Stoic Coffee Break

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I’ve been thinking a lot about motivation and how we accomplish the goals that we set out to do. And I think there’s a bit a confusion about motivation and how it helps us get things done. Let’s take a look at the definition of motivation: The state or condition of being motivated or having a strong reason to act or accomplish something And let’s look at the definition of willpower: Control of one's impulses and actions; self-control. Motivation is the reason why you want to do something. It’s the fuel that gets going. It is not the thing that actually propels you. The engine that actually gets you to do something is willpower. Willpower is “like a muscle that can be strengthened with use, but it also gets fatigued with use,” says John Tierney, co-author of Willpower, with Roy F. Baumeister. If you simply rely on willpower to get you to do something, it’s going to take a lot of effort. According to the authors, the best way to reduce willpower fatigue is to turn something into a habit or a routine, which takes a lot less willpower. Just Do It “First say to yourself what you would be; and then do what you have to do.” – Epictetus Sometimes we wait until we “feel” like doing it. The problem is, we may never feel like it. Usually, the motivation to do something comes after we get started. The hardest part about working out at the gym is often just getting yourself to go to the gym. The hardest part about writing is just sitting down and getting started. If you can eliminate the barriers to getting started, then your chance of success is far greater than waiting for inspiration. Control One the most important factors though is what Epictetus reminds us: “To make the best of what is in our power, and take the rest as it occurs.” – Epictetus Sometimes, we attach some kind of negative emotion to the task we’re trying to accomplish. The task may feel overwhelming, or just plain scary. We may be too focused on wanting a specific outcome and we’re afraid that we won’t be able to do it. By focusing on the things that we can control, then we can focus our time and energy on something that will actually have some impact, and not waste our time on things we can’t control Distractions Most people who are successful create a process for accomplishing what they want. They figure out what they have control over, then put down the steps to accomplish their task, and then they follow those steps every time. They create an environment where it’s easy for them to fall into that routine, and where there are limited distractions. Marcus Aurelius said, “If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.” If there is something that is distracting you, if it is something within your control, you find ways to either take care of it right then or plan time to take care of it later. If it is something you can’t control, you let go of it. For example, Stephen King sits down and writes 10 pages every day. He doesn’t care if they are good. He writes 10 pages while listening to the same Metallica album at a little desk in his office. He doesn’t wait to feel motivated. He removes all distractions and just does the task he set out for himself in his routine, and he does it every day. Create Your Plan You can start off by asking yourself some questions (I’d suggest writing the answers down): What are the things that I can control? What are the steps that I need to take? What are the tools I need to accomplish it? What are the obstacles in my way? Are there other potential obstacles that I can think of? What steps can I take to work through those obstacles? What can I do to create an environment that eliminates distractions and helps me focus? Once you have those questions answered, you have the start of your plan. Create an environment that is most conducive to helping you accomplish the tasks. The next thing is to just start doing it. Often times, this is the hardest part. If you wait until you “feel” motivated, you probably won’t. Just do it for 3 minutes then quit if you want. You can do just about anything for 3 minutes, and usually, once you get started doing something, it’s easier to keep that momentum going, and you usually feel even more motivated to keep doing it. Remember, a routine will beat relying on motivation and willpower any day.
“The greater the difficulty, the more glory in surmounting it. Skillful pilots gain their reputation from storms and tempests.” ― Epictetus
“Whenever you are about to find fault with someone, ask yourself the following question: What fault of mine most nearly resembles the one I am about to criticize?” — Marcus Aurelius
Do you struggle to live up to your principles? Do feel like when you make a mistake that all your efforts were not worth it? In this weeks episode, we’re going to talk about how to approach mistakes in a much more helpful way. Some of Seneca’s best works are in the form of letters to his friend Annaeus Serenus. In these, they carry on a dialogue as to how to live a better life. In one of the letters on tranquility Serenus writes to Seneca, describing how he feels he is afflicted with a sickness of mind because while he is very frugal, he is dazzled by the great wealth around him, and feeling dissatisfied with his humble house. He wishes to dedicate himself to public service, yet finds when he runs into difficult patches that he simply wants to give up and head for the leisure of his home. When writing or speaking on behalf of causes that are important to him, when he wishes to keep his language simple and clear, Serenus says: >“Then again, when my mind has been uplifted by the greatness of its thoughts, it becomes ambitious of words, and with higher aspirations it desires higher expression, and language issues forth to match the dignity of the theme: forgetful then of my rule and of my more restrained judgment, I am swept to loftier heights by an utterance that is no longer my own.“ In a nutshell, Serenus is having a hard time living up to his ideals and is getting discouraged and disappointed in himself because of his shortcomings. He feels as though he is gradually losing ground in his struggle to become a better person. I think this is something that we can all relate to. I struggle with meeting my own ideals all the time. I want to be kinder, less selfish, more compassionate, less judgmental…so many things that I struggle with and could easily beat myself up over when I fail to live up to my own ideals. So how do keep going when we falter? How do keep growing and move past these setbacks? Seneca’s response is long, but I want to read a portion of it: >“In truth, Serenus, I have for a long time been silently asking myself to what I should liken such a condition of mind, and I can find nothing that so closely approaches it as the state of those who, after being released from a long and serious illness, are sometimes touched with fits of fever and slight disorders, and, freed from the last traces of them, are nevertheless disquieted with mistrust, and, though now quite well, stretch out their wrist to a physician and complain unjustly of any trace of heat in their body. It is not, Serenus, that these are not quite well in body, but that they are not quite used to being well; just as even a tranquil sea will show some ripple, particularly when it has just subsided after a storm. What you need, therefore, is not any of those harsher measures which we have already left behind, the necessity of opposing yourself at this point, of being angry with yourself at that, of sternly urging yourself on at another, but that which comes last — confidence in yourself and the belief that you are on the right path, and have not been led astray by the many cross-tracks of those who are roaming in every direction, some of whom are wandering very near the path itself. But what you desire is something great and supreme and very near to being a god — to be unshaken. ”  >― Seneca So let’s unpack this. Seneca likens this to be a sick person that has been healed, but is so used to being sick, that anytime they get even the slightest fever, assumes that all it lost again. And this can be like us. When we fall back into old habits and ways of thinking we often feel like because we didn’t meet the ideals or standards that we have, that we are a complete failure, that we are ill again. That it’s kind of an all or nothing proposition. And what Seneca recommends is that when things go off the rails a bit in our efforts to grow, we shouldn’t be too harsh or angry with ourselves, that we should instead be kinder on ourselves and that we should be confident in ourselves that we’re on the right path. This kind of confidence is a virtuous cycle. By being confident in ourselves, we handle our failures better and gain more confidence. And it’s this confidence that allows us to be unshaken. You’re Going to do it Wrong So how do we gain this kind of confidence? How do move past our failures? My oldest is now driving and is often so worried behind the wheel that he’s going to do something wrong. And my partner simply says, “Yes, you are going to do it wrong.” Because truth is, we rarely doing something right the first time, especially if it’s something difficult like driving a car or being a less selfish person. Being okay with being wrong, that you will make mistakes is a necessary part of learning. Making mistakes is inevitable. Learning from them is optional. It’s up to you to decide what your mistakes mean. For those of us that are often too hard on ourselves, just because we make a mistake doesn’t mean we are a bad or unworthy person. It means we’re human. So go easy on yourself. But how can we be easier on ourselves without allowing ourselves to skate by? Sincere vs. Serious A few months ago I read Out of Your Mind by Allen Watts. Now Allen Watts was an interesting character. He was a professor of Asian Studies and an author of several dozen books on Buddhism and Zen. His approach to life was one of self-development, and growth, and not taking life so seriously. And as I was reading I stumbled across this gem: >“I may be sincere, but never serious, because I don’t think the universe is serious.” >— Allen Watts When I read that quote I laughed out loud, because far too often I am the exact opposite. But it stuck in my head and over the past few weeks, I’ve found it to be a helpful filter on viewing the world. I think that being a sincere person mitigates so much of the self-shaming and anger that we point at ourselves when we fail. When you make a mistake, and you approach it with sincerity, you can look at the situation more clearly. If you need to you can sincerely apologize. You can be sincere about forgiving yourself, knowing that you are sincerely trying to do your best. Sincerity is humble because you aren’t trying to prove something, or protect your ego. There are no ulterior motives because sincerity is about being honest with compassion. If you think about it, you can be sincere in almost any context and it’s appropriate. If you are laughing and joking, you can still be sincere. If you’re in a situation where there is sadness, sincerity is a great approach. When you are in an argument with someone, if you can focus on being sincere you’ll probably resolve things much quicker. If you are being sincere, you’re more likely to listen and speak honestly. You aren’t trying to push the other person’s buttons and make the situation worse. Trying to live up to our ideals is not easy work. The more we grow, the more we see how much more we have to grow. Never satisfied with just resting on our laurels, we set the bar higher, but then feel bad because we’re not as good as we want to be, often ignoring the growth we have made. And that’s kind of a great thing because if we never had something to improve on, some way to grow, then we would have no purpose. It’s also kind of a bad thing because we can perpetually feel like we’re never good enough. Learning to approach life sincerely yet not seriously can help us gain that confidence that we’re on the right path. Hey friends, thanks for listening to the podcast. If you like what you hear, I would really appreciate it if you could help support me by making a pledge on Patreon. You can find me at patreon.com/stoiccoffee. Even just a small amount helps in keeping this podcast going. Also, head on over to my website at www.stoic.coffee and sign up for our weekly newsletter. And lastly, if you know of someone that might like or could benefit from this podcast, please share it with them. Word of mouth is one of the best ways to help this podcast grow. Thanks again for listening.
“A boxer derives the greatest advantage from his sparring partner – and my accuser is my sparring partner. He trains me in patience, civility and even temper.” — Epictetus
"Everything is only for a day, both that which remembers and that which is remembered." — Marcus Aurelius
“Tentative efforts lead to tentative outcomes. Therefore, give yourself fully to your endeavors. Decide to construct your character through excellent actions and determine to pay the price of a worthy goal. The trials you encounter will introduce you to your strengths. Remain steadfast...and one day you will build something that endures: something worthy of your potential.” ― Epictetus Show Notes: One of most important habits to cultivate is a strong work ethic. Time and dedicated effort make it more fulfilling. There’s a saying: “How you do one thing is how you do everything.” Often, trying to take shortcuts, we’re often wasting more time going back to fix what wasn’t done well, than if we’d just done it right in the first place. Sometimes, best shortcut is to do good work. And if you’re going to put effort into something, why half ass your way through it? That’s wasted time. If we’re always looking for the easy way, then we may miss out on a more difficult path that has a greater reward. Hard work makes us to get stronger. We’ll never climb a great mountain if we’re only climbing hills. If you’re running a marathon, and you take shortcut and make it to the finish line, then you really didn’t run a marathon. Getting to the finish line and completing the race are two different things. While it’s great to get to the end, how we got there is more important than getting there. And why are we always so focused on getting to the end? When we get to the end, that means the journey is over. It’s the journey, it’s doing the work, it’s the process that’s important. If we’re making only tentative efforts, then we never achieve that mastery which allows to excel at something. Whether we’re building a business, composing music, or writing a book, or training for a marathon, we should dedicate ourselves to our work. And we you achieve that mastery, you’ll be in place where you can create something that endures, something that’s worthy of your potential.
Humans are very social creatures. It is our ability to be social and to cooperate in large numbers that has enabled us to create such amazing societies. We usually feel most at home when we’re with others, but there are times when we find ourselves alone. Most of us find it rather uncomfortable. How do we learn to be alone? A friend of mine who went through a recent breakup asked me how to deal with living alone. And while I gave him a few suggestions, I thought that it was big enough question that I want to address it further. When I went through my divorce I found that the hardest change in my life was learning how to live alone again. I had my kids part-time, but I found that on the evenings after I dropped them off, the quiet of my apartment was just too much to bear. I would go to the mall or the grocery store or a karaoke bar just to fight off the dreaded loneliness that was so apparent after having my kids for a few days. On the days that I’d forget and just go home, I’d feel so heartbreakingly alone I would end up in tears on my couch. It took some time to learn how to be alone again. I was used to the hum and the noise of my family and found comfort in the rhythms of dinner, bath, and story time with the kiddos. Alone in my apartment, I worked on making friends with the quiet. I let myself feel the sadness at the ending of my marriage. I cried at missing story time with my kids. Sometimes it would sneak up on me, leaving me feeling like I had just gotten the wind knocked out of me. I would still find myself trying to distract myself from my feelings. I read books, watched movies, and played guitar, but I got better at just being okay with feeling like shit sometimes. >“Nothing, to my way of thinking, is a better proof of a well-ordered mind than a man’s ability to stop just where he is and pass some time in his own company.” >― Seneca When we learn how to be alone, we learn that loneliness is not the enemy. It is just a reminder that we like being around other people. Because we are social creatures, it’s built into us to want to be with others. Often the hardest part about being alone is the stories our minds tell us about why were alone: “I’m not good enough.” Or “People don’t want to be around me.” Or “I deserve to be alone.” I think this is where a lot of our loneliness comes from. Our mind is trying to make sense of why we’re alone, so it starts finding reasons to support it. Because we don’t like hearing these things and the feelings they create, we try to distract ourselves. T.V., drinking, drugs, overeating, and Facebook are just a few of the ways to distract ourselves from the constant dialogue in our heads. If you can sit with the quiet you can start to hear the thoughts that are constantly humming in the background. At first, it may be uncomfortable. You may feel all sort of uncomfortable feelings because of the negative chatter that goes on in your head. When you take the time to listen to and get to really know yourself, you can learn to like yourself. What’s great about it is that if you don’t like the company you’re in, you can change. You can work on becoming the person you want to be. You can become someone that you like. That you can change yourself is one of the most important things the Stoics taught. >“It is in your power to withdraw yourself whenever you desire. Perfect tranquility within consists in the good ordering of the mind, the realm of your own.” >― Marcus Aurelius When you learn to be okay with being alone, you develop a stronger sense of who you are. In my case, learning to have my own sense of autonomy was something I needed to develop. I had relied on my ex-wife for a lot of things. I had relied on my church as well. Now that I was no longer married and no longer Mormon, I had to reinvent myself. My identity that I had held for so long was not really who I was anymore. I had to decide the kind of life that I wanted to live. I had to create the person I wanted to be. When you can be comfortable with the quiet, you can find being alone as a refuge from the noisiness of the world. With all the technology we have that keeps us so connected, sometimes you need to disconnect and turn off all the noise and chatter just to hear yourself think. You can put down your phone, turn off Netflix, and just listen to the quiet. With no pressure or rush to be anywhere, you can learn to be more comfortable with yourself. Rather than reacting to one distraction after another, you can listen to, and get to really know yourself. You might be surprised what you learn about the one person you should know better than anyone else. Hey friends, thanks for listening to the podcast. If you like what you hear, I would really appreciate it if you could help support me by making a pledge on Patreon. You can find me at patreon.com/stoiccoffee. Even just a small amount helps in keeping this podcast going. Also, head on over to my website at www.stoic.coffee and sign up for our weekly newsletter. And lastly, if you know of someone that might like or could benefit from this podcast, please share it with them. Word of mouth is one of the best ways to help this podcast grow. Thanks again for listening.
First episode. What is under your control?
How should a stoic receive criticism?
What does it mean to be a stoic?
Why we should learn to love our fate.
"This, then, is the beginning of philosophy – an awareness of one’s own mental fitness." — Epictetus
“I have a bad neighbour – bad, that is, for himself. For me, though, he is good: he exercises my powers of fairness and sociability. “ — Epictetus
Are you creating a life that is better than death?
Latest episode of Stoic Meditations
“If we try to adapt our mind to the regular sequence of changes and accept the inevitable with good grace, our life will proceed quite smoothly and harmoniously.” - Epictetus
Don’t worry about what everyone else is doing. Trust your path.
How often do we approach decisions in a black and white manner? We wonder if we are making the "right" choice, which often leads us to think there is only one choice. What if instead of there being a "right" choice or a "wrong" choice, we looked at choices based on their likelihood to achieve the outcome that we want? In today's episode we'll discuss the book Thinking in Bets by Annie Duke. In this book, she teaches us how to approach decisions like a poker player by understanding probability, dealing with less than full information, and how sometimes we just get lucky.
Imposter Syndrome has killed more great works, more companies, more careers and possibilities than almost anything I know. When we begin something that we want to be skilled at, we understandably feel like we don’t deserve to call ourselves by the title that would accompany our work. Musician, actor, sculpture, entrepreneur, programmer, writer… We add qualifiers like “I’m working on becoming an actor.” Or “I work as an accountant but my side hustle is composing.” Do I have to make money at it before I can call myself what I am? Do I have to wait until the title is bestowed up me? Who makes that decision? Now, there are some things that you have to have to be credentialed before you are official. Just because I want to become a doctor, does not mean that I can just throw a stethoscope around my neck and start seeing patients. But for most other things, you are the only one that needs to decide. Why do we do this? Why are we afraid to take on the title of what it is we’re doing? If I am making music, am I not a musician? If I get up each morning and type even 100 words on my book, doesn’t that make me a writer? I think it comes down to the worrying about the opinions of others. We feel like we’re an imposter because we think that there is some criteria set or that we have to reach a certain level of proficiency before we can assume the title. But who has set this level? In most cases, we ourselves are the ones that have set some imaginary level. We have decided what we think make someone a writer, a musician, an athlete. The good thing about that is that we are the ones that can change it. We are the ones that can decide what that level is, and make it be more generous. I say that we do it Bob Ross style. If you are painting, you’re a painter. If you’re out there in your running shoes putting the miles in, you’re athlete. Every time you pick up that guitar you’re a musician. If you are actively doing whatever that goal is, that’s all that matters. Even if you only get down a few words each day and they are terrible. Even if you struggle to play the only two guitar chords you know. Only got a mile into your run before you had to walk? That’s okay, you are a still a runner. When we’re working on something we love, and are pushing ourselves to stretch and create and become better that we before sometimes all we can do is just keep moving forward as best we can. When we’re starting out we need to remember that the quality or the quantity of our isn’t where we want it to be, but the fact that we’re doing it is important. And if we keep on doing it, we will get better. I think the saying “fake it till you make it” is pretty descriptive of how we need to handle imposter syndrome. Imposter syndrome is just worrying about the opinions of others, and that is something, as the Stoics remind us, we have no control over. What you do have control over is if you’re going to keep going. So pick up those brushes, lace up those shoes, and keep pounding away that those keyboards, and don’t worry so much about what others might think.
Don’t Kill the Message. Often, we dismiss an idea because it makes us feel uncomfortable. We can miss out on potentially great ideas simply because we don’t like the idea. We may dismiss the idea out of hand because it conflicts with our preexisting beliefs. We may not like the idea because it could mean that we supported an opposing view, and we are often loath to admit that we were wrong. We can be blind to seeing the merits or truth of something based on our own feelings or prejudices. Feelings are shortcuts to making decisions, and while they are very useful, deliberative thinking and analysis are often needed to make better decisions. What are some areas of your life where you dismiss an idea because it made you uncomfortable? Are the ways that you can set aside you prejudice and look at it objectively?
“There are two vices much blacker and more serious than the rest: lack of persistence and lack of self-control ... persist and resist.” - Epictetus
How often do we compare ourselves with others? Why do you we get down on ourselves when someone is better than us at something? This weeks episode is about comparison, and how to get past the need to compare ourselves with others, and change the inner critic. In Episode 146, Fear is the Killer, I touched briefly on how one of the biggest fears in life is the fear of judgment. And while I was mostly referring to the judgments of others, in this episode I want to talk about self-judgment and comparing ourselves to others. For most of us, the person that judges us most harshly is ourselves. When we want to try something that is outside our comfort zone, that voice in our head may tell us that it’s a bad idea or that we’re stupid for even trying. Why is that? Why would sabotage ourselves? I think it’s because our brain’s job is not to help support us in our growth, but to keep us alive. And because so much of our society has been based upon our station in life and being better than others, we equate not being as good at something as someone else as something that might cause us harm. And that fear can stop is from accomplishing so many great things. >“No person has the power to have everything they want, but it is in their power not to want what they don’t have, and to cheerfully put to good use what they do have.”  >— Seneca, Letters From a Stoic When I started this podcast, I was often worried that people would think I was an imposter. I thought that if I put out a podcast about stoicism that others might put me down for it because of my lack of credentials. My wise partner reminded me that if all I’m doing is talking about how these things impact me and what I learn from it, then there was no expertise needed beyond my own experience. Thankfully, I listened to her and here we are 148 episodes later, and thankfully, you have supported me and listened to my podcast each week. What I had to do was to be better about what I defined as success and not compare myself against others. I mean, if I was worried about trying to be as successful as Tim Ferriss and be upset that I’m never going to hit 300 million downloads, then I would never be successful. So I learned to be happy with what I have - a podcast that I can feel proud of, where I’m improving every week and I’m learning and growing each week, and I’m connecting with more and more people each week. I know one impact of being so self-critical for me was that because I didn’t think I was all that great of a person, I would try to talk myself up to other people. Because of that insecurity, I would tell all these stories about how great I was, because I really wanted them to like me. Deep down inside, I felt like if I were just good enough at all of these things, I would be worthy of their love. So how do we move past comparing ourselves with others? I think the first step is finding ways to look at the success of others is not a judgment on us. The world is not a zero-sum game. Just because someone else is successful, doesn’t mean we lose. Contrary to what others try to make us think, the world isn’t made that way. We need to celebrate the success of others. We need to let go of the striving and the posturing, and the ego that makes us think that if someone is doing better than us then we’re doing worse. William Irvine, the author of A Guide to The Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy says that we should be okay with our mistakes, and learn to give out praise for the admirable traits we see in other people. He says, “You may be extremely reluctant to do that, because in some way, they’re your competitors, but sometimes people do things that are worthy of praise, and to openly praise them in a certain culture is an act of courage because you’re admitting that they’re outplaying you in some way.” When you can be honest about someone else’s success, then it makes it easier, to be honest with yourself. When you can remove your ego from the equation and be honest about your own skill, you can look at it as simply a measure of skill, not a judgment of whether you’re a good or bad person. The next big step, which is still a hard one for me, is to remember the only person that you should be comparing yourself to is yourself. >“Your potential, the absolute best you’re capable of — that’s the metric to measure yourself against. Your standards are. Winning is not enough. People can get lucky and win. People can be assholes and win. Anyone can win. But not everyone is the best possible version of themselves.” >― Ryan Holiday, Ego Is the Enemy I love that part - be the best possible version of ourselves. We need to define our own version of success that is not dependent on things outside of our control. You can’t control how good someone else is going to be at something, and when you compare yourselves with them, you are tying your success to something we can’t control. You can only control yourself and your own skill, so the only real measure should be, are you improving. And remember, failing can be improving as long as you are learning. Lastly, we need to have self-compassion. When you screw up, don’t look at it as a failure of character, look at it as being a fallible imperfect human. Your skill at something doesn’t make you more or less worthy of love. Be good to yourself. Be good to others. Find more at https://stoic.coffee
“[Treat] unenlightened souls with sympathy and indulgence, remembering that they are ignorant or mistaken about what’s most important. Never be harsh, remember Plato’s dictum: ‘Every soul is deprived of the truth against its will.’“ — Epictetus
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Podcast Details

Started
Jan 9th, 2018
Latest Episode
Apr 2nd, 2019
Release Period
Daily
No. of Episodes
174
Avg. Episode Length
5 minutes
Explicit
No

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