Reflections: Be Your Own Friend

Often times we look outside ourselves for advice. It’s easy to give the responsibility for our own improvement to other people. Meaning that we find someone who is popular or trending, who is a self-help guru and then follow whatever they say, without giving to much thought to what is being told or even asking ourselves if the advice given is what we need. But popularity can cloud logic and reason. By giving up personal responsibility, we don’t feel let down by ourselves if we don’t get better. We have someone to blame, to point the finger to and in doing so, feel better about ourselves.

But the simple fact that we desire someone to help us is a good sign. It’s an internal recognization that what we are at this moment isn’t what we wish to be. We know that we can be better. We know we can improve. This alone should give us a hint of where to look in order to get good self-help advice.

Just as the phrase suggests, self-help should start with the self.

In reality, if you were to detach for a moment and take a pen and paper and ask yourself Where do you want to be in ten years’ time? How will you get there? What are the things you are doing that you need to stop? What are the things you are not doing that you need to start? You will quickly find the paper filled with proper advice.

These simple self-reflective questions bring forth, in most cases, immediate answers. Because deep down we know what our bad habits are and what we need to stop practicing. We also know exactly what we need to do in order to grow and improve. You will never know anyone as well as you know yourself. You know your transgressions, insufficiencies, and inadequacies. With this knowledge, you also know what your next step should be which is simply to fix these transgressions, insufficiencies, and inadequacies.

The issue is that all of this is difficult. It’s always hard to take on responsibility. If you fail to grow it’s on you. The reason behind your failure will be either your lack of will or discipline. Which is why it’s so much easier to do what someone else says. But the changes enacted by our own will power and self-control are longer lasting because we attain those through struggle and hardship.

Although having external aid isn’t a bad thing either, especially if you are able to narrow down your flaws. If you know your specific issues and problems then it’s easier to navigate through the endless stream of bad advice that is spouted everywhere. External sources then can teach you how to break bad habits, how to build good habits, how to enact the right mindset, how to deepen personal relationships, how to become more confident and how to love and care for oneself.

But, first, you must take on the uncomfortable task of self-reflection and self-honesty. In this way, we also come to build trust within ourselves. We can take our own words and be confident that it’s what we need. In some ways, we begin to act as a friend to ourselves. Someone who is loyal, who wants the best for us and who isn’t afraid to call us out when we get off the right path. That’s true self-help, self-love, self-care.

 

 

Reflections: Is This Necessary?

Ask yourself at every moment, ‘Is this necessary?’

That was Marcus Aurelius’ advice to himself and several thousand years later, that piece of advice is still relevant and perhaps even more vital now then it was back then. The reason for this is that we live in an age of overabundance. Particularly when it comes to information. Every second there seems to be something new to distract us to occupy the space in our head. We are constantly stressing about the new tv show or what some politician said or a celebrity did or what someone believed in years ago. What each distracting information does is that it takes away from our own peace of mind. And it also focuses our attention on things that don’t really matter. At least not for your own personal growth.

For self-improvement, we require silence, we require self-reflection and thinking about our actions and beliefs. This can’t take place when we are overly concerned about the unnecessary.

It doesn’t really matter what show is hot right now because in a weeks time some other show will take its place and will you have really missed out on anything? One controversy is overtaken by another and the same cliche responses are given to both. The hollow words do nothing to fix external problems but they do take you away from addressing the internal issues. The trending list will always be there. There is so much content out there that you can occupy every moment of your present.

Which is why it’s important to filter what you consume mentally just as you filter what you consume physically. Your body takes after your diet and your mental health takes after what you read and think about. But it’s easy to get lost in the information, the news cycles, the figure pointing, just as it’s easier to consume junk food. Both cause damage. One is just easier to see.

One reason why we seek distractions maybe because we are unsatisfied with our lives. This dissatisfaction is a result of our own decisions and choices. So, it’s uncomfortable to let this voice speak. We much rather drown it with celebrity gossip or complaining about what some stranger did. Worse is finding satisfaction from this fake interaction. All of this takes away from real issues which if you can resolve will actually improve your life.

Is it necessary is a good filter for our rapidly changing times.

What really is necessary is improving relationships with people you care about. Getting better at something that gives you problems. Improving your physical health and mental health. Challenging your comfort zone and expanding it.

What isn’t necessary is getting lost in an avalanche of information that has almost no positive benefit.

Our thoughts often have the solutions we need. If you sit down for five-ten minutes in silence and just listen, we’ll find ourselves inching towards what we need. Or go on a walk and see how your mind finds its way to some solution or thought that will make your lives better. This truth is becoming harder to access because wherever we go we can stare at a screen or plug headphones in our ears. Such things amplify the useless while overshadowing the changes that we actually need.

How different would the world look if people spent as much time listening to their conscience as they do to chattering broadcasts? (Ryan Holiday)

How Our Mindset Is Corrupted By The Demon

We want him to be in maximum uncertainty, so that his mind will be filled with contradictory pictures of the future, every one of which arouses hope or fear. There is nothing like suspense and anxiety for barricading a human’s mind against the Enemy.

This is the advice the demon Screwtape gives his nephew, Wormwood in the book called The Screwtape Letters by C.S.Lewis. Wormwood is a “demon in training” and his uncle’s advice is simple, when it comes to corrupting a man, one of the things you can do is make them either focus on the past or concentrate on the future. When you take an individuals mind off the present, that’s when things like uncertainty, suspense and anxiety begin to creep in.

We are anxious about how our future plans will turn out. Fearful that we will fail or face some kind of humiliation. We are uncertain if the mistakes of yesterday can be overcome tomorrow or if tomorrow will play out like we hope.

The mindset that doesn’t live in the Now is what the demon wants. When Screwtape mentions the “Enemy” he speaks of the good angels who are attempting to guide the individual towards the right path. Screwtape says that through suspense and anxiety, the good angels can be barricaded against. Meaning that when you aren’t living in the present, you aren’t following the righteous path.

He (“the enemy”) wants men to be concerned with what they do; our business is to keep them thinking about what will happen to them.

It’s in the negative “what if’s” where Screwtape would like our mindset to be. In this manner, when we continually imagine what could happen, what could go wrong, how we could be disappointed, how our actions could lead to pain, thats how we become stagnant, unengaging with life and with it, fail to grow as individuals.

Your patient will, of course, have picked up the notion that he must submit with patience to the Enemy’s will. What the Enemy means by this is primarily that he should accept with patience the tribulation which has actually been dealt out to him–the present anxiety and suspense. It is about this that he is to say “Thy will be done,” and for the daily task of bearing this that the daily bread will be provided. It is your business to see that the patient never thinks of the present fear as his appointed cross, but only of the things he is afraid of.

What the correct mindset should be towards tribulations and hardships is clear in this passage. It’s what the “Enemy” wants, according to Screwtape, which is to be patient and bear with dignity and grace whatever hardships you are going through. To view these hardships as obstacles deliberately laid down on your path for you to overcome and grow.

The incorrect mindset is what Screwtape advocates which is that we should be afraid of the obstacles, of the hardships and perhaps even waste our time complaining about how unfair our life is.

One can, therefore, formulate the general rule: In all activities of mind which favor our cause, encourage the patient to be un-selfconscious and to concentrate on the object, but in all activities favorable to the Enemy bend his mind back on itself. Let an insult or a woman’s body so fix his attention outward that he does not reflect “I am now entering into the state called Anger–or the state called Lust.” Contrariwise let the reflection “My feelings are now growing more devout, or more charitable,” so fix his attention inward that he no longer looks beyond himself to see our Enemy or his neighbors.

The mindset Screwtape wants is one where the negative feelings, harmful emotions are either acted upon or allowed to reign freely without a reflection or thought. Such emotions and feelings are those of anger, lust, hate, revenge, pain, essentially anything that you might associate with negativity. You can even put it simply as: The negative mindset is that of the demon.

While the opposite, the feelings or emotions of benevolence, charity, happiness, kindness can be associated with a positive mind. However, these can easily be corrupted when you attached the ego to it. As Screwtape suggests “fix his attention inward” meaning that when we start to act positively in order to boost our own image, to show the world how charitable or kind we are, then it taints the positive actions and keeps you away from the good path.

When anyone speaks about Demons and Angels, it can instantly turn off some people. This is understandable, I’m not a religious person myself, however, there is still a lot we can learn if you are able to look past that aspect of the text, if you don’t get lost in the weeds.

Demons and Angels may not be real but the consequences of a negative mindset and positive mindset are well documented. By associating the negative with the Demon influence it kind of snaps you into attention. It makes this grey world we live in a bit more black and white, where the path or how we should think, behave, interact with one another is made clearer when you attribute certain thought patterns with the Demon and others with the good Angels.

In this manner, life can be simplified a little bit.


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Article: Montaigne On How To Be A Well-Rounded Thinker

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Reflections: Question Yourself

And most important: Question yourself. Question yourself everyday. (Jocko Willink)

Too often we mirror others in the hopes of finding something about ourselves. We may follow the plans set out for us by our parents or teachers or other advisors and hope that by doing so, we can navigate through life in a fulfilled manner. Or we act like the people we admire, taking on their habits, mannerisms, beliefs and opinions, all the while distancing ourselves from our true nature. When you don’t know what you want to be or what you want in life, it’s only natural to grasp on to something that gives you and your life a sense of stability.

But this stability is rarely long-lasting. The fulfillment we get from doing what we are told and by following rather than leading our own lives is illusionary. What we lack is self-understanding. We are too busy trying to fulfill the requirements of others which we come to believe are our own plans and ideas that we rarely question who we are, why are we acting the way we do and what is it that we truly want out of life.

Ask yourself: Who am I? What have I learned? What have I created? What forward progress have I made? Who have I helped? What am I doing to improve myself—today? To get better, faster, stronger, healthier, smarter?

The simple and straightforward questions. Sometimes, self-reflection comes with the baggage of spiritual or mystical. In the sense that when reflecting upon our needs and wants we jump straight to the meaning of our lives, the purpose of lives, the point of our lives and such questions can be difficult to answer and can leave us more confused rather than giving us clarity which self-reflection is supposed to. But by narrowing the search, by focusing on our immediate actions such as what have you done today to make yourself healthier or smarter or what have you done to make someone else’s life easier, it can provide a sense of direction especially if your actions were accompanied by positive emotions.

You may not know what you want to do with your life but you now know that helping others felt good. The meaning of your life may be still unclear but you do know that in your day-to-day living you enjoy going for a run or reading about Roman history or the new technological advances. These small puzzle pieces can come together to form a picture that can show you what you want to look like.

Ask yourself those questions, those hard questions and then answer them, truthfully. And realize that all of us—ALL OF US—can do better. We can be better.

Life is about change, it is about growth, about evolution. By unpacking what you want through relentless self-examination in the form of questioning oneself, we step closer to finding out who we want to be, what we can do and what we wish to do. However, even such an understanding isn’t permanent. What you find in your 20s may not be what you want in your 30s or 40s and so on. So, the answers that helped you at one stage of your life may not benefit you at a later stage which is why the constant need to reflection and question yourself and your behaviors, attitudes, and emotions is a necessary tool in life.

There is really only one permanence in life which is death. Everything else is liable to change, including ourselves. But that change only comes if we are willing to explore other possibilities. These possibilities include different versions of ourselves. However, to explore these possibilities, one needs to have a self-reflective mind, a mind that is always open and questioning.

Book Referenced: Discipline Equals Freedom by Jocko Willink

How Attention Can Improve The Quality Of Our Life

The function of consciousness is to represent information about what is happening outside and inside the organism in such a way that it can be evaluated and acted upon by the body. In this sense, it functions as a clearinghouse for sensations, perceptions, feelings, and ideas, establishing priorities among all the diverse information. Without consciousness, we would still “know” what is going on, but we would have to react to it in a reflexive, instinctive way. With consciousness, we can deliberately weigh what the senses tell us, and respond accordingly. (Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi)

To have mastery over consciousness essentially means to have mastery over the self. If your body was a car then the consciousness would be the driver. Without control over consciousness it would result in the driver being lost, going in a random direction, distracted by detours and rest areas, leading you towards some unknown and perhaps even a dangerous path.

The reason for this is that your consciousness allows you to “Daydream and make-up lies,” and this can lead to anxiety and passivity. You may come up with different scenarios why some activity may lead to disappointment and failure so it’s best not to act. Or maybe even find excuses for those disappointments and failures which divert ownership, causing you to not grow from your actions.

However, the opposite is true as well. It’s our consciousness that allows us to “Write beautiful poems and scientific theories”. With control over our consciousness, we can steer ourselves towards where we wish to go. The same obstacles that can hinder progress can be viewed as possible opportunities for self-growth if we can change our consciousness, change our thought process, change our mindset. Then, failures and disappointments don’t seem permanent and neither do we associate fear with them.

To develop this trait, one must find ways to order consciousness so as to be in control of feelings and thoughts. It is best not to expect that shortcuts will do the trick.

One way of influencing consciousness is through attention. Because consciousness is essentially a focusing tool, meaning that whatever information we are consciously attending to is the information we will respond and react to. Then, one thing we can do is to focus our attention on the right information. But we can only attend to those desires we have intention towards.

We may call intentions the force that keeps information in consciousness ordered. Intentions arise in consciousness whenever a person is aware of desiring something or wanting to accomplish something. Intentions are also bits of information, shaped either by biological needs or by internalized social goals.

So, in order to act in the right manner, we have to attend to the proper goals with the right intention. If your goal is to lose weight but you find yourself desiring food, then we can focus our attention towards that goal of losing weight and being healthy which can supersede the desire for immediate gratification. Or our intention can guide us towards picking a healthy option rather than fast food. This way we can train our consciousness to pick the right goal.

However, there is a limiting factor associated with our consciousness.

Unfortunately, the nervous system has definite limits on how much information it can process at any given time. There are just so many “events” that can appear in consciousness and be recognized and handled appropriately before they begin to crowd each other out.

Then, a step towards directing our consciousness is to understand its limited storage capacity so, we have to be selective in the information we allow into our consciousness. A common mistake that is made by people is paralysis through analysis. Where we overthink and gather too much information which leads to inactivity because we don’t know what to do. Again, if the goal was to lose weight but you spend weeks looking up all the different types of diets and exercise programs, you may find yourself overwhelmed, your consciousness will be filled with so many different paths that it’ll not know which one to pick.

Again, the importance of attention is shown in our ability to control our consciousness.

It is attention that selects the relevant bits of information from the potential millions of bits available. It takes attention to retrieve the appropriate references from memory, to evaluate the event, and then to choose the right thing to do.

If you don’t hone your attention then your consciousness skips around, you become easily distracted and taken off from the path you want to be on. Meaning, that either it takes longer for you to achieve your goals or you fail at them completely.

Attention is then improved by first, getting our priorities and intentions in order so we know what to focus on. Secondly, to only allow specific information in our consciousness which will help improve our quality of life so that you can quickly attend to that information when needed.

In this way, we essentially create ourselves by how we invest our energy, on what we focus our consciousness on. So by taking our consciousness under control, we get control over one of the most important tools in improving our lives.

Reference: Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi



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Article: Montaigne On How To Be A Well-Rounded Thinker

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Stoic Lesson: The Importance of Journaling

Our current age is so fast-paced and there is so much information out there that it feels like you are just jumping from one thought to another without completely digesting the message. We get all this information which we never unpack and see if it’s useful or not.

For Marcus Aurelius, who was a Roman Emperor and a Stoic philosopher, this unpacking of information was done through his writing. He kept a journal that we now know as his book ‘Meditations‘. The book is essentially comprised of personal notes, each one reminding him of something that he considered to be important, some principle to remember and live-by. Rather than adding information, Marcus Aurelius refined what he knew and tried to live by it.

Which is the point of philosophy. Philosophy isn’t simply to contemplate whether we exist or not or what logic means but rather, philosophy is about how one lives and for Aurelius, he was able to embody his philosophy by constantly reminding himself of what was important.

From the point of view of the imminence of death, one thing counts, and one alone: to strive always to have the essential rules of life present in one’s mind, and to keep placing oneself in the fundamental disposition of the philosopher, which consists essentially in controlling one’s inner discourse, in doing only that which is of benefit to the human community, and in accepting the events brought to us by the course of the Nature of the All. (Pierre Hadot)

The essential reason why Aurelius wrote was to control his inner discourse. By that, it is meant his thoughts. If you allow your mind to be completely free, it is likely to fill your head with anxiety and fears or, it’ll distract you from the right action by leading you towards some immediate gratification. But by repeatedly reading and writing the principles that you want to live by, you bring those ideals to the forefront of your mind and then your action follows.

It is not enough to reread what has already been written. Written pages are already dead, and the Meditations were not made to be reread. What counts is the reformulation: the act of writing or talking to oneself, right now, in the very moment when one needs to write. (Pierre Hadot)

This is an important thing to understand. If one reads the ‘Meditations’ what they will find is that Marcus Aurelius is basically repeating the same handful of principles over and over again. The reason for this is that the book was never meant for public eyes. Rather it was his personal journal. But what we can understand from this action is that we need reminders. We need to remember to stay on the right path. This is done through daily practice. Every day you have to hammer it into your mind what you want to be, how you want to act, how you want to represent yourself. Writing is one way to do this. Because the act of writing alone causes you to concentrate on the thoughts which are formulating into the words in front of you.

Marcus writes only in order to have the dogmas and rules of life always present to his mind. He is thus following the advice of Epictetus, who, after having set forth the distinction between what does and does not depend on us —- the fundamental dogma of Stocisim —- adds:

It is about this that philosophers ought to meditate; this is what they should write down every day, and it should be the subject of their exercises (I, I, 25).

You must have these principles at hand both night and day; you must write them down; you must read them (III, 24, 103). (Pierre Hadot).

These principles depend on the individual. For the Stoics, the main principles were to understand how little control we have in life, how we do have control over our reason and attitude, how death can approach at any moment and how we must align ourselves with the universal purpose.

This may not be how you wish to live. But whatever you consider to be important, whatever principles you wish to follow require constant attention. You just have to remember to reinforce these principles on a consistent basis.

The practical nature of stoicism is one of the reasons why this philosophy is still relevant. It acknowledges how easy it is to be overwhelmed or to stray off the path but it also provides a solution in the form of journaling. Simply by writing for ten to fifteen minutes in the morning and maybe even in the afternoon, it can act as a reminder and help you to carry yourself with grace, to think of the right things and to act in the correct manner. The repetition of such can then slowly transform your character to the point that you begin to embody the philosophy by the way you live as it did for Marcus Aurelius.

Book referenced: The Inner Citadel by Pierre Hadot


Stoic Lesson: Aim For Internal Growth

Stoic Lesson: How To Keep Yourself Accountable

Stoic Lesson: The Right Mindset For A Happy Life

Stoic Lesson: Concentrate On What You Can Control

Stoic Lesson: You Have To Acknowledge Your Sickness Before You Can Be Cured

Stoic Lesson: Epictetus On Progress

Stoic Lesson: An Exercise In Being Grateful


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Poem: The Old Rebel

Article: Montaigne On How To Be A Well-Rounded Thinker

Short Story: The Bus

 

The Importance Of Belief

In the book, The Magic of Thinking Big, David Schwartz goes over several practical actions and behaviors that can help a person achieve their goals. One such action is the importance of belief and a positive mind.

The power belief is a very cliche thing to say because it’s often misused or perhaps overused. The difference is that most people simply daydream and hope that someday their dreams come true. However, with true belief, it’s a more concrete approach to life. You don’t believe that someday it’ll happen but rather in the next 2 months or 6 months or 2 years or 10 years you’ll achieve your goals. And thus, with deadlines comes action. You have to act in order for the belief to be fulfilled. But at the very beginning, the initial action, the foundational step is belief.

Belief works this way. Belief, the “I’m-positive-I-can” attitude, generates the power, skill and energy needed to do. When you believe I-can-do-it, the how-to-do-it develops.

When you believe that you can be successful then you see that end goal and with it, you see the certain attributes and skills which are required. If you wish to run your own business but lack the ability to lead, then that’s a clear attribute that you need to work on. You may need to take classes, read books and be more conscious of your behaviors and the words you use. You can then objectively see the person you are presently and view the tools that you are missing, the skills that you need to acquire and create a plausible plan that can slowly get you towards your goals.

Believing they will succeed–and that it’s not impossible–these folks study and observe the behavior of senior executives. They learn how successful people approach problems and make decisions. They observe the attitudes of successful people.

The how-to-do-it always comes to the person who believes he can do it.

But if the belief isn’t there, then the goal isn’t there and without that, you can’t see the missing parts of yourself.

Belief is what starts the chain reaction of growth. It’s like visualization. If you don’t visualize where you are going, where you want to end up and what you want to be, then you’re blindly walking around. Similarly, if you don’t believe that you are capable of achieving your goals, then you’re simply shortchanging yourself. Limiting your own potential.

Belief in great results is the driving force, the power behind all great books, plays, scientific discoveries.

On the other hand, disbelief is an obstacle that can obstruct your momentum before it can even build.

Disbelief is negative power. When the mind disbelieves or doubts, the mind attracts “reasons” to support the disbelief. Doubt, disbelief, the subconscious will to fail, the not really wanting to succeed, is responsible for most failures.

It is always easier to come up with a list of things that can potentially go wrong. Reasons why you should stay safe and comfortable rather than take a risk. Failure and humiliation are real and many believers have experienced them. But the point, at least to me, isn’t about a 100% success rate. Rather it’s to act with a belief that you can get from A to Z and even if you fail in that belief and perhaps land somewhere around M, you can then plan once more and take action which allows you to inch your way towards your goals.

But someone with disbelief sees that potential failure as crippling and stays safe which also limits the experience and potentialities of life.

Look at it this way. Belief is the thermostat that regulates what we accomplish in life. Study the fellow who is shuffling down there in mediocrity. He believes he is worth little, so he receives little. He believes he can’t do big things, and he doesn’t. He believes he is unimportant, so everything he does has an unimportant mark. As time goes by, lack of belief in himself shows through in the way the fellow talks, walks, acts. Unless he readjusts his thermostat forward, he shrinks, grows smaller and smaller in his own estimation. And, since others see in us what we see in ourselves, he grows smaller in the estimation of the people around him.

The three ways to develop the power of belief are:

  1. Think success, don’t think failure. Positive thoughts lead to positive actions which bring you closer to your goal. Negative thoughts lead to negative actions which make the goal seem impossible.
  2. Remind yourself regularly that you are better than you think you are. It’s only by believing that you are capable of doing great things that you can achieve them.
  3. Believe Big. The size of your success is determined by the size of your belief. It’s extremely rare that people stumble into great success. Rather, it’s a calculated and measured approach that builds one towards that success.

Once more, it’s hard to separate cliche from a statement like ‘the power of belief’. There are aspects of life that are unknown or out of your control. So, there is always a degree of uncertainty that accompanies each action. Belief is there in order to overcome this uncertainty and allow you to act. In some ways, it’s similar to faith but faith which is backed by action because you believe that your goals are real and that you have the capability to attain them. Without belief, you stall out before you even get started in the race.

Whether you believe you can do a thing or not, you are right. (Henry Ford)


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Poem: Electric Self-Help

Article: Stoic Lesson: Aim For Internal Growth

Short Story: Everything Work’s Itself Out