August 18

“Just as the same chain fastens together the prisoner and the soldier who guards him, so hope and fear, dissimilar as they are, keep step together; fear follows hope.” – Seneca

Hope is a difficult topic to wrestle with because it has so many positive connotations within our society that it is easy to forget that hope is really fear’s bedfellow. That hope gives us something to look forward to gives us the impression that it does something good for us but if we look at it honestly, we get a different picture.

We never hope for things that are within our control. Instead, hope is us trying to control the external world or at the very least being concerned with outcomes we shouldn’t be concerned with.

In the worst case scenario, hope is our way of refusing to accept the world the way it is while at the same time telling ourselves that we are doing something benign, maybe even good. It is good for us to have hope right?

Wrong. While we would prefer for outcomes to land a certain way, while we would prefer to be comfortable, healthy, and to have a little more than we need right now so we can save some for later, it is not within our power to grant our own wishes. So hope stands in the way of us accepting the things we can not control. And our refusal to accept the world gives way to fear. It is not a long path that takes us from hoping for a certain outcome to fearing another, and once we begin to fear the outcomes we operate differently.

May we never operate out of fear.

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August 17

“He is a great man who uses earthenware as if they were silver; but he is equally great who uses silver as if it were earthenware. It is the sign of an unstable mind not to be able to endure riches.” – Seneca

Respect. Respecting the things that life has provided for us whether it be through good luck or if we had to work our fingers to the bone to carve out a small and meager existence. Respecting the little luxuries we have is important. Treating even our base goods as if they were finery makes us appreciate them all the more. It also makes us all the more deserving of them.

Gratitude. Being thankful for the luxuries that our lives have provided us. Even if we feel as though we have worked ourselves ragged to achieve a little amount, being grateful for that little amount, the little amount that provides us access to all of the collected knowledge of mankind for example, is an important step to being our best selves.

Acceptance. Importantly, accepting that the things we have been provided in this life are just that, things sets the cornerstone for being our best selves. Treating the things we have with more care because they are a finer version of themselves would imply a fear of loss and a lack of gratitude in having the thing in the first place. We can not fear loss because we can not control loss. We should not treat finer things differently because we should treat everything life provides us with with respect.

Respect. Gratitude. Acceptance. Three steps that take us a long way in dealing with the luxuries of life.

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August 16

“Just as it is a sign of luxury to seek out fancy things, so it is madness to avoid that which is customary and can be had at no great expense.” – Seneca

One of the first things we learn – or rather rediscover – when we start out on the path of making ourselves into the best versions of ourselves we can within a lifetime is that an important part of that is killing the little voice in our head that tells us to go after the same prizes that we are socialized to go after.

There is nothing inherently wrong with nice things but the pursuit of being a person with nice things inherently takes away from the pursuit of being a nice person. The best version of ourselves is a nicer person than we currently are. So it stands to reason that focusing on the pursuit of being a person with nice things is at direct odds with our actual goals.

But this is not a pendulum and an idea can be taken too far. Just because the pursuit of being a person with nice things gets in the way of being a nice person does not mean that if nice things happen to come our way we should resist them. And it definitely doesn’t mean we should resist the commonplace things that help us in the society we live in.

We should never go too far, in any direction.

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August 15

“One does not need a silver plate; encrusted and embossed in solid gold; but we should not believe the lack of silver and gold to be proof of the simple life.” – Seneca

Whenever we start a new process, try to add a new dimension to our lives, or find a new way of thinking about the world we live in, we tend to embrace it all the way in the beginning. We tell our friends about it, it creeps into our conversation, and the worse part, we try to convince others to join us. By telling them to join us.

We don’t even know the full extent of the idea we are trying to force onto our friends and loved ones when we start. We just know that this diet, this workout, this political position is the absolute right one for them and they have to try it out.

But that is not how meaningful change happens. That is why we can’t really be forced to believe things, or even really to adopt any change. Sure we might go through the motions if we are sufficiently forced but real, meaningful change has to happen organically.

And we do that best by setting the example. Keeping our mouths shut about the changes we are making in our lives and letting the changes themselves speak for us. If we are making the right choices, the changes we are making will demand respect and admiration. This eventually leads to initiation and finally, the most important part, personalization.

Let’s become someone worth imitating.

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August 14

“It is the superfluous things for which men sweat. That which is enough is ready to our hands. He who has made a fair compact with poverty is rich.” – Seneca

Let’s take a moment today and consider what we truly need. What constitutes enough? We need water, food, and shelter. After that we may require health care at some point. For those of us reading this on the internet, having the four things listed here are fairly easy to come by. Even if we have to provide these things for an entire family, these are not the things that force us into debt. (Health care can be an exception for some of us)

And it is is important, especially in the current society we live in, to be able to save and put some of our resources away for later in life. Much like the grasshopper in Aesop’s fable, we do not want to find ourselves burdening our loved ones when our situation changes.

But by and large, the things we stress over, the things we go into debt over, the reasons we put in late hours, weekend work and so on are things that do not contribute to our basic needs. They are life’s luxuries.

There is nothing wrong with luxury. There is nothing wrong with working hard, working long hours, or working more to afford ourselves more luxury.

But when we allow ourselves to stress, to worry, and to miss out on life in order to afford the luxuries in life, then we are risking the fine art of missing the point.

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August 13

“Therefore I declare to you: he is master over your life who scorns his own.” – Seneca

Not that we should scorn our own lives or have contempt for our lives in any way but we’d do well to remember that we do not control the outcome of most of life’s events. Including our own death.

By remembering that the external aspects of life are outside of our control and that it could all be taken away from us and we would still be able to make the best out of whatever was left behind we give ourselves the freedom to take risks that we might otherwise avoid. By knowing that we would still be ourselves if we lost what we currently consider to be everything, we are immune from the minor slights judgement from our peers might carry.

By understanding that our lives are short and the actual length is unknown but by looking at all of the life we have already lived as a part of our lives that has already died, we free ourselves up to make decisions we might otherwise avoid.

Fear of death, fear of judgment, fear of loss all rob us of the freedom to make decisions, to make bold moves. Sometimes this is a good thing. Sometimes hesitation and discretion are the right way to approach things.

But sometimes we need to remember that this life is short and we might need to take advantage of an opportunity when it presents itself. Remembering that losing it all is just part and parcel for some of us keeps us free to make those moves.

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August 12

“No man has ever been so far advanced by Fortune that she did not threaten him as greatly as she had previously indulged him.” – Seneca

We will never be so successful that we cannot fail. We will never rise so far above our current station that we cannot be pulled back down, even lower than we were when we started. We can never escape the things that we can not control. Life will always have hardships in store for us and may at some point present us with what appears to be absolute ruin.

Even then, in those moments when we might be tempted to feel as though the entire world is against us and we will never have the life we want or the life we feel we deserve we need to remember, we are still responsible for making the most out of the life we have been given. We are still the ones who are in control of our actions, emotions, and intentions. And we are responsible for remaining in control of those things.

Oddly enough, by doing just that. Remaining in control of the things we can and being able to accept the things we can not control, we already have the tools to rebuild our lives no matter how far down the currents of fate drag us.

But it takes us being able to see the bigger picture and it takes being brutally honest with ourselves. We need to look at everything that happens and ask ourselves if we have any control, do we play a role or are caught in waves we can not swim against.

If we are caught in the waves, we’d do better to learn to surf than to try to swim.

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August 11

“No good thing renders its possessor happy unless his mind is reconciled to the possibility of loss; nothing however, is lost with less discomfort than that which when lost, can not be missed.” – Seneca

Situations change. Life happens fast. Where we are today, what we have, how we get through our day, these things can all change without notice.

If we take a moment and we think about the last thing we purchased that we were really excited about. Maybe it was something we had saved up for for months before buying. Maybe it was something we had wanted for a long time. We can all likely think of something along that vein that we purchased or acquired recently.

This means we can all also think of a time recently when we did not have the same possession. And while it might have made a significant impact on our lives, if we are being honest with ourselves, our lives would have been enjoyable had the possession never entered it at all.

And the same is true of everything we own and everything we feel is ours. It could all go away at once and our lives, while obviously changed, would continue on and we would still be responsible for making the most of them.

We would be wise to keep this in mind at all times.

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August 10

“Most men ebb and flow in wretchedness between the fear of death and the hardships of life; they are unwilling to live and yet they do not know how to die. For this reason, make life as a whole agreeable to yourself by banishing all worry about it.” – Seneca

The secret to happiness, the secret to success, the secret to better relationships, the secret to more productivity, the secret to a better life, the secrets are all the same. If we want the things listed here, we need to understand that it is all about control.

We have a very limited amount of things that we are control over. They are limited mostly to the space we occupy. We control ourselves, our attitudes, our actions, our thoughts, our emotions, and our reactions to everything that happens to us. Or at least, we can learn to control those things.

It starts by learning to detach from situations and look at them from the outside. Asking ourselves what we look like, how we sound, what role we are playing in the situation, and most importantly how we can improve on any of this.

Because that is all we can improve on. We can not change the actions, thoughts, or attitudes of others any more than we can change the weather or the time of day.

But once we do learn to focus on what we can control, we will start to see that almost all of our frustrations, our distractions, our obstacles, involved us trying to force a situation we could never have control of into our sphere of influence.

When we stop doing that we can focus our energy on the things we can control.

When we do that, we see positive results.

Repeat as necessary.

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August 9

“No one can have a peaceful life who thinks too much about lengthening it.” – Seneca

Life is a finite resource of undetermined amount. While we should make the most of our health and well being during our brief time here, making our health a source of stress and a distraction from life does nothing to add to our well being and is unlikely to add a single day to our longevity.

On another note, there are things worse than death. Failing to live a life for fear of the dangers built into the living experience would be one of those things. We can die in a car/bus/train/plane crash, we should still visit with loved ones even if it means traveling. The elements can be dangerous and storms can sneak up on us, we should still spend time outdoors. The list could go on and on.

The point is that our lives are not worth living if we spend too much time worrying about the risks that are innately present in the experience of being alive. We do far better for ourselves by mitigating the risks we can control without being obsessive; eating well, exercising, driving safely, and not taking unnecessary risks, and then accepting that the rest of the game is outside of our control.

And then we learn to enjoy the ride.

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August 8

“Death arrives; it would be a thing to dread if it could remain with you. But death must either not come at all, or else must come and pass away.” – Seneca

We all started life at some point. There is a point we can all point to in history where we did not exist at all. There is a point in the future – one that remains a mystery to us – where we will cease to exist.

In between those two points we are going to fit a life. The type of life we choose to fit in this space is up to us for the most part. Things will happen to us that lie outside of our control but the largest part of what our life is composed of is decided by us.

We spend so much time fearing the last bit of it. The fact that we are reading this, means that death is for sure, one hundred percent, coming for us at some point.

But that’s it. Death will come at some point and then it will be over. The decision has already been made for us.

Oddly enough, that’s what makes us lucky. The sheer odds of the material that forms the very basis of our being coming together to form the individuals that we became outnumber the stars we can see on the clearest of nights more than fifty times.

So let’s enjoy our good fortune and make the most of this tiny little slice of history we have right now.

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August 7

“For it is not childhood which stays with us but something worse – childishness. And this condition is all the more serious because we possess the authority of old age, together with the follies of childhood.” – Seneca

Maturity, self development, growth, these things do not just happen to us.

Yes, life is going to provide hardships whether we want to deal with them or not but our default setting is not necessarily one where we make the most of each situation that life puts us in. No, instead we will find ways to avoid the uncomfortable part of life’s hardships and if the hardship was a result of our own doing – they often are – we will naturally find an excuse and make ourselves the victims.

If instead we stop and ask ourselves about the role we have played in our own hardships and how we can learn from these things after we have fully experienced the sting of failure we give ourselves the opportunity to grow and move past this.

Otherwise, we run the risk of reaching adulthood, having all of the responsibility that comes with that including the responsibility for other people’s lives in some cases and trying to handle those responsibilities with essentially the same operating system we used to navigate the playground in grade school.

And that would hold us back.

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August 6

“For love of bustle is not industry, – it is only the restlessness of a hunted mind.” – Seneca

We all know someone like this, we might be someone like this, but we all at least know someone. When we can’t take a moment and sit still to rest our minds a moment. When we can’t seem to get into a book. When we need more than just the view and the sounds of Ocean when we do finally get a chance to get to the beach. When those things happen we need to take some time and reflect on why we are avoiding settling. What thoughts or issues do we not want to deal with.

If we’ve been the type of people who can’t sit still for a long time we might have a hard time digging into why we can’t allow our minds to settle. We might even need to involve a professional to help us get to the point where we can reflect and understand what is vexing us. Then we can learn the skills necessary to catch ourselves when we are avoiding our own thoughts and take the time to reflect and deal with ourselves.

This is probably the most important skill we can develop as we start along the path to becoming our best selves. Because if we can’t stop, reflect and deal honestly with ourselves, we will never be able to develop the skills we need to improve ourselves and help others.

And that should be the goal. Always.

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August 5

“It is equally faulty to trust everyone and to trust no one.” – Seneca

We can all imagine how life would be if we went through it trusting everyone who wanted to give us advice, sell us something, or help us with a ‘problem.’ We’d be broke, sick, or possibly dead in fairly short order.

But it is not too different a path if we try to go through life trusting no one. We can imagine, if we try, how frustrating it would be to have to be our own experts in everything. Some of us might even know people like this. Miserable people who can’t trust anyone to do a good job.

Better still to recognize that we do not control other people’s intentions, their level of competence, or the way that things turn out. Even the most competent people with high levels of integrity experience complications while trying to accomplish tasks. What we do have control over is how well we are at determining a person’s level of competence, we get this through experience.

While we are gaining this experience, it is best to focus on our improving ability to read people. We do this by paying attention to our interpretation of people and then being honest with ourselves about whether we were right or not. This involves a fair amount of remembering and reflection but goes a long way in helping us develop the skills necessary to understand where people are coming from.

And getting better at understanding people transfers to every single aspect in our lives.

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August 3

“Contented poverty is an honorable estate. Indeed if it be contented it is not poverty at all. It is not the man who has too little, but the man who craves more, who is poor.”           – Seneca

This is not aimed at those of us who truly do not have enough.

But if we are being brutally honest with ourselves, if we are reading this on the internet a few things have to be true. We have to be able to read, we have to have access to the internet, and we have to have some voluntary shelter form the elements.

In that case, chances are, those of us reading this today, we have enough.

So our aim should never be to have more of the things we need. We should be looking at the things we will never have again and finding ways to make the most of those. Time. Family. Shared experience. Once our basic needs are met, our goal – in addition to becoming the best versions of ourselves – should be to maximize these resources.

Because we don’t get these things back. Our children are only children for a short period of time. Then they aren’t. Our loved ones are only here for a short period of time. Then they aren’t.

We should be content with what we have. And then we should focus on maximizing our contentment.

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August 2

“Accordingly, since you can not read all the books which you may possess, it is enough to possess only as many books as you can read.” -Seneca

Stuff. The status symbols of materialism have always been there, even if they have changed over the years.

Owning a lot of stuff is a way of saying to everyone around us, ‘I have more than I need.’ The fact that we waste it on things we can never use is a testament to how silly we are about our need for approval.

Books were a good example of this in Seneca’s time. Technological advances being what they are, just about any indulgence you can think of is a good one for today.

When we look at a purchase, of goods or services, we should train ourselves to do a calculation in our heads. It should answer this question, is this going to be worth the time we’ve spent earning this money or is this just a thing we kind of want right now?

If the answer is not a hard yes, we should pass and we should have a moment of pride in our ability to exhibit self control and not give in to our base desires.

Because we only get so much time in this life and the time spent earning money should not be thrown away.

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August 1

“It is too late to spare when you reach the dregs of the cask. Of that which remains at the bottom, the amount is slight, and the quality is vile.” – Seneca

Later. We are going to do everything later.

Later is apparently some magical place and time where we will feel completely differently about the stuff we don’t want to do right now.

Later, we believe, is a Utopia where we all exercise regularly, save our money, plan for retirement, read books, and spend quality time with our loved ones.

In reality, later is a dystopia where we lose the ability to move as well as we once could, our eyesight gets worse, family members pass away, and we run out of time to save enough to provide for ourselves when we can no longer work.

In the final part of later, we die.

Lets’ do a little thought exercise together. Let’s close our eyes and count to five.

Open them. And it’s later now.

Let’s not wait until later. If we want to be our best selves we need to make a list of the things we can control. We need to determine what we want to change. And then we need to set ourselves to the task of changing these things.

Because later is coming.

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