January 31

“Remember that you are an actor in a play, the kind of which is chosen for you. Your duty is to play the part you have been given as well as you can. But selecting the part is not up to you.”   – Epictetus

This is not about predestiny. This is not about what the gods have chosen. This about recognizing that there are parts of life – huge, life defining, categorizing parts of life – that we have absolutely no control over. We are born into the families we are born into. In the countries our families live in. In the socioeconomic demographic that the family we are born into occupies. We have no say in any of this. And more.

These are things we cannot control. We also cannot control how society views our family, our region, our demographic, or even our beliefs. This is the role that we have been cast in. Not necessarily against our will but we were not consulted on the role either. We are simply handed it by occasion of our birth.

It is what we choose to do with that role that makes our lives worthwhile or not. Depending on the role we have been given it would be easy to throw up our hands and say, ‘This is the role I have been given I have to be this way.” But that would not be making the best of the role. The best actor doesn’t simply recite lines and follow directions. The best actor makes the role their own and breathes life into it. They bring out aspects no one would have thought of and make the role into something people did not expect. The same can be true for us.

We can be the best actors for the roles we’ve been given.

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January 30

“If you are comforting someone who is mourning do not be unwilling to show him sympathy, if it is appropriate mourn with him. But take care that you do not internalize the mourning.” – Epictetus

Just as we can expect bad things to happen to us, we can expect bad things to happen to people that we care about. Just as we only control how we respond to the things that happen to us, we only have control over our responses to the events in our loved ones lives as well.

An important distinction here is that part of what we have no control over in our loved one’s lives is the response or reaction they choose to have in regard to the events and situations they experience.

We cannot control it is a friend chooses to sink into self pity or if they choose to try to control the outcome of something that is outside of their ability to control. What we can control if whether or not we allow ourselves to be pulled into their line of thinking. We do not need to  internalize the things that happen to others in order to sympathize with them or offer them compassion. In fact, by internalizing someone else’s grief or sorrow we make their issue about us if only in our own minds. By making someone else’s issue about us we do little for them in terms of compassion or sympathy. Better to be there but remain strong, compassionate, but detached.

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January 29

“In life we should behave as if it were a formal dinner. If something is set before you, reach out and take a reasonable portion with gratitude. If it passes you by, do not try to make it come back. If it has not come to you yet, do not try to hasten it but wait patiently for it to arrive. Carry this thought with you in respect to children, spouses, jobs, and wealth.” – Epictetus

We all have things that we want, things that we need and things that we want to be rid of. We are learning to recognize the things we control and try to limit our wants and want-nots to those things but still, we will have things we desire in life. And life will deliver many of the to us in time.

We can not control life’s timeline as much as our arrogance and vanity might tell us that we can. In fact trying to hasten the arrival of something we can not control is going to lead to stress and uncertainty which in turn limits our ability to learn from our present experiences.

All we have to do to recognize this is to think back to a time in our lives where we actively tried and subsequently worried about hastening the arrival of an event. Graduating from school is a good example for most of us. Much of the time we thought about getting through school, meeting the requirements and trying to do it as quickly as possible took away from us gaining and learning from experiences we were having during that present time.

The same principle applies to starting a family, earning enough money, and having a lifestyle we want. These things are all fine goals but we cannot allow our focus on our goals to become worry or uncertainty. We cannot be so concerned with our future goals that we miss the experiences that it is going to take to accomplish them completely.

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January 28

“If you want to be free, don’t try to attain anything or try to avoid anything that is dependent on anyone else.” – Epictetus

In his 1895 poem “If” Rudyard Kipling wrote, “If all men count with you but none too much” when describing the manner in which a man should conduct himself. In the poem and the quote from Epictetus above the authors offer the advice of not finding yourself dependent on another person for your own happiness, success or well being.

People will let you down. Even when they do their level best not to, people will fail you. If you put all of your hopes or all of your chances of success in the hands of others you have no one to blame but yourself when things don’t go the way you think they should have.

You also will have no one to blame but yourself if you don’t depend on others for your success or happiness but in that case, you will have been the only party responsible for the outcome.

That doesn’t mean we don’t have to work or depend on people for things. It means that we should not place how we are going to feel about the outcome of a situation or how we feel about anything in the hands of someone else. How we react to a situation, what we learn from an experience and how we implement what we learn are the only things we truly control. Freedom comes from understanding where those limits lie and then building a life that works within those limits.

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January 27

“If you want to improve you need to accept that people will view you as senseless and foolish. You should want to be considered to know nothing: and if you begin to feel like a person of importance, distrust yourself.”  – Epictetus

We’ve all heard the expression, ‘What others think of you is none of your business.’ And it’s true. We should be focused on controlling the things that are within our power to control and improving the things that are within our power to improve.

In some ways, we can control how people see us. We can set good examples, we can live good lives, and we can speak well of others. But we can not control how people choose to interpret our actions. Out of two people, one person may see us as self righteous and arrogant while the other sees us as naive and ignorant. Both may be right, it doesn’t really matter. Our focus should remain on controlling what we can. People’s opinions are good for feedback but need to be taken within context.

And if somehow we do find ourselves becoming popular or successful, we have to remember that this to is outside of our control and dangerous to our long term goal of a happy life. This is because living a life full of serenity and truthfulness is mutually exclusive from a life of self importance and shallow vanity.

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January 26

“Begin with little things. Did your child make a mess? Did you misplace a valuable item? When these happen, remind yourself that this is the cost of living a life free of disturbance. This is the price of inner serenity. There is nothing for free.” -Epictetus

Emotional discipline is the skill set that will guide us through these situations while allowing us to see what we can learn and use to make ourselves better. Sometimes, we just need an opportunity to get better at being disciplined.

Stuff happens. It has, it does and it will. How we respond to it is entirely our choice. If we feel like we have no control over our response to the things that perturb or annoy us it is only because we have not yet chosen to discipline our emotions. But we can. We can choose to take a step back from any situation, take a breath, look around, and make a different decision than the one our emotions might be calling for.

That won’t be easy, situations can grate on us, they can be relentless, and sometimes they are painful. But if we fall back on looking at what part of the situation is within our control, more often than not we will find the only part we control is our response. Reminding ourselves that having these little disturbances daily is the way we sharpen our emotional discipline tool set and that is the cost of a tranquil life is a good practice. It also happens to be one you will get plenty of experience with if you choose to.

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January 25

“If you want to get better you need to stop worrying like this; ‘If I don’t work hard I won’t have enough money to live the lifestyle I am used to.’ Or ‘If I’m not hard on the people under me, they will never live up to my expectations.’ It is better to die hungry without the worry and stress than to live in abundance of wealth and abundance of stress. It is better to have those under you act poorly than for you to live unhappily.” – Epictetus

This is a lot to unpack and share some thoughts to get your mental fire started in less than a few minutes. And I’ve just wasted a few seconds!

This isn’t saying that we shouldn’t work hard. Nor is it saying that we won’t sometimes have to come down hard on our staff, our children or even our friends depending on the situation. What it is saying is that we should aim to be free of worrying about the need to do these things. And a lot of other things.

We are all still learning. If we are honest with ourselves and we commit to a lifetime of trying to become better, we will always be learning. Always. Stress, worry and uncertainty interrupt the learning process. Those things keep us from seeing the lesson we should be gaining from an experience.

So if we find ourselves losing sleep, having our private moments interrupted by thoughts about how hard we should be working, how we should be dealing with issues at work or home or any number of other issues we might be creating in our own minds we should pause and consider the effect that is having on our quality of life.

Better to let things play out naturally and learn from the experience than lose our rhythm, still fail to control the situation, and miss out on the lesson.

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January 24

“If it concerns anything that lies outside of your control, teach yourself not to worry about it.”               – Epictetus

The teachings of Epictetus are very heavy in recommending we focus our energy only on the things that lie within our control. In this particular passage the thing that jumped out is that he reminds us that we need to teach ourselves not to worry about the things we have no control over. This reminds us that we aren’t going to flip a switch and suddenly not be distracted or bothered by the things that are not under our control. We have to train ourselves.

This also means that some days we will struggle to maintain the discipline it takes to stay focused on what we can control. Accepting this fact is not the same thing as excusing the behavior. Knowing that our brains are going to fail us and start to focus on the external events and situations we have no control over while simultaneously ignoring the things we can control and improve on is not the same thing as allowing it to happen. Preparing for these moments allows us to see them coming and to remind ourselves to stay on the path that we’ve chosen.

So when we have a few hours, a day, even a week where we struggle to keep the discipline of focusing on things we control on track, acknowledge it and move back on the path.

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January 23

“You may have to give up on wealth and power if you want to attain happiness and freedom.” – Epictetus

Compromise. It is the essence of all well built relationships. Whether it be a business partnership of an intimate partnership we all have to compromise and allow the other person to have an equal voice in the relationship. A significant part of respect is entertaining ideas that you do not agree with. Compromise.

There is an area where compromise will not serve you. That is internal compromise. When you make concessions to yourself in order to accomplish something that you might not be able to had you remained steadfast in your principles you end up trading more than you should to get less than you should.

It starts with little things. A small step, a cheat on something you have resolved to remain steadfast on. Everyone has those lines we have drawn for ourselves. It is weakness to cross them, we know this, we are accountable to ourselves for it, and still we routinely will cross those lines to get a little instant gratification or to feel like we’ve moved ahead just a little bit.

It’s odd as well, we make those deals with ourselves. If anyone else promised us they would hold that line and then crossed it we would want them held accountable but we somehow are able into talking ourselves into crossing those lines all the time. Stop. No more. From here on out, resolve to never compromise with your inner voice.

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January 22

“Circumstances do not rise to meet our expectations. Things happen as they do. People will act they way they are going to. Embrace what you actually get.” – Epictetus

The world is not out to get us. In fact, the world is rather apathetic to our existence. At the same time, the world offers us immense opportunities and resources to grow and become better and to enjoy the beauty and splendor that exists at this particular time on this particular planet.

Human beings, sort of by default tend to act in accordance with human nature. We act as we are because we are wired to do so. The people closest to you, coworkers, family, and friends act the way they do because they are human beings. Humans have wonderful gifts and horrible flaws and we all do a little better when we accept that both of these sides to humans are valid.

Just as leaving early to beat morning traffic does not insure that there will not be a turned over tractor trailer causing the highway to back up at five am, treating everyone with patience and kindness does not in turn insure that you will not find yourself on the business end of another person’s bad day. Nor should either of these possibilities discourage you from leaving early to beat traffic or treating everyone you encounter with kindness and patience. You will always be better for it regardless of what is returned to you.

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January 21

“In understanding and focusing on what actually concerns you, you cannot be made to do anything against your will; others can’t hurt you, you don’t make enemies or suffer harm.” – Epictetus

If our focus remains entirely on improving the things that we have control over, it is going to take some pretty extreme situations to come along and interrupt that. Focusing all of our energy and time on the things that we have control over protects us from harm in multiple ways.

By staying committed to improving our own thoughts and actions we avoid situations where we might judge the thoughts and actions of others and make ourselves enemies or damage existing relationships.

By focusing on making ourselves better, we actually do become better which helps not only ourselves but also all of those who depend on us. Making life better for others will always in turn make our own lives better.

Most importantly, focusing on making our own thoughts and actions better regardless of the actions of those around us serves to remind us that our validation and value are strongest when they come from within. By choosing to be constant in attending to the improvement of the things that we control, we give ourselves a lifelong task that will continue to make us better people and enrich our lives. The more we practice this the better it gets.

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January 20

“We always have a choice about the contents and quality of our character.”                     – Epictetus

External things are going to affect us everyday. People will be rude to us. Alarm clocks will fail to wake us. Coffee shops will be out of our favorite flavors. People will cut us in line. Our hard work will go unappreciated.

Or the opposite of those things will happen. People will think we’re the best ever. Our coffee will be free. We will wake up before the alarm ready to go. Everyone will be nice to us.

Neither situation is a good example of reality. Reality is typically a mixture of everything. Reality is a spectrum.

What matters is not what happens to us and how it affects us. What matters is how we choose to utilize the things that happen to us. How we make the most of our experiences. The only thing we control is how we choose to see the world and how we put into the use the lessons we choose to learn from our experiences.

A person could attend an Ivy League school for four years, skate through, party constantly, graduate with a 2.5 GPA, and never have held a job. Another person could attend a community college, live at home, struggle to earn a 2.5 GPA, and hold down a full time job. Which of these people is in the best position to continue a fulfilling life?

The truth is, it depends. It depends on which one is choosing to make the best of the experience they’ve had.

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January 19

“When something happens, the only thing in your power is your attitude towards it; you can either accept it or resent it.” – Epictetus

We are going to encounter obstacles in life, we are also going to experience horrible things. While it is easy to allow ourselves to rate horrible things on a scale, it doesn’t matter. Everyone we have ever met has been though something they consider horrible. And yet there they are, going through life. How fortunate we are to be in such good company.

When we encounter obstacles it is easy to get frustrated, it is easy to feel like the whole world is against us and we can never get things the way we want them. Getting frustrated and feeling defeated do not change the situation at all. They do not make it worse but they do not make it better. They do however, make you worse.

You can’t focus on completing tasks when you are frustrated. If you are feeling defeated now how much worse will you feel when you allow a handful of necessary tasks to slip by and you are now overwhelmed with work?

It is better to accept things as they are, step back from the situation a little bit and then find a way to learn from whatever hardship you are facing. There is something to be learned from every experience and you will find that the harder ones come with the strongest lessons. If you look for them.

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January 18

“Keep your attention focused entirely on what is truly your own concern, and be clear that what belongs to others is their business and none or yours.” – Epictetus

While today’s thought clearly reminds us to mind our own business, I am focused more on the first part of the thought. While it is important to stay out of other people’s business it is a lot easier to do so if you remain focused on trying to make the things that do concern you as good as they can be.

There are other people in the world with the same job as you, you are not the only person in any of the relationships you are in, and you are not the only citizen in your community. Undoubtedly the other people involved in each of those situations do not always perform their tasks the same way that you do nor will they always fulfill their role to your liking. That doesn’t matter.

Focus instead on always getting better at your job. Focus entirely on making what you bring into a relationship the absolute best you have to offer. Focus entirely on being the greatest benefit to your community that you can. Then when you have done that, look again and find one thing you could be better at and work on getting better at that.

Getting better at whatever you do is a lifelong pursuit. You will never be finished and you will never have time to worry about what everyone else is doing. So keep improving and let others worry about the same.

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January 17

“Happiness and freedom begin with a clear understanding of one principle: Some things are within our control, and some things are not.” – Epictetus

Ultimately, we all have only one arena in which we control what is going on. That arena is in our own lives and contains only two categories; our thoughts and our actions. That is it. The entire sphere of our influence can be boiled down into only four words; our thoughts and actions.

Everything else is outside of that sphere. We do not control how other people treat us or how they think about us. We do not control whether or not we or a loved one gets sick, dies, or moves really far away. But we do control how we think about it and how we allow it to affect us.

Accepting this fact doesn’t mean we are not accountable for anything that happens outside our control. In fact, especially at work, the opposite is often true. We are accountable for everything that happens concerning work or matters that relate directly to our involvement.

For example, let’s say we are working on a project with a team and one of the team members fails to complete an important part of the project. The team member’s actions do not fall into a category that you have control over but that does not mean that it is acceptable for you to take zero accountability. Anticipating that everyone knows exactly what their job is and why it is vital to the team is a thought process you should have and you do control. Verbally ensuring that everyone knows their role and its importance to the project is an action that you have control over.

While understanding you only control your own thoughts and actions is a key to a happy and free life, be careful not to use this fact as a means to not take accountability for the ways you can use your thoughts and actions to effect change in the world around you.

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January 16

“It is unrealistic to expect people to see you as you see yourself. If people reach conclusions based on false impressions, they are the ones hurt rather than you, because it is they who are misguided.” – Epictetus

You alone know what you are working on and what you are trying to accomplish with your life and your work. So when you see yourself, while you may see all of your own weaknesses and shortcomings you will also see what you are trying to become. No one else can see that. In fact, some people don’t understand a constant effort towards self improvement. Many people are very happy how they are. Good for them. Those people may very well judge you based on a single encounter. It might not have been your best day or even your best moment on a good day. It might have been your worst moment on a really bad day. In reality everyone is judging you through the prism of their experience. Ultimately, what does that matter though?

People’s thoughts about you are going to have far less to do about you than it does that person’s particular experience. The best any of us can do is to be our best and hopefully make other’s experiences more enjoyable.

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January 15

“If people treat you disrespectfully or speak unkindly about you, remember that they do so from their impression that it is right to do so.” – Epictetus

A lot of emphasis is placed upon first impressions. A large part of this emphasis is there because people make judgments about you very early in their understanding of you. Sometimes people never move past this understanding of you and they may very well continue to judge you. This is not your problem.

If someone decides, based on limited understanding of you, that you are not deserving of their respect there are really only two possibilities. The first is that you have done something to lose their respect. In this case, you should reflect and if the reasoning is sound, adjust your behavior. The second case is that they are choosing to treat you with disrespect based on a misunderstanding of you as a person. In this case, who cares? It’s not your problem. Move on.

If you are in a position where you have to work with someone directly and they treat you disrespectfully or unkindly, respond with kindness and patience. It’s more difficult but still not about you. Maybe they feel threatened, passed over, or like you get more credit than you deserve. Doesn’t matter. It’s about them, don’t make it about you. Keep your side of the table kind, patient, and professional. That’s how the long game is won.

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January 14

“Don’t be afraid of verbal abuse or criticism. Only the morally weak feel compelled to defend themselves to others. Let the quality of your deeds speak on your behalf.”                – Epictetus.

No matter what you do, how well you do it, or how nice you might be there are always going to be people who have something negative to say about you or something you’ve done. It happens to everyone. Your favorite author is someone else’s least favorite. Same goes for artists, bands, politicians and on and on. Even humanitarians aren’t safe.

If everyone else has to endure being criticized by someone then you should feel fortunate that you are not going to be left out. Of course the caveat to today’s thought is that your deeds or actions should be of a caliber that they can do the speaking for you. Today’s thought also doesn’t tell us not to listen to the criticism we will get from others. Only to not be afraid of it and not to bother to defend yourself to others.

If someone has the courage or lack of self awareness to criticize you to your face, thank them. Take it in, think about what they say. Don’t take it personal because it’s not and don’t defend yourself or try to explain your actions, instead thank them for the feedback and if there is anything to gain from the criticism, use it. Otherwise continue to do your best work and compare yourself today only to the level you were at in the recent past.

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January 13

“By facing the realities of death, infirmity, loss, and disappointment, you free yourself of illusions and false hopes and you avoid miserable envious thoughts.” – Epictetus

You might get sick, you are very likely to lose loved ones, almost certain to be disappointed at some point, and you are definitely going to die. Glad we got that out of the way.

Rather than being a negative, it can be very rewarding to focus on those facts and possibilities with a sense of gratitude. We are all going to die but today, today we get to be alive and we get to experience this life in all of its beauty and all of its horror. Today we are healthy enough to read, to enjoy the things that are available on the internet and probably even more than that. Today we have our loved ones to visit, spend time with, or even call and talk to on the phone. While any of these things may very well not be true tomorrow or even by the end  of today, they are true right now and we have the opportunity to enjoy them. Right now.

It can be rewarding to go through life keeping in mind that any part or indeed all of this can be taken away from you in a moment. Enjoy it all while you have it to enjoy.

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January 12

“Instead of averting your eyes from the painful events of life, look at them squarely and contemplate them often.” – Epictetus

Some parts of life are just plain awful. You are going to go through some significantly hard times during this life and pretending they don’t exist or that bad things don’t happen is going to make it very difficult for you to deal with them when they do.

Instead, acknowledge with certainty that hard times are coming for you. You will lose friends and family. You may lose your job. You will struggle financially. You will have hard times in relationships. These hard times are life as life should be. Just as good times and happy memories are not everything in life, neither are the hard times.

Spending time thinking about the difficulties you will face in life, planning for them,  and anticipating them allows you to learn from them better when they finally arrive. Because hard times will always have something to teach you. If you allow it.

Difficulties are what shape us, they are how we grow, and they are how we discover the things that truly matter to us. Without them we would have little offer our friends and family in the way of help or guidance.

During your next difficulty, no matter how great or small, remind yourself that this difficulty is making you better. It is teaching you. Making you stronger. Face it head on. And plan for future hardships. Because they are coming.

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January 11

“Try not to merely react in the moment. Pull back from the situation. Take a wider view; compose yourself.” – Epictetus

More than a thousand years ago, a man born into slavery earned his freedom, started teaching and proposed to his students that they enact one of my favorite thought exercises. It also happens to be one that I am often terrible at; detachment.

There is no better way at approaching a problem and finding the best possible solution than removing yourself from the situation and trying to get an objective point of view from the outside.

As anyone living who has ever encountered a difficult situation can attest to, it is often one of the most difficult things to do in the moment. Difficult situations have a way of grabbing your attention and narrowing your vision to only the parts of the problem right in front of you.

The next time you are faced with a difficult situation, conversation, or even a confrontation practice detachment by physically taking a step back from the space the situation is occurring in. Take several breaths, relax, and try to see the whole picture from as many angles as possible while you are breathing. If the situation doesn’t become clearer, repeat the process one more time.

This is a skill that requires practice and patience but when you get it right, it is worth every minute you have invested in it! Fortunately, life will provide plenty of opportunity for practice.

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January 10

“People don’t have the power to hurt you. Even if someone shouts at you or strikes you, if you are insulted, it is always your choice to view what is happening as insulting or not.”  – Epictetus

Even as I type these words extreme situations that I will never have an inkling of understanding come to mind.

Still, allowing ourselves to be victims is to give away our power. It is us choosing to allow the aggressor to be the one in control, to have the last word. Rather than saying, ‘I am stronger than this situation.’ We are saying, ‘This happened to me.’

When someone shouts at us, belittles us, or even physically attacks us it can feel very personal. But it’s not.

It is not possible for someone who truly knows us personally and cares about us to act in that manner while simultaneously keeping in their mind that we are people entitled to respect and kindness.

So the next time someone is rude, demeaning, or disrespectful keep in mind, it’s not personal. They are forgetting to act in a manner that they would consider in keeping with the image they have of themselves. When we consider how embarrassed they would be if they saw themselves from the outside, it would almost be easy for us to feel sorry for them.

I truly hope you never have to exercise this thought after someone is physically abusive towards you.

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January 9

“If someone irritates you, it is only your response that is irritating you.” – Epictetus

This is a difficult thought to process. It can be very, very difficult to ignore when someone is irritating us, especially if they are acting in a manner that we also choose to find offensive. Or what about behavior that is disruptive? Are we really choosing to be irritated by people who are disrupting our work, sleep, or other activity? The answer is yes. We each get to control the thoughts, emotions, and actions of one person; ourselves.

So the next time we find ourselves in a situation where we catch ourselves choosing to become irritated let’s make an effort to ask ourselves, ‘can I ignore this and carry on?’ If the answer is yes, then do so. If the answer is no, then gently approach the other person and explain to them how you are being interrupted. Keep in mind we do not control their response to our request and we may not like the response we get. That is also our choice and quite possibly our own fault. Were we not gentle enough? Could we have been more clear with our concern? Could we have been more understanding? These are all possibilities and we can use this experience to guide us the next time we decide to be irritated or not. And there will almost definitely be a next time.

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January 8

“It is not a demonstration of kindness or friendship to the people we care about to join them in indulging in wrongheaded, negative feelings.” – Epictetus

Drama. Gossip. The woes of daily life! It is easy to get sucked into the whirlwind of negative thinking that consumes our daily lives and makes up a large part of our socialization with others. On the one hand this is an important part of the human condition. Having others we can confide our worries, stresses and problems to helps lessen the burden and allows us to achieve some perspective. It is when we do not have the goal of achieving perspective that we enter into the practice of whining. Whining serves no purpose and will not benefit us. It does not seek any perspective on the situation and can not help you deal with the situation in a better manner. Gossip is a form of whining.

We owe it to ourselves to recognize when we are doing this in our own lives and should be asking ourselves when we are engaging in speaking negatively, ‘Will this conversation help me deal with this situation better?’ If not, we’re probably just whining and should stop.

We can not control others. But when faced with a loved one’s whining we can show them kindness and a lend a sympathetic ear without perpetuating or condoning the whining. This will take practice but life will offer us many opportunities to practice this art daily.

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January 7

“Other people’s views and troubles can be contagious. Don’t sabotage yourself by unwittingly adopting negative, unproductive attitudes through your associations with others.” – Epictetus

You’ve probably heard it before, you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with. You may also have heard that attitude is the most important attribute to many of the people responsible for hiring at top level companies.

Both are true. Attitude and perspective are contagious. If you surround yourself with people who have a generally positive but realistic outlook, you will find yourself approaching problems with that group with more optimism and confidence than if you surround yourself with negative people even if they are realistically negative. Which group do you think is going to have more long term success?

You can take that idea one step further by working to become that person in your workplace, your home life, or your circle of friends. Without allowing yourself to become unrealistic or sappy, try to start finding the positive in situations that might otherwise throw a wrench into the gears of your day. Start small but look at each little pitfall of the day as a chance to exercise this new positive perspective. As it becomes easier you might find yourself becoming the go to person for solving a lot of problems.

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January 6

“Who is everywhere is nowhere. When a person spends all his time in foreign travel, he ends by having many acquaintances but no friends.” – Seneca

Not as much a judgement of travel as it was a guide to focus one’s efforts. In the times we live in this could not be more true. We have the internet in our pockets. Look around yourself at the grocery store or the next time you use public transportation. See how many of us are using technology to reach out to our friends. Then when people reach out to us using the same means we would be wise to remember, these are not important messages. No, these are notes from bored friends.

Rather to use that time and technology to make ourselves a little better. To push ourselves along the path. The same device we use to reach out to our friends when we are bored can store books, it can teach us languages, or accounting. In the time it takes us to send a message or check in on social media we could read two or three pages of a book or learn a new phrase. Imagine what a year of this could bring us.

We would all do well to choose a subject we need to improve in and dedicate 12 weeks to focusing on that rather than being distracted. See what we can accomplish and decide whether to continue or to return to our previous ways.

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Leaky Dog

It usually happens to older female dogs. They have their favorite spots to lie around and when they get up it looks like those spots are wet. Then they get up on the couch with you one evening and you know for sure. Your dog is leaking urine, in the house, on the couch, on your lap. This is not good. Fifty or sixty years ago it was common for dogs to live outside. They might come in during a particularly terrible storm or a really cold night but for the most part they lived outside. If they leaked urine, no one noticed. Now dogs sleep in our beds, I’m not exactly sure how that transition occurred but it would be an interesting sociological study. When your dog, who sleeps in your bed, leaks urine, you notice.

Diagnosing the incontinent dog is fairly straight forward. The first thing you want to be certain of is that your pup is not urinating on purpose. If they are this is not incontinence and we can move on from there. Once we have determined that your pup is leaking urine involuntarily we will want to perform a complete physical exam. Feeling for bladder tone, trying to express a bit of urine manually and getting an impression of your dog’s overall health is a good place to start diagnostically speaking. Once we have an idea about the possible problems your pup is facing we will most likely recommend two laboratory tests in addition to our exam and conversation, a blood panel and a urinalysis with a urine culture. These tests combined with exam findings and our clinical judgement will rule in or out nearly 90% of the causes of incontinence. If these come back with no abnormalities that would explain the issue we can comfortably start talking about a weak bladder sphincter. Weak bladder sphincter is a common problem for female dogs affecting up to 20% of the population. In these cases the muscle that holds urine in is weakened and when Fluffy relaxes, her muscles also relax and small (or in bad cases large) amounts of urine leak out of her.

There are several physiological and anatomic factors that are implicated in the mechanism behind this form of incontinence in dogs. Ultimately however, we do not have a complete understanding of how this works. If we did we would probably be better at preventing it. Fortunately, we are fairly good at treating weak bladder sphincter incontinence.

We will typically start these patients on a drug called phenylpropanolamine (PPA). This drug directly stimulates receptors in the urethra and it causes the release of norepinepherine. Both of these actions help to increase sphincter tone. Side effects of this drug include restlessness, anorexia, irritability and hypertension. We often recommend monitoring blood pressure while on this medication and dropping the dose back a bit if we start to see changes in the blood pressure measurements.

Sometimes PPA doesn’t work, sometimes it works for a little while but then doesn’t seem to cut it anymore. In those cases we will often add or substitute in Diethylstilbestrol (DES). DES is a synthetic non steroidal estrogen. It is used at a loading dose and then tapered to the lowest effective dose to control incontinence. If you are familiar with pharmacological history in the United States you might have heard of DES. DES was used in human medicine up until the 1980’s for estrogen replacement therapy and to deal with inflammatory conditions associated with the female urogenital tract. It was discontinued in human medicine after some very serious adverse health links were found. Fortunately, we have not been able to document the same health links in our canine or feline patients.

Males with urinary incontinence are typically given testosterone to treat urinary incontinence when PPA is not working. Testosterone also has a synthetic non steroidal oral form but the injectable steroid form is much more effective.

When all else fails or if you are not getting 100% resolution with medication alone there are surgical options. These include tacking the bladder and/or urethra to the body wall or other organs to increase the pressure on the urethra. There are also collagen or other bulking agent injections that can be given using a long scope to increase resistance and decrease incontinence. No surgical approach is going to offer life long resolution but may help lower doses of medications.

There are lots of reasons a dog could be leaking urine and getting to the bottom of incontinence is a lot like any other medical problem in our pets. The answer starts with a good physical exam by your veterinarian.

Thank you for reading.

January 5

“Leave other people’s mistakes where they lie.” – Marcus Aurelius

It is so easy to see why other people fail to succeed or why their best laid plans didn’t work out. It is also so easy for others to see the same with us. Why is that? It is simple really, it is easy to see because we can see the whole playing field or at least enough of the field to see where they are going wrong. The same is true of their view of our situation.

How can use this to our advantage? We could do a number of things. The first and easiest thing we can do is to look at an obvious mistake someone in our lives might be making and then ask ourselves, ‘where in my own life am I doing something similar?’

Then we need to detach from ourselves and truly look at our own lives objectively. This is difficult but it gives us perspective. It also requires that we keep our emotions out of the picture. Detachment also helps with this, just stepping back from any situation enough to see it from the outside.

This takes practice. Fortunately, life gives us a lot of opportunity to practice this skill. The time and effort it takes to develop is worth the effort.

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January 4

“Things that were hard to bear are sweet to remember.” – Seneca

While this might not ring true for everyone it will ring true for everyone who chooses to see their hardships as opportunities for growth.

We are all going to be blessed with burdens to bear at some point in this life. Some of us will be asked to carry burdens our entire lives and other burdens will be transient but their effects will stay with us.

Many – likely all – of us are right now experiencing our own hardships. Most if not all of us have days where we wish we could be done with our trial and move on. It can be extremely difficult to step back and look at the big picture, how this difficulty is making us stronger. How we are learning valuable lessons. How we are gaining valuable experience that we are very likely going to be able to use to help others.

As we deal with our problems and struggles, I hope all of us can maintain the perspective that the struggles are what help define who we are, what we have to offer, and where we want to be. May our struggles keep us focused and on the path.

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January 3

“Know first who you are and what you are capable of. Just as nothing great is created instantly, the same goes for the perfecting of our talents and aptitudes.” – Epictetus

So often through life we have been told, ‘you can be anything you want.’ Or my favorite, ‘if you believe it, you can achieve it.’ Not so. I will never be an Olympic Sprinter or Weight Lifter. Nor could I have even had I trained for it my entire life. I could’ve been good, maybe even competitive but I never would have been able to represent my country while competing against the best the world had to offer.

I do have my strengths, we all do. And once we take the time to identify those we can start to focus on developing those strengths and most importantly – identifying the weaknesses that hold those talents back. Then we chip away at those weaknesses and develop those strengths. Every day.

During this development it is important to remember that this is a process. We will have days where we really progress and we will have days where we seem to fall back. But we keep trying and we compare ourselves today to where we were a month ago, a year ago maybe even yesterday. And we never stop working to get better.

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January 2

“Nothing truly stops you. Nothing truly holds you back. For your own will is always within your control.” – Epictetus

The old cliche about mind over matter? Maybe it’s a quote about being able to do anything you put your mind to. It’s neither. Today’s thought is about choices. You and I are not likely to face some of the difficult, dangerous and daunting situations many others have but we have our own hardships and tribulations we endure. Some daily, some may very well last the rest of our lives. How we think about them is up to us.

Often when faced with a difficult situation of any type, we make a choice to continue to try to solve a problem or handle a situation or we make a choice to give in. With big problems that did not appear overnight we can assuredly trace back many small decisions we made to give in over and over again until we get to the root of the problem.

Going forward, let’s train our minds to look at situations and ask ourselves, ‘am I surrendering to this?’ And if the answer is yes, let’s say, ‘No. Not today. I don’t give in.’

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