Around the age of eighteen years old, I began to ask the elderly people I met to give me their key take out/ single piece of advice on how to live my life – one of these people told me, “live every day as though it were your last day”. Over the course of the past 25+ years that advice combined with the personal and professional need to be the best version of myself led me to make note of the following insights for my children.
Upon writing, it became clear that stoic philosophy and psychology has played a major part in the development of who I’ve become and by implication, it seemed appropriate to share as you may also find the following insights to be immediately applicable and impactful for you.
When all is said and done, attempts to master the world without first mastering the self is a part of the process of personal evolution. What you’ll find below are in essence stoic principles from the perspective of a person, father and a life long student of self mastery.
1: When you Encounter Unkindness – 1:10
- Your response to the unkindness of another is often a reflection of how unkind you are to yourself. Be grateful that life is holding up a mirror and saying, “this is what you’re saying to yourself, wake up”.
- That said, if your response to unkindness uncovers a point of mental or emotional weakness within you, then the person has done you a favour by highlighting your weakness.
- If their critique is untrue, they’ve done you a favour by helping you consciously reinforce your strength.
2. Everything Depends on How You Interpret it – 3:00
- Identifying the mental or emotional weakness behind the interpretation of self or others is critical when it comes to building yourself up.
- Failure becomes your friend when you take personal responsibility for your interpretations and systematically improve, one interpretation at a time over time.
3. Your Mind Should Sit Superior to Your Body and its Sensations – 4:27
- Mastering your mind may be a bit of an ask, let’s simplify this… how about mastering your state of mind in a situation which you’ve found difficult?
- How about you master your physiology in that difficult situation too?
- The formula for self mastery for people like myself who aren’t superhuman: simplify the process by making mastery a situation specific exercise. Use post situation reflections as your feedback loop to improvement.
- Remember, on the other side of failure is feedback, use feedback to make a stronger decision and follow through on the next occasion. In this sense, patience and positive self appraisal for the most simple of situational improvements is the ultimate confidence.
4. Stay Mindful and Take Deliberate Actions – 6:00
- Learning to become present on a situation by situation basis is the basis for taking proactive rather than responsive action. Review number three, (above).
5. Don’t Retreat from the World – 7:02
- The British army has never retreated in warfare, however they have been known to make tactical withdrawals 🙂
- If withdrawal is necessary, be sure your retreat and position are defensible and provide you with a view of what to do and how to re-approach the position you wish to take – Keep your eye on the prize.
6. Your Opinion of Yourself Matters More Than the Opinion of a Stranger – 8:20
- If you attribute more credit to the opinion of a stranger than yourself, then you don’t know yourself. Fate is the body, the time, place and parents we were born to… at some point, it’s up to you to work with fate/ what you have. If what you have isn’t good enough, you’re not a tree – change position – start by identifying one weakness which if changed would yield the biggest result.
- Become friends with yourself by knowing that presenting weakness is life preparing you for the Olympic trial which you or those you must protect will one day face.
- When you know yourself, if someone else doesn’t know you it’s because they don’t know themselves – that’s on them not you – move on.
7. Be Open to Correction – 9:39
- Your best friends, family and colleagues will become open to correction when you do. If you want your world to become a better place – start with yourself. Trust the people who dare to care by challenging you. At the same time, it’s important to be the first person to correct yourself – if you fall short, be the first to admit it – self disclosure it seems is the best way to eliminate unwanted behaviour.
- That said, be open to defending yourself after reflecting upon a correction you’ve received – giving yourself time to reflect upon correction will also highlight the self blindness which exists within those who are unable to see that their observation is a result of an unacknowledged weakness within themselves.
8. Cherish the Freedom and Liberty of Everyone – 10:17
- If you want to adequately and preemptively defend yourself and family, protect the rights and wellbeing of your neighbours or anyone within your vicinity or charge.
- Advocate your values for others through decisive action on their behalf – it’s the stories/ experience you gain through actually supporting people which creates the stories which help others connect with the source of their own strength… Inspiration is a result of perspiration.
9. Have Some Self Respect – 11:43
- Think of the one area of weakness which if changed today would have a positively profound influence on the life of yourself and those you serve. If you’re willing to change this, you already have the self respect you require to succeed. If you couldn’t change your weakness with a team of the world’s smartest people supporting you, take the next biggest weakness – be ruthless in your pursuit and deactivation of personal weakness, be kind/ gently encouraging to those who aren’t ready to follow your lead.
10. Avoid Complaining – 12:35
- Explain when your best efforts are truly exhausted that you require help. Complaints come from people who fail to recognise the value of the hardship which they’re enduring.
- Look within and ask yourself if the mindset you’re utilising is solution or problem focused – there’s your answer.
- Make the reason for complaint the reason to master any mental or emotional weakness in the area you would otherwise complain about. Noting how this switch of focus leads to a switch in experience and behaviour.
11. The Obstacle is the Way – 12:57
- The strength, riches, acclaim or whatever it is you seek is barred by a door, to enter the door you need to become the key, becoming the key will require that you redefine and reshape yourself to fit with the person you must become.
- The pain and suffering you endure on this endeavour is what’s required for you to shape yourself and be ready to fulfil your purpose on the other side of the door.
- Rest assured that despite all your best efforts and doing the right things, success isn’t guaranteed – it’s not the outcome but the journey which shapes you. The idea of unfairness is one of the biggest obstacles a person can have in their path… do away with entitlement, do the right thing anyway – you’ll find your journey was never about the prize – it was about becoming the key to yourself.
12. Adversity is Part of Nature – 14:29
- You can master your own ship and the decisions you make from the tiller, but you can’t master the sea. You may do all the right things and still be taken out by a tsunami, at least you did the right thing.
- To expect the journey to be anything other than it is, is to wish for what is not available. Your greatest chance of success lies in being fully available to yourself. Above all things, don’t become part of your own adversity through failing to work with each challenge as a necessary and desirable part of your journey to growth.
13. It’s Through Adversity That We Get Stronger – 15:46
- Whatever adversity or adversary you wish to avoid is the equivalent of an end of level boss in a computer game. They must be defeated for you to reach the next level. If you go to the gym to build muscle, you require resistance to achieve your aim. The same can be said with life – resistance builds strength – attaining the next level requires adjustment and by implication – an investment in resistance.
- Prior to facing the adversity which is necessary for you, take the time to think, mentally and emotionally prepare for hardship – this is a source of strength.
14. Everything has happened before – 16:25
- “If you tolerate this then your children will be next”. Quite literally, everything around you, roads, houses, society… are all products of people deciding things must be better, and for them to make things better they had to make themselves better.
- What makes you special is that you’re willing to do what it takes to do your part on behalf of others. Keep in mind that you’re only able to do this because you’re already standing on the shoulders of giants. If you do your work well enough, one day people may also stand on your shoulders.
15. Stay Practical and Deal with What’s in Front of You – 17:57
- High hopes, dreams and ambitions are best served by staying on point and dealing with even your most unpleasant tasks with a mindset of “this is necessary because this is the path”.
- Take responsibility for executing even the simplest of tasks with strength and you’ll develop the mindset required to master Olympic level heavy lifting.
16. Focus on Doing What is Right and be Prepared to Face Resistance – 19:32
- If you’re going through hell, above all things remain honest with yourself and those around you. The truth will set you free, as will taking the next right step. When all is said and done, like a tightrope walker, you’ll succeed through keeping your line tight, straight and putting one foot in front of the other. Don’t stop or take a step back – follow through, what other choice is there?
17. Do Your Duty and Despise Cowardice – 21:13
- In the service of others you’ll find the truth of yourself – in this regard, your duty is to serve others as you would like your loved ones to be served.
- Perhaps the greatest of all cowardice is failing to face the fact that as a human being you have fears. I’ve put my life on the line on several occasions for the people/ teams I’ve worked with, yet I don’t expect others to do so – be brave where you can be brave. Make others aware of your shortcomings so they don’t suffer due to false expectations.
- The greatest cowardice is the failure to be honest.
18. Life is Short and Death Comes to us All, That Means the Time for Action is Now – 22:10
- Human beings suffer from death anxiety. When you meditate on the inevitability of your own death – life becomes long – each day is a lifetime- the time we have is valuable, the way we manage inevitable illness or injury a test of how far we’ve come.
- Learning to guard your time with your life, engaging in fulfilling relationships and pursuits rather than empty activities which don’t contribute to your purpose/ goal is essential for increasing your baseline level of happiness/ social well being.
19. Practice Getting Back on Track – 24:33
- “Life is what happens between distractions”. It’s a daily practice for me to ensure that prior to any other input at the start of the day that I meditate and set the correct point of professional focus. At the end of the day reflecting on: what I did well, okay, badly… Make one improvement per day, one adjustment per day and one change per day in a direction consistent with your goals and don’t feel surprised when you surpass your goals.
- In essence, rituals and standardised behaviours are key to keeping you on track – prevention is better than cure.
20. Look Beneath to See Things for What They Truly Are – 26:05
- Learning to put your initial frame of experience to one side and see things for what they are is difficult. On a human level, taking into account a person’s stated or implied values during an initial engagement forms a good basis for comparing who they say they are with their later behaviour.
- If you find that a person’s behaviour is inconsistent with their stated values, you should respectfully remove yourself and move on without causing harm or injury.
21. Recognize Material Wealth is Neither a Good nor an Evil – 27:24
- “To he who has everything, everything will be given, and to he who has nothing, everything will be taken away”. The point of this statement is to highlight the fact that if you don’t have yourself, you have nothing. If you have yourself then you have everything you need to succeed. The goodness of what you have and what you do with what you have is on you, no one else.
22. Express Gratitude
- More than anything else, it seems people have the need to feel seen and appreciated. Taking the time to see and appreciate each person you come into contact with enables them to be the best version of themselves when they’re with you.
- Over time, gratitude positively affects and supports your own well being and leads you to be surrounded by people who feel loved and cared for, in return the same people provide you with what you first gave them. .
- Learning to be grateful for the present situation as a teacher is extremely useful – if your circumstances are bad, be grateful that you can take responsibility for your part and do something about it. If circumstances are good, thank those who supported you in achieving your present circumstances.
That’s it, if you like this article then your friends, colleagues and contacts will likely like, comment and share it too, that’s good for them, me and you.
Credit: For more insights into stoic thinking, I suggest you visit the following YouTube Channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCNeW5eWhG4Y7hlBdb5Fk0Ug/about
Credit and thanks to Robin Homer whose work in simplifying the work of Marcus Aurelius was the direct inspiration for this post.