seek social status, we give other people power over us: We have to do things calculated to make them admire us, and we have to refrain from doing things that will trigger their disfavor.

It is foolish to worry about what other people think of us and particularly foolish for us to seek the approval of people whose values we reject. Our goal should therefore be to become indifferent to other people's opinions of us.

Most people use their wealth to finance a luxurious lifestyle, one that will win them the admiration of others.

Desire for luxuries is not a natural desires. Natural desires, such as a desire for water when we are thirsty, can be satisfied; unnatural desires cannot.

Those who crave luxury typically have to spend considerable time and energy to attain it; those who eschew luxury can devote this same time and energy to other, more worthwhile undertakings.

A Stoic who disparages wealth might become wealthier than those individuals whose principal goal is its acquisition (lost interest in luxurious living, overcome craving for consumer goods, more likely to retain a large portion of income).

What stands between most of us and happiness is not our government or the society in which we live, but defects in our philosophy of life.

If you consider yourself a victim, you are not going to have a good life; if, however, you refuse to think of yourself as a victim–if you refuse to let your inner self be conquered by your external circumstances–you are likely to have a good life.

The Stoics pointed to two principal sources of human unhappiness–our insatiability and our tendency to worry about things beyond our control.

There are people, I think, whose personality is uniquely well-suited to Stoicism. Even if no one formally introduces these individuals to Stoicism, they will figure it out on their own. These "congenital Stoics" are perpetually optimistic and they are appreciative of the world they find themselves in. If they were to pick up Seneca and start reading, they would instantly recognize him as a kindred spirit.

And why is self-discipline worth possessing? Because those who possess it have the ability to determine what they do with their life. Those who lack self-discipline will have the path they take through life determined by someone or something else, and as a result, there is a very real danger that they will mislive.

Most people go to the mall not because they have a specific need, but in hopes that doing so will trigger a desire for something that before going they didn't want. Why go out of their way to trigger a desire? Because if they trigger one, they can enjoy the rush that comes when they extinguish that desire by buying its object. It is a rush, of course, that has little to do with their long-term happiness.

The profound realization, thanks to the practice of Stoicism, that acquiring things that those in my social circle typically crave and work hard to afford will, in the long run, make zero difference in how happy I am and will in no way contribute to my having a good life.

On the Shortness of Life – Seneca

On the Shortness of Life – by Seneca
Date read: 5/4/17. Recommendation: 9/10.

If you're looking to dive deeper into the works of Seneca, this is a great follow up to Letters from a Stoic. I read the Penguin Great Ideas edition. It's a collection of three essays filled with plenty of brilliant insight that Seneca is so well known for. 

See my notes below or Amazon for details and reviews.

 

My Notes:

Life is long if you know how to use it. But one man is gripped by insatiable greed, another by a laborious dedication to useless tasks. One man is soaked in wine, another sluggish with idleness...

You will find no one willing to share out his money; but to how many does each of us divide up his life! People are frugal in guarding their personal property; but as soon as it comes to squandering time they are most wasteful of the one thing which it is right to be stingy.

You are living as if destined to live for ever; your own frailty never occurs to you; you don't notice how much time has already passed, but squander it as though you had a full and overflowing supply...You act like mortals in all that you fear, and like immortals in all that you desire.

How stupid to forget our mortality, and put off sensible plans to our fiftieth and sixtieth years, aiming to begin life from a point at which few have arrived!

Everyone hustles his life along, and is troubled by a longing for the future and a weariness of the present. But the man who spends all his time on his own needs, who organizes every day as though it were his last, neither longs for nor fears the next day. For what new pleasures can any hour now bring him? He hast tried everything, and enjoyed everything to repletion.

So you must not think a man has lived long because he has white hair and wrinkles: he has not lived long, just existed long.

But nobody works out the value of time: men use it lavishly as if it costs nothing.

The greatest obstacle to living is expectancy, which hangs upon tomorrow and loses today.

Of all people only those are at leisure who make time for philosophy, only those are really alive. For they not only keep a good watch over their own lifetimes, but they annex every age to theirs. All the years that have passed before them are added to their own.

We are excluded from no age, but we have access to them all; and if we are prepared in loftiness of mind to pass beyond the narrow confines of human weakness, there is a long period of time through which we can roam. We can argue with Socrates, express doubt with Carneades, cultivate retirement with Epicurus, overcome human nature with Stoics, and exceed its limits with the Cynics.

Honors, monuments, whatever the ambitious have ordered by decrees or raised in public buildings are soon destroyed: there is nothing that the passage of time does not demolish and remove.

But life is very short and anxious for those who forget the past, neglect the present, and fear the future.

It was nature's intention that there should be no need of great equipment for a good life: every individual can make himself happy. External goods are of trivial importance and without much influence in either direction: prosperity does not elevate the sage and adversity does not depress him.

Never have I trusted Fortune, even when she seemed to offer peace. All those blessing which she kindly bestowed on me – money, public office, influence – I relegated to a place whence she could claim them back without bothering me. I kept a wide gap between them and me, with the result that she has taken them away, not torn them away.

Let us pass on to the rich: how frequently they are just like the poor! When they travel abroad their luggage is restricted, and whenever they are forced to hasten their journey they dismiss their retinue of attendants.

No man is despised by another unless he is first despised by himself.

What you need is...confidence in yourself and the belief that you are on the right path, and not led astray by the many tracks which cross yours of people who are hopelessly lost, though some are wandering not far from the true path. But what you are longing for is great and supreme and nearly divine – not to be shaken. The Greeks call this stead firmness of mind 'euthymia', but I call it tranquility.

If you apply yourself to study you will avoid all boredom with life, you will not long for night because you are sick of daylight, you will be neither a burden to yourself nor useless to others, you will attract many to become your friends and the finest people will flock about you.

We must be especially careful in choosing people, and deciding whether they are worth devoting a part of our lives to them, whether the sacrifice of our time makes a difference to them.

Avoid those who are gloomy and always lamenting, and who grasp at every pretext for complaint...a companion who is agitated and groaning about everything is an enemy to peace of mind.

People are more cheerful whom Fortune has never favored than those whom she has deserted.

Let us aim to acquire our riches from ourselves rather than from Fortune.

In this race course of our lives, we must keep to the inner track. (minimalism)

So we should buy enough books for us, and none just for embellishment...Excess in any sphere is reprehensible.

Should Nature demand back what she previously entrusted to us we shall say to her too: "Take back my spirit in better shape than when you gave it."

For by foreseeing anything that can happen as though it will happen he will soften the onslaught of all of his troubles, which present no surprises to those who are ready and waiting for them, but fall heavily on those who are careless in the expectation.

It is too late for the mind to equip itself to endure dangers once they are already there.

Nothing happens to the wise man against his expectation.

So we should make light of all things and endure them with tolerance: it is more civilized to make fun of life than to bewail it.

We must indulge the mind and from time to time allow it the leisure which is its food and strength. We must go for walks out of doors, so that the mind can be strengthened and invigorated by a clear sky and plenty of fresh air.

Meditations – Marcus Aurelius

Meditations – by Marcus Aurelius
Date read: 4/5/17. Recommendation: 10/10.

A cornerstone of Stoic philosophy, along with Letters from a Stoic by Seneca. It's critical which interpretation you read. I highly recommend the Modern Library version with an introduction by Gregory Hays. It's a short read with some of the most useful insights and aphorisms that money can buy. 

See my notes below or Amazon for details and reviews.

 

my notes:

Introduction by Gregory Hays
"States will never be happy until rulers become philosophers or philosophers become rulers." -Plato

Ancient philosophy had a more practical dimension. It was not merely a subject to write or argue about, but one that was expected to provide a "design for living" - a set of rules to live one's life by.

One pattern of thought that is central to the philosophy of the Meditations (as well as to Epictetus)...the doctrine of the three "disciplines": the disciplines of perception, of action, and of the will. Together, the three disciplines constitute a comprehensive approach to life, and in various combinations and reformulations they underlie a large number of the entries in the Meditations.

Meditations 7.54:
Everywhere, at each moment, you have the option:
-to accept this event with humility (will)
-to treat this person as he should be treated (action)
-to approach this thought with care, so that nothing irrational creeps in (perception)

When you wake up in the morning, tell yourself: The people I deal with today will be meddling, ungrateful, arrogant, dishonest, jealous, and surly. They are like this because they can't tell good from evil. 2.1

Make time for yourself to learn something worthwhile; stop letting yourself be pulled in all directions. 2.7

People who labor all their lives but have no purpose to direct every thought and impulse toward are wasting their time - even when hard at work. 2.7

If it doesn't harm your character, how can it harm your life? 2.11

You cannot lose another life than the one you're living now, or live another one than the one you're losing. The longest amounts to the same as the shortest. The present is the same for everyone...For you can't lose either the past or the future; how could you lose what you don't have? 2.14

We should remember that even Nature's inadvertence has its own charm, its own attractiveness. The way loaves of bread split open on top in the oven; the ridges are just by-products of the baking, and yet pleasing, somehow: they rouse our appetite without our knowing why. 3.2

Don't waste the rest of your time here worrying about other people - unless it affects the common good. It will keep you from doing anything useful. You'll be too preoccupied with what so-and-so is doing, and why, and what they're saying, and what they're thinking, and what they're up to, and all the other things that throw you off and keep you from focusing on your own mind. 3.4

If at some point in your life, you should come across anything better than justice, honestly, self-control, courage - than a mind satisfied that it has succeeded in enabling you to act rationally, and satisfied to accept what's beyond its control - if you find anything better than that, embrace it without reservations - it must be an extraordinary thing indeed - and enjoy it to the full. 3.6

Each of us lives only now, this brief instant. The rest has been lived already, or is impossible to see. The span we live is small - small as the corner of the earth in which we live it. 3.10

Nowhere you can go is more peaceful - more free of interruptions - than your own soul. 4.3

Not to live as if you had endless years ahead of you. Death overshadows you. While you're alive and able - be good. 4.17

The tranquility that comes when you stop caring what they say. Or think, or do. Only what you do. 4.18

People who are excited by posthumous fame forget that the people who remember them will soon die too. And those after them in turn. Until their memory, passed from one to another like a candle flame, gutters and goes out. 4.19

Everything is transitory - the knower and the known. 4.35

It's unfortunate that this has happened. No it's fortunate that this has happened and I've remained unharmed by it - not shattered by the present or frightened of the future. It could have happened to anyone. But not everyone could have remained unharmed by it. 4.49a

Does what's happened keep you from acting with justice, generosity, self-control, sanity, prudence, honesty, humility, straightforwardness, and all the other qualities that allow a person's nature to fulfill itself? 4.49a

So remember this principle when something threatens to cause you pain: the thing itself was no misfortune at all; to endure it and prevail is great good fortune. 4.49a

At dawn, when you have trouble getting out of bed, tell yourself: "I have to go to work - as a human being. What do I have to complain of, if I'm going to do what I was born for - the things I was brought into the world to do? Or is this what I was created for? To huddle under the blankets and stay warm? -But it's nicer here... So you were born to feel "nice"? Instead of doing things and experiencing them? 5.1

Practice the virtues you can show: honesty, gravity, endurance, austerity, resignation, abstinence, patience, sincerity, moderation, seriousness, high-mindedness. Don't you see how much you have to offer - beyond excuses like "can't"? And yet you still settle for less. 5.5

In a sense, people are our proper occupation. Our job is to do them good and put up with them. But when they obstruct our proper tasks, they become irrelevant to us - like sun, wind, animals. Our actions may be impeded by them, but there can be no impeding our intentions or our dispositions. Because we can accommodate and adapt. The mind adapts and converts to its own purposes the obstacle of our acting. The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way. 5.20

So other people hurt me? That's their problem. Their character and actions are not mine. 5.25

But true good fortune is what you make for yourself. Good fortune: good character, good intentions, and good actions. 5.37

Just that you do the right thing. The rest doesn't matter. 6.2

The best revenge is not to be like that. 6.6

Like seeing roasted meat and other dishes in front of you and suddenly realizing: This is a dead fish. A dead bird. A dead pig. Or that this noble vintage is grape juice, and the purple robes are sheep wool dyed with shellfish blood...Perceptions like that - latching onto things and piercing through them, so we see what they really are. That's what we need to do all the time - all through our lives when things lay claim to our trust - to lay them bare and see how pointless they are, to strip away the legend that encrusts them. 6.13

Not to assume it's impossible because you find it hard. But to recognize that if it's humanly possible, you can do it too. 6.19

If anyone can refute me - show me I'm making a mistake or looking at things from the wrong perspective - I'll gladly change. It's the truth I'm after, and the truth never harmed anyone. What harms us is to persist in self-deceit and ignorance. 6.21

Fight to be the person philosophy tried to make you. Our lives are short. The only rewards of our existence here are an unstained character and unselfish acts. 6.30

It's normal to feel pain in your hands and feet, if you're using your feet as feet and your hands as hands. And for a human being to feel stress is normal - if he's living a normal human life. And if it's normal, how can it be bad? 6.33

The only thing that isn't worthless: to live this life out truthfully and rightly. And be patient with those who don't. 6.47

When you need encouragement, think of the qualities the people around you have: this one's energy, that one's modesty, another's generosity, and so on. Nothing is as encouraging as when virtues are visibly embodied in the people around us... 6.48

Ambition means tying your well-being to what other people say or do.
Self-indulgence means tying it to the things that happen to you.
Sanity means tying it to your own actions.
6.51

You don't have to turn this into something. It doesn't have to upset you. Things can't shape our decisions by themselves. 6.52

Frightened of change? But what can exist without it? What's closer to nature's heart? Can you take a hot bath and leave the firewood as it was? Eat food without transforming it? Can any vital process take place without something being changed? 7.18

Look at what you have, the things you value most, and think of how much you'd crave them if you didn't have them. But be careful. Don't feel such satisfaction that you start to overvalue them - that it would upset you to lose them. 7.27

To watch the courses of the stars as if you revolved with them. To keep constantly in mind how the elements alter into one another. Thoughts like this wash the mud of life below. 7.47

Look at the past - empire succeeding empire - and from that, extrapolate the future: the same thing. No escape from the rhythm of events. 7.49

Everywhere, at each moment, you have the option:
-to accept this event with humility
-to treat this person as he should be treated
-to approach this thought with care, so that nothing irrational creeps in. 7.54

Think of yourself as dead. You have lived your life. Now take what's left and live it properly. 7.56

Perfection of character: to live your last day, every day, without frenzy, or sloth, or pretense. 7.69

It's silly to try to escape other people's faults. They are inescapable. Just try to escape your own. 7.71

You've given aid and they've received it. And yet, like an idiot, you keep holding out for more: to be credited with a Good Deed, to be repaid in kind. Why? 7.73

When you have trouble getting out of bed in the morning, remember that your defining characteristic - what defines a human being - is to work with others. 8.12

Remember that to change your mind and to accept correction are free acts too. The action is yours, based on your own will, your own decision - and your own mind. 8.16

Just as nature takes every obstacle, every impediment, and works around it - turns it to its purposes, incorporates it into itself - so, too, a rational being can turn each setback into raw material and use it to achieve its goal. 8.35

You want praise from people who kick themselves every fifteen minutes, the approval of people who despise themselves. 8.53

Fear of death is fear of what we may experience. Nothing at all, or something quite new. But if we experience nothing, we can experience nothing bad. And if our experience changes, then our existence will change with it - change, but not cease. 8.58

So this is how a thoughtful person should await death: not with indifference, not with impatience, not with disdain, but simply viewing it as one of the things that happen to us. 9.3

To do harm is to do yourself harm. To do an injustice is to do yourself an injustice - it degrades you. 9.4

And you can also commit injustice by doing nothing. 9.5

Leave other people's mistakes where they lie. 9.20

Everything that happens is either endurable or not.
If it's endurable, then endure it. Stop complaining.
If it's unendurable...then stop complaining. Your destruction will mean its end as well. 10.3

To stop talking about what the good man is like, and just be one. 10.16

To bear in mind constantly that all of this has happened before. And will happen again - the same plot from beginning to end, the identical staging. Produce them in your mind, as you know them from experience or from history...All just the same. Only the people different. 10.27

The natural can never be inferior to the artificial; art imitates nature, not the reverse. In which case, that most highly developed and comprehensive nature - Nature itself - cannot fall short of artifice in its craftsmanship. 11.10

The soul as a sphere in equilibrium: Not grasping at things beyond it or retreating inward. Not fragmenting outward, not sinking back on itself, but ablaze with light and looking at the truth, without and within. 11.12

To live a good life:
We have the potential for it. If we can learn to be indifferent to what makes no difference. This is how we learn: by looking at each thing, both the parts and the whole. Keeping in mind that none of them can dictate how we perceive it. They don't impose themselves on us. They hover before us, unmoving. It is we who generate the judgments - inscribing them on ourselves. 11.16

When you start to lose your temper, remember: There's nothing manly about rage. It's courtesy and kindness that define a human being - and a man. That's who possesses strength and nerves and guts, not the angry whiners. To react like that brings your closer to impassivity - and so to strength. Pain is the opposite of strength, and so is anger. 11.18

It never ceases to amaze me: we all love ourselves more than other people, but care more about their opinion than our own. 12.4

When someone seems to have injured you:
But how can I be sure?
And in any case, keep in mind:
-that he's already been tried and convicted - by himself.
-that to expect a bad person not to harm others is like expecting fig trees not to secrete juice, babies not to cry, horses not to neigh - the inevitable not to happen. 12.16

At all times, look at the thing itself - the thing behind the appearance - and unpack it by analysis... 12.18

Constantly run down the list of those who felt intense anger at something: the most famous, the most unfortunate, the most hated, the most whatever. And ask: Where is all that now? Smoke, dust, legend...or not even legend. 12.27

Antifragile – Nassim Nicholas Taleb

Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder – by Nassim Nicholas Taleb
Date read: 4/1/17. Recommendation: 10/10.

Taleb introduces his concept of antifragility, which explains that certain things (including us) benefit from a degree of randomness, chaos, and disorder. While comfort, convenience, and predictability, breed the opposite–fragility. He presents this as part of what he calls 'the central triad' which ranges from fragile to robust to antifragile. As he explains antifragility, he discusses the value systems that hold us prisoner, ancestral vs. modern life, and Seneca's version of Stoicism. It's a dense read, but worth it for a glimpse into the originality of Taleb's ideas.

See my notes below or Amazon for details and reviews.

 

My Notes:

With randomness, uncertainty, chaos: you want to use them, not hide from them. You want to be the fire and wish for the wind.

Some things benefit from shocks; they thrive and grow when exposed to volatility, randomness, disorder, and stressors and love adventure, risk, and uncertainty.

Antifragility is beyond resilience or robustness. The resilient resists shocks and stays the same; the antifragile gets better.

If about everything top-down fragilizes and blocks antifragility and growth, everything bottom-up thrives under the right amount of stress and disorder. The process of discovery (or innovation, or technological progress) itself depends on antifragile tinkering, aggressive risk bearing rather than formal education.

Yet simplicity has been difficult to implement in modern life because it is against the spirit of a certain brand of people who seek sophistication so they can justify their profession.

But simplicity is not so simple to attain. Steve Jobs figured out that "you have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple."

The record shows that, for society, the richer we become, the harder it gets to live within our means. Abundance is harder for us to handle than scarcity.

If tired after an intercontinental flight, go to the gym for some exertion instead of resting. Also, it is a well known trick that if you need something urgently done, give the task to the busiest (or second busiest) person in the office. Most humans manage to squander their free time, as free time makes them dysfunctional, lazy, and unmotivated - the busier they get, the more active they are at other tasks.

Layers of redundancy are the central risk management property of natural systems. We human have two kidneys, extra spare parts, and extra capacity in many, many things (say, lungs, neural system, arterial apparatus). *debt is the opposite of redundancy

Information is antifragile; it feeds more on attempts to harm it than it does on efforts to promote it.

Criticism, for a book, is a truthful, unfaked badge of attention, signaling that it is not boring; and boring is the only very bad thing for a book...Almost no scandal would hurt an artist or writer. *Jobs/professions fragile to reputational harm aren't worth having.

A midlevel bank employee with a mortgage would be fragile to the extreme. In fact he would be completely a prisoner of the value system that invites him to be corrupt to the core - because of his dependence on the annual vacation in Barbados.

Much of aging comes from a misunderstanding of the effect of comfort - a disease of civilization: make life longer and longer, while people are more and more sick. In a natural environment, people die without aging - or after a very short period of aging. For instance, some markers, such as blood pressure, that tend to worsen over time for moderns do not change over the life of hunter-gatherers until the very end.

Typically, the natural–the biological–is both antifragile and fragile, depending on the source (and the range) of variation. A human body can benefit from stressors (to get stronger), but only to a point.

"Machines: use it and lose it; organisms: use it or lose it." -Frano Barovic

Language acquisition: You pick up language best thanks to situational difficulty, from error to error, when you need to communicate under more or less straining circumstances...One learns new words, mostly by being forced to read the mind of the other person - suspending one's fear of making mistakes.

Touristification: systematic removal of uncertainty and randomness from things, trying to make maters highly predictable in their smallest details. All that for the sake of comfort, convenience, and efficiency.

If you are alive - something deep in your soul likes a certain measure of randomness and disorder.

Also consider how easy it is to skip a meal when the randomness in the environment causes us to do so.

Ancestral life had no homework, no boss, no civil servants, no academic grades, no conversation with the dean, no consultant with an MBA, no table of procedure...all life was random stimuli and nothing, good or bad, ever felt like work. Dangerous, yes, but boring, never.

An environment with variability (hence randomness) does not expose us to chronic stress injury, unlike human-designed systems. If you walk on uneven, not man-made terrain, no two steps will ever be identical - compare that to the randomness-free gym machine offering the exact opposite: forcing you into endless repetitions of the very same movement.

Much of modern life is a preventable chronic stress injury.

So organisms need to die for nature to be antifragile - nature is opportunistic, ruthless, and selfish.

If nature ran the economy, it would not continuously bail out its living members to make them live forever.

Further; my characterization of a loser is someone who, after making a mistake, doesn't introspect, doesn't exploit it, feels embarrassed and defensive rather than enriched with a new piece of information, and tries to explain why he made the mistake rather than moving on. These types often consider themselves the "victims" of some large plot, a bad boss, or bad weather.

He who has never sinned is less reliable than he who has only sinned once. And someone who has made plenty of errors - though never the same error more than one - is more reliable than someone who has never made any.

Buridan's Donkey Metaphor: A donkey equally famished and thirsty caught at an equal distance between food and water would unavoidably die of hunger and thirst. But he can be saved thanks to a random nudge one way or the other.

When some systems are stuck in a dangerous impasse, randomness and only randomness can unlock them and set them free. You can see here that absence of randomness equals guaranteed death.

Consider the life of the lion in the comfort and predictability of the Bronx Zoo (with Sunday afternoon visitors flocking to look at him in a combination of curiosity, awe, and pity) compared to that of his cousins in freedom. We, at some point, had free-range humans and free-range children before the advent of the golden period of the soccer mom.

If you want to accelerate someone's death, give him a personal doctor....access to data increases intervention, causing us to behave like the neurotic fellow.

It is almost impossible for someone rational, with a clear, uninfected mind, someone who is not drowning in data, to mistake a vital signal, one that matters for his survival, for noise - unless he is overanxious, oversensitive, and neurotic, hence distracted and confused by other messages. Significant signals have a way to reach you.

Our track record in figuring out significant rare events in politics and economics is not close to zero; it is zero.

Curiosity is antifragile, like an addiction, and is magnified by attempts to satisfy it - books have a secret mission and ability to multiply as everyone who has wall-to-wall bookshelves knows well.

A man is honorable in proportion to the personal risks he takes for his opinion - in other words, the amount of downside he is exposed to.

What we learn from reading Seneca directly, rather than through the commentators, is a different story. Seneca's version of that Stoicism is antifragility from fate. No downside from Lady Fortuna, plenty of upside.

Seneca fathomed that possessions make us worry about downside, thus acting as punishment as we depend on them.

Seneca's practical method to counter such fragility was to go through mental exercises to write off possessions, so when losses occurred he would not feel the sting - a way to wrest one's freedom from circumstances.

Seen this way, Stoicism is about the domestication, not necessarily the elimination, of emotions. It is not about turning humans into vegetables. My idea of the modern Stoic sage is someone who transforms fear into prudence, pain into information, mistakes into initiation, and desire into undertaking.

Seneca also provides us a catalogue of social deeds: invest in good actions. Things can be taken away from us - not good deeds and acts of virtue.

Seneca said that wealth is the slave of the wise man and the master of the fool. Thus he broke a bit with the purported Stoic habit: he kept the upside.

This kind of sum I've called in my vernacular "fuck you money"–a sum large enough to get most, if not all, of the advantages of wealth (the most important one being independence and the ability to only occupy your mind with matters that interest you) but not its side effects, such as having to attend a black-tie charity event and being forced to listen to a polite exposition of the details of a marble-rich house renovation. The worst side effect of wealth is the social associations it forces on its victims, as people with big houses tend to end up socializing with other people with big houses.

Provided we have the right type of rigor, we need randomness, mess, adventures, uncertainty, self-discovery, near-traumatic episodes, all these things that make life worth living, compared to the structured, fake, and ineffective life on an empty-suit CEO with a preset schedule and alarm clock.

What we call diseases of civilization result from the attempt by humans to make life comfortable for ourselves against our own interest, since the comfortable is what fragilizes.

Another fooled-by-randomness-style mistake is to think that because life expectancy at birth used to be thirty until the last century, that people lived just thirty years. The distribution was massively skewed, with the bulk of deaths coming from birth and childhood mortality.

If you take risks and face your fate with dignity, there is nothing you can do that makes you small; if you don't take risks, there is nothing you can do that makes you grand, nothing. And when you take risks, insults by half-men (small men, those who don't risk anything) are similar to barks by non-human animals: you can't feel insulted by the bark of a dog.

Anything one needs to market heavily is necessarily either an inferior product or an evil one. And it is highly unethical to portray something in a more favorable light than it actually is.

If you ever have to choose between a mobster's promise and a civil servant's, go with the mobster. Any time. Institutions do not have a sense of honor, individuals do.

The Daily Stoic – Ryan Holiday & Stephen Hanselman

The Daily Stoic: 366 Meditations on Wisdom, Perseverance, and the Art of Living – by Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman
Date read: 3/29/17. Recommendation: 8/10.

If you're this far along in my reading list and you're on board with Stoicism, you'll enjoy this book. The greater your interest in Stoic philosophy, the more you're going to get out of the book. It's a tremendous resource. There's also a daily newsletter that offers brief overviews of many topics covered in the book. I don't normally recommend signing up for mailing lists, but this one is worth checking out. It's a great daily reminder and a solid introduction to Stoicism if you're looking for a place to start. 

See my notes below or Amazon for details and reviews.

 

my notes:

Stoicism was a school of philosophy founded in Athens by Zeno of Citium in the early third century BC. Its name is derived from the Greek stoa, meaning porch, because that's where Zeno first taught his students. Painted porch (Stoa Poikilê).

Stoicism assets that virtue (meaning, chiefly, the four cardinal virtues of self-control, courage, justice, and wisdom) is happiness, and it is our perceptions of things - rather than the things themselves - that cause most of our trouble.

Stoics framed their work around a series of exercises in three critical disciplines:
-The Discipline of Perception (how we see and perceive the world around us)
-The Discipline of Action (the decisions and actions we take - and to what end)
-The Discipline of Will (how we deal with the things we cannot change, attain clear and convincing judgment, and come to a true understanding of our place in the world)

"Of all people only those are at leisure who make time for philosophy, only they truly live. Not satisfied to merely keep good watch over their own days, they annex every age to their own. All the harvest of the past is added to their store. Only an ingrate would fail to see that these great architects of venerable thoughts were born for us and have designed a way of life for us." -Seneca

Control and Choice
"The chief task in life is simply this: to identify and separate matters so that I can say clearly to myself which are externals not under my control, and which have to do with the choices I actually control. Where then do I look for good and evil? Not to uncontrollable externals, but within myself to the choices that are my own..." -Epictetus

The single most important practice in Stoic philosophy is differentiating between what we can change and what we can't. What we have influence over and what we do not.

Perception, Action, Will
Control your perceptions. Direct your actions properly. Willingly accept what's outside your control.

If You Want To Be Unsteady
The image of the Zen philosopher is the monk up in the green, quiet hills, or in a beautiful temple on some rocky cliff. The Stoics are the antithesis of this idea. Instead, they are the man in the marketplace, the senator in the Forum, the brave wife waiting for her soldier to return from battle, the sculptor busy in her studio. Still, the Stoic is equally at peace.

Peace is Staying the Course
Seneca uses the greek word euthymia, which he defines as: "believing in yourself and trusting you are on the right path, and not being in doubt by following the myriad of footpaths of those wandering in every direction." It is this state of mind, he says, that produces tranquility.

Tranquility and peace are found in identifying our path and in sticking to it.

The Truth About Money
"Let's pass over to the really rich - how often the occasions they look just like the poor! When they travel abroad they must restrict their baggage, and when haste is necessary they dismiss their entourage. And those who are in the army, how few of their possessions they get to keep." -Seneca

Money only marginally changes life...external things can't fix internal issues.

Watching the Wise
"Take a good hard look at people's ruling principle, especially of the wise, what they run away from and what they seek out." -Marcus Aurelius

You Don't Have to Stay on Top of Everything
"If you wish to improve, be content to appear clueless or stupid in extraneous matters - don't wish to seem knowledgeable. And if some regard you as important, distrust yourself." -Epictetus

For the Hot-Headed Man
"A real man doesn't give way to anger and discontent, and such a person has strength, courage, and endurance - unlike the angry and complaining. The nearer a man comes to a calm mind, the closer he is to strength." -Marcus Aurelius

Anger is not impressive or tough - it's a mistake. It's weakness. Depending on what you're doing, it might even be a trap that someone laid for you.

Cultivating Indifference Where Others Grow Passion
Imagine the power you'd have in your life and relationships if all the things that trouble everyone else - how thin they are, how much money they have, how long they have left to live, how they will die - didn't matter so much. What if, where others were upset, envious excited, possessive, or greedy, you were objective, calm, and clearheaded? Can you envision that? Imagine what it would do for your relationships at work, or for your love life, or your friendships.

The Present is All We Possess
"Were you to live three thousand years, or even a countless multiple of that, keep in mind that no one ever loses a life other than the one they are living, and no one ever lives a life other than the one they are losing. The longest and shortest life, then, amount to the same, for the present moment lasts the same for all and is all anyone possesses. No one can lose either the past or the future, for how can someone be deprived of what's not theirs?" -Marcus Aurelius

The Best Retreat Is In Here, Not Out There
"People seek retreats for themselves in the country, by the sea, or in the mountains. You are very much in the habit of yearning for those same things. But this is entirely the trait of a base person, when you can, at any moment, find such a retreat in yourself." -Marcus Aurelius

Pay What Things Are Worth
Remember that next time you hear someone ramble on about how the market decides what things are worth. The market might be rational...but the people who comprise it are not.

Becoming An Expert in What Matters
At the end of your time on this planet, what expertise is going to be more valuable - your understanding of matters of living and dying, or your knowledge of the '87 Bears? Which will help your children more - your insight into happiness and meaning, or that you followed breaking political news every day for thirty years.

Pay Your Taxes
There are many forms of taxes in life. You can argue with them, you can go to great - but ultimately futile - lengths to evade them, or you can simply pay them and enjoy the fruits of what you get to keep.

Washing Away The Dust of Life
"Watch the stars in their courses and imagine yourself running alongside them. Think constantly on the changes of the elements into each other, for such thoughts wash away the dust of earthly life." -Marcus Aurelius

Looking at the beautiful expanse of the sky is an antidote to the nagging pettiness of earthly concerns. And it is good and sobering to lose yourself in that as often as you can.

Character is a powerful defense in a world that would love to be able to seduce you, buy you, tempt you, and change you. If you know what you believe and why you believe it, you'll avoid poisonous relationships, toxic jobs, fair-weather friends, and any number of ills that afflict people who haven't thought through their deepest concerns. That's your education. That's why you do this work.

Be The Person You Want To Be
Spend some time–real, uninterrupted time–thinking about what's important to you, what your priorities are. Then, work toward that and forsake all the others. It's not enough to wish and hope. One must act–and act right.

Would I be better saying words or letting my actions and choices illustrate that knowledge for me?

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. It is the ultimate form of self-reliance.

Always Have a Mental Reverse Clause
Just because you've begun down one path doesn't mean you're committed to it forever, especially if that path turns out to be flawed or impeded. At the same time, this is not an excuse to be flighty or incessantly noncommittal. It takes courage to decide to do things differently and to make a change, as well as a discipline and awareness to know that the notion of "Oh, but this looks even better" is a temptation that cannot be endlessly indulged either.

Take A Walk
"We should take wandering outdoor walks, so that the mind might be nourished and refreshed by the open air and deep breathing." -Seneca

The Obstacle is the Way
"While it's true that someone can impede our actions, they can't impede our intentions and our attitudes, which have the power of being conditional and adaptable. For the mind adapts and converts any obstacle to its action into a means of achieving it. That which is an impediment to action is turned to advance action. The obstacle on the path becomes the way." -Marcus Aurelius

You have the power to use the Stoic exercise of turning obstacles upside down, which takes one negative circumstance and uses it as an opportunity to practice an unintended virtue or form of excellence.

Receive Honors and Slights Exactly the Same Way
It can be so easy to get distracted by, even consumed by, horrible news from all over the world. The proper response of the Stoic to these events is not to not care, but mindless, meaningless sympathy does very little either (and comes at the cost of one's own serenity, in most cases).

Stoic Joy
Joy, to Seneca, is a deep state of being. It is what we feel inside it us and has little to do with smiles and laughing.

The Good Life Is Anywhere
We tell ourselves that we need the right setup before we finally buckle down and get serious. Or we tell ourselves that some vacation or time alone will be good for a relationship or an ailment. This is self-deceit at its finest.

Silence Is Strength
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.

The Supreme Court of Your Mind
Think about someone you know who has character of granite. Why are they so dependable, trustworthy, excellent?Why do they have a sterling reputation? You might see a pattern: consistency. They are honest not only when it's convenient. They are not only there for you when it counts.

You become the sum of your actions, and as you do, what flows from that - your impulses - reflect the actions you've taken. Choose wisely.

Corralling The Unnecessary
The key to accomplishing that is to ruthlessly expunge the inessential from our lives. What vanity obligates us to do, what greed signs us up for, what ill discipline adds to our plate, what a lack of courage prevents us from saying no to. All of this we must cut, cut, cut.

Don't Be Miserable In Advance
"It's ruinous for the soul to be anxious about the future and miserable in advance of misery, engulfed by anxiety that the things it desires might remain its own until the very end. For such a soul will never be at rest - by longing for things to come it will lose the ability to enjoy present things." -Seneca

What Would Less Look Like?
One way to protect yourself from the swings of fate - and from the emotional vertigo that can result - is by living within your means now. So today, we can try to get used to having and surviving on less so that if we are ever forced to have less, it would not be so bad.

Overconfidence is a great weakness and a liability. But if you are already humble, no one will need to humble you - and the world is much less likely to have nasty surprises in store for you. If you stay down to earth, no one will need to bring you - oftentimes crushingly so - back down.

Anyone Can Get Lucky, Not Everyone Can Persevere
Anyone can get lucky. There's no skill in being oblivious, and no one would consider that greatness. On the other hand, the person who perseveres through difficulties, who keeps going when others quit, who makes it their destination through hard work and honesty? That's admirable, because their survival was the result of fortitude and resilience, not birthright or circumstance.

It Could Happen To You
"Being unexpected adds to the weight of a disaster, and being a surprise has never failed to increase a person's pain. For this reason, nothing should ever be unexpected by us. Our minds should be sent out in advance to all things and we shouldn't just consider the normal course of things, but what could actually happen. For is there anything in life that Fortune won't knock off its high horse if it pleases her?" -Seneca

We must prepare in our minds for the possibility of extreme reversals of fate.

The Vulnerability of Dependance
"Anyone who truly wants to be free," Epictetus said, "won't desire something that is actually in someone else's control, unless they want to be a slave."

We could look at the upcoming day and despair at all the things we don't control: other people, our health, the temperature, the outcome of a project once it leaves our hands. Or we could look out at that very same day and rejoice at the one thing we do control: the ability to decide what any event means.

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." -Seneca

A Mantra Of Mutual Interdependence
"Meditate often on the interconnectedness and mutual interdependence of all things in the universe. For in a sense, all things are mutually woven together and therefore have an affinity for each other - for one thing follows after another according to their tension of movement, their sympathetic stirrings, and the unity of all substance." -Marcus Aurelius

Inherent to the Stoic concept of Sympatheia is the notion of an interconnected cosmos in which everything in the universe is part of a larger whole.

No amount of travel or reading or clever sages can tell you what you want to know. Instead, it is you who must find the answer in your actions, in living the good life - by embodying the self-evident principles of justice, self-control, courage, freedom, and abstaining from evil.

"Character is fate." -Hereclitus

Who Gets The Lion's Share?
"Aren't you ashamed to reserve for yourself only the remnants of your life and to dedicate to wisdom only that time can't be directed to business?" -Seneca

The average person somehow manages to squeeze in twenty-eight hours of television per week - but ask them if they has time to study philosophy, and they will probably tell you they're too busy.

Accepting What Is
You don't have to believe that there is a god directing the universe, you just need to stop believing that you're the director. As soon as you can attune your spirit to that idea, the easier and happier your life will be, because you will have given up the most potent addiction of all: control.

All Is Fluid
"The universe is change. Life is opinion." -Marcus Aurelius

Our understanding of what something is is just a snapshot - an ephemeral opinion. The universe is in a constant state of change. Nothing is exempt from this fluidity, not even the things we hold most sacred.

Judge Not, Lest...
Leave other people to their faults. Nothing in Stoic philosophy empowers you to judge them - only to accept them. Especially when we have so many of our own.

The Glass Is Already Broken
Devastation is a factor of how unlikely we considered that event in the first place. No one is wrecked by the fact that it's snowing in the winter because we've accepted (and even anticipated) this turn of events.

Attachments Are The Enemy
Attachments to an image you have of a person, attachments to wealth and status, attachments to a certain place or time, attachments to a job or to a lifestyle. All of those things are dangerous for one reason: they are outside of our reasoned choice. How long we keep them is not in our control.

Pretend Today Is The End
"Philosophy does not claim to get a person external possession. To do so would be beyond its field. As wood is to the carpenter, bronze to the sculptor, so our own lives are the proper material in the art of living." -Epictetus

Spendthrifts of Time
"No person hands out their money to passersby, but to how many do each of us hand out our lives! 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." -Seneca

Meaningless...Like A Fine Wine
You don't get a prize at the end of your life for having consumed more, worked more, spent more, collected more, or learned more about the various vintages than everyone else. You are just a conduit, a vessel that temporarily held or interacted with these fancy items.

The Antidote – Oliver Burkeman

The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can't Stand Positive Thinking – by Oliver Burkeman
Date read: 3/11/17. Recommendation: 9/10.

Rejects the self-help industry and the "power" of positive thinking. One of my favorite books that I've read this year. Burkeman sees the obsession with positive thinking and attaining happiness as counterproductive, and the very thing that makes us unhappy. There are great chapters on Stoicism and negative visualization, meditation and non-attachment, resourcefulness and the myths of goal setting, as well as impermanence and the pitfalls of seeking safety above all else. Makes the case that living meaningfully starts with the negative path to happiness–one which embraces uncertainty, insecurity, and the realities of every day life–so you can better appreciate when things go right. Unrealistic positive expectations are not only ineffective, they're often counterproductive. 

See my notes below or Amazon for details and reviews.

 

My notes:

Chapter 1 - On Trying Too Hard To Be Happy
The awkward truth seems to be that increased economic growth does not necessarily make for happier societies, just as increased personal income, above a certain basic level, doesn't make for happier people. Nor does better education, at least according to some studies. Nor does an increased choice of consumer products. Nor do bigger and fancier homes, which instead seem mainly to provide the privilege of more space in which to feel gloomy.

The effort to try to feel happy is often precisely the thing that makes us miserable. And that it is our constant efforts to eliminate the negative that is what causes us to feel so insecure, anxious, uncertain, or unhappy.

The alternative approach, a 'negative path' to happiness involves learning to enjoy uncertainty, embracing insecurity, stopping trying to think positively, becoming familiar with failure, even learning to value death.

The Stoic philosophers of ancient Greece and Rome, who emphasized the benefits of always contemplating how badly things might go. It lies deep near the core of Buddhism, which counsels that true security lies in the unrestrained embrace of insecurity - in the recognition that we never really stand on solid ground. It underpins the medieval tradition of memento mori which celebrated the life-giving benefits of never forgetting about death.

In business, drop obsession with goal setting, embrace uncertainty instead.

Trying to make everything right is a big part of what's wrong. Insecurity is the result of trying to be secure.

Crucial foundation to negative approach is that happiness involves paradoxes; that there is no way to tie up all the loose ends, however desperately we might want to.

Edgar Allan Poe - 'imp of the perverse': that nameless but distinct urge one sometimes experiences, when walking along a precipitous cliff edge, or climbing to the observation deck of a tall building, to throw oneself off - not from any suicidal motivation, but precisely because it would be so calamitous to do so.

People who seek out affirmations would be, by definition, those with low self-esteem.

Chapter 2 - What Would Seneca Do?
Stoics were among the first to suggest that the path to happiness might depend on negativity.

Stoicism, which was born in Greece and matured in Rome, should not be confused with 'stoicism' as the word is commonly used today - a weary, uncomplaining resignation that better describes the attitude of my fellow passengers on the Underground. Real Stoicism is far more tough-minded, and involves developing a kind of muscular calm in the face of trying circumstances.

Spending time and energy thinking about how well things could go, it has emerged, actually reduces most people's motivation to achieve them.

Stoicism came to dominate Western thinking about happiness for nearly five centuries.

"There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so." -Shakespeare, Hamlet

A more elegant, sustainable and calming way to deal with the possibility of things going wrong: rather than struggling to avoid all thought of these worst-case scenarios, they [Stoics] counsel actively dwelling on them, staring them in the face. Psychological tactic that is single most valuable technique in the Stoics' toolkit. They referred to it as 'the premeditation of evils,' also called 'negative visualization' (William Irvine).

Benefits of Negative Visualization:
1) One of greatest enemies of human happiness is 'hedonic adaptation' - any new source of pleasure is swiftly relegated to the backdrop of our lives, we become accustomed to it. Regularly reminding yourself you might lose any of the things you currently enjoy will reverse the adaptation effect. "Whenever you grow attached to something, do not act as thought it were one of those things that cannot be taken away..." -Epictetus
2) Antidote to anxiety. Confronting the worst-case scenario saps it of much of its anxiety-inducing power. Happiness reached via positive thinking can be fleeting and brittle; negative visualization generates a vastly more dependable calm.

As Seneca frequently observes, we habitually act as if our control over the world were much greater than it really is. In better times it's easy to forget how little we control: we can usually manage to convince ourselves that we attained the promotion at work, or the new relationship, or the Nobel Prize, thanks solely to our own brilliance and effort.

For the Stoics, however, tranquility entails confronting the reality of your limited control. 'Never have I trusted Fortune,' writes Seneca, 'even when she seemed to be at peace. All her generous bounties - money, office, influence - I deposited where she could ask for them back without disturbing me.' Those things lie beyond the individual's control; if you invest your happiness in them, you're setting yourself up for a rude shock. The only things we can truly control, the Stoics argue, are our judgments - what we believe - about our circumstances.

Essential to grasp a distinction here between acceptance and resignation: using your powers of reason to stop being disturbed by a situation doesn't mean you shouldn't try to change it.

Tranquility results from replacing our irrational judgments with rational ones. And dwelling on the worst-case scenario, the 'premeditation of evils', is often the best way to achieve this - even to the point, Seneca suggests, of deliberately experiencing those 'evils,' so as to grasp that they might not be as bad as you'd irrationally feared.

No wonder we get so anxious: we've decided that if we failed to meet our goal it wouldn't merely be bad, but completely bad - absolutely terrible. But nothing could ever be absolutely terrible because it could always be conceivably worse.

"If you accept that the universe is uncontrollable, you're going to be a lot less anxious." -Albert Ellis

Negative visualization more effective strategy than reassurance for helping those who are anxious. Ask: so what if worst fears did come true?

Chapter 3 - The Storm Before the Calm
Meditation has little to do with achieving any specific desired state of mind. It's about non-attachment - approaching life without clinging or aversion.

Rather than merely enjoying pleasurable things during the moments in which they occur, and experiencing the unpleasantness of painful things, we develop the habits of clinging and aversion: we grasp at what we like, trying to hold on to it forever, and push away what we don't like, trying to avoid it at all costs.

Learn how to stop trying to fix things, to stop being so preoccupied with trying to control one's experience of the world, to give up trying to replace unpleasant thoughts and emotions with more pleasant ones, and to see that, through dropping the 'pursuit of happiness', a more profound peace might result.

Motivational advice risks making things worse, by surreptitiously strengthening your belief that you need to feel motivated before you can act. By encouraging an attachment to a particular emotional state, it actually inserts an additional hurdle between you and your goal. The subtext is that if you can't make yourself feel excited and pleased about getting down to work, then you can't get down to work.

It is illuminating to note, here, how the daily rituals and working routines of prolific authors and artists - people who really do get a lot done - very rarely include techniques for 'getting motivated' or 'feeling inspired.' Quite the opposite: they tend to emphasize the mechanics of the working process, focusing not on generating the right mood, but on accomplishing certain physical actions, regardless of mood.

"Inspiration is for amateurs. The rest of us just show up and get to work." -Chuck Close

On meditation: my vantage point on my mental activity had altered subtly, as if I'd climbed two rungs up a stepladder in order to observe it from above. I was less enmeshed in it all.

Chapter 5 - Goal Crazy
"Future - That period of time in which our affairs prosper, our friends are true and our happiness is assured." -Ambrose Bierce

Chris Kayes on Everest Climbers (Into Thin Air Expedition) in 1996:
-The Everest climbers had been lured into destruction by their passion for goals. His hypothesis was that the more they fixated on the endpoint - a successful summiting of the mountain - the more than goal became not just an external target but a part of their own identities, of their senses of themselves as accomplished guides or high-achieving amateurs.

Typical Everest climber: someone who demonstrated considerable restlessness, dislike for routine, desire for autonomy, tendency to be dominant in personal relations, and a lack of interest in social interaction for its own sake. Their felt need for achievement and independence was very high. Climbers tend to be domineering loners with little regard for social convention.

Yale Study of Goals, 1953:
-Students graduating asked by researchers whether or not they had formulated specific, written-down goals for the rest of their lives. Only 3 percent of them said they had. Two decade later, the researchers tracked down the class of '53, to see how their lives had turned out. 3 percent with written goals had amassed greater financial wealth than the other 97 percent combined. The only problem is that it is indeed a legend: the Yale study of Goals never took place.

Many of us, and many of the organizations for which we work, would be better to spend less time on goal setting, and, more generally, to focus with less intensity on planning for how we would like the future to turn out.

This need not be taken as an argument for abandoning all future planning whatsoever, but it serves as a warning not to strive too ardently for any single vision of the future.

Steve Shapiro: Giving up goals and embracing uncertainty instead. Promised to help him achieve more, by permitting him to enjoy his work in the present. Goal-free living simply makes for happier humans.

The most valuable skill of a successful entrepreneur isn't vision or passion. It's the ability to adopt an unconventional approach to learning an improvisational flexibility not merely about which route to take towards some predetermined objective, but also a willingness to change the destination itself. This is a flexibility that might be squelched by a rigid focus on any one goal.

Chapter 5 - Who's There?
The ego, [Eckhart] Tolle likes to say, thrives on drama, because compulsive thinking can sink its teeth into drama. The ego also thrives on focusing on the future, since it's much easier to think compulsively about the future than about the present.

"When you listen to a thought, you are aware not only of the thought, but also of yourself as the witness of the thought. A new dimension of consciousness has come in." -Eckhart Tolle

The thought then loses its power over you, and quickly subsides, because you are no longer energizing the mind through identification with it. The is the beginning of the end of involuntary and compulsive thinking.

"Most humans are never fully present in the now, because unconsciously they believe that the next moment must be more important than this one. But then you miss your whole life, which is never not now." -Eckhart Tolle

Chapter 6 - The Safety Catch
"Security is a kind of death. I think." -Tennessee Williams

It turns out to be an awkward truth about psychology that people who find themselves in what the rest of us might consider conditions of extreme insecurity - such as severe poverty - discover insights into happiness from which the rest of us could stand to learn.

We fear situations in which we feel as though we have no control, such as flying as a passenger on an airplane, more than situations in which we feel as if we have control, such as when at the steering wheel of a car. Vastly more likely to be killed as the result of a car crash...

International surveys of happiness - including several reputable research projects such as the World Values Survey - have consistently found some of the world's poorest countries to be among the happiest. (Nigeria, where 92% of the populations lives on less than two dollars a day, has come in first place.)

The point is certainly not that it's better not to have money, say, than it is to have it. But it's surely undeniable that if you don't have it, it's much harder to overinvest emotionally in it. The same goes for prestigious jobs, material possessions, or impressive educational qualifications: when you have little chance of obtaining them, you won't be misled into thinking they bring more happiness than they do.

Living with fewer illusions means facing reality and insecurity head-on.

To seek security is to try to remove yourself from change, and thus from the thing that defines life. 'If I want to be secure, that is, protected from the flux of life,' Alan Watts writes, 'I am wanting to be separate from life.'

This, then, is the deep truth about insecurity: it is another word for life. That doesn't mean it's not wise to protect yourself, as far as you can, from certain specific dangers. But it does mean that feeling secure and really live life are, in some ultimate sense, opposites. And that you can no more succeed in achieving perfect security than a wave could succeed in leaving the ocean.

Chapter 7 - The Museum of Failure
Our resistance to thinking about failure is especially curious in light of the fact that failure is so ubiquitous.

Evolution itself is driven by failure; we think of it as a matter of survival and adaptation, but it makes equal sense of think of it as a matter of not surviving and not adapting.

Illusory superiority: mental glitch that explains why vast majority of people tell researchers that they consider themselves to be in the top 50% of safe drivers - even though they couldn't possibly all be.

Any advice about how to succeed, in life or work, is at constant risk of being undermined by survivor bias. We ignore or avoid failure so habitually that we rarely stop to consider all the people who may have followed any set of instructions for happiness or success - including those advanced in these pages - but then failed to achieve the result.

Neil Steinberg, journalist: "Musing over failure is not a particularly American activity. Sure it's big in Europe, where every nation, at one time or another, has had a lock on greatness, only to fritter it away smothering monster palaces in gold leaf and commissioning jeweled Fabergé eggs by the dozen. England had her empire; Spain her Armada; France, her Napoleon; Germany, it's unspeakable zenith. Even Belgium had a moment of glory..."

The vulnerability revealed by failure can nurture empathy and communality.

We too often make our goals into parts of our identities, so that failure becomes an attack on who we are.

Training to failure isn't an admission of defeat - it's a strategy.

JK Rowling: "Simply because failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me...I was set free, because my greatest fear had been realized and I was still alive. [Failure] gave me an inner security that I had never attained by passing examinations...Such knowledge is a true gift, for all that is painfully won, and it has been worth more than any qualification I ever earned."

Chapter 8 - Memento Mori
Epicurus made the point, what has become known as the 'argument of symmetry.' Why do you fear the eternal oblivion of death, he wonders, if you don't look back with horror at the eternal oblivion before you were born.

The more you remain aware of life's finitude, the more you will cherish it, and the less likely you will be to fritter it away.

Living more meaningfully will reduce your anxiety about the possibility of future regret at not having lived meaningfully - which will, in turn, keep sapping death of its power to induce anxiety.

Epilogue - Negativity Capability
Sometimes the most valuable of all talents is to be able not to to seek resolution; to notice the craving for completeness or certainty or comfort, and not to feel compelled to follow where it leads.

For the Stoics, the realization that we can often choose not to be distressed by events, even if we can't choose events themselves, is the foundation of tranquility.

Letters from a Stoic – Seneca

Letters from a Stoic – by Seneca
Date read: 2/13/17. Recommendation: 9/10.

Introduction to Penguin Classics edition. Perhaps the most highly regarded/referenced work of Stoic philosophy along with Meditations by Marcus Aurelius. Go straight to the source. It's a classic and one of the most important works you'll read. 

See my notes below or Amazon for details and reviews. 

 

my notes:

Introduction in Penguin Classics:
Supreme ideal is usually summarized in ancient philosophy as a combination of four qualities: wisdom (or moral insight), courage, self-control and justice (or upright dealing). It enables a man to be 'self-sufficient', immune to suffering, superior to the wounds and upsets of life.

Letter II:
You do not tear from place to place and unsettle yourself with one move after another. Restlessness of that sort is symptomatic of a sick mind. Nothing, to my way of thinking, it better proof of a well ordered mind than a man's ability to stop just where he is and pass some time in his own company.

To be everywhere is to be nowhere. People who spend their whole life traveling abroad end up having plenty of places where they can find hospitality but no real friendships.

A multitude of books only gets in one's way. So if you are unable to read all the books in your possession, you have enough when you have all the books you are able to read.

You ask what is the proper limit to a person's wealth? First, having what is essential, and second, having what is enough.

Leter III:
Think for a long time whether or not you should admit a given person to your friendship. But when you have decided to do so, welcome him heart and soul, and speak as unreservedly with him as you would with yourself.

For a delight in bustling about is not industry - it is only the restless energy of a haunted mind.

Letter V:
Let our aim be a way of life not diametrically opposed to, but better than that of the mob. Otherwise we shall repel and alienate the very people whose reform we desire; we shall make them, moreover, reluctant to imitate us in anything for fear they may have to imitate us in everything.

People should admire our way of life but they should at the same time find it understandable.

Letter IX:
What difference does it make, after all, what your position in life is if you dislike it yourself?

Letter XII:
The man who looks for the morrow without worrying over it knows a peaceful independence and a happiness beyond all others.

Letter XV:
Without wisdom the mind is sick, and the body itself, however physically powerful, can only have the kind of strength that is found in person in a demented or delirious state. So this is the sort of healthiness you must make your principal concern. You must attend to the other sort as well, but see that it takes second place.

So continually remind yourself, Lucilius, of the many things you have achieved. When you look at all the people out in front of you, think of all the ones behind you.

Letter XVI:
No one can lead a happy life, or even one that is bearable, without the pursuit of wisdom...

[Philosophy] moulds and builds the personality, orders one's life, regulates one's conduct, shows one what one should do and what one should leave undone, sits at the helm and keeps one on the correct course as one is tossed about in perilous seas. Without it no one can lead a life free of fear or worry.

Epicurus: 'If you shape your life according to nature, you will never be poor; if according to people's opinions you will never be rich.' Nature's wants are small, while those of opinion are limitless.

Letter XVIII:
Set aside now and then a number of days during which you will be content with the plainest of food, and very little of it, and with rough, course clothing, and will ask yourself, 'Is this what one used to dread?' It is in times of security that the spirit should be preparing itself to deal with difficult times.

If you want a man to keep his head when the crisis comes you must give him some training before it comes.

Security from care is not dependent on fortune - for even when she is angry she will always let us have what is enough for our needs.

For no one is worthy of a god unless he has paid no heed to riches. I am not, mind you, against your possessing them, but I want to ensure that you possess them without tremors; and this you will only achieve in one way, by convincing yourself that you can live a happy life even without them, and by always regarding them as being on the point of vanishing.

Letter XXVII:
Of this one thing make sure against your dying day - that your faults die before you do.

Letter XXVIII:
Though you cross the boundless ocean, whatever your destination you will be followed by your failings.

Socrates: "How can you wonder your travels do you no good, when you carry yourself around with you? You are saddled with the very thing that drove you away."

You have to lay aside the load on your spirit. Until you do that, nowhere will satisfy you.

As it is, instead of traveling you are rambling and drifting, exchanging one place for another when the thing you are looking for, the good life, is available everywhere.

I do not agree with those who recommend a stormy life and plunge straight into the breakers, waging a spirited struggle against worldly obstacles every day of their lives. The wise man will put up with these things, not go out of his way to meet them; he will prefer a state of peace to a state of war.

Letter XLI:
No one should feel pride in anything that is not his own.

Suppose he has a beautiful home and a handsome collection of servants, a lot of land under cultivation and a lot of money out at interest; not one of these things can be said to be in him - they are just things around him. Praise in him what can neither be given nor snatched away, what is peculiarly man's.

Letter LV:
Soft living imposes on us the penalty of debility.

The place one's in, though, doesn't make any contribution to peace of mind: it's the spirit that makes everything agreeable to oneself. I've seen for myself people sunk in gloom in cheerful and delightful country houses, and people in completely secluded surroundings who looked as if they were run off their feet.

Letter LXIII:
When one has lost a friend one's eyes should be neither dry nor streaming. Tears, yes, there should be, but not lamentation.

Would you like to know what lies behind extravagant weeping and wailing? In our tears we are trying to find means of proving that we feel the loss. We are not being governed by our grief but parading it.

Even a person who has not deliberately put an end to his grief finds an end to it in the passing of time. And merely growing weary of sorrowing is quite shameful as a means of cutting sorrow in the case of an enlightened man. I should prefer to see you abandoning grief that it abandoning you.

Letter XLV:
What is death? Either a transition or an end. I am not afraid of coming to an end, this being the same as never having begun, nor the transition for I shall never be in confinement quite so cramped anywhere else as I am here.

Letter LXXVII:
No one is so ignorant as not to know that some day he must die. Nevertheless when death draws near he turns, wailing and trembling, looking for a way out. Wouldn't you think a man a prize fool if he burst into tears because he didn't live a thousand years ago? A man is as much a fool for shedding years because he isn't going to be alive a thousand years from now. There's no difference between the one and the other - you didn't exist and you won't exist - you've no concern with either period.

As it is with a play, so it is with life - what matters is not how long the acting lasts, but how good it is.

Letter LXXVIII:
A man is as unhappy as he has convinced himself he is.

What's the good of dragging up sufferings which are over, of being unhappy now just because you were then?

In the meantime cling tooth and nail to the following rule: not to give in to adversity, never to trust prosperity, and always take full note of fortune's habit of behaving just as she pleases, treating her as if she were actually going to do everything it is in her power to do. Whatever you have been expecting for some time comes as less of a shock.

Letter LXXXIII:
So-called pleasures, when they go beyond a certain limit, are but punishments...

Letter XC:
We were born into a world in which things were ready to our hands; it is we who have made everything difficult to come by through our own disdain for what is easily come by. Shelter and apparel and the means of warming body and food, all the things which nowadays entail tremendous trouble, were there for the taking, free to all, obtainable at trifling effort. With everything the limit corresponded to the need. It is we, and no one else, who have made those same things costly, spectacular and obtainable only by means of a large number of full-scale techniques..

Letter XCI:
We should be anticipating not merely all that commonly happens but all that is conceivably capable of happening, if we do not want to be overwhelmed and struck numb by rare events as if they were unprecedented ones...

One thing I know; all the works of mortal man lie under sentence of morality; we live among things that are destined to perish.

A setback has often cleared the way for greater prosperity. Many things have fallen only to rise to more exalted heights.

In the ashes all men are leveled. We're born unequal, we die equal.

Letter CIV:
What good does it do you to go overseas, to move from city to city? If you really want to escape the things that harass you, what you're needing is not to be in a different place but to be a different person.

But travel won't make a better or saner man of you. For this we must spend time in study and in the writings of wise men, to learn the truths that have emerged from their researches, an carry on the search ourselves for the answers that have not yet been discovered.

Letter CV:
Envy you'll escape if you haven't obtruded yourself on other people's notice, if you haven't flaunted your possessions, if you've learnt to keep your satisfaction to yourself.

Besides, to be feared is to fear: no one has been able to strike terror into others and at the same time enjoy peace of mind himself.

Never to wrong others takes one a long way towards peace of mind. People who know no self-restraint lead stormy and disordered lives, passing their time in a state of fear commensurate with the injuries they do to others, never able to relax.

Letter CVII:
Everyone faces up more bravely to a thing for which he has long prepared himself, sufferings, even, being withstood if they have been trained for in advance. Those who are unprepared, on the other hand, are panic-stricken by the most insignificant happenings. We must see to it that nothing takes us by surprise. And since it is invariably unfamiliarity that makes a thing more formidable than it really is, this habit of continual reflection will ensure that no form of adversity finds you a complete beginner.

Letter CVIII:
He needs but little who desires little. He has his wish, whose wish can be to have what is enough.

Letter CXXII:
No need to do as the crowd does: to follow the common, well-worn path in life is a sordid way to behave.

Letter CXXIII:
Nothing need arouse one's irritation so long as one doesn't make it bigger than it is by getting irritated.

Until we have begun to go without them, we fail to realize how unnecessary many things are. We've been using them not because we needed them but because we had them. Look at the number of things we buy because others have bought them or because they're in most people's houses. One of the causes of the troubles that beset us is the way our lives are guided by the example of others; instead of being set to rights by reason we're seduced by convention.

The Obstacle Is the Way – Ryan Holiday

The Obstacle Is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumph – by Ryan Holiday
Date read: 1/30/17. Recommendation: 9/10.

One of the most accessible modern introductions to Stoic philosophy. Holiday examines the inevitable obstacles we all face in life, how to better frame them as opportunities to practice virtue, and how to harness them to create momentum of our own. He structures the book around the three interconnected disciplines required to overcome any obstacle: perception, action, and will. There's an incredible amount of knowledge packed into these 200 pages. No matter what challenges you face or where you're trying to go, it's a great resource for fine tuning your attitude, strategy, and mental toughness. Inspired by Marcus Aurelius, "The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way."

See my notes below or Amazon for details and reviews.

 

My notes:

"The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way." -Marcus Aurelius

Obstacles as an opportunity to practice some virtue: patience, courage, humility, resourcefulness, reason, justice, and creativity.

As it turns out, this is the one thing all great men and women of history have in common. Like oxygen to a fire, obstacles became fuel for the blaze that was their ambition.

Not "be positive" but learn to be ceaselessly creative and opportunistic. Not: This is not so bad. But: I can make this good.

Sangfroid: unflappable coolness under pressure.

Most people can't access this part of themselves, they are slaves to impulses and instincts they have never questioned.

Talent is not the most sought-after characteristic. Grace and poise are, because these two attributes precede the opportunity to deploy any other skill.

"Would you have a great empire? Rule over yourself." -Publius Syrus

When people panic, they make mistakes. They override systems. They disregard procedures, ignore rules. They deviate from the plan. They become unresponsive and stop thinking clearly. They just react - not to what they need to react to, but to the survival hormones that are coursing through their veins.

This is the skill that must be cultivated - freedom from disturbance and perturbation - so you can focus your energy exclusively on solving problems, rather than reacting to them.

"Don't let the force of an impression when it first hit you knock you off your feet; just say to it: Hold on a moment; let me see who you are and what you represent. Let me put you to the test." -Epictetus

In the writings of the Stoics, we see an exercise that might well be described as Contemptuous Expressions. The Stoics use contempt as an agent to lay things bare and to "strip away the legend that encrusts them."
     -Strip things of their glamour, meat is a dead animal, wine is old grapes -- Marcus Aurelius
     -Allows us to see things as they really are.

Objectivity means removing "you" - the subjective part - from the equation. Just think, what happens when we give others advice? Their problems are crystal clear to us, the solutions obvious.

Perspective is everything...When you can break apart something, or look at it from some new angle, it loses its power over you.

"In life our first job is this, to divide and distinguish things into two categories: externals I cannot control, but the choices I make with regard to them I do control. Where will I find good and bad? In me, in my choices." -Epictetus

Focusing exclusively on what is in our power magnifies and enhances our power. But every ounce of energy directed at things we can't actually influence is wasted - self-indulgent and self-destructive.

Remember that this moment is not your life, it's just a moment in your life. Focus on what is in front of you, right now. Ignore what it "represents" or it "means" or "why it happened to you."

"Genius is the ability to put into effect what is in your mind. There's no other definition of it." -F. Scott Fitzgerald

Psychologists call it adversarial growth or post-traumatic growth. "That which doesn't kill me makes me stronger" is not a cliche but fact. The struggle against an obstacle inevitably propels the fighter to a new level of functioning. The extent of the struggle determines the extent of the growth.

We forget: In life, it doesn't matter what happens to you or where you came from. It matters what you do with what happens and what you've been given. And the only way you'll do something spectacular is by using it all to your advantage.

The thing standing in your way isn't going anywhere. You're not going to outthink it or outcreate it with some world-changing epiphany. You've got to look at it...

It's okay to be discouraged. It's not okay to quit. To know you want to quit but to plant your feet and keep inching forward – that's persistence.

Our capacity to try, try, try is inextricably linked with our ability and tolerance to fail, fail, fail.

The one way to guarantee we don't benefit from failure - to ensure it is a bad thing - is to not learn from it.

Everything we do matters...Everything is a chance to do and be your best. Only self-absorbed assholes think they are too good for whatever their current station requires.

Think progress, not perfection.

"The Great Captain will take even the most hazardous indirect approach - if necessary over mountains, deserts or swamps with only a fraction of the forces, even cutting himself loose from his communications. Facing, in fact, every unfavorable condition rather than accept the risk of stalemate invited by direct approach." -B.H. Liddell Hart

You don't convince people by challenging their longest and most firmly held opinions. You find common ground and work from there. Or you look for leverage to make them listen.

Sometimes you overcome obstacles not by attacking them but by withdrawing and letting them attack you. You can use the actions of others against themselves instead of acting yourself.

It means that very few obstacles are ever too big for us...Remember, a castle can be an intimidating, impenetrable fortress, or it can be turned into a prison when surrounded.

Adversity can harden you. Or it can loosen you up and make you better - if you let it.

In many battles, as in life, the two opposing forces will often reach a point of mutual exhaustion. It's the one who rises the next morning after a long day of fighting and rallies, instead of retreating - the one who says, I intend to attack and whip them right here and now - who will carry victory home...intelligently.

"Nothing happens to the wise man against his expectations." -Seneca

When the cause of our problem lies outside of us, we are better for accepting it and moving on. For ceasing to kick and fight against it, and coming to terms with it. The Stoics have a beautiful name for this attitude. They call it the Art of Acquiescence.

The hubris at the core of this notion that we can change everything is somewhat new.

Amor fati: a love of fate
Not: I'm okay with this.
Not: I think I feel good about this.
But: I feel great about it. Because if it happened, then it was meant to happen, and I am glad that it did when it did. I am meant to make the best of it.

"A man's job is to make the world a better place to live in, so far as he is able - always remembering the results will be infinitesimal - and to attend to his own soul." -Leroy Percy

Stop putting that dangerous "I" in front of events. I did this. I was so smart. I had that. I deserve better than this. No wonder you take losses personally, no wonder you feel so alone. You've inflated your own role and importance.

Death doesn't make life pointless, but rather purposeful.

Embracing the precariousness of our own existence can be exhilarating and empowering.

The philosopher and writer Nassim Nicholas Taleb defined a Stoic as someone who "transforms fear into prudence, pain into transformation, mistakes into initiation and desire into undertaking."

Ego Is the Enemy – Ryan Holiday

Ego Is the Enemy – by Ryan Holiday
Date read: 1/5/17. Recommendation: 10/10.

My favorite Ryan Holiday book. If you haven't read any of his work yet, start here. It's a great look into how–in an effort to nurse our ego–we often act in opposition to our best interests. He discusses how to leverage ideas from Stoic philosophy, the pitfalls of self-narrative, and the importance of being a lifelong learner. Numerous life lessons and productive mental models packed into a quick read. Along with Tribe by Sebastian Junger, this is the book I've gifted the most in the past year.

See my notes below or Amazon for details and reviews.

 

My notes:

"Do not believe that he who seeks to comfort you lives untroubled among the simple and quiet words that sometimes do you good. His life has much difficulty and sadness and remains far behind yours. Were it otherwise, he would never have been able to find those words." -Rainer Maria Rilke

"The first principle is that you must not fool yourself - and you are the easiest person to fool." -Richard Feynman

Just one thing keeps ego around - comfort. Pursuing great work - whether it is in sports or art or business - is often terrifying. Ego soothes that fear. It's a salve to that insecurity. Replacing the rational and aware parts of our psyche with bluster and self-absorption, ego tells us what we want to hear, when we want to hear it.

Ego is stolen. Confidence is earned.

We build ourselves up with fantastical stories, we pretend we have it all figured out, we let our star burn bright and hot only to fizzle out, and we have no idea why. These are symptoms of ego, for which humility and reality are the cure.

You must practice seeing yourself with a little distance, cultivating the ability to get out of your own head. Detachment is a sort of natural ego antidote. It's easy to be emotionally invested and infatuated with your own work. Any and every narcissist can do that. What is rare is not raw talent, skill, or even confidence, but humility, diligence, and self-awareness.

Be action and education focused, and forgo validation and status.

Almost universally, the kind of performance we give on social media is positive. It's more "Let me tell you how well things are going. Look how great I am." It's rarely the truth: "I'm scared. I'm struggling. I don't know."

So what is scarce and rare? Silence. The ability to deliberately keep yourself out of the conversation and subsist without its validation. Silence is the respite of the confident and strong.

Doing great work is a struggle.

Impressing people is utterly different from being truly impressive.

"It is impossible to learn that which one thinks one already knows." -Epictetus

The art of taking feedback is such a crucial skill in life, particularly harsh and critical feedback...The ego avoids such feedback at all costs.

On Eleanor Roosevelt: She had purpose. She had direction. She wasn't driven by passion, but by reason.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: Used one word to describe the style of his famous coach [John Wooden]: "dispassionate." As in not passionate. Wooden wasn't about rah-rah speeches or inspiration. He saw those extra emotions as a burden. Instead his philosophy was about being in control and doing your job and never being "passion's slave."

Neither of them [Wooden or Roosevelt] were driven by excitement, nor were they bodies in constant motion. Instead, it took them years to become the person they became known as. It was a process of accumulation.

Passion typically masks a weakness. It's breathlessness and impetuousness and franticness are poor substitutes for discipline, for mastery, for strength and purpose and perseverance.

Passion is seen in those who can tell you in great detail who they intend to become and what their success will be...but they cannot show you their progress. Because their rarely is any.

How can someone be busy and not accomplish anything? Well, that's the passion paradox.

Clear the path for the people above you and you will eventually create a path for yourself.

When you are just starting out, we can be sure of a few fundamental realities: 1) You're not nearly as good or as important as you think you are; 2) You have an attitude that needs to be readjusted; 3) Most of what you think you know or most of what you learned in books or in school is out of date or wrong.

Attach yourself to people and organizations who are already successful.

"I have observed that those who have accomplished the greatest results are those who 'keep under the body'; are those who never grow excited or lose self-control, but are always calm, self-possessed, patient, and polite." -Booker T. Washington

It doesn't degrade you when others treat you poorly; it degrades them.

It is a timeless fact of life that the up-and-coming must endure the abuses of the entrenched.

The question to ask, when you feel pride, then, is this: What am I missing right now that a more humble person might see? What am I avoiding, or running from, with my bluster, franticness, and embellishments?

It will be a lonely fight to be real, to say "I'm not going to take the edge off." To say, "I am going to be myself, the best version of that self. I am in this for the long game, no matter how brutal it might be."

No matter what you've done up to this point, you better still be a student. If you're not still learning, you're already dying.

It is not enough only to be a student at the beginning. It is a position that one has to assume for life. Learn from everyone and everything.

An amateur is defensive. The professional finds learning (and even, occasionally, being shown up) to be enjoyable; they like being challenged and humbled, and engage in education as an ongoing and endless process.

Narrative is when you look back at an improbable or unlikely path to your success and say: I knew it all along. Instead of: I hoped. I worked. I got some good breaks. Or even: I thought this could happen.

Crafting stories out of past events is a very human impulse. It's also dangerous and untrue. Writing our own narrative leads to arrogance. It turns our life into a story - and turns us into caricatures - while we still have to live it.

A great destiny, Seneca reminds us, is great slavery.

"To know what you like is the beginning of wisdom and of old age." -Robert Louis Stevenson

All of us waste precious life doing things we don't like, to prove ourselves to people we don't respect, to get things we don't want.

You need to know what you don't want and what your choices preclude. Because strategies are often mutually exclusive. One cannot be an opera singer and a teen pop idol at the same time. Life requires those trade-offs, but ego can't allow it.

So why do you do what you do? That's the question you need to answer. Stare at it until you can. Only then will you understand what matters and what doesn't. Only then can you say no, can you opt out of stupid races that don't matter, or even exist.

Sympatheia - a connectedness to the cosmos. The French philosopher Pierre Hadot has referred to it as the "oceanic feeling." A sense of belonging to something larger, of realizing that "human things are an infinitesimal point in the immensity." *cosmic sympathy

That's what we're after here. That's the transcendental experience that makes our petty ego impossible.

Courage, for instance, lies between cowardice one one end and recklessness on the other. Generosity, which we all admire, must stop short of either profligacy and parsimony in order to be of any use. Where the line - this golden mean - is can be difficult to tell, but without finding it, we risk dangerous extremes.

Ego loves this notion, the idea that something is "fair" or not. Psychologists call it narcissistic injury when we take personally totally indifferent and objective events.

Robert Greene: There are two types of time in our lives: dead time, when people are passive and waiting, and alive time, when people are learning and acting and utilizing every second. Every moment of failure, every moment or situation that we did not deliberately choose or control, presents this choice: Alive time. Dead time.

You will be unappreciated. You will be sabotaged. You will experience surprising failures. Your expectations will not be met. You will lose. You will fail. How do you carry on then?

"Ambition means tying your well-being to what other people say or do...Sanity means tying it to your own actions." -Marcus Aurelius

Your potential, the absolute best you're capable of - that's the metric to measure yourself against. Your standards are. Winning is not enough. People can get lucky and win. People can be assholes and win. Anyone can win. But not everyone is the best possible version of themselves.

Attempting to destroy something out of hate or ego often ensures that it will be preserved and disseminated forever.