The first of this weekend's link posts is from Ryan Holiday with 7 stoic strategies for navigating the workplace. Our favourite is below, but read them all here.
On tough days we might say, "My work is overwhelming," or "My boss is really frustrating." If only we could understand that this is impossible. Someone canât frustrate you, work canât overwhelm you â these are external objects, and they have no access to your mind. Those emotions you feel, as real as they are, come from the inside, not the outside.
The Stoics use the word hypolepsis, which means "taking up" - of perceptions, thoughts, and judgments by our mind. What we assume, what we willingly generate in our mind, thatâs on us. We canât blame other people for making us feel stressed or frustrated any more than we can blame them for our jealousy. The cause is within us. They're just the target.
Read the whole article here
Wanting little is the key to a good life. We were watching Seven Year Switch on TV with a wife who did not work berating her husband for not being ambitious and for being too childish. She wanted money to buy a car to go and do nice things. They have a small child and he is amazing with her, running around enthusiastically on the playground whilst the wife was tense and worried about getting the child home to be changed or fed. He also loves his job. He does bar work so not likely to have a substantial increase in salary, but he loves it.
It was really interesting to see the reasons they cited for being unhappy. For another couple, the same things could be what they dream about. Living in the UK, not under a dictatorship, not in a war zone, not in famine or disease or high crime. Having a child when this is so precious to those that cannot have children. Having a loving husband who wants to help out with the cleaning, cooking, childcare and makes enough time to do this.
There is so much to be grateful for and to enjoy, yet all the wife could focus on was a lack of material things. If she did have a husband that worked fourteen hours a day to earn money to buy them things they did not need, I suggest that she still would not be happy either. I think that what she is really worried about is how she comes across to her friends and parents.
Worrying what other people think can lead to a lifetime of unhappiness. This is the first thing to consciously let go of and then keep practicing and reminding yourself every day.
In my day job, we have a project to replace an IT system. We have the opportunity to take all the good parts from the old one and fix the bad bits. We can do this in life too.
Physically moving to a different climate, moving to a different partner, moving to a different job. But the new thing will also have other bad bits that you were not aware of at the time.
In our IT system example, we have managed to fix some of the annoyances of the past but things that we thought were going to be amazing have fallen short of the sales pitch and now have become annoyances themselves. Some of them are because the new system is worse than the old one in some areas and one because although it has gotten better, the benchmarks of expectation have moved on.
The same is true of our other examples. Moving to a different country? Now you complain it is too hot rather than too cold. Moving to a different partner? Now you complain they smother you with too much attention rather than being too aloof. Moving to a different job? Now you complain about the hours required rather than the salary.
There is a way, however, of taking all the good parts of life and leaving the bad bits. You just need to cultivate two habits: gratitude and not complaining. Realise that the only thing in your control is your mind, then you may take a second through before taking physical action.
Gratitude and not complaining sound like the same thing, but in practice, they are subtly different. Gratitude is being grateful for what you already have in the past and in the present. Not complaining is the ability to catch yourself in the moment. Gratitude is a proactive practice. Not complaining is reactive practice - the last defence - but still in your control.
It is much easier when there is an air of possibility, when the future looks bright when you can see a way out. When the subject is something you are passionate about, when you are interested in learning more and excited about putting things into action.
But what about when the outlook is not that rosy? When you have to do things you are not interested in but have to learn anyway? Anyone that has tried to do anything of note - get promoted, start a company, get signed to a record label - has had to keep going through the tough times. They have had to be positive in the face of adversity. They have had to believe in a better future even when the present continues to look so bleak.
It is surely this ability to remain positive and focused no matter what fate throws at you that is the thing that separates success from failure, victory from defeat.
Being able to be positive though, is completely mental and nothing to do with external factors at all. Having a science background, I have been blind to this for a large part of my life. What was, in hindsight, cynical and destructive, I labelled as realistic. Of course, this is a self-fulfilling prophecy. If I think something will not work, then am I really likely to try past the first hurdle? It will just confirm what I thought, and I will give up.
Is there any downside to being positive in every situation? You will likely be happier, you will give more energy to yourself and those around you, and even if that particular situation does not work out, who cares? At least you give it your best shot with the best mindset. What is the alternative? To give up and be miserable? Go expand your possibilities.
Whatever happens is the best thing. What is the alternative? When things happen that are outside of our control then the best thing is to just think that this is the best thing. If you cannot think this is the best thing then think of three other good things to come out of the situation.
This is not being blind to reality - quite the opposite. It is understanding that our reality is made in our perceptions and our thinking. Just because something did not play out the way we wanted, it is no reason to assume it is bad. It has happened. This is all the reality of the situation. Nothing that happens is good or bad. It just has been. If it has happened, then you cannot change it. You cannot go back, only forwards, only now. Any appropriation of emotion, any labelling of good or bad is all in our minds.
What is the point of thinking something is bad? You cannot change it and it is your thinking that it is bad that is making you feel the way you feel. Rather than trying to change the world around you, try focusing on your own thinking, your own emotions, your own philosophy.
If you do not already think like this, that whatever happens is the best thing, then do not wait for something big and unexpected to happen. Start practicing now, whilst things are good, while you do not need it.
Ignore the bad things, focus on the good. And, of course, the bad things are also the good things. What is the alternative? To make yourself miserable? Thinking that everything is bad, that the world is against you, that you cannot do anything about it?
Let go of outcomes. You are not in control of these. Inputs are out of your control, but you could still get stopped from physical actions today. Thinking is the only thing that is in your control. Treat it with the special attention it deserves and train this muscle.
Remembering that you have control over your own emotions and your own reactions is surely something that should not be left for people to discover when they enter the real world by chance. Unless sought out through your own reading of books or blog posts or perhaps happened upon in a corporate training session, there is nowhere else this is taught.
For a sound mind and a happy life, it is surely the best remedy. As parents, all we really want is for our children to be happy. So why is this underlying outlook on life not taught in school? Why must we happen upon it by chance?
Learning how to think is the best possible thing one could learn. Some have it naturally, some pick it up and others waste a lifetime not knowing what they are missing. Instead, through frustration and regret, or worry and anxiety, seek a quick fix from a pill because they do not know there is nothing wrong with them apart from lack of practice.
I wonder whether schools will change what they teach in our lifetimes. How many people need to remember dates of historic battles? To remember the abbreviations of the periodic table or, in fact, to know anything without looking it up via Google. Is this really a skill that is needed?
With all this "knowledge," we leave school not being taught social skills, confidence, leadership, how to run a meeting, how to sell - an idea, a product, a business - how to start, time management, prioritisation, how to actively listen, eye contact, body language, how to code, how to find our strengths, how to delegate, how to bring others on board, how to be a kind human being, charity, money management, reallocation, pensions, 401Ks, ISAs, stocks and shares and tracker funds, bonds derivatives, lessons from the past rather than dates and facts.
These are the things you need to know in the real world. All I can remember from school is 1066, the battle of Hastings - and I was an A and B student.
I used to think that it was just a way to stop people complaining in meetings. To give them an action to sort out whatever they raised as an issue in a team meeting.
Well, it might be, but it is also a great gift for development. If someone cares enough about a subject to raise it as an issue amongst their boss and their peers, then it must be something important to them to change. Allowing them to take responsibility for sorting it out rather than just stepping in to provide an answer is a great way to get someone to grow. It shows that they can take responsibility for everything in their lives and therefore work to change it. It also serves a great purpose to teach them time management. They are not going to have anything taken off their plate, they must find time to do sort the new issue too. Giving someone something they are passionate about is the best way to prioritise and make things quicker as they will have to find a way to make the things they are less interested in, or less important, be done in a faster time to free up space for this new project. If they were not passionate about it and they were just complaining, then this a great lesson too. It is easier to criticise than it is to do. No one is going to sort out shit for you, you are going to need to do it on your own.
Not complaining is a great habit to get in to, although one that I find particularly difficult in our society as we are surrounded by it. All the news is complaining. About something someone has done, something someone has not done or something someone should have done better. There are not many influences around us that teach us to just make the change ourselves in whatever version we can influence. And then to build on it. This is how everything gets done but apparently is not important enough to be taught at school.
Marcus Aurelius, as all the Stoics did, practices thinking of fame and high office as something to be put in its correct place, rather than something of importance. Even ambition itself to them is seen as something to be avoided. Why is ambition seen as good in our society now? Presumably, it was in Roman times too, which is why the Stoics had to practice avoiding it.
If you are an ambitious male, it is probably an attractive trait to your partner. Can you work towards anything in the future without ambition? If we are to despise the future and embrace the present, then surely, we would never even move from our current place of rest.
It is easy to see why courting fame should not be seen as a good thing. All your freedoms will be gone. All your money wasted in the premiums of privacy just to get the same liberties as anyone else. Paying thousands per night for a hotel room that you are then trapped in. Unable to go to the shops to get some mil without being pursued.
But what of more noble ambitions? What of calling? Marcus also laments of himself being lazy staying in bed. If he has no ambition or ambition is bad, then why is staying in bed so bad? Is working towards something bad? The work itself is in the present. Only taking the mind too far into the future is undesirable as it takes away from actually doing the work.
Great ambitions, those that run away with a person, to win at all costs, those are easier to see that they should be avoided. But to want to be the best version of yourself? Surely there can be no better ambition. The only better one perhaps is to help others as much as possible but to do that we must look after ourselves first.
There are so many ways to make money. Watching Young Welsh and Minted, it said there are over 12,000 millionaires in Wales. That is astonishing. Wales is tiny and most of it is hills where nobody lives. The show follows people, all making money in different ways, but the main thread is that they are all doing things that they love to do. They all reach out to their community a lot, they get a great following and therefore they make money. Whether it is modelling, talking about football, computer games or rally driving.
Now I am a parent, it is important to remember that our idea of what will make our son happy is, at some point, largely irrelevant. At the start of his life, he needs to learn that fire hurts, that falling off a slide makes him cry and that being kind is kind of good. But later, our conceptions of what he should do for a living should not matter and this is something I will try not to push on him. Who knew in the 80s and 0s that you could make more money from people watching you play video games than from being an accountant?
The jobs our kids have will likely not even exist yet. Who are we to tell them what they should be interested in? As long as they are passionate about something, I think they will be able to make a living out of it.
For the world today, it is people with a passion that are a scarce resource. After generations of being beaten down by school and what we must not do it has resulted in us having workers instead of artists, having worriers instead of doers.
Others have made the digital land grab and beaten us to it because we were too timid. Will you chose to be braver for the next opportunity? Why wait, there is still room to give value right now.
Waiting for things to come to you. I read once a description of depression being someone that is too focused on the past and anxiety as someone who dwells on the future. I am not sure I agree with this completely although I do like it.
If you have good feelings about the past and think the current moment is worse than that, then I can see why this might be depressing. But what if the past was bad and 'now' is much better?
Similarly, by worrying about what might happen in the future and bringing those negative thoughts forward into the present, it makes sense that this would make a person anxious. But imagining a better, brighter future? I am not sure how this could cause anxiousness?
So then, it surely cannot solely be about the past or the future that cause these afflictions of the mind, but instead be about positivity and negativity.
Negativity can be thinking you are a victim, cannot see a way out, wanting things to be the way they were, not letting go.
Positive thinking is gratitude, not longing for material things, enjoying the journey, visualising a better future.
Being stuck in the past in a negative way is a result of negative thinking, which is a result of negative habits. You can create habits of gratitude, of visualisation, of mindfulness of the present. And these result in positive thinking, which results in thinking of the past as simply what got you to 'here' and thinking of the future as what is going to get you 'there.'
Trust the process and enjoy it along the way.