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How to Change Your Life

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It was today in 1965 that Malcolm X was gunned down while delivering a speech in a New York City ballroom. Perhaps the most controversial of the Civil Rights leaders, Malcolm was a complicated man. His early life was defined by crime, liqueur and violence and it was a story that ended, as it ends for so many, in a prison cell.

But in that cell, Malcolm Little, as he was then called, picked up a book…and then another book…and then another. “People don’t realize how a man’s whole life can be changed by one book,” he would say later. In fact, he would come to refer to “books” rather than college as his “alma mater.”

We don’t know if Malcolm read the Stoics as some Civil Rights leaders did, but we know that he drank deeply from history and philosophy and religion and as a result, he came to at least one conclusion that sounds like it could have come from Marcus or Seneca or Epictetus.

“There is no better than adversity,” he said. “Every defeat, every heartbreak, every loss, contains its own seed, its own lesson on how to improve your performance next time.”

It’s true. The impediment to action advances action. The obstacle is the way.

We need to understand this simple but completely counterintuitive idea, and then we need to impute it onto our DNA and mind. Because, to paraphrase Malcolm, when we change our philosophy we change our attitude and when we change our attitude, we change our actions.

And then, as he did, we can change ourselves and change the world.

P.S. Our “The Obstacle Is the Way” print is made in collaboration with renowned artist Joey Roth and is inspired by the cult Stoic classic The Obstacle Is the Way. Discover more and order yours now.

Always Room to Improve

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Epictetus reminds us: “It is impossible for a man to learn what he thinks he already knows.”

He tells us that this is the “first task” of philosophy: to get rid of our preconceptions, to do away with the dogmas we have in our heads. Be humble. Be open to things you don’t know, or things that challenge what you do know.

Emerson talked about the advantage of a life of humility in his memorable line: “In my walks, every man I meet is my superior in some way, and in that I learn from him.”…

Humility is an easy virtue to talk about—and a much harder one to put into practice. We don’t want to seem stupid. We don’t like saying, “I don’t know” or “You might have a point.” Harder still: “Maybe I’m wrong? Maybe I have more to learn?”  But it’s this attitude that leads to change and improvement. So give it a try. You can’t get better if you think you’re superior.

The Philosophy Of Stoicism: Five Lessons from Seneca, Musonius Rufus, Marcus Aurelius, Epictetus and Zeno of Citium.

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Source: The Philosophy Of Stoicism: Five Lessons from Seneca, Musonius Rufus, Marcus Aurelius, Epictetus and Zeno of Citium.

Below is a guest post from Philip Ghezelbash, as he offered to share five of the most important lessons he took away from Stoicism. Enjoy!

1. Live Every Day As If It Were Your Last

Seneca was a Roman Stoic philosopher. He once said:

“You live as if you were destined to live forever, no thought of your frailty ever enters your head, of how much time has already gone by you take no heed. You squander time as if you drew from a full and abundant supply, though all the while that day which you bestow on some person or thing is perhaps your last.”

Death doesn’t make life pointless, death makes life worth living. The world keeps spinning when you’re gone and so many of us live life with an attitude which represents the arrogant thought that we are destined to live forever…

When you wake up, pretend today is your last day and live life as you would in this circumstance.

2. Food Is the Best Test Of Self-Control

Food is the best test of self-control and temperance because it’s presented to us every single day and in the modern world at any hour of the day.

Musonius Rufus was a Roman Stoic philosopher who in his two part discourse on food said:

“That God who made man provided him food and drink for the sake of preserving his life and not for giving him pleasure, one can see very well from this: when food is performing its real function, it does not produce pleasure for man, that is in the process of digestion and assimilation.”

Although the pleasure of food is experienced on the tongue, it’s clear that the purpose of food is revealed when it assimilates with the body through digestion.

The lesson here is similar to what Socrates once said which is that we should eat to live rather than live to eat.

3. Failure Is Natural, Regret Is Foolish

Marcus Aurelius was emperor of Rome. His untitled writing, commonly known as Meditations is an important source of Stoic philosophy.

“The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.”

He means that everything, no matter whether it is good or bad is an opportunity to practice virtue.  Don’t be surprised by failure, expect it, in fact, embrace it and seek after obstacles in your life which seem uncomfortable…

Epictetus is famous for what he called the dichotomy of control which describes what is in our control.  We can apply this to failure.

The moment you start to regret something in the past you’re fundamentally acting against something which is out of your control and so there’s no practical reward from doing so only frustration and anger.

We should learn from the past and our failures, but to regret, to ponder and to revisit our previous attempts and then look at present with disdain is a crime to your character.

4. Focus on The Small Things

Zeno of Citium was the founder of Stoicism, described as living an ascetic life. He once said that:

“Well-being is attained by little and little, and nevertheless is no little thing itself.”

The idea is basically that one must never underestimate the small things in life, because who’s to say that the small things don’t define the larger and seemingness more important parts of life? They do…

It’s easy to look at other people’s successes and pin them down to luck or good fortunate when in reality it was the small “insignificant” things done consistently which defined their successes.

Don’t place your satisfaction on big goals and dreams, place your satisfaction on small wins.

5.  Throw Away Vanity

Epictetus was born a slave in what we call Turkey today; he lived in Rome, was then banished and spent the rest of his life in Greece. He said:

“It is impossible for a man to learn what he thinks he already knows.”

When you wish to pursue philosophy and therefore any subject of interest to you, you must throw away conceit and excessive pride before you begin.

Be willing to learn, be willing to listen, be willing to leave your ego aside to learn, evolve and develop through the wisdom of others and through embracing the joy of ignorance.

As the Socratic paradox goes: “I know that I know nothing”

***

Philip is a health nut, writer and a certified personal trainer. His mission is to close the gap between health and philosophy. He is the upcoming author of the book The Stoic Body. What he is striving to do is combine the seemingly unrelated fields of nutrition and health in with the philosophical world and in particular, Stoicism.Subscribe to Philip’s YouTube channel here. You can also join the Stoic Body Facebook group here.

 

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Daily Stoic

We asked Mike Duncan, whose podcasts History of Rome and Revolutions have done more than 100 million downloads and whose new book The Storm Before The Storm, was just released, why Stoicism seems to re-emerge when the world is in crisis.

His answer:

Anytime the world starts to feel like it’s being engulfed by entropy, chaos and noisy disunity, the mind naturally seeks out something that offers cohesion, order, and quiet unity. We can get carried away by events and certainly feel our passions leading us into behavior that we might upon reflection regret. Stoicism offers a solid place to plant your feet and say the winds may howl but I will not be swept away.

That’s a fantastic definition of the attitude the Stoic seeks to cultivate. The winds may howl but I will not be swept away.

(P.S. For more ways to keep Stoic principles in mind as you navigate your day, check out our Daily Stoic Store. jurisdictions features our popular amor fati and memento mori medallions, Marcus Aurelius print, and more. Also, The Daily Stoic: 366 Meditations on Wisdom, Perseverance, and the Art of Living is available everywhere books are sold.

Like this email? Forward it to a friend. And if it was forwarded to you, sign up for our free 7-day course on Stoicism, packed with exclusive resources.

You can read the full interview here).

 

 

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There is a wonderful interview with David Letterman from earlier this year, where he talks about some of the transgressive policies aimed at transgendered people in America. He said,

Look, you’re a human, I’m a human. We’re breathing the same air. We have the same problems. We’re trying to get through our day. Who the fuck are you to throw a log in the road of somebody who has a different set of difficulties in life?

Which is a very Stoic way to look at just about every contentious issue in today’s culture regardless of whatever political, religious or scientific mindset you adhere to. Far left or far right, creationist or scientist, it doesn’t matter what your opinion of transgendered people, or immigrants, an opioid-addicted kid in Ohio happens to be or why you think they got where they are. The Stoic approach would be to say: We’re all humans. We all struggle and those people are almost certainly struggling harder than me. Why would we spend our time legislating or pontificating about their issues when we have our own, right here, that we haven’t dealt with? Why would I actively try to make their lives harder?

The Stoics held strongly to the idea of sympatheia, the interconnection between all species, people and universes. They believe we were all the same, all struggling under different versions of the same logos which assigned unique roles and trials for us all. Who are we to make other people’s fates harder? Who are we to punish other people for things they don’t control—for things that have nothing to do with their behavior?

Don’t throw a log in front of someone else. Leave them alone. Or better, do the Stoic thing—offer a hand.

P.S. For more ways to keep Stoic principles in mind as you navigate your day, check out ourDaily Stoic Store. It features our popular amor fati and memento mori medallions, Marcus Aurelius print, and more. Also, The Daily Stoic: 366 Meditations on Wisdom, Perseverance, and the Art of Living is available everywhere books are sold.

Like this email? Forward it to a friend. And if it was forwarded to you, sign up for our free 7-day course on Stoicism, packed with exclusive resources.

 

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