Three Stoic Pillars to Living the Good Life

If you take the time to really break down what is involved in living the good life, you’ll discover that there are only a few principles that you have to strictly adhere to.

Awareness. Acceptance. Appreciation. 

Awareness

There’s no way around it, if you want to live a joyful life you must become aware of how you currently live your life. 

How do you go about your daily operations, what do you think in your head, what actions do you take, how do you respond to external events, etc?

In order to improve your life you need to improve your ability to objectively observe your life.

Think of it like a third party observer within your head, a spectator, one that doesn’t judge harshly or criticize but simply watches, observes and witnesses the movie unrolling of you living your life. 

Throughout each day bring attention to what is going on in your mind and mindfully ask if it aligns with the kind of thoughts your ideal self would be thinking. Repeat the process for the way you act and react in social settings with those you care about. 

Are you allowing your impulses to steer the wheel and do as they please, or are you carefully considering your options to ensure you select the right one? 

We cannot control what happens externally in life (the upcoming pillar), but we have, if we intentionally decide to use it, full control over how we choose to perceive what does happen. 

If we make it a habit to view things from a perspective that minimizes negativity and enhances positivity, despite whatever circumstance we may find ourselves in, then we are on the path to living the good life. 

“It is not external events themselves that cause us distress, but the way in which we think about them, our interpretation of their significance. It is our attitudes and reactions that give us trouble. We cannot choose our external circumstances, but we can always choose how we respond to them.” – Epictetus

Acceptance

Similar to the serenity prayer, we have to constantly remind ourselves of what is in our control and what isn’t.

Obsessing over what is out of our hands is a recipe for a miserable existence. And if you become more aware of your daily mental processes and still continue to focus on what is out of your control, then you’re intentionally self sabotaging and preventing yourself from a much happier life. 

By shifting our attention to doing our absolute best in regards to the things in our control while simultaneously working to accept the things that we cannot change, we can start to pave a route towards living in a much brighter atmosphere and begin to minimize the perceived pain and suffering we’ve unconsciously and unnecessarily been causing ourselves. 

What is in our control:

-being more mindful of our thoughts, actions and responses to external events

-choosing to be kinder to ourselves and others despite the situation

-not believing each and every one of our thoughts to always be accurate

-deciding to no longer dwell on the past or stress about the future but rather live in the present

-accepting that whatever happens externally is out of our hands and that we can choose to live a happy life even through inevitable and difficult times

“It’s unfortunate that this has happened. No. It’s fortunate that this has happened and I’ve remained unharmed by it— not shattered by the present or frightened of the future. Does what’s happened keep you from acting with justice, generosity, self-control, sanity, prudence, honesty, humility, straightforwardness, and all the other qualities that allow a person’s nature to fulfill itself? So remember this principle when something threatens to cause you pain: the thing itself was no misfortune at all; to endure it and prevail is great good fortune.” – Marcus Aurelius 

Appreciation

We are all going to die. 

Some much sooner than others, but the fact still remains that we will depart from this world. 

Just think about how many people have passed since you’ve been born, especially those born after you.  

Nothing lasts forever, both the good and the bad. 

So when the bad times do come, which they will, we can build an impenetrable fortress of gratitude deep within ourselves that enables us to tend to our wounds but still feel immense appreciation for all that still is in our lives. 

And when the good times are here, we must make it a habit to focus on fully appreciating them without spending time wishing for what we don’t have.

Epictetus once said that we must take great care with what we have while the world let’s us have it. 

We all have a great deal to be thankful for in our lives, so much we were provided with at birth, for free, that we literally couldn’t live without. 

If we make it our main objective to live each and every day with appreciation at the top of our mind we will ensure ourselves a fast pass to living the good life. 

“Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others.” – Marcus Tullius Cicero

Turning a negative emotion into a positive one

Our impulses are potent. 

They’ve been hardwired into our brain through repetition over the course of many years. 

Some impulses are beneficial to our survival while plenty of others cause us unnecessary distress. 

When we are stressed out or angry about the million and one little things going on in our life, we release a stress hormone called cortisol. In this flight or fight mode our body literally shuts down our immune system. 

And when we are in this state of emotion often enough, our body weakens and we often get tired and ill because energy is no longer being conserved for the immune system but rather sending resources to focus on the anxiety that is occurring in our life. 

Interesting fact: Stress hormones like Cortisol are so effective at shutting down the immune system that doctors inject it into people receiving organ transplants. This literally prevents the immune system from doing its job of fighting and rejecting the foreign object. 

To make matters worse, each time we get into these stressful states of mind we shut down our brain’s ability to see and think clearly while unconsciously reinforcing the bad habit that led to us building up the tension to begin with.

Suffice to say, these negative emotions are extremely detrimental to both our physical and mental well-being. 

If your life isn’t in immediate danger, continuing to live at these elevated levels of stress that’s all too common in today’s world is a sure fire way to reduce your lifespan. 

But enough with the negativity! 

It’s time to focus on confronting the negative with the positive.

The next time you find yourself starting to get worked up, possibly by recognizing the tension in your body or by certain thoughts you begin telling yourself, try to take a step back and breathe for just a quick second or two. 

Become aware of the big picture and ask yourself questions such as: 

How can I take care of myself right now? 

What would be the best thing to focus my attention on?

Is this situation worth harming my body and mind for? 

Can I replace this emotion of frustration with a positive one like compassion? 

It certainly won’t be easy and it’s a guarantee that there will be moments where your old triggers override your reasoning, but with practice you can begin to minimize the damage that would typically turn into a blown out stressfest. 

Even better, the habit of impulsive reactions will naturally weaken over time while the new and more positive patterns will consume more attention, leading to a better quality of life. 

“Every habit and capability is confirmed and grows in its corresponding actions, walking by walking, and running by running . . . therefore, if you want to do something, make a habit of it, if you don’t want to do that, don’t, but make a habit of something else instead. The same principle is at work in our state of mind. When you get angry, you’ve not only experienced that evil, but you’ve also reinforced a bad habit, adding fuel to the fire.” – Epictetus 

Living on borrowed time

Just as we were somehow granted life, some day we will have to return it.

Our existence is based on borrowed time.

Let that soak in for a moment and don’t try to dismiss it. 

We are living on borrowed time and a period will come when it’ll have to be given back. 

Amongst all of the cares and concerns that fill up our daily lives, the fact remains that it’ll cease to exist at some point. 

Poof, into thin air. 

We all have our own struggles to deal with, some certainly worse than others. But identifying ourselves from a filter through them is optional. 

It’s up to us to choose how we perceive the ups and downs as well as how much of our limited time we want to spend being consumed by what is or could go wrong. 

In the end, what can really be worse than ceasing to exist?

Practice taking a mental step back every so often. 

From this perspective try to discard the trivial and focus on what truly matters. 

Learn to accept what isn’t in your control and do your best to work on what is in your power. 

Each and every day, appreciate the seconds that you have while you still have them with whomever you have them with. 

Time is ticking. 

“Keep the spirit inside you undamaged, as if you might have to give it back at any moment.” – Marcus Aurelius

Going more with the flow

Similar to a river with a violent current where water is constantly rushing by, our thoughts are unceasing. 

Yet in the center of the river, even if dirt and debris get mixed into the water, moments later the current washes it all away, leaving the water fresh and clear.

Wouldn’t it be great if our minds were more wired like that? 

Where instead of allowing all of the “dirt” in our minds to rush us down a never ending mudslide, we could remain unstained by life’s trivialities and stay centered, like the river? 

When we resist what simply is in each moment, we fight an inner battle that we’ll always lose. 

By becoming mindful of the situations that disrupt our tranquility, however small or large they may be, we can begin to intentionally work on going more with the flow. 

As we learn to practice acceptance over resistance of life’s circumstances, the thoughts and emotions that once consumed us will surely continue to arise, but instead of sweeping us off of our feet and identifying with them, we’ll be able to hold our ground in the midst of the chaos and choose to let them pass us by.  

Author Richard Carlson of “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff” (a book I highly recommend reading) said, “The greater our surrender to the truth of the moment, the greater will be our peace of mind.” 

Going with the flow is more than just the act of passively pushing things to the side or being emotionless, it’s a state of mind that understands how fleeting and impermanent life is and recognizes the innate power we have within of transcending the rubbish that affects us on a daily basis. 

A helpful mantra: I release control. I surrender to the flow. 

“It’s time you realized that you have something in you more powerful and miraculous than the things that affect you and make you dance like a puppet.” – Marcus Aurelius

“What stands in the way becomes the way”

It’s easy to get excited about the prospect of a new job, making more money, or pursuing a long time goal. Our veins get filled with motivation and we share our enthusiasm with family and friends.

It’s only when we reach our first obstacle or two that reality smacks us in the face and an important decision has to be made. Give up or move forward. 

Unfortunately, most people choose the former. 

Facing adversity isn’t easy and it’s certainly not something learned in school. It’s viewed from a place of fear and spoiled with a sense of impending failure. 

But in order to achieve, find fulfillment and discover our own potential we must deal with it head on. 

In Meditations, written by the ancient Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius, he says:

“Our actions may be impeded…but there can be no impeding our intentions or dispositions. Because we can accommodate and adapt. The mind adapts and converts to its own purposes the obstacle to our acting. The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.”

If we choose to look at bumps in the road more as building blocks that will enable us to take one step further towards our aspirations, the thoughts of failure and feelings of fear will start to weaken. 

With each obstruction thrown at us, we’ll begin to hurdle over them in stride and recognize just how much wisdom and value these impediments actually provide. 

Over time we’ll learn the esoteric secret to success… what stands in the way becomes the way. 

Once this is actualized the human mind’s capabilities are limitless. 

And even more so, through these hardships we’ll gain a refreshing outlook on life and a newfound appreciation for how far we’ve come.

The Power of Now Book Summary/Notes

CH. 1

Recognize that you are separate from your thoughts and begin to watch/observe them without identifying with or judging them, leading to a higher level of consciousness activating.

Witness the thoughts, detach from “being” them.

As you do so you become aware of the thought as well as yourself watching the thought, “watching the thinker”.

Thoughts lose power when you don’t “energize the mind through identification with it”, leading to realizing their fleetingness.

The subtle pauses/gaps in between thoughts, “no mind” is when peace/stillness can be noticed and felt. (become more aware of these moments). Over time they will last longer and deepen, “no end to its depth.”

Outside of meditation a good way to create a gap in the mind stream is by becoming intensely conscious of the present moment, paying attention to all the sense perceptions. By doing so, take notice and become more aware of the sense of being and presence/peace within.

-Dis-identify with the mind and its thoughts

-Each recognition of a gap through mediation and awareness of the now makes your consciousness stronger.

CH. 2

Must observe our emotions, as when in conflict with a thought, our emotions speak truth. Let them just be as they rise, don’t analyze, just watch.

Ask yourself: What’s going on inside me at this moment?

The more present and watchful we are of our emotions, the less powerful they will be.

Accept the now for what it is, as if you had chosen it. Realize that it’s all you have and try to stay conscious of the present as often as possible. Make the now your dwelling place versus always dwelling on the past or future.

Pain and negativity can only survive if you unconsciously identify with it. Use your awareness to recognize it as it arises, feel its “energy field within you”, pay attention to it and the identification will break.

When I get frustrated or impatient, notice the sensations, my breathing, etc. Snap out of it by telling myself that this isn’t me, I don’t have to identify with this. Accept and witness the energy of the pain-body as a silent observer/watcher but don’t “be” it.

“Don’t let the feeling turn into thinking” – don’t justify it, just let it be.

When your thinking is aligned with pain-body, you’re identified with it and feeding it via your thoughts.

“Don’t make an identify for yourself out of it.”

Be aware of yourself being aware of what’s happening inside you.

“An emotion is the body’s reaction to your mind.”

Fear and anxiety derive from what “might” happen in the future. We can focus on the present but when we let our thoughts run free into the future of what may be, an “anxiety gap” is created.

Focus on living what can be lived!

CH. 3

We unconsciously identify with the mind and its thoughts, emotions, reactions. Our “ego”.

When you recognize it, you can step out of it and into the present and just allow all to be.

Must practice withdrawing attention from past and future when not needed. Observe the habit of escaping from the now. 

“The moment you realize you are not present, you are present.”

Watch your thoughts, feel the emotions, observe the reactions.

“Identification with the mind gives it more energy, observation of the mind withdraws energy from it.”

When we excessively focus on goals or desires we prevent ourselves from living in a joyful state where we can see and appreciate life, we are distracted and only using the present as a stepping stone where it loses its intrinsic value.

CH. 6

We must focus on the feelings of our inner body as often as possible, this is the key to remaining conscious and grounded in the now, a permanent state of connectedness.

We can do whatever task is at hand, but always try to stay rooted within and feel the inner body.

In situations that would normally annoy or frustrate you, shift focus to feel the inner body and live in the present, feeling the stillness and peace.

When challenges arise, we must immediately go within and focus on our inner body or else emotional impulses will overtake us.

If we can do this, we will find stillness and presence and determine the best route forward without a clouded, emotional and reactive mind.

If our emotions slip in, pause, observe them, feel them, fully accept them as is, be aware of them as much as possible and then focus back into the inner body energy field.

The problem with making assumptions and taking things personally

It’s very easy to get swept away in a rapid current of frustration and insult when someone says something to us that we don’t agree with, especially when it’s about us personally. 

Our instinct is to defend ourselves, prove to them that they’re wrong and we’re right. 

We typically leave this battle worse off than when we first felt the offensive emotions rise up, which sucks and why I’d like to introduce you to a book written by a man named Miguel Ruiz over 20 years ago called The Four Agreements

Two of those four agreements are:

-Don’t take anything personally

-Don’t make assumptions

It’s an innate ability of ours to make assumptions. The issue is that as soon as we do so, we unconsciously deem them as truth. 

Someone walks by us on the street, we smile at them and say hello, they look back at us and don’t smile or say anything back. We quickly make the assumption that they’re rude and we instantly feel negativity towards them. 

But little do we know what’s truly going on inside their mind and in their world. It could be possible that they’re currently dealing with the worst day of their life and are too caught up in their head to even know what’s going on around them, or maybe they just didn’t hear you. 

The point is, we all live in our own realities. We grow up with an entirely unique set of experiences, views, values and beliefs that stem from our upbringing. 

When we take something personally we make the assumption that this person knows what’s right and wrong from our individual perspective, and even more so, that our way is the correct one. 

Everyone has their own respective opinions that are derived from a custom system of beliefs, so essentially nothing they say to you or about you has anything to do with you and everything to do with them.

The next time you find yourself in a situation where you’d typically take the punch to heart and let it knock you down, use it as an opportunity to become more mindful and compassionate and choose to take the hit on the chin without allowing it to take you out of your game. 

“We only see what we want to see, and hear what we want to hear. We don’t perceive things the way they are.” – Miguel Ruiz

“The decisions we make control us much more than the conditions we meet.”

We tend to underestimate our decisions and where they could lead us in life.

A tiny change of habit can compound over time and create a life changing transformation.

Tony Robbins once said, “The decisions we make control us much more than the conditions we meet.”

Yet, we typically allow our conditions to write the script of our lives.

We let fear and other people’s opinions influence our choices, and believe it or not, enabling our circumstances to dictate who we are and how we live is a decision in and of itself.

Years ago when I was first pursuing entrepreneurship, my business partner and I reached a point where we were nearly out of money.

We had a vital decision to make at that pivotal moment. We could’ve thrown in the towel and given up but we stuck with it and found the light at the end of the tunnel.

That choice, amongst others, drastically impacted the trajectory of my life and it’s uncertain where I’d be today and who I’d become had we not battled it out.

There’s way more things out of our control in this world than what we do have some influence on.

One extremely potent aspect in our control are our decisions.

It doesn’t matter what you seek, whether it be a better career and having more money, developing your character and personal qualities, or attaining peace and joy, if you’re blessed to have woken up today with the precious gift of life and have health, energy and a sound body and mind (and are reading these words), then you have the uniquely human potential to take control of your life decisions and invest in yourself for a better tomorrow.

Paint the portrait of your destiny through the power of your choices.

“Circumstances don’t make the man, they only reveal him to himself.” – Epictetus

Attaining Peace From Mind Through Unlearning

Imagine a beautiful and serene island that you are living on where you have everything that you need to be comfortable and able to survive, yet you know that your time living here is coming to an end soon. 

Now imagine that instead of appreciating the little time you have remaining on the island, you’re distracted, anxious and frustrated, too consumed by past memories and anticipation of the future. Where you never get the chance to truly exist during the final precious moments that you have left on this slice of tropical paradise.

That made up scenario draws many parallels to our lives. 

We all live on this incredibly fascinating planet called Earth, with most of us having all of the basic essentials that are needed to survive and feel comfortable. 

Yet instead of enjoying it and existing in the present, we dwell on the past and the future, getting so caught up in identifying with our thoughts that we miss out on seeing and living on the beautiful island that is our life. 

Living in this unconscious habitual state of teetering between past and future with minimal time focused on the present is a recipe for never attaining peace from our minds. 

In order to peel back the layers of consciousness and become more aware of our thoughts and our emotional responses to them, so that we can repeatedly return to the present and live in the now, the method of unlearning is necessary. 

Unlearning Identification with Thoughts 

Just like we learned through childhood to associate specific emotional reactions to certain thoughts, we can unlearn them in adulthood and find peace from mind. 

Think about a time when someone said something about you that wasn’t entirely true and how immediately a thought popped in your head (hey, that’s not true!) and in return made you feel a certain way (anger, frustration, etc), that led to a reaction (say something rude back about them). 

As Eckhart Tolle has said, “Emotions are the body’s reaction to our minds.”

We’ve developed these mental habits throughout our lives, but through the power of awareness and careful and continuous observation of our minds, as a kind of silent watcher, we can unlearn the ones that don’t serve us. 

We can start to see the situation unfold in front of us and watch the thoughts arise from a slightly detached perspective where we are no longer viewing it from “being the thought”.

This dimension of consciousness gives us the ability to choose whether or not to identify with the thought, and subsequently leads us to preventing the feelings of emotions and reactions that would typically follow rather involuntarily from occurring right on the spot. 

The more we think additional thoughts about a situation, the more energy we feed into it. Whereas the less we think about it, the less energy is allocated towards the event, allowing us to disentangle ourselves from the web of emotions that could have risen.

Having attained this potentiality, we can be indifferent and not a slave to our incessant stream of thoughts. This wisdom allows us to learn just how inefficient and unnecessary many of our thoughts are and marks the commencing of weeding them out. 

To be clear, this technique is very different from the act of suppressing thoughts and emotions. When you suppress, you push negative emotions down into the depths of your being where they marinate, boil and eventually become destructive when they are forced to be confronted, severely impacting the quality of your life. 

Choosing to disidentify with certain thoughts so that negative emotions are minimized or don’t sprout about at all and channeling that energy elsewhere is a much healthier approach. 

Unlearning the Focusing of our Attention on the Past and Future 

Just like we learned to focus most of our waking hours on the remembrance of the past and anticipation of the future, we can unlearn this vicious cycle and bring our attention back to the now.

This is where the ultimate vacation of all vacations exists, for the present is all there is and the only place peace from mind can be attained. 

Even if we experience it for glimpses at a time, it’s the source from which joy flows through.

With practice of remembering to return to the now and disidentification with the thoughts in our minds, enlightenment can be found, which is the realization that we have all that we need in these moments, for within them the past and future are of no concern, just the essence of being in the present. 

It definitely takes persistence, focus and hard work, but isn’t it worth working on so that instead of living with constant distraction, fear, anxiety and suffering, we can live in peace, see the beauty of our lives and appreciate whatever time we have left? 

“A busy mind can often rob you of peace of mind. The peace that we seek is not peace of mind, it’s peace from mind.” – Naval Ravikant 

The Streetlight Effect: Why we look in the wrong places for what we truly want

There’s a parable that goes a little something like this…

A man is out walking the street at night and sees another man searching for something on the ground. He goes up to the person and asks him what he’s looking for. 

The man responds that he has lost his keys. 

So they both go on their hands and knees looking for the lost keys. 

After some time, the man who offered to help asks the other man, “Where exactly do you remember losing your keys?” 

The man responds, “In my house.” 

Confused, the other man asks, “Then why are you looking here for them?”

He replies, “Because the lighting is much better out here.” 

This concept is known as the streetlight effect and draws parallels with our own lives in our perpetual quest for happiness. 

We tend to look externally for what we want because it’s the easier route to attaining truth, rather than taking the more difficult road internally where truth actually exists.

Our mental wiring is flawed, as you simply cannot seek something where it doesn’t exist, despite how easy or difficult the path may be. 

The keys that the man lost inside his home will never be found outside under the streetlight just like you will never find lasting happiness, peace and/or fulfillment outside of yourself.

So why do we do this to ourselves? Most of us know viscerally that money, success and social status are not the answer to our every problem and need, so what gives?

Is it the result of self-sabotage? Fear? Stupidity? Laziness?

It certainly takes hard work and effort to explore the inner depths of our being, to learn the ways of our mind and leverage that understanding to our advantage. 

But where’s the evidence proving that we don’t have “god”, the universe, infinite cosmic intelligence or whatever you want to call it, within us, and that the multitude of us are simply too blind and fearful to put in the reps to access and tap into it? (the human brain has been evolving for millions of years, we just might have a lot more potential than we give ourselves credit for in today’s society.) 

Wouldn’t feeling just 10% of what we truly seek throughout a lifetime beat out feeling none of it at all, or just fleeting glimpses of it? 

Most of us are playing a rigged game, one that we have allowed ourselves to fall into and accept as the only option to achieve a sense of prosperity in our lives. 

Fortunately, there is a way out of this warped thinking and that’s through within. 

Once you start to focus on the inner world and become more aware, loving and kinder towards yourself, you won’t need any additional motivation or willpower to further the momentum of enhancing the quality of your life. It will happen organically and become as natural to you as walking while talking. 

Armed with this knowledge, ask yourself this question: 

How will my decision to willingly NOT pursue the internal path impact the rest of my life and all those I love and care about? 

“It is difficult to find happiness within oneself, but it is impossible to find it anywhere else.” – Arthur Schopenhauer