December 14

“Be deaf to those who love you most of all; they pray for bad things with good intentions.” – Seneca

The people who love us the most are also the people in the best position to do us the most harm. These are the people who, while having the best of intentions, will encourage us to be lazy with our goals.

They are the ones who will tell us that we deserve some reward, that we can take it easy because we have worked so hard already, or that it is alright if we break our own rules.

These are the people who will tell us that it is alright if we have just one beer, or if we sleep in just one day, or if we lose our tempers just one time. Because nobody is perfect.

Better than depending on them for guidance, we should live as if we are constantly being judged by those who would see us fail. What would that one coworker say to us if they saw us open that beer? How about that family member who gave us a hard time about getting up so early, wouldn’t they love to see us hit snooze right now?

We aren’t competing with those people but it is perfectly acceptable to use their judgement as motivation to stay on the path when our discipline starts to flag a little. Especially when we are being encouraged to flag by those who are trying to be supportive.

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December 13

“Follow up the impulse which prompted you to make for all that is best, treading under your feet that which is approved by the crowd.” – Seneca

There will be times along the way where we just don’t see the point. We will see everyone around us ‘living in the moment’ and getting tugged around by their emotions, giving in to the easy path, enjoying the distractions of life but man, it sure looks like they are having a good time. We will wonder why we are depriving ourselves, disciplining ourselves, and going without those distractions everyone seems to enjoy.

It is during these times that it is important to remember why we are on this path, that there is a goal here and that while it is difficult, it also makes life better.

We are better for not allowing our emotions to dictate our responses to situations. We are better for remaining in control of our thoughts, words, and actions. We are better for not trying to control the things that are outside of our control.

But it is important to stop and recognize that we are not better than those around us, we are not better than the crowds, we are not better than our peers. We are better than we used to be and that is the only comparison that matter. It is the only one we should be making.

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December 12

“If we are willing to examine critically the various causes of our fear, we shall find that some exist, and others only seem to be.” – Seneca

There are things that should keep us from doing things, we should not try to overcome obstacles that actually pose a threat to out health and well being without proper training and most importantly, a very good reason for taking these obstacles on.

But most of the time, the things that hold us back, the things that keep us from completing the tasks we have on our bucket list are not real fears. They are fears like the fear of rejection, the fear of failure, and the fear f the unknown keep us firmly on our current path.

But in order to become our best selves we are going to have to sort out the fears that matter and should be listened to and the ones that don;t matter and are better ignored.

Two thought exercises may help make that distinction for us, the first is simple. If we play out as many variations of the scenario as possible, what are the negative realistic outcomes? If none of them are a threat to our health and well being, we should ignore them.

The other thought exercise requires more, well, thought. If we were going to explain a situation we find ourselves to a friend or our future selves, would the story be one of regret of opportunity lost or one of relief for not having experienced an unnecessary hardship?

We all know which story we would rather tell.

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December 11

“Before now men have gone to meet death in a fit of rage; but when death comes to meet him, no one welcomes it cheerfully, except the man who has long since composed himself for death.” – Seneca

The sooner we make peace with the fact that the life we currently get to enjoy is going to end, the sooner we can focus on other things. Without any regard to the end result. We can work towards being kinder even if it keeps us from advancing in some aspect of our lives, because what difference does it make? We’re going to die anyway and does taking advantage of someone now really make our lives any better? No. It doesn’t. Better to be kind.

Sure we could turn it around and claim that taking advantage doesn’t matter for the same reasons. But we’d have to live with being that person for whatever the remainder of our time is. And when it all fell away and if we are fortunate to make that slow decline into old age and eventually succumb to the ravages of age; we will always know we were that person, the person who couldn’t be completely trusted.

How much sweeter is it to know that we missed some opportunities, maybe we even found ourselves taken advantage of once or twice, but when someone else’s fate was in our hands, they could always trust us to do what was right.

Because that is who we are.

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December 10

“If it falls to the lot of anyone to be set gently adrift by old age, – not suddenly torn from life, but withdrawn bit by bit, oh, verily they should thank the gods, one and all, because, after they have lived their fill, they are sent to a rest that is scheduled for everyone.”          – Seneca

We live in a culture obsessed with youth. In our world the elderly are all but forgotten, in many ways segregated out from the rest of society and dealt with as a burden we have to endure until they shrug this mortal coil. The same will likely be true for us should we be lucky enough to arrive there.

And it is lucky. Right now, we are on a path that will take the remainder of our lives to complete, and we aren’t even going to get to finish the path. We don’t get to see what is at the end. But we should want to see as much of it as we can. We should want to continue down as far as we can so long as we are still progressing and capable of progressing.

And we should continue to work towards progress. Even if that progress involves learning to thrive and enjoy our time in a society that has relegated us into the role of being a chore for others.

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December 9

“He who does not wish to die cannot have wished to live. For life is granted to us with the reservation that we shall die; to this end our path leads.” – Seneca

It’s going to happen. We can not escape it. But it also comes for everyone else. We all are going to face this fate, we are all eventually going to cease to be a part of this world. It is simply the price we all have to pay to be a part of this. We can think of it as the cost of admission.

If the cost seems steep to us, it might be that we are forgetting just how amazingly fortunate we are to be here in the state we are in.

We know considerably more about genetics now than we did just one hundred years ago and to compare the knowledge we have of things now to that held during Seneca’s time makes the philosopher seem like a barbarian. It would be wise of us to consider however, just how we might seem two thousand years from now.

If we turn back to how fortunate we are to be here, in the state we are in, with the faculties, and individual traits we currently possess we will see that the odds of us existing at all are remote.

There are twenty three chromosomes in the human genome that live in pairs, giving us a total of forty six. When males generate sperm and females generate eggs, those pairs are halved, mixed, and then turned into different variations of those twenty three chromosomes. This process leaves us with eight million possibilities in each egg, and another eight million possibilities in each sperm which equates out to sixty four trillion combination possibilities. And yet here we stand. The number of people who could have existed instead of us is greater than the number of people that have ever existed. By a large factor. That is almost sixty four trillion people who will never see a sunset, never hear the ocean, never feel a crisp breeze, and never smell the warm air after a summer shower.

Yes we have to die. But that is only because we got to live.

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December 8

“For death, when it stands near us, gives even to the inexperienced men the courage not to seek to avoid the inevitable.” – Seneca

At some point, all of us are going to reach a point where we accept our fate. If we struggle with a terminal disease long enough, if we live long enough to see that there is no escaping the inevitable end of our days, we will eventually come to accept that we are going to die.

How much better is it for us to get that out of the way now? We don’t know when we are going to die, but then again even if we were diagnosed with stage four lung cancer tomorrow, we still wouldn’t know when we were going to die. We would just have a better idea about how we were going to die. Even then, nothing is certain.

And so, we could choose now to live as if we do have a diagnosis hanging over our heads, as if we do have some sort of sense that our time line is not going to be as long as we want it to. Because, if we are honest, no matter how long our time line might be, it will never be long enough.

So instead, let’s not waste the time we have on things that don’t matter, let’s not try to control things we can’t control, let’s not allow petty things to interrupt our relationships, and let’s become the best versions of ourselves we can become in whatever time we have available to us.

And let’s live the only way anyone really can, not knowing when a moment will be our last.

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December 7

“This is a great accomplishment, and one which needs long practice to learn, to depart calmly when the inevitable hour arrives.” – Seneca

Some day, almost all of us have no idea when, we are going to die. It’s coming for us whether we are going to be ready or not. And whether we like it or not, with the way that technology, medicine, and science are constantly improving on themselves, we are all likely going to know what is going to kill us when it finally arrives.

It’s as if we are waiting for a guest to arrive but we have no idea when to expect them. And what is worse, while we aren’t exactly excited for them to come visit, we can’t stop them from visiting either.

Just as it is with guests we don’t care for but can’t keep from visiting, we should look at death as something that we are going to have to take part in, whether we like it or not, that is the cost for being a part of this world.

Anything that has to be done, anything that must be dealt with whether we like it or not should be approached with an open mind, and a calm demeanor. It doesn’t help us any to dread eating food, going to bed, or making our living in the world, it also doesn’t help us to treat death any differently.

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December 6

“A great pilot can sail even when his canvas is rent; if his ship is dismantled, he can yet put in trim what remains of her hull and hold her to course.” – Seneca

Life isn’t really out to get us, it isn’t out to ruin our day, life isn’t plotting about how to make us miserable but there are going to be days where we will not believe a single one of those words. There will be days where it will seem as though even the weather is out to destroy our mood.

The sad truth is, life isn’t out to get us because life is indifferent to our existence. We don’t matter enough for the universe to raise a figurative eyebrow.

But that can be hard to see sometimes. Sometimes, we are going to have to get by with what we have in situations where what we have doesn’t seem like it’s going to be enough.

And we are more likely to find ourselves in these situations when things are already not going well for us. For example, a flat tire is less likely to seem like a huge burden when we have the time and money to deal with it. But flat tires don’t happen in those situations. Flat tires happen on the first day of a new job we really need because we’ve depleted our savings.

How we choose to sail the ship in these moments is going to be what makes us who we are.

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December 5

“Now wisdom is an art; it should have a definite aim. Choosing only that which will make progress, but withdrawing from that which it has come to regard as hopeless.” – Seneca

One of the secrets to a happy life. Quite possibly the key ingredient to enjoying the experience of living is this: we shouldn’t worry about the things we can not control. Another way to look at the things we can not control is to see them as things that do not matter. They may seem important, and they may very well have a huge effect on the outcome of certain situations but if it lies outside our control, it does not matter.

The way that we sort out the things that matter against the things that don’t is to determine two things. The first is going to be how much control we actually have over the issue or situation in question. The second is more important, how much does it matter to the end result?

If it isn’t going to help us become better people, if it isn’t essential to the task at hand, if it isn’t going to make things better, it doesn’t matter. We can leave most things, even the things we might have control over right where we found them.

The trick to being able to determine whether or not these two questions apply to anything is to detach, to step back, not allow our emotions or thoughts to interfere and to look at the situation as objectively as possible. This ability gets better the more we practice. And we should practice everyday.

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December 4

“Therefore, as far as possible, prove yourself guilty, hunt up charges against yourself; play the part, first of accuser, then of judge, last of intercessor. At times be harsh with yourself.” – Seneca

We have a limited amount of time to do this. A limited resource that we can neither make nor purchase more of. It would make sense then, to be certain that we have an end goal in mind and that we prioritize the steps that are going to help us move towards that end goal fastest.

Where this becomes difficult is that getting better at things, becoming more disciplined, controlling our emotions, our actions, and our words takes practice. If we try to tackle the big important things right out of the gate, we are likely to fail, a lot.

But unlike travel along an actual path, we are trying to make ourselves into better people. This only takes assigning an end goal and then getting started. If we are on the wrong path we will make adjustments as we move along. If we picked the right path from the beginning, we are not being honest with ourselves and likely haven’t really made it anywhere. In other words, any movement we make is beneficial movement.

More important than getting started is being honest, brutally honest with ourselves. We have to be able to catch ourselves when we are not holding our own standard and at times, we need to be harsh – even ruthless – with our judgment.

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December 3

“For he who does not know he has sinned does not desire correction; you must discover yourself in the wrong before you can reform yourself.” – Seneca

When we set out to improve ourselves, we have to have some idea of what we are improving and we also have to have a plan on how we are going to make those changes.

Just as we wouldn’t start trying to repair a leaking pipe without actually knowing where the pipe was leaking from and having a solid plan about how to fix the problem, we should approach making ourselves into the best versions of us that we can with the same attitude.

We have to be comfortable with our short comings, familiar with our weaknesses. We might be afraid that being open about the areas we are falling short will make us appear weak, and to some that might be the case but in reality, being open about our weaknesses allows us to work on them better and we appear more secure. Even if we’re not.

Bringing the things we want to work on into the foreground makes them an area of focus. As we improve in one area we can re-evaluate and find new weaknesses to focus on.

We can do this for the rest of our lives.

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December 2

“It helps little to cast out one’s own faults if you must quarrel with those of others.”            – Seneca

There is a temptation – especially in the early part of taking up the path – to impose the standards and ideals that we are building for ourselves onto others.

When we see others losing their temper we will recognize their inability to have emotional discipline but we will fail to see that we are failing to discipline our own thoughts in allowing ourselves to judge others.

If we are really new to the path, if we believe in what we are doing but fail to constrain our emotions, if we allow ourselves to become zealots, we may even confront others with our newfound beliefs.

This leads only to difficulties we are not likely prepared to endure.

Because we are not emotionally disciplined enough to properly deal with the positions we place ourselves in, we get that rush of adrenaline where we should remain calm and steady. We become emotional and may even raise our voices when we should be detached and trying to understand the others’ point of view. And worse of all, we turn people off to our ideas when we should be attracting them by setting a better example.

We do this and then we think to ourselves that it happened because our argument wasn’t well formulated enough, or we didn’t have all the facts right, or we didn’t articulate well enough.

In truth, we shouldn’t be having arguments in the first place. We are still working on ourselves, we have no business trying to work on others. And when we are finished working on ourselves, we will see that we have no reason to be working on others.

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December 1

“The person you are matters more than the place to which you go.” – Seneca

If we travel anywhere on Earth, anywhere that other people inhabit and live out their lives that is, if we travel to those places, inevitably we will find someone living in these places who is content likely even happy living in the conditions we find them in. We could find this person in every city, every village, even some of the most remote places on earth.

The question we should find ourselves asking when we find these people – or even when we acknowledge their existence – is what it is that allows them to be happy in the situation they find themselves in.

Undoubtedly, we will find that these are people who have two things firmly in their grasp. The first is that they have control over themselves, they have a significant level of self control. This means emotions, actions, words, and even thoughts. The second thing they have a grasp on is the ability to let go of the things that are not in their control. They were born where they were born and they had access to the resources they had and they made the most of that.

in doing these things it is very likely that additional resources and opportunities will make themselves available to such people but they will be content even if these resources and opportunities never come along.

Because they have self control and the ability to let go. All at the same time.

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