Happiness Demystified: Synthetic Happiness and Your Blueprint

All, Happiness, MyFavoritez, Philosophy, Psychology, stoicism

Yesterday, I read the transcript for a Ted talk from 2004, titled, “The surprising Science of Happiness“, and in this talk, Dan Gilbert, author of Stumbling on Happiness, basically says that we have two ways of producing happiness: getting what we want, which he calls “Natural happiness”, and changing our minds, creating what Gilbert calls “Synthetic happiness”.

An example of synthetic happiness Gilbert gives is Sir Thomas Brown, who wrote in 1642, “I am the happiest man alive. I have that in me that can convert poverty to riches, adversity to prosperity. I am more invulnerable than Achilles; fortune hath not one place to hit me.”

The speaker calls this happiness synthetic rather than natural, because it is decided – not by events or circumstances, but by a kind of Stoic force of Will.

Now, most people do not posses this degree of omnipotence over their own programming, their own “reality”, and I think Gilbert provides the reasoning for this, here:

“…in our society, we have a strong belief that synthetic happiness is of an inferior kind.

Why do we have that belief? Well, it’s very simple. What kind of economic engine would keep churning if we believed that not getting what we want could make us just as happy as getting it?”

This matrix we live in is complex; there are a lot of forces at play from within and without, and society is, no doubt, the mirror we look in. This informs our scripts, our stories, which brings me to the second piece of the puzzle.

We think we are unhappy because of what we don’t have, but we’re really unhappy because life isn’t how we think it should be.

Today I was watching an inspirational Tony Robbins talk, and while there were a lot of great ideas in it from the start, there was something that really stood out to me, which was really well articulated. And while I’ve listened to Tony Robbins since I was a teenager, this idea struck me as a newer concept within his paradigmatic mode of teaching.

Here’s the core of it:

“If you and I want to know what it takes to be happy, then we have to understand what our current blueprint is. And what do I mean by blueprint; well, we have a story in our head of how life’s supposed to be. Some people’s story is you work hard in school, you become really great, you’re a nice person, you’re a good person, and you grow up and you take care of yourself, and you find the ideal man, and you fall in love, and you have a white picket fence, and you have three children, and you live happily ever after.

Somebody else’s story was – the old story was – you work really hard in school, you excel in college, you go to work for a big corporation, and you move up through the ranks until you’re the president or chairman of the company and you become successful and respected throughout life. These are old stories, old archetypes, and many don’t exist anymore. 

But there’s still one archetype that’s really prevalent, and that’s the idea that to be happy, you really have to achieve a lot in life.”

“I’m now going to show you what the formula for happiness is. And it’s real simple. I’m going to reveal it to you, so you don’t ever forget it. And it’s real simple. And what it is, is, whenever you’re happy with an area of your life, it’s because, right now, your current life experience, – I call it your LC, your Life Conditions, the conditions of your life, in that area, match or are equal to your blueprint or story, your belief about how life should be in that area.”

“Let’s see if we can find the formula for unhappiness. If the formula for happiness is be able to meet your expectations or exceed them – that really makes you excited – but to be happy you have to got to at least meet it, doesn’t have to be perfect but if you generally are meeting what you expect you want from your life in that area, you feel good: life conditions match blueprint, feel good.”

“Here’s the formula for unhappiness,

When your life conditions, the way you’re living your life today, does not match – it doesn’t equal – your blueprint meet your blueprint, your story of how it’s supposed to be, then you’re going to have disappointment, frustration, or pain.

If you’re life is way different than you think it’s supposed to be, you can have enormous pain. If it’s a little different, you might feel stressed.”

“You can not have your economic needs met and still be okay, but when you have an idea, this IS what my need is, and I did the wrong thing; my life doesn’t match how I’m supposed to be: that’s when people get a little crazy.” 

“You might find yourself really angry and frustrated because you have a different story about how life’s supposed to be than how it is.”

“You only have two choices in life. If life doesn’t match your blueprint, you either have to change your life or change or, in order for you to be happy – if you can’t change your life – you’re going to have to change your blueprint. And usually in life it requires a little of each. And if you change your life and your blueprint, you can have an extraordinary life.”

This is powerful knowledge. Happiness from getting what we want isn’t the only way.

We each have a wellspring of synthetic happiness available to us – the happiness from changing our minds, from adjusting our blueprints.

English writer and wordsmith Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) once wrote:

“It seems to be the fate of all man to seek all his consolations in futurity.”

And we all do this.

We think, I’ll be happy when.

This is no way to live. The time for consolation, for solace, for peace, is now.

Remember, the ego is the part of you that wants things to be or not to be a certain way. We think we are unhappy because of what we don’t have, but we’re really unhappy because life isn’t how we think it should be.

The old adage rings true, happiness if reality minus expectations, but so few of us actually take ownership of our expectations or even really examine their effect on us.

Your life is too short to suffer unnecessarily – even for a moment.

Examine your expectations, your blueprint, your story for how life should be and make today the day you stop letting these scripts in your mind limit your happiness.

At Thirty: How I’ve Shaped my Disposition

All, humanity, MyFavoritez, Philosophy, Psychology, Self-Actualizing, stoicism

I turned thirty Saturday.

The last time I felt this much psychic shock and bewilderment was after my first time making the angel with four wings. I was fairly young, but I remember feeling more alive, more at one with humanity, as if I had somehow deepened my sense of belonging.

Now a new chapter of life has begun, and I again feel markedly different. My twenties have been put to rest and all the fears they contained have been allayed by the reality that, like all fears, most never came true.

Of the fears that came to pass, I was – and am – no worse off, but, rather, better, stronger for having passed through the crucibles fate placed before me.

Some of the things I went through in my twenties hurt terribly and I scarcely felt I possessed the resources to survive, but I know better today – for I see the world through eyes that have seen much, and I know the depth of my soul as only one who has suffered does.

I have survived heartbreak and its aftermath. I have been scared and alone, and in times dimmer than I’d care to recollect – but I’ve never forgotten my dreams. I’ve kept faith in something bigger and brighter than my world when its felt small, and this has kept me whole, but I was not always this surefooted.

If I could pass on a message to my younger self, it would be:

Look inside.

You spend your twenties looking outside for answers, defining yourself based on the world around you, but eventually you learn the world has no answer equal to the silent, still voice of G-d rustling in the quietude of your soul. You are everything you have been looking for, and it is you. No one can complete you. They might help teach you how to love yourself, but ultimately the responsibility is yours.

I would be lying if I said my experience was limited to my own mistakes; my growth was seeded by those who left me breadcrumbs, people like Marcus Aurelius, Carl Jung, and Alan Watts. These spiritual grandfathers taught me that my world could be born of my disposition – rather than the inverse, which is the case for most people living today.

Disposition could be the defining word of my turning thirty. For at thirty the cement has begun to harden. Not to say you are stuck – but, in large, you possess a definite outlook at thirty, a defined character. The notion of disposition as something unique and inherent to all living beings (for even a dog has a disposition) is something I’ve only become cognizant of this past year. At thirty I am naturally mindful of my own disposition, and acutely aware of the disposition of others.

My Websters Dictionary defines disposition as, “The predominant or prevailing tendency of ones spirits; a characteristic attitude.”

I think of disposition as, the quality of baseline anxiety or peace a person has, resulting from their beliefs about the world. Maybe this belief-centered basis is why little outside love, the spiritual, and psychedelics has the power to alter our disposition. Perhaps Cognitive Behavioral Therapy – but even then, ones disposition is difficult to become aware of, much less alter.

Merriam-Websters defines disposition as, “The usual attitude or mood of a person or animal”. Viewed in this light, you can see how paramount disposition is in determining your happiness and wellbeing.

As Martha Washington stated: “I’ve learned from experience that the greater part of our happiness or misery depends on our disposition and not on our circumstances”.

My disposition changed greatly in the course of my twenties, specifically the second half, and, naturally, there were times when it was clouded by a fog of transitory emotions. Times when my entire being was disrupted through loss and adversity, but, ultimately, I returned to my default set point, just as the sea finds it’s level between the ebb and flow of the changing tides, for change is constant and the future unclear, unwritten.

Aside from accepting that flux is guaranteed, studying Stoic philosophy (a passion of mine) and adhering to Stoic principles and practices has not only altered my disposition but insulated it from the forces of change.

Note: if you’re not familiar with Stoicism, do explore: here and here.

Beyond the ancient and timeless wisdom of the Stoics, I’ve altered my disposition through mindfulness and meditation.

And of course, if you are so bold and so desire to alter the beliefs your disposition is founded upon, there is always the two trips of love and psychedelics – the latter of which I cannot in good conscience recommend – for obvious reasons, but I have heard when done in a safe setting and in a non-recreational context (i.e., you are at home, have done all your research, have someone sober nearby, have meditated and set your intention beforehand, have a candle and incense lit, comfy clothes on, water, and a journal to write in after) psychedelics can provide an expansive and therapeutic space, in which you can shift your perception, for the better, in ways that wouldn’t be possible without first altering it.

Of course, that’s not at all necessary but I’d feel dishonest had I omitted it. Just beware: psychedelics are a double edged sword and the dangers of their abuse, specifically from a mental health perspective, can far outweigh their purported benefits. Don’t think you can just go drop acid and you’ll be happy afterwards. It’s not that simple; although, if you are going to explore your inner world, I recommend you do all your research and approach it with the same reverence a shaman would. G-d help me if someone reads this and does something stupid or dangerous – please don’t. I do not view psychedelics as recreational fodder and I’ve partaken no more than a handful of times – beginning in my teens. At thirty, I feel no desire to use them again – but who knows, something major could change that, so, knowing their power, they remain in the far reaches of my toolkit – the day-to-day tools being: mindfulness, meditation, Stoicism – and spirituality.

At thirty, having a belief in G-d is one of my greatest assets. I won’t get into a theological dissertation, beyond stating that you can conceive of G-d in any manner you wish and in doing so you will give yourself a great gift – a gift modern, mainstream society increasingly denies its followers in favor of more vapid and commercialized idols. We all worship something. For some it’s money, looks, status, and other things bound to decay in time. For me, it’s the mysterious; the possibility; the unknown; serendipity; chance; the magic in my soul and the sacredness of my connection to it.

Finally, the habit of reading and writing has changed my disposition. I’ve published over two-hundred entries in the four years I’ve been writing on 7Saturdays, some quite transformative. Writing is therapeutic and beyond that I’ve written the things I needed to read, the things that allowed me to choose a stance true to myself.

In regards to reading, I read constantly. For most of my twenties, I read only non-fiction and only insofar as I hoped to better myself with the best pop-self-help books; however, today the non-fiction I read is primarily comprised of ancient religious and philosophical texts, and more modern books on psychology and literature – with an occasional biography of someone whom I greatly admire thrown in, so as to remind me of my duty to make my life count.

Given my passion and plans as a novelist, fiction accounts for the majority of my reading – thankfully, I love it. The best [fiction] always being that which alters or heals me.

Of the books I read this year, the most life altering and healing have been:

Another Country, James Baldwin
Home, Toni Morrison
The Death of Ivan Illyich, Leo Tolstoy
Fountainhead, Ayn Rand

But at the end of the day, you don’t need to read books to be whole. You don’t need to do a damn thing to try and change yourself. Simply taking control of the conversation in your head will do wonders for you. Learn more: here, and here. Books are, however, wonderful tools for helping you become aware of your own inner narration and dialogue.

Ultimately, you have to follow your own inner voice. My message in setting forth the methods I’ve used to alter my disposition is that you can change your relationship with the world if you change your relationship with yourself. I may have royally scrambled a few good eggs in my twenties, but I got the right things right: I took my own path.

I leave you with a current favorite quote of mine from Jung:

“My path is not your path therefore I cannot teach you. The way is within us, but not in Gods, nor in teachings, nor in laws. Within us is the way, the truth, and the life. Woe betide those who live by way of examples! Life is not with them. If you live according to an example, you thus live the life of that example, but who should live your own life if not yourself. So live yourselves. The signposts have fallen, unblazed trails lie before us.” – C.G. Jung

Zoom Way Out

All, Ancient Wisdom, humanity, Meditating, meditation, MyFavoritez, Philosophy, spirituality, stoicism, Timeless Truths

Imagine you are on a plane, reclining in your seat at cruising altitude – comfortably aware of the smooth, motionless flight. Now, imagine that below you, thirty-thousand feet beneath the fuselage where you reside, there is a single person going about their day. This single individual is the central character in their life – and like every life, theirs has it’s unique share of adversities and troubles and tribulations. And like every living individual, they are doing their best to face the challenges they must face; however, as is the case for all of us – their best isn’t enough to provide them with a secure and lasting sense of inner peace. So they, like all humans, live with a fearful heart; their inner disposition is subject to their circumstances, and like the seas – their inner world constantly stirs.

But from your vantage point on the plane, wrapped in the white noise of the jet’s engines, their problems are nil.

Yet to them, as to us all – our bills, our relationships, our hopes, our dreams, our fears – all of our expectations and dreams are the entirety of the universe. But they aren’t really, are they?

Yet still, we [humans] constantly find ourselves in a terrible way – anxious, worried, nervous, fearful, completely neurotic about our problems. Yet we are infinitesimally small.

earth

We are even smaller than this.

This is one of the great paradoxes of life. Over 7 billion humans existing on one planet – each finding him or herself the center of the universe. And for the last fifty-thousand years our ancestors (Homo Sapiens) – an estimated 100 billion of them – have lived before us, sharing this same experience – hopes, dreams, fears, stress, worry; their lives were as real as our own. And today they are scattered like ancient leaves, their remnants either dust or fossils. And what was their worry worth? What good did their fears and their sadness bring? Their worries were a mental illness. As Marcus Aurelius wrote 2,500 years ago, “Socrates used to call the popular beliefs ‘bogies,’ things to frighten children with.”

Take a minute to get a true idea of our place in the universe. 

Tell me what you were worried about again?

As far back as the ancients, man was zooming out – mentally envisioning his place in the universe.

Observe the movement of the stars as if you were running their courses with them, and let your mind constantly dwell on the changes of the elements into each other. Such imaginings wash away the filth of life on the ground. Marcus Aurelius

Donald Robertson, of Philosophy of CBT writes on this, in the words of 16th century politician, writer, and philosopher Anthony Ashley-Cooper, The 3rd Earl of Shaftsbury:

View the heavens. See the vast design, the mighty revolutions that are performed. Think, in the midst of this ocean of being, what the earth and a little part of its surface is; and what a few animals are, which there have being. Embrace, as it were, with thy imagination all those spacious orbs, and place thyself in the midst of the Divine architecture. Consider other orders of beings, other schemes, other designs, other executions, other faces of things, other respects, other proportions and harmony. Be deep in this imagination and feeling, so as to enter into what is done, so as to admire that grace and majesty of things so great and noble, and so as to accompany with thy mind that order, and those concurrent interests of things glorious and immense. For here, surely, if anywhere, there is majesty, beauty and glory. Bring thyself as oft as thou canst into this sense and apprehension; not like the children, admiring only what belongs to their play; but considering and admiring what is chiefly beautiful, splendid and great in things. And now, in this disposition, and in this situation of mind, see if for a cut-finger, or what is all one, for the distemper and ails of a few animals, thou canst accuse the universe.

Shaftesbury, Philosophical Regimen, Deity, p. 19

Donald Robertson has also created this excellent guided meditation, designed to allow us to step into the same perspective the ancients enjoyed, viewing our life from above.

I publish this because this is the truth of our place in the universe. A universe that according to Carl Sagan, contains more stars than the total number of grains of sand on all of planet earth.

We are conscious beings on a planet; we are the echo of the big bang – we are the consciousness of the universe itself. We were not meant to live in a state of misery and fear. I submit this to you, my dear reader: we can transcend the petty – unfathomably small magnitude of our problems. We need only zoom out and see the forest beyond the trees, the stardust floating in the ether – a pale blue dot, on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

Carl Sagan: Pale Blue Dot


And if you don’t feel like zooming out – simply look at the size of the world.

Samsara Official Trailer


Do read this next: Nothing. Stardust. The Illusion of Thought and the Nature of Reality.

 

We are All in Flux: The Importance of Coping with Whatever Comes Your Way

All, Philosophy, Psychology, stoicism, Timeless Truths

Tonight I received another superb answer to one of the questions I subscribe to on Quora.

What is the most important life lesson that you have learned up to this point?

The answer is as follows:

Life never goes as we plan. We are all in flux from the moment of birth. The most important lesson I have learned so far is that the ability to cope and handle whatever comes my way is the most important tool one has.

Coping skills are unique to each person. Each day we face the unknown. Are we ready to handle each day? When things happen such as a crisis, a death,  a heartbreak, a lost job etc…”This too shall pass”. Always keep stepping forward. Sometimes we must take baby steps to get back up, but we must take the steps.

If you look back to your younger years and remember what was so frightening to you back then, and look at yourself today, you will understand how we continue to grow, outgrow, and move forward no matter what we encounter. It is the nature of life. So be here now and love those you care about NOW. Take chances, be your own individual part of this grand universe of which we are only a little speck in the grand scheme of things. This is the most important lesson in my life and I am happy for it.


Accept that Flux is Guaranteed

An almost obvious truth, but it’s taken me 29 years to learn to accept the unalterable fact that there is no destination in life and that flux is guaranteed. In fact, one of the best things I have done for myself is to fortify my soul to face the reality of constant change. I’ve done this by giving my own inner-child the security I need to feel okay.

Hold Fast to Who You Are

As I wrote in These Require No Gifts of Circumstance, ‘inner-peace and true wellbeing are grounded in knowing who you are, what you believe in, and what you’re made of’. Everything outside of these core tenets of your identity is simply beyond your control.

For me coping is about holding dear to the things that make me “me”. The things that cannot be taken or broken. This is what keeps my inner-child secure.

For there is no doubt that you will be tested, and you will find yourself alone and traversing the bridge from night to morning as the wolves of fear clamor at your door. As F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote in The Crack Up, “in a real dark night of the soul it is always three o’clock in the morning, day after day”. So, when you are there – and there seems to be no rescue coming to your aid, then you must hold fast to who you are (this seems to bestow tangible consequence to the maxim “this to shall pass” – for you will still be who you are).

Be Stoic: Anticipate Loss

Beyond this practice of staying connected to my true-self and remaining mindful of my inner voice, Stoic philosophy has been instrumental in allowing me to cope with adversity with far greater ease today than I could muster in my younger years.

A large part of the reason this answer spoke to me deeply is that it puts adversity and flux into the greater context of life as an inherent aspect of being human. I don’t think I had ever accepted this [flux as part of living] until this year, when I began to study Stoic teachings at a much deeper level and started to view loss as an anticipatory emotion.

The ancient Stoics encouraged the practice of rehearsing and imagining loss, as Epictetus writes in Enchiridion:

This you ought to practice from morning to evening, beginning, with the smallest things and those most liable to damage, with an earthen pot, with a cup. Then proceed in this way to a tunic to a little dog, to a horse, to a small estate in land: then to yourself, to your body, to the parts of your body, to your brothers. Look all round and throw these things from you. Purge your opinions so that nothing cleave to you of the things which are not your own, that nothing grow to you, that nothing give you pain when it is torn from you; and say, while you are daily exercising yourself as you do there, not that you are philosophizing, for this is an arrogant expression, but that you are presenting an assertion of freedom: for this is really freedom.

See Misfortunes as Mere Setbacks Rather Than Abject Failures

I think previous to this practice [of anticipating loss] I was denying flux as a base aspect of life; as a result of denying adversity as an inevitable facet of being alive, I naturally viewed my misfortunes as abject failures rather than normal setbacks. My losses up until recently in my life had broken me numerous times.

Understand That The Majority of Suffering is Self-Imposed

I think I almost felt as if I was karmically persecuted at some level; just an unfortunate wretch, bound to go through long spells of suffering. But now I sigh, knowing the suffering was largely self-imposed (Thank you Stoicism). For I know now that I will be okay no matter what, and I no longer hold up my worst days against my best. Instead, as the answer’s author advises, I focus on being here now and loving those I care about NOW – and I am capable of doing this because I have learned how to (effectively) cope with whatever comes my way.

On Choosing to Be Kind

All, humanity, Philosophy, Psychology, Self-Actualizing, stoicism, Timeless Truths

Update: 10/31/2014

I wrote this entry while being emotionally riled, and while I feel I did an effective job of being constructive with my emotions and providing a great deal of substance to the reader, I do not feel I wrote all of this in the proper tone or from the optimal perspective.

As such, I was thankful to come across a good article this evening on the subject of good and evil, as the ancient Stoic philosopher Epictetus saw it.

While I feel this doesn’t negate what I have written, I think it contributes a vital perspective to my narrative.

To quote:

“When you see people, things, and circumstances during your day, Epictetus advises us to break away from of our habit of seeing them as good or bad. Their labels of good and bad can only be attached by our judgment, not from who or what they truly are. They are simply part of nature and the world we all work within.”

Even from one who reviles us?’
Why, what good does the athlete get from the man who wrestles with him? The greatest. So my reviler helps to train me for the contest: he trains me to be patient, dispassionate, gentle. You deny it? You admit that the man who grips my neck and gets my loins and shoulders into order does me good, and the trainer does well to bid me ‘lift the pestle with both hands’, and the more severe he is, the more good do I get: and are you going to tell me that he who trains me to be free from anger does me no good? That means that you do not know how to get any good from humankind.” – Epictetus.

“Here, Epictetus isn’t only saying problems aren’t bad but that they can be beneficial! If this still doesn’t make sense to you, then consider the weightlifting room at your local gym. Some people spend hours using those heavy weights in various positions and movements. In fact, they usually pay membership dues just for the privilege. They view these weights as a good. However, if someone has a job that requires he lifts boxes with similar weights as found in our gym example, would he think lifting those boxes is a good? Probably not. He certainly wouldn’t pay membership dues for the privilege. Instead, he expects to be compensated. So there you have two similar activities that are viewed by people as different because their interpretations are different, not the activities themselves.”

“Therefore, next time we run into someone angry or face a hopeless situation, we must remember what Epictetus has taught us today.”

This reinforces the themes of Stoicism and the value of adversity that were originally included initially within this entry, but I wanted to add this update as I think it places greater focus on these perspectives, which can greatly lighten the burden on our soul. All in all, not my favorite entry because of the emotionally fueled place it came from, but I’m happier with it after the addition of this update. For all intents and purposes I must remind myself that ‘this is a blog’, and as such I am allowed to make mistakes in conveying my ideas. – LB


I want to make this a short entry because it’s not worth many words, but it’s worth saying.

Edit: this is not a short entry, but it’s very much worth reading. Enjoy.

There are shitty people in the world.

As much as I have clung to the denial of this truth in my unconquerable lust for idealism, I can no longer deny this as a basic tenet of life – some people just fucking suck. And I don’t mean this in the way of people letting you down, sure that happens; however, what I’m talking about is the people who are well over the black and white line of decency on the spectrum of humanity.

I’m talking about people who physically threaten others, people who project their ugliness onto others where they inherently sense vulnerability, and people who just don’t give one iota of fucks about you and would probably enjoy whatever harm would come to you. People who in fact make a concerted effort to perpetuate whatever kind of harm or injury they might inflict on you – verbal, emotional, physical, or psychic.

If you read me you know that I’m a positive person. If you know me, you know this. But there’s no use in pretending these people don’t exist. We’ve all encountered them – within and beyond our circle of friends.

These are the bullies in life – male and female, straight and gay, of all races and classes. These are the people who wish others ill will – and whether they gain pleasure from it I cannot say, but they certainly aren’t averse to your suffering and at the very least they are indifferent to it.

And what of these less than great individuals – how do we go about living in a world where we have to share the same beautiful air with these absolute jerks?

I’ve never really asked myself this.

Up until now I suppose I’ve reacted as child might when confronted with someone who is just plain nasty; I’ve felt a mixture of equal parts hurt and shock. A kind of how on earth? feeling.

But I’m tired of it. I’m tired of being surprised by the ugly side of humanity, and in my twenty-nine years I’ve seen my fair share of it. As I once heard someone quip: “If you ever meet someone who tells you they haven’t been abused, then you are talking to a goddamned liar”. We’ve all been subject to abuse; we’ve all been treated far worse than we deserve -whether we know it or not, but it’s not difficult to single out instances in our lives where another has denied us our humanity, our dignity. This is a part of life. As is said in Rocky IV, life ain’t all sunshine and roses; the world is a very mean and nasty place.

Regardless of the inevitability of this, I’ve always done my best to meet incredulous persons with compassion. After all, we have all acted poorly; we’ve all been guilty of being shitty at one time or another and we all carry the scars of living. But at the same time, some of us don’t put our poison into others – instead, we use coping mechanisms and we integrate our experiences into our interpersonal behavioral schemas in a manner that is basically benevolent towards others.

So, what separates those who internalize their pain and transfigure it into something livable from the people who externalize it in a manner that makes life less livable?

I suppose compassion has a lot to do with it. But one of the little known things about compassion, and one of the things that makes compassion so interesting, is that compassion for the self is not relative to the amount of compassion we have for others. This is grounded in university research (Kristin Neff PHD).

The lack of correlation between compassion for the self and others is very counter-intuitive at a certain level – but once you examine this it makes perfect sense: some people possess ample compassion for others, yet have very little for themselves, yet others have ample compassion for themselves, yet they have very little compassion for others.

Frankly I’m slightly envious of those in the latter category. Not that I think it’s admirable to have less compassion for others than for yourself, but it’s certainly rational and pragmatic to a degree. I’ve lived my life with a deep degree of compassion and empathy for others. And as anyone in my shoes knows, there is a thin line between compassion for others and being an absolute doormat.

Being compassionate has caused me to remain attached to people long after I should have let go. Being compassionate has made me love people who could care less about what city I live in today. Being compassionate has made me very naive in many ways. It’s difficult to look back on this facet of myself and feel like this has been a strength of mine – but it’s been a virtue nonetheless. It’s made me a better person. It’s helped me stay connected to my innocence. It’s helped me stay optimistic and openhearted. It’s helped me be forgiving of others, but the downside is that I have always assumed I was due the same forgiveness I would give another.

And this is where life starts to feel unfair – when you feel like the world’s not nearly as kind to you as you are to it.

And so, at 29, here I am – and as I write this I am feeling like there are far too many rough edges and sharp corners in the world.

10 Themes of Stoicism: This is Good Stuff

All, Philosophy, stoicism, Timeless Truths

quote-Epictetus-men-are-disturbed-not-by-things-but-48832

I ended up on Youtube this afternoon looking for a couple specific videos on Stoicism (this and this) to forward to someone I know who is currently facing some very challenging and uncertain circumstances.

In my own life, Stoic teachings have been an extremely transformative force – so much so, that today I describe myself as a practicing Stoic Philosopher, and I am; Stoicism is a part of my daily routine – a part of my psyche. And just to put this into context, I had long loved Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations, but only started getting deeper into Stoicism over the past year, at which point I quickly discovered something more valuable to me than years of therapy and self-help books. Interestingly enough, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is actually based on Stoic teachings, which the founders of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy have freely admitted. Note: I happen to regularly practice self-administered CBT exercises – namely belief / story editing (I have touched on both before, but will write dedicated entries on each soon – so subscribe if you would like to get them), and overall I have a very positive outlook on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. My journey as a Stoic has only emboldened this as the two [CBT and Stoic Philosophy] are extremely complimentary.

So getting back to my youtube search this morning for the links placed in the first paragraph, I noticed a related video titled 10 Themes of Stoicism that I had not previously viewed. Needless to say (given the title of this entry) I was impressed.

I have previously published an entry covering 8 Great Ideas from Stoicism based on the work of Jules Evans, author of Philosophy for Life and Other Dangerous Situations: Ancient Philosophy for Modern Problems.

Just to recap those 8 great ideas, they are as follows.

  1. It’s not events that cause us suffering, but our opinion about events.
  2. Our opinions are often unconscious but we can bring them to consciousness by asking ourselves questions.
  3. We can’t control everything that happens to us, but we can control how we react.
  4. Choose your perspective wisely.
  5. Habits are powerful.
  6. Fieldwork is vital.
  7. Virtue is sufficient for happiness.
  8. We have ethical obligations to our community.

The full entry breaks each down in further detail.

Now, just as I did in that entry [on the 8 great ideas from Stoicism] – I am going to break down the 10 Themes of Stoicism within this entry – per the source material, which is excellent. Kudos to the creator of this wonderful video. Sidenote: it’s clear the narrator is a professor at a college, but I cannot find his name, nor the name of the college! Kind of a frustrating and amusing mystery.

Note: If you do not wish to watch the videos (I would recommend it for a better learning experience, but that’s just me), you may scroll down for my transcripts and notes.

Part 1

Part 2

Just to recap and preserve the content for posterity’s sake, I’ve broken down verbatim – with my notes in italic – the 10 Themes below.

Note: The above video is much more thorough than the notes that follow, which just cover the themes themselves and do not include the author’s wonderful explanations.

10 Themes From Stoicism

1. Recognize what’s under your control and what’s not on your control. Don’t worry about what’s not in your control.

Under my control:

  • My reactions (how I choose to perceive events / what I decide to believe about them)
  • My Emotions (how I choose to respond to events)
  • Virtue / Doing the Right Thing

Not “really” under my control:

  • External Events
  • Body, property, fame, reputation, history, fate, pleasure / pain

The first and most important theme is to recognize what’s under your control and what’s not under your control – and don’t worry about what’s not under your control. This is the most important Stoic theme; all other themes connect to it in some way.

You cannot control things, but you can control your reaction to them.

To paraphrase the words of Marcus Aurelius, from Meditations:

Nothing is either good or bad, but only our thinking that makes it so. Remember, nothing can touch the mind.

So for the Stoic, it’s permissible to try to manage the uncontrollable, but you shouldn’t attach your identity or happiness to controlling the uncontrollable.

So say to everything that you cannot control:

I can be happy and good with or without you. My happiness and goodness is based on what I can control.


 2. Conform Your Will to The Divine Order of The Universe

  • Be content with what you have instead of constantly striving to get what you desire.
  • Be content no matter what happens
  • Divine order of Universe

The second theme of Stoicism is to conform your will to the Divine Order of The Universe. The Stoics believed that people should conform to this perfect order that permeates the universe.

A deeper reading of Stoicism supports the idea of contentment no matter what happens, not passivity. So, Marcus Aurelius is a good example; he worked to make the world a better place but he did not base his happiness on the results, because the results are outside of his control – his efforts are in his control but not the results.

The important thing to understand here, which the video touches on in this section, is that Stoic metaphysical beliefs support the idea of fate. As the video states: 

Since we can’t change this beautiful divine reality, we should live in harmony with it – that is, we should conform our desires to this reality, rather than making reality conform to our desires. Submitting to this reality will lead to peace of mind, happiness, and virtue for the Stoic.

It’s important to keep in mind that the Stoics were not pessimists, but rather believed in the idea of destiny – and Stoicism is designed to help you live a happy life by not fighting ‘what is’. 


3. Understand Your Emotions. Don’t Repress (or assent to) All Emotions.

  • Modern Cognitive Therapy
  • Belief / Emotion Divide
  • Stop and think about your emotions. Be the master of your own mind.

Interestingly, of this theme – the author says:

This is one of my favorite themes of Stoicism and what got me into Stoicism in the first place.

While I don’t think this theme is of vastly more value than the previous two, it’s relation to modern cognitive therapy makes it of particular interest to me as well. It’s important to remember that Stoicism is a way of life, which is what makes it such a valuable philosophy. 

So the Stoic simply recognizes that emotions are based on beliefs, and many of our disruptive emotions are based on false, unreal beliefs.

This is the basis of CBT, and per the author:

Now this type of cognitive therapy is one that many therapists still use today, and if you study Ellis’ [Albert Ellis, one of the original founders of CBT] Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy (a type of CBT), which he created in the twentieth century – if you read his biography, you’ll see that he got many of his ideas from the Stoics. Note: the Stoics lived over 2,000 years ago.

The author then makes an important distinction about this value that clarifies the misconception that Stoics are ’emotionless’:

Now of course, the criticism is that some negative emotions might be caused by a chemical imbalance, so this cognitive, Stoic approach won’t work. But I still think the Stoic, or Cognitive approach works for most people with disruptive emotions, because most disruptive emotions are based on false beliefs or unrealistic expectations.

So, in the end the Stoics show far less emotion because they understand that most emotions are simply errors in judgement, and they have conditioned themselves to think about emotions before giving their assent to them. Their advice is to avoid becoming the emotion – don’t go with the flow – rather, think about the thinking that created the emotion and doing so will give you control over your negative emotions.

Mindfulness is also extremely complimentary to this!


4. Do The Right Thing No Matter The Cost

  • You only control your soul / mind, so take care of it. Live virtuously and with integrity.
  • Do right no matter the cost.
  • Conforming your mind to reality will lead to virtue.

The next theme is to do what’s right no matter the cost; so Stoicism maintains that the only thing you can really control in this life is your soul, your mind, and the way to protect it is to live a life of virtue. So, do the right thing even if it hurts, and don’t complain of the hurt.

Stoicism is very much focused on virtue, integrity, and duty – in a sense, it’s the embodiment of some of the most important qualities of the mature masculine male. 

According to Stoicism your central focus in life should be conforming your mind to reality and this leads to virtue, a recognition of integrity – it leads to doing the right thing because it’s the right thing. Conforming your mind takes time and effort, it’s as if you’re sculpting yourself, you’re creating habits of thought and behavior that are realistic – and therefore virtuous.

So, Stoic virtue is a form of training, just as a soldier or an athlete trains. Now, I think one important thing about Stoicism is how important motive or intention is in Stoic ethics. I cannot control the outcome, but I can control my motive so I should focus on acting from a good motive. They believed you should do the right thing simply because it’s right, not because it brings about happiness – not because it’s in my short term self-interest, not because God says it’s right – you do what’s right because it’s right.

My favorite quote here is Aurelius’:

An emerald shines even if it’s worth is not spoken of – Marcus Aurelius

So, if you are virtuous, maybe nobody recognizes it, nobody praises you, but there’s still value there, just as an emerald shines even if it’s worth is not spoken of.


5. Understand that events are not problematic; rather it’s your thinking that makes them so. 

  • Adjust your beliefs and expectations to fit reality.
  • Youtube Video: Seneca on Anger.

“With any luck, nothing so terrible will happen to us, but bad things can happen, and the best way to soften the blows if they come is to be prepared. Anger and frustration are essentially irrational responses to setbacks, and the only rational strategy is to stay calm about the fact that things do go wrong. That way we’ll be in the truest and best sense of the word philosophical.”

  • Great, great video by the way, you can also read Seneca’s ‘book’ On Anger.
  • Have more realistic (less optimistic) expectations and beliefs. Optimism is often harmful. If you disagree with this notion [that optimism is often harmful], watch the above video. It posits that pessimism is often more aligned with the rational nature of reality, i.e., don’t get angry in traffic because traffic is by nature not pleasurable. Selective pessimism is certainly something you need to be cognizant of in order to carefully apply it where it can benefit you, and not where it is a hindrance to your success, which I feel pessimism usually is. So perhaps we should think of a lack of optimism as realism and not pessimism.
  • Prepare your mind (for loss) so you don’t lose it.
  • Two people experience same event, but react differently.

Again, everything ties back to the first theme or principle of: ‘recognize what’s under your control and what’s not under your control’. How we choose to perceive things is always under our control. 

If you accept such things to happen, then you won’t be as angry and disturbed when they do happen. That is you won’t lose your mind – remember that is they only thing that you can control, if you prepare your mind for reality. For example, consider how two different people may react to the same situation. Let’s say they both stepped on a tack. The first person cries and screams and complains about the tack all day long. But the second person steps on the tack, calmly removes it and then forgets the event ever happened. Notice the difference between these two people lies in their thinking, not in what happened to them.

The fact that the second person is not disturbed shows that much of our suffering comes from how we think – how we interpret events, not what happens to us externally.


6. Live With Compassion and Respect for Human Rights

  • Every human has a spark of the divine Logos within (rights).
  • Everyone is a brother or sister (compassion).
  • Everyone is a piece of the vast puzzle. Most Stoics don’t believe in afterlife (humility).

The sixth theme is to live with compassion and respect for human rights. So, I mentioned earlier that the Stoics believed in a universal, divine, pantheistic and fiery Logos, and that every human has a spark of this within them. So you can infer that we are all one blood, we are all one body. Every person we meet is intrinsically valuable – they are like a brother or sister to us. So, as in Christianity, the Stoic makes it possible to see everyone’s humanity. Everyone is valuable, intrinsically valuable.

So the proper response to this worldview is compassion to all humans. It also creates humility since it maintains that everyone is part of the fire that makes the whole, everyone is a part of God. So each of us is a piece of the puzzle and this creates humility and appreciation for others as well. Each of us is intrinsically valuable, divine, and beautiful.

So – far from repressing emotion, the Stoic mind supports a strong sense of compassion, and a ground belief in human rights, and a strong sense of humility.

And as a side note it’s interesting to compare Stoicism to Christianity, you know both emphasize recognizing what’s not in your control, and not worrying about it – and both ask you to submit to something higher. And if you look at the Serenity Prayer, you can see some of the similarities between Christianity as exemplified by the Serenity Prayer and Stoicism. (I personally can not find any other obvious parallels between Stoicism and Christianity beyond the virtue of compassion, and the Serenity Prayer.)

Serenity Prayer

God grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change;
Courage to change the things I can;
And wisdom to know the difference.

Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
Taking, as He did, this sinful world
As it is, not as I would have it;
Trusting that He will make all things right
If I surrender to His Will;
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life
And supremely happy with Him
Forever and ever in the next.
Amen.


7. Cultivate Right Thinking Through Daily Activities like Meditation, Contemplation, Reflecting, and Journaling

This is another area that really separates Stoicism from other Philosophies as not just a way of thinking, but as a way of living. 

  • Meditation on death and all that could go wrong.
  • Immunize yourself.

The Stoics engaged in all these activities, so for example as you read the Stoics, you find that many of them as you to meditate on your death – especially the decomposition of your physical body. And among the benefits of dwelling on your death are a greater appreciation for the present and a larger and more accurate perspective on life. So such a perspective will help me and you prioritize your desires, immunize yourself from stressing about trivial things.

Also, thinking about the death of others can help you prioritize. So, for example, remembering that my parents may die tomorrow makes me want to call them to enjoy the time we have together.

So what the Stoics are saying here is not to dwell on death all day, but rather to take 5 to 10 minutes to remember the big picture, to remember that you are mortal and you are finite and so are you loved ones. And it will remind you to stop and smell the roses if you do this each day.

The Stoics also ask you to dwell on your worst case scenarios each day. So imagine that you will get sick, that your spouse will leave you, and so on. Don’t dwell on them, just remember that it’s possible – for 5 or 10 minutes each day.

The purpose of these meditations isn’t to depress you, but it’s to help you be happier by adjusting your expectations and helping you be prepared. To give you an example, I won’t lose my mind in anger if I prepare myself for long lines at the grocery store. So, if I expect a line to be 20 minutes at the grocery store, and it’s only 10 minutes, I probably won’t lose my mind in frustration or anger, but if I go in being overly optimistic – if I expect the lines to be two minutes long then I will probably get frustrated, get angry, and lose my mind.

So in short, too much optimism, expecting the lines to be short at the store is a vice; too much pessimism can be a vice too, so you want to adjust your expectations to reality. If I deeply understand that I’ll be fine no matter what happens to me in an external sense, I’ll live more happily and more peacefully – again, I won’t lose my mine (aka, you won’t ‘lose your cool’).

These activities that cultivate right thinking, – they’re really not difficult, you can do many of them pretty much anywhere in a matter of seconds. And this is really a strength of Stoicism, since many religions, and other philosophies seem to require a great deal of time to master.


8. Understand The External World is Determined, but you have Internal Freedom to Choose Your Attitude Towards these Determined Events

  • Clarifies first theme (control / can’t control).
  • More forgiving of others since they are controlled by forces beyond their understanding.

So, the Stoic believes in external Determinism but internal freewill. And this theme clarifies the first theme, what we can and can’t control. So again, the Stoics are determinists,  but they believe in an internal freewill. They say we can’t really change externals, but we can change our reactions and attitudes towards those externals. So we can control our attitudes and choose to do the right thing no matter the cost.

The Stoics also think that understanding the deterministic nature of the universe will make you more forgiving of others since people are controlled by forces beyond their control.

The Stoics were not pure hard determinists in the modern sense, but they believed in an internal ability to alter the way we see the world.

My own spiritual views are highly complimentary to Stoic philosophy and pantheistic ideology, but I believe our internal freewill largely influences the external world. 


9. Calmness, Humility, Discipline, and Indifference to Pleasure and Pain

Because of their worldview and training, the Stoics are calm in the face of adversity.

  • Calmness: prepared for all scenarios
  • Indifferent to own suffering: they understand pleasure and pain to be externals, beyond control.
  • Disciplined because mind guides, not pleasure or pain. They were not hedonists. (Temperance rather than YOLO)

It’s really important to understand that the Stoics give us a worldview and a philosophy of emotion, and various techniques like premeditation that help us achieve these virtues of calmness, humility, discipline, indifference to pleasure and pain. In other words, these virtues don’t just arise in a vacuum, they arise in the fertile soil that is the Stoic worldview.


10. Stop Whining; Turn Adversity into Advantage

  • Builds on other themes.
  • Think of the many ways you can turn failure into something good.

Make the best out of any difficult situation you are in. So the Stoic worldview equips people to get the most of of life. Understanding emotions they won’t pity themselves. Understanding natures order, Stoics will be more forgiving of what others do. Understanding the divine spark in each of us, the Stoics won’t hate someone who creates adversity. Thereby the Stoic will face adversity and calmly turn it into an advantage.

Note: A book that recently came out, which I just read on this theme is The Obstacle is The Way. It’s based on the Marcus Aurelius quote: 

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

Personally, I found the book perhaps a bit verbose and drawn out but that’s probably because as a Stoic I felt it was too limited a peek at Stoicism, but I loved the idea. As Marcus Aurelius wrote: “What could be more suited for me than that which is fated for me”.  As I have always found, adversity has it’s plans for you. Trust them, but fight like hell. 


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I’m really excited I came across these videos. I unfortunately have a packed day and do not have the time to write more, but I just wanted to finish by comparing the 8 Great Ideas from Stoicism with the 10 Themes of Stoicism we have covered here.

8 Great Ideas from Stoicism:

  1. It’s not events that cause us suffering, but our opinion about events.
  2. Our opinions are often unconscious but we can bring them to consciousness by asking ourselves questions.
  3. We can’t control everything that happens to us, but we can control how we react.
  4. Choose your perspective wisely.
  5. Habits are powerful.
  6. Fieldwork is vital.
  7. Virtue is sufficient for happiness.
  8. We have ethical obligations to our community.

10 Themes from Stoicism 

  1. Recognize what’s under your control and what’s not on your control. Don’t worry about what’s not in your control.
  2. Conform Your Will to The Divine Order of The Universe
  3. Understand Your Emotions. Don’t Repress (or assent to) All Emotions.
  4. Do The Right Thing No Matter The Cost
  5. Understand that events are not problematic; rather it’s your thinking that makes them so.
  6. Live With Compassion and Respect for Human Rights
  7. Cultivate Right Thinking Through Daily Activities like Meditation, Contemplation, Reflecting, and Journaling
  8. Understand The External World is Determined, but you have Internal Freedom to Choose Your Attitude Towards these Determined Events
  9. Calmness, Humility, Discipline, and Indifference to Pleasure and Pain
  10. Stop Whining; Turn Adversity into Advantage

Mind you, I’m sure neither of these authors meant for these lists to be exhaustive, but I think between this entry, and the 8 Great Ideas entry, you can really get a sense of what the Stoic way of living is. Mostly, I just wanted to line them up a bit so that I can access the information as a reference for my future writings.

If you enjoyed this, also check out Example Stoic Philosophy Regime.

P.S. I’ve very much still been and still am in knowledge attainment mode when it comes to Stoicism, but I am very much on this journey for life, and it’s a deep part of who I am, and a consistent part of my daily life. I look forward to writing much more on the topic of Stoicism in the coming months, and adding my own voice to the discussion in a more impactful manner.

I have many exciting things I look forward to sharing with you my dear reader.

Edit: just as an immediate reflection after publishing this, it’s amazing to read this and see just how much the Stoic worldview and Stoic mindset has changed my life in a relatively short period of time. There’s a reason I’m deeply passionate about Stoicism.

– Lawrence

Update 11/3/2014: Learn more about Stoic Philosophy from this excellent video series.

Stoic Philosophy by Phillip Hansten

I just watched the following video series, from Dr. Phillip Hansten, Professor Emeritus at University of Washington. Well executed and worth revisiting. (Even to listen to while you work).



 

The Big Four: How The Navy Seals Effectively Combat Fear

All, Philosophy, Psychology, Real Life Inspiration, stoicism, Timeless Truths

Someone in my Stoicism philosophy group recommended this video to me and I am LOVING what I’ve learned about how the US Navy Seals (HOOYAH GO NAVY!) have integrated four specific cognitive behavioral techniques into their training program to help trainees combat fear.

Watch from 2:47 to to 18:30 – trust me, you’ll likely enjoy it – I certainly did! (the rest of the video did bore me though, and I did not care to finish it).

The following is transcribed verbatim from the video:

The techniques that we are most interested in are what I call the Big Four:

1. Goal Setting
2. Mental Rehearsal
3. Self-Talk
4. Arousal Control

 Goal Setting

Scientists think goal-setting works by assisting the Frontal Lobes. As the brain’s supervisor, the Frontal Lobes are responsible for reasoning and planning. Concentrating on specific goals lets the brain bring structure to chaos, and keeps the Amygdala, the emotional center of the brain, in check.

Mental Rehearsal

The second technique, Mental Rehearsal, or visualization, is continually running through an activity in your mind so when you try it for real it comes more naturally.

If you practice in your mind first and rehearse and imagine how you might do in these stressful situations, the next time, in reality, you’re faced with these situations – it’s actually in effect the second time you’ve faced it, so you’ll have less of a stressful reaction.

Self Talk

The third technique, self-talk, helps focus the trainees thoughts. The average person speaks to themselves at a rate of 300 to 1,000 words a minute – if these words are positive instead of negative, can do, instead of can’t, they help override the fear signal coming from the Amygdala.

The Frontal Lobes are always on, so it’s very easy to think about something difficult, something bad like I’m going to fail, what am I doing here, I didn’t practice enough. What you’re trying to do is you’re trying to replace those bad thoughts with good thoughts.

Arousal Control

The final technique, Arousal Control, is centered on breathing. Deliberate slow breathing helps combat some of the effects of panic. Long exhales in particular mimic the body’s relaxation process, and get more oxygen to the brain so it can perform better.

Breathing is a great focusing strategy, but you can only do it so much because in in response to fear your brain will get jacked up.

On it’s own, arousal control wouldn’t work – the Amygdala sends out such a powerful signal, it’s tough to suppress if we’re still feeling fearful – but combining the four techniques made a big difference to the trainee Seals pass rate, increasing it from a quarter to a third.


# end of verbatim transcription #

Author note: This blog is a personal blog, there is and will never be an agenda to anything I post other than my own personal desire to grow and express myself (and to benefit my family and my dear readers), and I state this, because when I come across something like this, I don’t just ‘blog it’ and forget about it – I make it a part of my life, of my mental programming, and I return to it, and I study it. I’m not sitting here typing this stuff up in an attempt to aggregate a search query from google, or to make  money. I state this because I hope that you, my reader, will not simply dismiss something you read here because of the abundance of free and purportedly helpful information available online. I know I sometimes make that mistake too, but it’s much easier for me to accept the value of something when I know there is no monetary or ulterior motive behind its production and publication. So, long story short – this is great stuff. The Navy Fucking Seals are using it with significant success. These concepts make complete sense and there is no reason why you too can’t transform your life with them. I know I plan on it.

Each of The Big Four techniques detailed above (1. Goal Setting, 2. Mental Rehearsal, 3. Self-Talk, 4. Arousal Control) has far reaching benefits beyond countering and calming the brain’s natural fear responses. These are major pillars of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, and I think this is an excellent framework. It’s unfortunate there isn’t more info available on the Big Four.

Edit: I found a former Seal trainee’s account of the Big Four, which provides additional detail and perspective, and I am publishing a quote of below for posterity’s sake:

THE BIG FOUR; KEYS TO MENTAL TOUGHNESS

Goal Setting Through Segmenting: All of us have heard of goal setting. However, not all of us do it effectively. Segmenting is breaking a large task into smaller, more achievable goals. Not looking ahead all the time at everything you need to do to achieve the task but staying in the present and looking simply at what you have to do today or before each meal. It’s like the old adage “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” Master Chief told us exactly how to break up the humongous task of getting through BUDs. “One meal at a time,” was our motto. Anyone can make it to the next meal. Once you make it to lunch then you focus on making it to dinner. At the start of BUDs, I focused on working from meal to meal but I also broke it down to even smaller parts during surf torture, long, cold swims, and brutal conditioning runs. “Just get to the next minute, the next sand bar, past this section of the beach,” I thought to myself. I also focused on a slightly bigger picture and set an initial goal of just making it to the end of each week. Weekends are rest and recovery time at BUDs and students are free to do whatever they please. Segmenting sounds like such a simple idea but how many of us use it effectively? I think as triathletes we can use segmenting over the course of our season, not just in an Ironman, to keep us focused, patient, and on a path to successful racing.

External and Internal Visualization: “Worrying is praying for something you don’t want. If you worry about it enough, it will happen.” Visualization is the antidote for anxiety, nervousness, and worry. In your mind, visualize yourself successfully going through each step needed to complete the task in detail through your own eyes (Internal). Then visualize seeing yourself successfully negotiating that same task as if you were watching yourself on video. Do this over and over. Go to a quiet place if you can, close your eyes, and visualize yourself internally and externally. When I was coaching, I used to tell cyclists that were afraid to descend at high speeds to focus on where you want to go instead of all the places you don’t want to end up. At BUDs I used this when we were waiting for our turn on the Obstacle Course. We had to negotiate all nineteen obstacles in under eleven minutes. Any obstacle that took you more than three attempts was an automatic failure. Failures were sent to remediation with more physical punishment as a reward. BUDs is hard enough. Avoiding extra doses of pain could mean the difference between passing and failure in another evolution in the day. Even though I knew I could negotiate each obstacle; waiting in line and not wanting to fail could cause unwanted anxiety. Visualization was my weapon against this.

Self Talk: Self talk is self affirmation. “Belief in yourself is the number one thing that will get your through BUDs. Believe in the program, training and where it will take you,” said Master Chief. Action (event), Belief (experience, prejudices, biases, stereotypes), Consequences (possible outcomes). Every task we encounter has these factors surrounding it. “Beliefs” are improved by self talk which equals a better consequence. All of us that compete have had a bad experience one time or another. A bike crash, being unable to finish a workout, bonking, gastric distress, cramps, equipment problems, or battling through an injury. These prior experiences can have a negative influence on a future consequence whether we realize it or not. Talking to yourself, believing in your training, your equipment, and trusting yourself to know what to do in the event things don’t go your way can mean the difference between success and failure. Every morning at BUDs, during the run to chow I would talk to myself as well as talk to God. I’d remind myself how hard I’ve worked to get to this point and that this day would soon pass. I would talk to myself during those cold two mile ocean swims and the dark four mile timed runs along the beach. “Just get to that buoy, just get to those rocks on the beach, you’re not cold” were things I said to myself.

Arousal Control; 4 x 4 x 4 breathing: People can react to a stressor in different ways. For instance, if an individual perceives the stressor as a challenge to his/her control of a situation, norepinephrine, the “fight ” hormone is predominantly released. And, if the stress arousal increases and a possible loss of control is felt by the individual, then epinephrine, another “flight/anxiety” hormone is released. When the stress is prolonged and seen as hopeless, the individual becomes more distressed and feels defeated. This activates the hypothalamus in the brain. What follows is a cascade of hormonal pathways resulting in the final release of cortisol from the adrenal cortex (of the kidney). The HPA Axis (Hypothalmus Pituitary Adrenal Axis) is a term describing the connection between your brain, pituitary, adrenal gland in relation to stress. During times of stress, the pituitary gland releases cortisol and the balance of cortisol in comparison to other hormones (DHEA, Testosterone, and Estrogen) is high. An increase in cortisol naturally occurs during the day and is highest in the morning and later afternoons as well as in times of stress. In a healthy person, the balance of hormones fluctuates naturally throughout the day. During normal, healthy sleep levels of cortisol are low allowing the body to repair and rebuild itself. High levels of cortisol as a result of stress or over training inhibit this process. In addition to affecting recovery, high or prolonged amounts of cortisol reduces blood flow to the muscles as well as limit the amount of glucose that the body is able to use. It affects athletic performance negatively as in the flight or defeat response.

To combat this, Master Chief Guile introduced us to 4 x 4 x 4 breathing in which you inhale for four seconds, exhale for four seconds, and continue to perform this rhythmic breathing for four minutes. This pattern mimics REM sleep patterns, controls arousal, and keeps the cortisol balance in check. I found this extremely effective while waiting to do the obstacle course and before “drown proofing” or knot tying. It allowed me to keep my heart rate down, kept anxiety in check, and helped me go into a stressful situation calm, relaxed, and confident.

Before a race, time trial, or for those with the fear of open water swimming 4 x 4 x 4 breathing is an invaluable tool to combat an increased amount of cortisol. It works just as well for a speech, an interview, or presentation.

These tools are the basics of mental toughness and how aspiring Navy SEALs learning early on what it takes to be the best at what they do. Whether you are gearing up for an Ironman, an important presentation, or simply trying to get through a stressful day give these tactics a try.”

Edit 2: Also found a great presentation on the topic that provides additional details, here

also, here: The Big Four Mental Toughness.

Future Reading: one of the things that is covered in the self-talk technique, is the concept of ABC (Activator / Adversity, Belief, Consequence), by Albert Ellis, who helped originate Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Here is a great document on the ABC approach to stress reduction, which I plan on writing about soon.

P.S. Anyone else like how the Seals refer to visualization as mental rehearsal…. quite a paradigm shift for those using ‘visualization’ to set goals.

Jules Evans: 8 Great Ideas from Stoicism

All, Philosophy, stoicism

Note: The following non-italicized copy was originally published at Psychology Today, and I am republishing the content here for preservation’s sake.

According to Jules Evans, author of Philosophy for Life and Other Dangerous Situations: Ancient Philosophy for Modern Problems, a combination of philosophy and psychology is not only practical, but an effective way of approaching today’s problems. Not unlike cognitive-behavioral therapy, the classical ideas explored by Evans make use of the mind to deal with one’s less helpful emotions.

Of course, you can work with emotional pain in any number of ways. But for those with the tiniest bit of an analytic bent, or those who have been unhappy for way too long—like Evan’s himself was in his college years—this combo approach can be extremely helpful.

I found Evans’ book to be thoughtful and a pleasure to read, and even his appendices (especially Appendix 3 where he compares Socrates and Dionysus) are not to be missed. A journalist and writer, Evans is policy director at the Centre for the History of Emotions at Queen Mary, University of London, and helps run the huge London Philosophy Club. He’s also one of ten BBC Next Generation Thinkers for 2013.

Consider the following ideas, in Evans’ own words:

8 KEY IDEAS FROM STOICISM:

1) It’s not events that cause us suffering, but our opinion about events.

The Stoics thought we could transform emotions by understanding how they’re connected to our beliefs and attitudes. Often what causes us suffering is not a particular adverse event, but our opinion about it. We can make a difficult situation much worse by the attitude we bring to it. This doesn’t mean relentlessly ‘thinking positively’ – it simply means being more mindful of how our attitudes and beliefs create our emotional reality.

2) Our opinions are often unconscious but we can bring them to consciousness by asking ourselves questions.

Socrates said we sleepwalk through life, unaware of how we live and never asking ourselves if our opinions about life are correct or wise. The way to bring unconscious beliefs into consciousness is simply to ask yourself questions. Why am I feeling this strong emotional reaction? What interpretation or belief is leading to it? Is that belief definitely true? Where is the evidence for it? The Stoics used journals to keep track of their automatic responses and to examine them.

3) We can’t control everything that happens to us, but we can control how we react.

Epictetus, the slave-philosopher, divided all human experience into two domains: things we control, things we don’t. We don’t control other people, the weather, the economy, our bodies and health, our reputation, or things in the past and future.

The only thing we have complete control over is our beliefs – if we choose to exercise this control. But we often try to exert complete control over something external, and then feel insecure and angry when we fail. Or we fail to take responsibility for our own thoughts and beliefs, and use the outside world as an alibi. Focusing on what you control is a powerful way to reduce anxiety and assert autonomy in chaotic situations. The Serenity Prayer is a nice encapsulation of this idea.

4) Choose your perspective wisely.

Every moment of the day, we can choose the perspective we take on life, like a film-director choosing the angle of a shot. One of the exercises the Stoics practiced was called the View From Above: If you’re feeling stressed by some niggling annoyances, project your imagination into space and imagine the vastness of the universe. From that cosmic perspective, the annoyance doesn’t seem that important anymore – you’ve made a molehill out of a mountain.

Another technique the Stoics used (along with Buddhists and Epicureans) was bringing their attention back to the present moment, if they felt they were worrying too much about the future or ruminating over the past. Seneca told a friend: “What’s the point of dragging up sufferings that are over, of being miserable now because you were miserable then?”

5) Habits are powerful.

One thing the Stoics got, which a lot of modern philosophy (and religious studies) misses with its focus on theory, is the importance of practice, training, repetition and, in a word, habits.  Because we’re such forgetful creatures, we need to repeat ideas over and over until they become ingrained habits. It might be useful to talk about the Stoic technique of the maxim, how they’d encapsulate their ideas into brief memorizable phrases or proverbs (like “Everything in moderation” or “The best revenge is not to be like that”), which they would repeat to themselves when needed. Stoics also carried around little handbooks with some of their favorite maxims.

6) Fieldwork is vital.

Another thing the Stoics got, which modern philosophy often misses, is the idea of fieldwork. One of my favorite quotes from Epictetus is: “We might be fluent in the classroom but drag us out into practice and we’re miserably shipwrecked.” If you’re trying to improve your temper, practice not losing it. If you’re trying to rely less on comfort eating, practice eating less junk food. Seneca said: “The Stoic sees all adversity as training.” Imagine if philosophy also gave us street homework, tailor-made for the habits we’re trying to weaken or strengthen, like practicing asking a girl out, or practicing not gossiping about friends, or practicing being kind to someone every day. Imagine if people didn’t think philosophy was “just talking.”

7) Virtue is sufficient for happiness.

Stoicism wasn’t just a feel-good therapy, it was an ethics, with a specific definition of the good life: the aim of life for Stoics was living in accordance with virtue. They believed if you found the good life not in externals like wealth or power but in doing the right thing, then you’d always be happy, because doing the right thing is always in your power and never subject to the whims of fortune. A demanding philosophy, and yet also in some ways true – doing the right thing is always in our power.

8) We have ethical obligations to our community.

The Stoics pioneered the theory of cosmopolitanism – the idea that we have ethical obligations not just to our friends and family, but to our wider community, and even to the community of humanity. Sometimes our obligations might clash – between our friends and our country, or between our government and our conscience (for example, would we resist the Nazis if we grew up in 1930s Germany?). Do we really have moral obligations to people on the other side of the world? What about other species, or future generations?

###

Jules Evans is a figure in the Stoicism community whom I respect. His website, Philosophy For Life, is exceptional. I’m looking forward to reading his book: Philosophy For Life and Other Dangerous Situations.

Update: I just published 10 Themes from Stoicism, which is the perfect follow up to this, and really compliments these ideas well.

On Self-Control: Do Yourself a Favor and Watch This Video

All, Philosophy, Psychology, Self-Actualizing, stoicism, Videozz

Update: 10/17/14

I’ve posted a follow-up entry to this on self-mastery that covers both self-control and self-discipline. If you’re interested in self-control and self-mastery, I highly advise you read it.

Finding this video is almost a bit uncanny because the creator literally references the very same concepts I came to know through meditation. These include the idea of our inner and our outer world, and the model of higher vs. lower consciousness. In addition to these paradigms, the video is focused on one of the core pillars of stoicism – self-control. I just can’t help but feel the forces of serendipity at work here.

And I recognize the internet has made self-help videos a dime a dozen and most of us are inundated with ‘experts’ on a daily basis – but this video is on point.

To paraphrase – I watch lot of videos – and most aren’t worth sharing. This is. Do yourself a favor and watch it.

I’ll certainly be watching more videos from this gentleman and revisiting this very often.

Edit: Wow, look at what the video’s creator has released…unreal that this is available for free. I’m tempted to set aside time everyday to watch his videos and go through his Blueprint.

Example Daily Stoic Philosophy Regime

All, MyFavoritez, Philosophy, stoicism, Timeless Truths

This entry is based on a post by Stoicism and The Art of Happiness.

Along with Zen Buddhism, I rely heavily on the ancient wisdom of the Stoics to guide me through my life.

I wanted to reblog Example Stoic Philosophy Regime for preservation’s sake and future reference. It’s a wonderful resource that helps you understand that Stoicism is not so much an ethos as it as a manner of living in accordance to reason and nature.

Here is an excerpt from containing a summary of it’s contents:

Appendix: Summary of Stoic Practices

To give you an idea of the breadth of Stoic practice, I’ve added a bullet-point list of some of the techniques found in the literature…

  1. Contemplation of the Sage: Imagine the ideal Sage or exemplary historical figures (Socrates, Diogenes, Cato) and ask yourself: “What would he do?”, or imagine being observed by them and how they would comment on your actions.
  2. Contemplating the Virtues of Other People: Look for examples of virtues among your friends, family, colleagues, etc.
  3. Self-Control Training: Take physical exercise to strengthen self-discipline, practice drinking just water, eat plain food, live modestly, etc.
  4. Contemplating the Whole Cosmos: Imagine the whole universe as if it were one thing and yourself as part of the whole.
  5. The View from Above: Picture events unfolding below as if observed from Mount Olympus or a high watchtower.
  6. Objective Representation: Describe events to yourself in objective language, without rhetoric or value judgements.
  7. Contemplation of Death: Contemplate your own death regularly, the deaths of loved ones and even the demise of the universe itself.
  8. Premeditation of Adversity: Mentally rehearse potential losses or misfortunes and view them as “indifferent” (decatastrophising), also view them as natural and inevitable to remove any sense of shock or surprise.
  9. The Financial Metaphor: View your actions as financial transactions and consider whether your behaviour is profitable, e.g., if you sacrifice externals but gain virtue that’s profitable but, by contrast, “What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world but loses himself.”
  10. Accepting Fate (Amor Fati): Rather than seeking for things to be as you will, rather will for things to be as they are, and your life will go smoothly and serenely.
  11. Say to External Things: “It is nothing to me.”
  12. Say Over Loved-Ones: “Tomorrow you will die.”
  13. Cognitive Distancing: Tell yourself it is your judgement that upset you and not the thing itself.
  14. Postponement: Delay responding to things that evoke passion until you have regained your composure.
  15. Picture the Consequences: Imagine what will happen if you act on a desire and compare this to what will happen if you resist it.
  16. Cognitive Distancing: When something upsetting happens to you, imagine how you would view the same thing if it befell someone else and say, “Such things happen in life.”
  17. Empathy: Remember that no man does evil knowingly and when someone does what doesn’t seem right, say to yourself: “It seemed so to him.”
  18. Contemplate the Transience of all Things: When you lose something or someone say “I have given it back” instead of “I have lost it”, and view change as natural and inevitable.

Edit: Get a detailed breakdown of these practices in the 2013 Stoic Week Handbook, here, from The Exeter University.

Secondary link: Stoic_Week_2013_Handbook

Update: 11/2/2014

Stoic Regime from Scientia Salon

I came across the following routine on Philosophy webzine Scientia Salon, in the superb article Why Not Stoicism.

1) Early morning meditation: take 5-10 minutes to rehearse the day ahead, repeat a philosophical precept (see #4 below), focus on a specific virtue. Pick a quiet spot for doing this, if possible while walking outside.

2) Contemplation of the ideal Sage: make a list of people you admire, pick a role model and ask yourself what s/he would do in specific trying circumstances.

3) The stripping method: bring to mind a situation of interest, break it down into its bare components to see clearly what it actually consists of, stripping away the unimportant details that may cloud your judgment. Ask yourself what’s the ethical core of the situation and which qualities (virtues) are required to deal with it.

4) Retreat into oneself: find a place where you are not likely to be disturbed for 5-10 minutes; chose a Stoic maxim to focus on, such as “Some things are under our control and others are not.” Become aware of your surroundings and close your eyes. Focus on your breadths and mentally repeat your maxim.

5) Concentric circles: close your eyes and imagine a circle of light surrounding yourself. Slowly expand the circle to include your family and friends, your fellow citizens, and eventually the whole of humankind.

6) The view from above: visualize the big picture, your place in the cosmos.

7) The philosophical journal: write ethically-focused diary entries to try to relate what is going on in your life to your overall ethical framework.

8) Bedtime reflection: take 5-10 minutes before going to bed to review the day and its main events. It helps to keep a written journal for this exercise (see #7 above). Ask yourself what you did badly, what rightly, and what you omitted. Think about how you could do better, and praise yourself for what you did well.

Stoicism and the Art of Happiness

An Example Stoic Philosophy Regime

Modified Excerpt from The Philosophy of Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy (2010)

Philosophy-of-CBT-Karnac-Cover-Title

Copyright © Donald Robertson, 2010.  All rights reserved.

It is difficult, probably impossible, to do justice to the variety of therapeutic concepts, strategies, and techniques recommended by Stoic philosophers in an outline such as this. Nevertheless, I hope that by attempting to do so in relatively plain English, I will help to clarify their “art of living” somewhat, in a manner that may be of service to those who wish to make use of classical philosophy in modern life, for the purposes of self-help or personal development. It probably requires the self-discipline for which Stoics were renowned to follow a regime like this in full, and I imagine that the intention was to begin by attempting one step at a time. I certainly don’t propose this as an evidence-based treatment protocol but rather as an attempt…

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