April 30

“Fortify yourself with contentment, for it is an impregnable fortress.” – Epictetus

Contentment is a state of happiness and satisfaction. If we use them interchangeably, contentment is the act of choosing to be happy and satisfied. It is the art of controlling our situation by controlling the one thing we can, ourselves. By choosing to be content in the situation we are currently in we choose to accept the way things are and that the only changes we can really count on are the ones that start with us.

Contentment is not the same thing as settling. Settling would be us accepting things the way they are and then assuming there is nothing to be done to improve the current situation. Every situation can be improved upon. But in order to make effective and lasting improvements, we need to understand that all of the changes we wish to make, start with us.

What contentment does offer, is protection from the negative effects of failure and rejection. If we are coming from a place where we are already happy and satisfied, then failing at an attempt or having someone respond negatively to a request become less discouraging. If we are content with where we are in life we will be less desperate/nervous in a job interview, applying for a loan, asking a love interest our on a date, or even just attending social events.

Being content oddly enough, is the best first step in making self improvements. It removes the risk.

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April 29

“Nothing really pleasant or unpleasant subsists naturally, but all things become so through our understanding.” – Epictetus

There is an actual psychological phenomenon to explain the quote above. It’s called the hedonic treadmill or hedonic adaptation, it is our tendency to return to a relatively stable state of contentment regardless of changes in our situation. No matter how good or how bad it gets for us, we will normalize the change and return to our previous level of contentment. And that is not necessarily a bad thing.

If we work towards achieving contentment with our current position in life, this does more for us than just take away the risk of trying new things or reaching for new goals – if we are content where with our current situation, failing at new things and having to stay where we are is not nearly as frightening. Being content where we are in life fortifies us against the external things life is going to throw at us, good and bad.

By recognizing our current level of contentment and holding onto the understanding that many of the things that life throws at us are outside of our control, we can ignore the blips of ups and downs we might otherwise experience before the hedonic treadmill pulls us back to baseline.

We can work on our emotional discipline instead.

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April 28

“We should not have either a blunt knife nor a freedom of speech which is poorly managed.” Epictetus

This is less about being able to yell, ‘fire’ in a crowded theatre and more about the purpose and efficacy of speech. Speech is one means of communicating with other people and even sometimes with the trained domesticated animals we share our lives with.

Good communication should leave the recipient clear about the intended message and any meaning that needs to be inferred. Hence the comparison to a knife.

Rather than being blunt in our communications, we should be precise, surgical. Only saying what needs to be said in order to move the conversation along to a productive or meaningful outcome.

If that sounds robotic and rigid to us, we need to consider the more important aspect of our communication. Listening. If we use our speech to augment what those around us are saying only enough to express that we are interested in what they are saying and we would like them to continue, or to agree with them, or disagree politely and request an explanation, if we communicate in those terms, we will watch all of our relationships thrive.

\So let us practice wielding our speech like surgical instruments, only cutting into the conversation to do the most good. Otherwise, we should listen to those around us and use our listening to improve our understanding.

By understanding better, doors we never would have seen will open to us.

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April 27

“Contentment, as it is a short road and pleasant, has great delight and little trouble.”            – Epictetus

Contentment should be our goal when we think about happiness. Being content as in not wanting for anything more in our lives is something that should be within reach for each of us.

This is likely why the author classifies contentment as a short road. Many of us should be able to accomplish contentment simply by changing the way that we look at our own lives. If we stop looking at all of the external things, many of which are way outside our control and start to focus on the things we can control, we will find very quickly that we could have been content in our own lives for quite some time now.

It is a pleasant road because the act of looking at our lives and teasing out which things are within our control and which things are not leads to self reflection. This leads to understanding and respecting ourselves more. Which ultimately leads to us feeling better about ourselves. Then we start working on the little things that we can control and w start to see some changes. This leads to us wanting to accomplish more and suddenly we find ourselves months or years down the path and we realize that we are content with who we are and where we are going.

We will also find that the path of self reflection and the self mastery that comes with focusing on the things within our control bring a lot of joy as well.

So let’s get on the path, stay on the path, and learn to enjoy the path.

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April 26

“For what is reasonable then and in our power is this, to not allow our judgement to be the only thing which resists the universe: for it is strong and superior.” – Epictetus

Some days it seems as though the universe might just have it in for us. It doesn’t of course,  but it often feels as if the entire world is conspiring against us. The world or universe or whatever we want to look at doesn’t care about us at all. In fact, the majority of people on Earth are completely unaware of our existence. Our sphere of impact is remarkable small relative to the size and scope of the world we live in. The aspects of our own sphere that we control is even smaller.

As we read the paragraph above, most of us will recognize the truth in those words and few if any of us would argue that our impact or control are bigger than they actually are. It’s easy to have this perspective as we are reading a short daily meditation that has little if any bearing on our lives. When we are in the middle of an issue and are drawn into the weeds, it is a lot harder to take this perspective.

Our thought exercise today should be this: let’s ask ourselves three questions with each issue we might face today. Is the issue itself within our control? Can we have any affect on the outcome? If we maintain a positive attitude will we make this better for everyone involved?

As you might imagine, one of these three questions carries far more yes answers than the others.

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April 25

“If a person attempts to turn their mind toward these thoughts, and to persuade themselves to accept with willingness that which is necessary, they will pass through life with complete moderation and harmony.” – Epictetus

Everyone we have ever met has been through something they currently consider the most difficult event in their lives. Some of us might even have trouble deciding which one of the difficult events that we have endured is in fact the most difficult.

Today, let’s think back to the most difficult situation we have ever encountered and dealt with. We can spend the rest of the day thinking about how much control we had over the event occurring in the first place and then we can focus a little on the event itself. Specifically, let’s think back to two aspects of the event. The first being how the event has affected us long term, both negative and positive. The second being how we dealt with the event as it was unfolding, in the immediate aftermath and how we have processed it long term.

As we think about the most difficult thing we have ever had to endure with these specific angles in mind, we might find that we could have saved ourselves a lot of frustration and heartache if we had moved to acceptance a little faster.

It is important to keep in mind, acceptance is not the same as resignation. Acceptance does not mean that responsible parties should not be held accountable, it does not mean that we sit on our couches and watch life pass us by. Acceptance means that we recognize that in any situation there are many aspects we have no control over. We need to be able to accept these aspects as out of our control so that we can be most effective in the areas we do control. Some of the things we have no control over will be harder to accept than others. Reflecting back on past difficult times, dissecting them and recognizing what could have been done differently helps us prepare for future difficulties. And there will be future difficulties.

Reaching acceptance earlier will lead to more contentment.

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April 24

“A person who is dissatisfied with things present and what is given by fortune is ignorant in life, but one who bears these things nobly and rationally and the things which proceed from them is worth of being considered good.” – Epictetus

Life will come at us fast and there is little we can do about that. We can prepare as best a person can and still be caught unawares by the twists and turns life has in store for us. At those moments, those times when life has surprised us yet again, that is when we get the opportunity to see who we really are.

How do we respond to these unexpected tastes of fate? If we find ourselves getting down, blaming others, or generally being pessimistic then we can reason that we are not sticking to the aspects of the issue we have control over. We are setting ourselves up for further disappointment, frustration, and unnecessary suffering.

If instead, we accept that this is the new reality, reflect on what we could have done differently to avoid the situation, and then finding a sensible plan to deal with the situation or use it to our advantage we are taking what life has to offer and making the most of it. We are setting ourselves up to do better in the long run and see more opportunities

How we deal with life, the way we view and address the problems and blessings that life brings to us directly plays into our contentment and sets us up for future opportunities or hardships.

In the words of Jon Kabat-Zinn, “You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.”

Let’s all learn to surf.

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April 23

“Nothing is more becoming to a person who governs than to despise no one and not show arrogance, but to preside over all with equal care.” – Epictetus

Being in a leadership position at any level is a difficult place to find ourselves. It requires us keep our perspective focused on the bigger picture while at the same time we have to keep everyone’s needs in our mind while making decisions.

It is easy to allow ourselves to be frustrated, it is easy to have personalities we click with and ones that we find absolutely abrasive. It is important to remember that these are choices we are making. We need to choose to focus on the bigger picture, the point of the leadership position in the first place. Why are we doing this? Where are we leading everyone?

When we take that perspective, we detach a little bit, step back and try to see the whole picture. By doing this we might even see that some of the personalities we find abrasive are abrasive to us because they highlight weaknesses we have. This is great! Having team members who complement our weaknesses ultimately makes for a much better team, even the leader has to be part of the team.

And by taking this broader perspective of the team’s goals, we put ourselves in a position that allows us to treat everyone fairly, which in turn makes us better leaders.

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April 22

“In poverty, anyone can live happily but very seldom in wealth and power. The value of poverty excels so much that no just person would exchange poverty for disreputable wealth.” – Epictetus

It is important to remember that poverty means different things across cultures, time frames, and situations. Epictetus was writing in the Roman Empire almost two thousand years ago. The Roman Empire was made up of multiple nations joined together by military conquest. Keeping living conditions at least passable lowered the threat of rebellion. Uprisings are very expensive to Empires and bring about little good. That’s not to say being in poverty is ever a great benefit and of course rebellions did happen in Rome so the quality of life wasn’t always even passable. But for those who would have had the time and ability to read Epictetus’ work or hear his teachings, the idea of poverty would not have been the fear inducing, below subsistence living we might think of. Let’s consider instead a life where we have enough, but no more.

When we think about what it might take to move our station up a rung on the socioeconomic ladder we find ourselves on, there are many ways to do it but they can be broken down into two categories. Ways we are proud to share with people in conversations and ways we in which we are going to gloss over the details a bit or alter the story to make us look less bad.

The argument being made here is that if we have the choice between staying in the position we are in or getting ahead by misrepresenting ourselves or by hurting someone else, we would be better off staying where we are.

In the cases where we find ourselves weighing those options and we find ourselves choosing between doing something we are not proud of and moving ahead or staying where we are – again this assumes our basic needs are met and we are not in danger – we would be best off by looking at the things we have that we should be grateful for. And choosing to stay where we are. That is until we can find a way to get what we want honestly and in a means that we would be proud to tell others about.

Paradoxically, being grateful for what we have and where we are in life removes a large amount of the risk when it comes to thinking about making changes to our lives, the risk disappears when we are choosing between making a change and staying where are if we are already content with what we have. The desperation goes away as well, we are more relaxed, confident, and self assured when we are coming from a place of contentment. This lends itself to more opportunities being presented to us because people want to work with or be around people who are content. Being grateful opens doors for us.

We might get ahead by compromising who we are and who we want to be. It’s true that in many cases psychopaths rise to the top of organizations because they are willing to do things we would not, but unless we are already psychopaths, starting to act like one now is only going to hurt us in the long run.

Better to be grateful, be content and see what kind of doors that opens.

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April 21

“Let no wise person be averse to undertaking the office of a magistrate: for it is both impious for a person to withdraw themselves from being useful to those in need of our services, and it is ignoble to give way to the worthless. For it is foolish to prefer being poorly led over leading well.” – Epictetus

We do not have to keep this thought in the narrow and unattractive realm of political office. At any time in our lives, if a potential leadership position appears and we know that we can make a positive influence in the lives of others by taking it on, we would be silly not to.

The important part to the idea is that we have to know that we will be making a positive impact on all of the people and the results we will suddenly be accountable for and to. If at any point, we find that our motivation or minds go towards the idea of, “Finally, I’ll be able to do things my way” or “This way I’ll be able to better care for my family” we should re-evaluate our motives and consider that perhaps we will not be acting in everyone’s best interest.

If however, we are in fact looking at the situation as one in which we are confident we will be making a positive impact, we would be short changing everyone involved and affected by the situation by not stepping in and assuming the role.

Leadership is hard. But with the right motives, the right respect for our own limitations and the right amount of humility, we can all make a difference when given the opportunity.

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April 20

“How can one best hurt their enemies? By preparing themselves to live the best life they can.” – Epictetus

The best revenge is…. we can fill in any number of answers here but many of them fall into the same category as the proverb above.

The reason so many great thinkers came to similar conclusions about the best type of revenge has a lot to do with the way revenge works in our brains.

Thinking about revenge stimulates the same part of our brain that ks stimulated when we anticipate anything pleasurable, having sex, eating good food, spending time with friends, and so on. But acting out revenge does not stimulate the same places. Because revenge, when acted out is a confrontational action, it is going to stimulate our flight/fight mechanism. There will be stress. Maybe some elation but then the severe let down afterwards. Just like a fight.

Instead, if we focus that energy on actually doing something positive. Rationalizing the offense, trying to get a lesson out of it. Or if we can’t, turning the reason we consider someone an enemy into our motivation to do better, to work harder, to work smarter, to build better relationships in other areas of life. And the list goes on. By using our motivation for revenge to work towards something positive we get to enjoy that anticipatory high while not having to worry about the let down and depression that follows actually acting out our revenge.

We can choose to use the poor actions of our ‘enemies’ to motivate us into making our lives better.

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April 19

“He is a wise man who does not grieve for the things which he has not, but rejoices for those which he has.” – Epictetus

We all want more. We want more money, more appreciation, more time, and more of all of the things we enjoy or use to enjoy life.

And we already have so much. We currently live in the most opulent time to exist on our planet and it is getting better exponentially. Yes there is bad that happens in the world, we know this. But just as there being good in the world doesn’t mean there is no bad, the opposite is also true. Still we want more.

If we want more in this world, we should want more responsibility, more accountability, and more discipline. And we should want more opportunities to practice our skills and hone our abilities.

By taking more responsibility, holding ourselves more accountable, and developing more discipline we make ourselves more indispensable to the people who depend on us. We end up with more, more influence over the people around us. More control over the things we actually have control over and most importantly, more contentment.

What we truly want isn’t necessarily more stuff, more money, or more luxury. What we really want is to be content. We just mistakenly think that more of these things will help us get there.

The truth is, being content is a choice. And often it is the choice to do the difficult things that make our lives better. Taking on the responsibility, having the difficult but important conversations, applying the discipline we need.

But making that choice makes all the difference.

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April 18

“Time relieves the foolish of sorrow, but reason relieves the wise.” – Epictetus

Bad things are going to happen in our lives. They just are. There is nothing that we can do about it. Some of us are in for some experiences that the mere thought of would make us weak in the knees today. But somehow, we will endure and many of us will be better for the experience.

We’ve all likely heard that time heals all wounds, but that’s true for everyone. We are trying to become our best selves. How do we move across the comma and use reason to relieve ourselves of our sorrow?

The first step in applying reason to any situation is first accepting that the situation is reality and that the situation occurring at least is beyond our control.

After we accept that the bad thing we are dealing with is going to happen or has happened, and this is out of our control. We need to recognize and deal with our own emotional response to the situation. This is one of the few things we are in control of. No matter what the situation is.

After we get through those first two steps the most important part of applying reason to a situation is to remember that we are not the first person to deal with this particular hardship. Finding those people, talking to them, and listening to their perspective with the humility and understanding that they have been there, and they endured is how we find our way through difficult situations.

Leaning on the experience and knowledge of those who have been there before us is the most reasoned way to navigate any difficulty.

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April 17

In prosperity it is very easy to find a friend; but in adversity it is the most difficult of all things.” – Epictetus

Let’s turn this well used and often repeated idea on its head.

It is easy for us to want to be a friend to our peers when things are going well for them. They are positive, they are fun to be around, and they often have more expendable income.

And it is kind of a drag to be around people when they are going through something really trying. They tend to focus on their struggle, which makes sense when we see it in type. They also to go through these manic phases followed by periods where they are just down, hard.

But if we are trying to master ourselves and learn to exercise emotional discipline, which friend is going to push us to be better? Which friend is going to give us more opportunity to improve on the skill sets we are trying to develop?

Not that we are using our friends for personal development but if we actually want to become the type of people who can truly be good friends, we need to develop these skills.

So we should reach out to the friend who is going through a hard time, we should listen to them, we should comfort them, but more importantly we should encourage them. We should encourage them to see these moments as something that will make them better, stronger, at least wiser. Not through preaching at them, but by being there with them and choosing to enjoy them.

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April 16

“As it is pleasant to see the sea from the land, so it is pleasant for him who has escaped troubles to think of them.” – Epictetus

Likely all of us can look back at something we struggled through, training, education, first having children, the struggle of being young and broke and starting a family, and the list goes on. We can look back on these times and now we see something different than we felt then. We see the good times we had. We season those experiences with the lessons we learned and the growth we experienced. Those hard times made us who we are.

Here comes the great news! If we act now, we can enjoy the feeling of looking back at our difficult times with the perspective of all of the good they are doing for us, while we are going through them!

The trick to being able to attain this perspective is detachment. Our ability to see the situation we are in objectively and recognize the good things that will come from our struggles is found in that single word. Detachment.

It might sound like we would have to be emotionally distant or less involved in the situation we are going through but we don’t. We are stepping back to get a better sense of the complete situation. And the result is we will play a more positive role in our own situation, for ourselves and for others.

Instead of trying to the any situation from both side, or multiple sides, we will be trying to see it from the outside. As if it is a movie or a play. This is not going to be easy. It may very well take the rest of our lives. But the end result is we will lose our tempers less, say things we don’t mean less, and ignore the feelings of others less. We will express concern more, say the important things we don’t want to leave unsaid more, and make the decisions that help others more.

How’s that for a super power?

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April 15

“Over your wine do not talk much to display your learning; for you will utter bilious stuff.” – Epictetus

It happens to all of us, we learn something new and for some reason we assume that because we knew nothing about the subject before hand, no one else knows anything about it either. We assume a level of expertise we have not earned. We also assume everyone else was as much of a novice on the subject as we were/are. Neither of these assumptions is appropriate.

While this is most commonly a condition that occurs over drinks, it can happen to us whenever we find ourselves in a social situation where lively discussion is taking place.

It is a natural occurrence. So natural in fact that it has a name, it’s called the Dunning-Kreuger Effect and we are all susceptible to it to a certain degree.

Being susceptible to a natural occurrence is not something we can really control. What we can control is how we respond to this sudden expertise we have acquired. We can choose to keep our moths shut more and listen to other’s point of view during these discussions. We can choose to listen and see if other people in fact have something interesting to add to the conversation. It is very likely that they will.

We can choose not to come across as a know it all. And we should.

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April 14

“No person is free who is not master of themselves.” – Epictetus

The first step in mastering anything is getting a solid understanding of it. The same is true of ourselves. In order to get a good handle on what we do, we need to first have a good handle on why we do it in the first place. There are all kinds of personality trait tests out there that are reasonable guides for starting to understand ourselves. One could also spend time working on seeing ourselves objectively and then figuring our motives from that angle, it would be harder, a lot more work, and would take longer but it would likely yield more satisfying results in the end.

Once we have an understanding of ourselves that gives us better insight into why we do the things we do in the way that we do them, we still have to make an effort to master ourselves in order to become the people we want to be. It does us no good to know for example, that we score low on the conscientiousness trait if we are not prepared to start finding ways to hold ourselves accountable for procrastinating.

Once we have started down the path to self mastery, many of us will be surprised by the number of activities we once enjoyed but will slowly start to hold in contempt.

And we will also start to enjoy the feeling of cutting those things out of our lives on our way to freedom.

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April 13

“Choose rather to punish your appetites than to be punished through them.” – Epictetus

If we don’t do something about what we are doing in this life, we are going to end up exactly where we are headed.

We all have a default state we would drift into if we chose to do nothing instead of working to make ourselves better, or doing the minimum required to not fall into the pit created by all of our faults and weaknesses.

The biggest challenge we face is that we tend to enjoy our weaknesses. Maybe it’s drinking too much, maybe it’s watching too much television, maybe it’s spending too much time on the internet, or maybe it’s something else entirely.

The thing about any of these things, and likely anything we can think of, is that by themselves these things are not bad. Diversion, entertainment, even a little light debauchery are all part of the seasoning of life. And we should go out of our way to make time for them. We should put a little internet time, some television, and maybe even a few drinks with friends on our to do lists.

But then when the time is up on those things, we should be disciplined enough to put them down and move on to the next item on our to do list. Even if it is just getting to sleep.

By disciplining even the little things we enjoy, we avoid slipping into becoming the person we will become if we don’t. It is worth the effort.

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April 12

“It is better to admonish than to reproach: for admonition is mild and friendly, but reproach is harsh and insulting; and admonition corrects those who are doing wrong, but reproach only convicts them.” – Epictetus

The difference is the expression of disappointment. Who is responsible for the feeling of disappointment when we feel it? We are. Why would we ever feel the need to express a feeling we are responsible for to someone else and then attach it to their actions? To hurt them. To strike out and try to subjugate them in some sense is unfortunately the most likely answer. Likely, we don’t do this consciously but whenever we place another person’s actions out in front as the cause of our own feelings, our articulation of it comes from a place of being hurt, and trying in some way to hurt back.

If another person’s actions are not what we would like to see and the outcome of their actions leaves us feeling disappointed, it is more helpful to everyone involved for us to instead show them kindly where they are going wrong and at the same time show or explain to them how and why we would prefer them to act.

It might be a situation where we have some reason to have a say in the way people behave, but the again it might not. If it is not, then we are left appealing to their reason and hoping that our appeals are heard. If they choose to ignore us further, it is still up to us how we respond.

Best to continue to respond in a way that lends itself to the people we wish to be rather than the people we were, or are right now.

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April 11

“A person should pursue not every pleasure, but the pleasure that leads to goodness.”       – Epictetus

There are many things that we all enjoy doing, things that bring us some amount of pleasure. Some bring more pleasure than others. Some of the things in life that bring us pleasure actually benefit our lives as well and others well, not so much. We know the difference based on how we feel about these things afterwards, do we feel more connected or would we prefer not to think about what we just did?

For each of us, it might be a little bit different but some of the things that bring us pleasure or make us feel good in the moment are also going to make us feel a little bit more connected with the feeling of being alive. These things enrich our lives and we typically want to share them, or at least the feeling they provide, with others.

These are the things we should be focusing on developing. These pursuits not only make us feel good, but they offer a chance for us to share that good feeling with others. They give us an opportunity to make other people’s lives just a little bit better, while also enjoying ourselves.

Isn’t that what we would all consider living a good life? Isn’t this the art of living? To lesson other’s suffering while also enjoying ourselves.

Let’s identify those things that we enjoy that also bring us closer to that feeling of being alive. And then let’s share them with our little corner of the world. Everyday.

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April 10

“It is the part of the wise man to resist pleasures; but of a foolish man to be a slave to them.” – Epictetus

Those little pleasures, getting an email notification, a ding from the social media app on our phones, a text from a friend. Those little notices, someone liked our picture, our post, someone thought our tweet was funny, these all trigger the pleasure center in our brain. And it’s addicting. And we become very dependent on those little notifications and those little impulses that fire into our pleasure centers.

It is not always a bad thing, it is nice to hear from friends who live far away and it is nice to receive feedback on life decisions. It is fun to share jokes and to have people compliment our lives.

But when we can’t go a few minutes without checking our social media pages. When we can not ignore the ding of an email, text message or notification that someone has liked our post it becomes a problem. We become addicted. And we may choose to spend time on social media over actually doing productive work. After these periods we will feel the regret and self loathing that comes with feeding an addiction. We will wonder why we wasted all that time and we will promise ourselves to work twice as hard tomorrow. And tomorrow morning, the notifications will come and we might very well get sucked back in.

Not today. Today, let’s take steps to disconnect from social media and our phones during the times we are supposed to be productive. Even if social media or our phones are part of our job we can work on ideas, projects and make lists without being on social media.

Today let’s remind ourselves we are not slaves to the dark side of this wonderful technology but instead connoisseurs of the bright side.

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April 9

“Every place is safe to him who lives with justice.” – Epictetus

We’re not going to try to throw on capes, masks, and move our underwear outside of our clothes before charging into the bad parts of town to deliver some “justice.”

If we apply this idea to our workplace, our social circles, our family lives, and any other community we are a part of, if we treat others with fairness and honesty, we are going to be well protected from anyone trying to harm us.

We can use gossip as an easy example.

If we don’t gossip and go out of our way to only speak positively about others and the work they do, the things they say, and we stay out of it when people start down negative paths, we will be seen differently and will be less likely to be gossiped about. And even if we are gossiped about, most people will already see us as someone who doesn’t engage in that kind of thing and rumors won’t travel very far.

Even if we are someone known for gossiping and always having negative things to say about coworkers, clients, friends, family, etc. We can chose to change that, we can choose to start speaking well about other people and not speaking or engaging when others start down the path of gossip and rumor spreading. We don’t have to – and really shouldn’t – tell other people we are making that choice. Because then each time we fail, it will be encouragement to them to continue doing what they are doing. Instead we can silently make a promise to ourselves not to be like that anymore and watch as the way people see us slowly changes to a more positive perspective.

And if anyone ever asks about why we are no longer the place to get the hot gossip we can shrug and say, “I’m just happier now.” Because we will be.

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April 8

“Deliberate much before saying or doing anything, for you will not have the power of recalling what has been said or done.” – Epictetus

Losing our tempers, telling a coworker what we really think, snapping at a family member or any similar action we know is wrong but do with alarming regularity, these are all things we can not take back.

It’s true that people will generally understand that we lost our temper or said something we didn’t really mean because we were caught up in the moment. It’s also true that once we do or say something, they might very well forgive us, they might even stop thinking about it but people will never really forget it. If we make it a habit, it will become the way people start to think about us. It will become our calling card.

This is incredibly common, people lose their tempers or say things they didn’t really mean everyday. They do insensitive or thoughtless things with similar frequency. How much would it stand out then, how great an example would we be setting if we never did these things?

Of course it would stand out because it would also be difficult. Almost to the point of impossibility. Fortunately, it is also something we can practice every single day.

As we get improve, so will the example we set for others in our daily lives. And most importantly, the environment we create around us will improve as well.

virtus fortis vocat

April 7

“What we ought not to do, we should not even think of doing.” – Epictetus

We all know the things that we shouldn’t be doing. There are things we know are flat out wrong, and then there are things which break our daily discipline. While these things are not necessarily wrong, they take us off the path we need to be on in order to become the people we want to become.

Things that are flat out wrong, we know better. We shouldn’t be even thinking about things that hurt other people. We know this.

But we should also be controlling our thoughts in regards to the things which take us off our path. Those little breaks in our daily disciplines that distract us from making those little daily decisions that ultimately form the direction we are going with our personal development are what we need to beware of.

What we do daily, what we say daily, and how we act daily, are ultimately what determine who we are. Daily and eventually these daily habits will turn into who we are. These daily habits begin as thoughts.

We should be practicing total mind control on the only mind we will ever really control, our own. We should be developing our thoughts into springboards for action that will help us develop into the people we want to become. We do this by recognizing thoughts that distract us as weakness.

And when weakness rears its head and tries to distract us we need to be able to say, “Not today. Today, I am moving forward.”

virtus fortis vocat

 

April 6

“It is more necessary to heal the soul than the body, for to die is better than to live a bad life.” – Epictetus

The belief that we would rather die than live a life that fails to meet the standards we have set for ourselves is a strong sentiment. In death we lose everything, we give up all of our aspirations, all of our relationships end, and we will never accomplish anything left unaccomplished. But still, we are going to die. It is coming for us. All of us.

Our lives might be small, we might have little influence in the world, and people might forget us quickly when we are gone. But we have these moments, this life and this is ours. It is our work, the one thing that we have the opportunity to build and shape and use to help lessen the unnecessary suffering of others.

And we could tell ourselves that we never know just who we might influence and they might go on to become great people and change the course of history and our little impact might have helped shape their path. But that doesn’t matter. In just a few billion years, this whole adventure will be over. In a few hundred years only a handful of the people alive now will be remembered. But here and now people go through lives unhappy with the lot they have been given and each of us has multiple chances daily to make an impact on another person’s life. Make it count. Because soon you will be dead.

And you have the choice right now to make being alive better than being dead.

virtus fortis vocat

April 5

“We should stretch our legs and our hopes only to that which is possible.” – Epictetus

Our physical limitations will exert themselves on us by way of nature. Most of us will never win a marathon, or compete in the Olympic games, or swim the English channel. It just isn’t going to happen for us. And for the most part, we are fine with these things. Many of us may go on to run a marathon or even compete in masters level swim meets, but the physical limitations we have to be aware of keep us from being world’s best in many if not all physical contests.

Why is that we are surprised when we also do not become the world’s best, or even best in class in other areas? Most, perhaps all of us reading this, will lead quiet lives that may border on some level of “success” but will not be recorded in the annals of history. Our life accomplishments will be forgotten – even by our own families – within a few generations.

But we have the opportunity to make as many other people’s experiences as pleasant as possible in the short time that we share our small quiet corner of Planet Earth with them. In working to make people’s experiences a little bit better, to share the small bits of knowledge we gather, and try to teach the humble but useful skills we pick up along the way we make an impact we may not be remembered for but one that may very well travel generations into the future. We lessen the unnecessary suffering of our fellow citizens, and in doing so we set the example of helping to lessen suffering to those around us.

If just a few people follow our example, we have made the world a better place.

virtus fortis vocat

April 4

“As a goose is not frightened by cackling nor a sheep by bleating, let not the clamor of a senseless multitude alarm you.” – Epictetus

Humans. We are a fun but complicated species. Individually we can have debates, we can be exposed to ideas that are so foreign to us that we would consider them repugnant. But we can enter into these arenas of thought with civility and leave them with our dignity intact.

But put a few dozen of us together and show us an editorial cartoon that we do not like and suddenly we are willing to destroy property that does not belong to us and even harm (or kill) people who do not agree with us. About the cartoon.

What is worse, we can see from the sidelines how it happens but we somehow lack the sensibility to recognize that people in these large groups are not acting or behaving in the same manner that they would if they could be separated out and reasoned with. Instead, we assign all manners of beliefs and character qualities to people who are acting in exactly the same manner we would if we were in any one of the groups that form around ideas as simple and easy to draw inference about as the opinion in an editorial cartoon. We allow the voices that scream at each other for four minute segments on shows that purport to be news to inflame our senses and stroke the little voices our egos have been developing in the backgrounds of our consciousness.

Instead, we should be silencing those voices and focusing on the one thing we should have control over. Our minds. We should be seeing the groupthink of society for what it is, ignoring it, and continuing to set an example of self control and emotional discipline.

virtus fortis vocat

April 3

“You will do the greatest services to the state, if you shall raise not the roofs of the houses, but the souls of the citizens: for it is better that great souls should live in small houses than for mean slaves to lurk in great houses.” – Epictetus

It is a worthy goal in life to want to make people’s lives better. The best way to help the most people is to do our best to reduce unnecessary suffering. Unnecessary suffering – in the world the majority of us reading this inhabit – is most often the result of trying to control things that are outside of our ability to control. So the best way to help the most people live better lives is to show them that they need to focus on the things they can actually control.

It turns out that while this is simple, it is also surprisingly difficult. No one wants to hear someone tell them that they are trying to control things that they will never be able to control. No one wants to hear they are focusing on the wrong side of a situation and that they need to focus on controlling themselves instead.

People need to be shown, through example how to make themselves better. But that takes time and many people will never see the example we set for them. Also, our example will often times fall short. Very short.

It is then, a life long task, to always be trying to set a better example. To always be focusing more on the things we can control and less on the things we can not. People’s responses to our actions fall into the latter category. We are wise to remember this.

It is difficult. But it is the best service we have to offer.

virtus fortis vocat

April 2

“As the fire-lights in harbors by a few pieces of dry wood raise a great flame and give sufficient help to ships which are wandering on the sea; so also a distinguished citizen in a a state which is tempest tossed, while he is himself satisfied with a few things does great service to his fellow citizens.” – Epictetus

Everything we are trying to get better at, holding ourselves to the standards that we have set for ourselves, they all have one underlying theme. They are comprised of small decisions we make every single day to create an ongoing and overarching narrative within our own lives. We each have our own set of internal standards that comprise the person we would like to become but all of us want the same thing, to be better people. Maybe smarter, stronger, kinder, or more influential. These all take the same thing, attention to the small decisions we make daily that shape the way we interact with the world.

Part of our goal should be to stand as an example to the people around us, the ones we interact with daily. Our goal should never be to tell people about the all the great decisions we are making, or the impressive gains we have made in becoming who we want to be, this would make us self righteous blow-hards, which is not likely the goal any of us have. Instead, our example should be doing the talking. People should see that we remain steadfast, unchanged, and unaffected by the events around us even as they appear to be happening to us. We should never have to tell people what our goals are, they should see them in our actions.

In setting this example we offer them a way out of the storm of life, safe passage through difficult situations by using the art of detachment and emotional discipline.

Our actions should speak louder than our words.

virtus fortis vocat

April 1

“Attempt on every occasion to provide for nothing so much as that which is safe: for silence is safer than speaking. And omit speaking whatever is without sense and reason.”   – Epictetus

Everyone appreciates a good listener. Like good food, drinks, money, and even sex, talking about ourselves offer a reward and stimulates good feelings towards the people we share these things with.

When we are with others, our goal should always be to make the other person’s experience as pleasant and enjoyable as we can. One of the easiest ways that we can do this is to say as little as possible about ourselves during an interaction and instead ask leading questions that get the other person to talk more about themselves.

In addition to leading people to talk about themselves we should also be encouraging them to talk about positive things about themselves or their lives. This leaves them feeling better about themselves and has the bonus for us that they associate us with that feeling. If a person is someone we want or need to build a relationship with, it makes it easier for us to build positive relationships when they associate us with positive feelings. It also helps us by giving us insight on them as people, making them easier for us to relate to, which helps us build that relationship in the first place.

Life will give us plenty of opportunity to practice listening more, not saying much about ourselves, and guiding others to say positive things about themselves around us. As we get better at this skill, we should see that people make an effort to be around us more. This makes much of life easier and more enjoyable.

virtus fortis vocat