Meditations, Marcus Aurelius

Stoicism: real-world advice from 2000 years ago

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Meditations, Marcus Aurelius

I was first introduced to the philosophy of stoicism on the Tim Ferriss podcast. It intrigued me, so I went ahead and read this book, Meditations.

Meditations is a list that the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius wrote to himself while he was on the battlefield of things to keep in mind, jam-packed with advice on how to live life. These things revolved around the stoic philosophy.

The main points of stoicism are:

  • don’t complain about things out of your control, including other people
  • live a noble life
  • forgo fame, fortune, and physical pleasures
  • the rationality of humans
  • a study of the laws of nature and living a life according to those laws
  • everything happens according to universal nature
  • contemplating death and the shortness of life
  • only worrying about what you can control: your own will and perception
  • detachment from material things
  • civic duty and virtue
  • justice, truth, temperance, fortitude, simplicity, modesty
  • cultivation of one’s daimon (the divine spirit of reason and consciousness in every human being)
  • mind your own business, stop wasting time thinking about others
  • tranquility above happiness

Most of this is excellent advice. I like to cherry pick what he says and use what I like.

There is a bit of talk in this book about gods, but surprisingly little considering it was written almost 2 thousand years ago.

He always uses the word “man” to talk about people. That’s just the way they talked back then.

One of my favorite pieces of advice from stoicism (or most other philosophies) is that good and evil are created in the mind. It is one of the easiest and most practical principles to apply to any situation, and it can boost your happiness just like that.

Aurelius said: “Consider that everything is opinion, and opinion is in your power. Take away then, when you choose, your opinion, and like a mariner who has rounded the headland, you will find calm, everything stable, a waveless bay.”

Again, change your perception, change your reality.

The other piece of advice I found very useful and peace-rendering was reflecting on the shortness of life.

To quote from the book, “Think of the universal substance, of which you have a very small portion; and of universal time, of which a short and indivisible interval has been assigned to you; and of that which is fixed by destiny, and how small a part of it you are.”

Another thing I like about Meditations, besides the excellent advice, is how eloquently Aurelius speaks. It was a real pleasure to read in that sense.

Stoicism is a great philosophy that many people underestimate. I think it is especially relevant in today’s fast-paced, me-me-me world.

And finally, for all you list people out there, yes, the whole book is just one big list (divided into chapters, but still a list)!

The Verdict:

A great book on stoicism, has a lot of good advice for personal development.
Favorite Quote:

“Loss is nothing else than change.”

How to DO Personal Development

How to DO Personal Development

This question had been bugging me for quite some time. A lot of people say they do personal development or self-help without actually doing any work.

And yes it does take work.

The thing is, most people just passively read a book, and assume they have grown.

But personal development is a lot more active than that.

To get results, it has to be.

So in this post, I’m going to give you MANY ways you can start DOING personal development, some of which I’m sure you’ve never thought of.

Ready to start?

Let’s go.

 

How to DO Personal Development:

1.Reading books

Classic. Books contain SO much great information. I’m sure you do this already, just know that acquiring the information without doing anything is the same as not knowing.
2. CDs, courses, and videos

Again in the acquiring information category, you can get a lot of information through the Internet that you won’t be able to get without going to expensive seminars. Which brings me to my next point:
3. Seminars and workshops

Personal development can seem very lonesome sometimes. Going to seminars gives you a support group for that as well as a lot of specialized information you can’t find anywhere else. Not even the Internet, sadly.
4. Taking and reviewing notes

Whenever I see something I find useful or interesting, I add it to my loooong list of PD notes on my computer. Going back over them is useful because it keeps it fresh in your mind and may remind you of something you’ve been neglecting in your growth.
5. Coaching

Not to be mistaken for therapy! Therapy aims to get people to baseline, coaching aims for success and moving way past the baseline. This can be useful for personal problems and tailors what you need to do for you. I’ll admit that I’ve never had a coach, so I won’t say more about that.
6. Journaling

Getting into the more active forms of PD, journaling is one of the best habits I’ve picked up this year. I love it because it acts as a second brain. I use it for brain dumps, answering questions, defining goals, and capturing those “aha!” moments. I also try to reread it often. It’s almost like you’re coaching yourself by getting you out of you own shoes.

Some great journaling questions are:

  • What would I do if I knew I couldn’t fail?
  • What’s the one thing I can stop doing or start doing that will have the greatest impact on my life?
  • What advice would I give someone else in my exact same situation?

 

7. Gratitude

This goes hand in hand with journaling. I love the feeling of gratitude, it’s an easy way to feel happier!

Here’s my favorite way to practice it, straight from Tony Robbins:
Sit straight up in a chair. Then pump your arms straight up and down while breathing energetically. This will help energize your body. Put both of your hands over your heart, and feel it beating. Breathe into it. One at a time, think of and enjoy 3 thing that you can be grateful for in this moment. They can be people in your life, a situation, a coincidence, a simple object near you, or anything else. Fill up with a feeling of gratitude!

You can also do this in conjunction with writing them down!

 

8. Meditation

This should have been first on the list.

This habit holds the most benefit for you. I’ll write a whole other post on the importance of meditation and specific techniques, but for now just know that this daily practice can change your life.
Can you believe we’re not even halfway through the list?!?

9. Affirmations and visualizations

Ah the great PD classics! These are very basic forms of personal development, and can be very useful for newbies in the area. Proper technique for doing these isn’t hard to find on the Internet.

One of my favorite visualizations is one aimed at self-acceptance. This can be found on Actualized.org on Youtube. Self-acceptance is always the one thing we forget to do while simultaneously improving ourselves. We are so focused on what aspects of ourselves we don’t want we forget to accept that we have them, and that they are us.
10. Psychological exercises

Whichever way you slice it, personal development IS psychology. Some good psychological exercises are psychodramas (playing out episodes of your past), or role-playing (acting out different roles to emphasize characteristics). Writing out past traumatic episodes can also be helpful.
11. Sentence stems

This is a fun way to get answers from yourself! How this works is you have a stem of a sentence and you have to write 6-10 endings for it without filtering.

Here are 2 examples from The 6 Pillars of Self-Esteem, Nathaniel Branden:
“If I am willing to express 5% more of myself today ___.”
“When I suppress my thoughts and opinions ___.”

A few more good ones I like:
“In order to please my father, I had to be ___.”
“The biggest thing I fear about leaving my partner is ___.”
“One area in my life where I’m trying to go too fast is ___.”

Try to do each question or series of questions first thing in the morning over a few days to get as many varied answers as possible.

The beauty of this technique is that it is easily applicable to any situation and any new concept you learn about or any problem you may have. And it’s not hard to come up with new ones!
12. Take action, push your comfort zone

Sure, it’s easy to repeat “I am brave” in front of your mirror for 5 minutes a day. Don’t forget you actually have to go do the thing you’re afraid to do. Consistently pushing your comfort zone will be very beneficial in so many way: it increases confidence, lowers depression, and ultimately makes you feel alive!

As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Do the thing and you will have the power.”
13. Mindfulness

Just sitting there. Just being. You’ll notice when you start doing this you’ll feel more relaxed, more fulfilled, and have more emotional mastery.

Another reason to do this is to increase your awareness throughout the day. There are many notions in intermediate PD that you do throughout the day that you’re probably not even aware of, like criticizing, lying, judging, people-pleasing, and resisting reality. Even overeating comes from a low level of consciousness. Noticing when you do these and how they affect you is the first step in changing these habits.

This goes hand-in-hand with meditation. I also like to be mindful for example when doing chores or going for a walk.

Remember, Yin and Yang.
14. Taking a walk

Again on the Yin side, this can be very beneficial. Walking for 20 minutes a day increases your mood, your energy, releases stress, and gets your juices flowing for the day. I love to walk to a park not far from where I live and then journal.
15. Bioenergetics / Dynamic meditation

Let’s stick with the theme of the body. I recommend you check out my review of the Language of the Body by Alexander Lowen. Here’s a brief snapshot of what bioenergetics is: it’s a therapy consisting of releasing trapped energy in the body.

So basically let your body do whatever it wants to. Dynamic mediations by Osho also have the same effect.

Let whatever wants to come out come out. Anger, screaming, crying, laughter, hitting stuff. Yep, hitting a cushion is my version of an hour of therapy!

You will feel so much freer after a session of this, not to mention so much more grounded.

A few other exercises I like to do is opening my jaw as wide as possible and holding it, also the bow. The bow consists of putting your hands wither behind your head or above it, and leaning back and breathing. This will induce a shaking throughout your body. That’s a good thing! That’s your life force being freed!
16. Defining and refining values, vision and mission statement

Again back to the classical type of PD exercises! These kinds of exercises and finalized notions can be useful for grounding your work, especially if you’re just starting out.
17. Introspection

Again on the Yin side of things, introspection is a very important part of PD. Asking yourself what’s true for you, what do you want, reflecting on how you’re life is going, all these things can help release anxiety and clarify some things for you. Seriously, some of the deepest things I’ve discovered so far have come from just thinking about stuff!

I most love introspection on deep philosophical topics such as epistemology, metaphysics, and ultimately the nature of reality. Pondering these things can greatly benefit you in the long term (see below).

Another thing to ponder is the shortness of life. This is the only one you have! Think about that for a while to stay motivated and grateful for what you have.

Who knows what’ll hit you?
18. Theater (say what?)

Yep theater.

I’m sure you’ve never thought of theater as being a means of improving oneself.

I’m here to argue otherwise. Theater has started to become a big part of my life and those around me. For those who don’t know, I grew up in the world of theater (both of my parents are singers and actors), and I always noticed that actors have something the rest of us don’t. I was only just able to pinpoint what that was.

Authenticity.

My theory here is that after having tried on so many masks, actors know their own personality very well, they know what fits them. That’s the approach I’m coming at it from.

Also I’ve found that after doing a scene where maybe I play an angry character, I’m left feeling very clam and relaxed. Theater is cathartic in the same way dynamic mediation is.

The last point I’ll make about theater is confidence. Of course! You need to have confidence to go on stage! I’ve seen one friend of mine in particular go from a complete introvert, as in won’t open his mouth to save his life, to cracking jokes at rehearsals!

These three reasons are why I’m putting theater in this list of personal development work.

19. Life purpose work

This is a complicated subject, but an important one if you want to live an impactful, fulfilling life.

Life purpose = how do you become a benevolent force in the way that is most personal to you?

Finding it will take some time, no question about that. Some great ways are doing exercises in books, traveling, working different jobs, generally exposing yourself to more life has to offer, going wherever your interests lead you, and answering questions such as:

If you had 100 million dollars right now, and you had 2 months to use it however you want, what would you do after you’ve spent it all?
20. Questioning and doubting

Now we’re going really deep.

At the most advanced stages of PD, you have to be questioning everything. Ideologies, all beliefs, your identity, ego, thoughts, negative feelings, rationality, societal preferences, morals, knowledge, and the nature of reality itself.

This is where psychology and philosophy meet. You will discover that if you undertake an interest in this area, you will be much more fulfilled and lead a less petty life than most people do.

Also after doubting all these things for a few years, you ultimately come into touch with what you can trust. I recommend checking out Actualized.org’s video on this subject, it will explain it in more detail than I can go into here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ypSinz7WB3I

This is an ongoing process for me, and keep in mind I’m not far along it by any means.
21. Enlightenment work

This is the most advanced PD work you can do as a human being, discovering your existential nature. This can be accomplished in multiple ways: Self-Inquiry, Strong Determination sits, mindfulness, and other ways, or a combination of these. Different things will work for different people at different times.

 

This brings me to the end of the list of ways to DO personal development. If you have any more, leave them in the comments!

I think it would do good to remind everyone (myself included) that personal development at its core is getting rid of neuroses. What are neuroses? They come in many different forms, but all of them are destructive and all of them are self-deceptive. Hopefully now you have LOTS of tools and different angles for working on yourself!

Also keep in mind that you are the only one who can do this work. You can do some of it, or all of it, or take some ways of working and not others depending on where you are in your journey.

Will it take work? Yes. Will it be worth it? More than you can imagine.