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 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 

We are not our thoughts

Our mind constantly produces thoughts that we have little to no control over. 

Even when we sleep it continues to operate, producing what we call dreams. Most of our dreams are random and bizarre, not making much logical sense due to the fact that we are unconscious.

What’s interesting is that if you take the time to pay attention to your thoughts while conscious, you’ll notice that they also don’t make much sense most of the time and that the majority of them don’t serve us very well. 

We are naturally wired to believe our thoughts to be true. 

We fail to see the separation between the thought itself and our awareness of it, we are simply the thought, fully immersed in it. 

But in reality, we are not our thoughts. As Eckhart Tolle put it, “You are not the thought, you are the awareness.” 

This statement has profound implications. 

Rather than mindlessly subscribing to the thoughts that we produce (on average, 80% of them being negative) and constantly feeding them more fuel through our focus of attention on them (up to 95% of our thoughts are repetitive) we can build a habit of putting them under further scrutiny. 

We can analyze the whispers that persist in the background as well as the louder ones at the forefront of our minds and make a conscious decision and effort to not identify with all of them.

We can question them and become more curious as to why they exist, and over time we can start to see the truth that our thoughts aren’t always the truth.

By recognizing a thought and using reasoning to not further feed into it, the thought will inevitably weaken and subdue (this can save us from a lot of the unnecessary pain and suffering).

It’s when we let our thoughts run wild and ungoverned that they get to dictate who we are. 

The power is in our hands to choose whether a thought is serving us or hurting us, and if it’s the latter we can use our awareness to shut them down and not believe ourselves to be those thoughts as they arise. 

Our thoughts are not always accurate and fact and we aren’t required to believe in all of them. They are simply a perpetually running machine of perceptions and impressions mostly out of our control and much too powerful to limit.

What we can do is create an environment where we start to notice the separation between us and them, and the incredible ability we have to decide to not believe all of them. Within this realm, we can feed the ones that we gain positive benefit from and discard the rest to naturally leave on their own (the effort it takes to strengthen a negative thought is the same amount of exertion it takes to reinforce a positive one). 

Ultimately, this provides us with more headspace for thoughts that we can leverage to lead much happier and fulfilling lives. 

Your life is a painting and you’re the painter. You may not know what exactly the painting will end up looking like, but you can choose what colors you will use to paint the canvas with. 

Below is a little poem I wrote to recap the article.

The thoughts are ceaseless,

The identification is absolute,

Yet the choice is ours to decide the truth.

We can feed what’s right and push aside what’s wrong,

We can begin to fine tune the thought machine to the beat of our own song.

So today is the start of no longer identifying with,

All the negativity that makes our life drift.

And instead replace it with focus on the positive and good,

So that the journey is filled with beauty, love and a happy livelihood. 


“The things you think about determine the quality of your mind. Your soul takes on the color of your thoughts.” – Marcus Aurelius 

How do you define Success?

Success is a powerful word that is open for interpretation. Many of us put it on a pedestal and only think of financial prosperity when we consider the word, or being recognized by the masses for an accomplishment.

When was the last time you asked yourself what success means to you?

Have you attained your definition of success? 

If you’re struggling to put into words what success is to you, then you simply don’t have a clear philosophy on it. 

Without a coherent understanding, you increase your chances of simply drifting through life without ever bathing in the emotions of feeling accomplished. 

Imagine a ship sailing the sea to a vague destination. Without the specific coordinates being put into the GPS, how can it expect to ever arrive at its end point? 

It can’t. It will end up going the wrong way or even worse, sailing directly into disaster. 

What’s great about this situation is that you can take time to reflect and not only decide what success means to you, but come to the realization of just how unrealistic and distorted your current version of the word is while also putting yourself on the path of achieving it. 

My definition of success can be summed up as having a philosophy of life and principles that are adhered to while always striving to further develop and improve my character so that I can embody the highest version of myself and make a positive impact on those around me. 

You’ve heard it many times before, but success is NOT a destination. 

You don’t become successful after one big event. 

A person can accumulate an extraordinary sum of money yet still not feel fulfilled, and as the great Tony Robbins says, “success without fulfillment is the ultimate failure.” 

Success is rather a lifestyle, a purposeful way of living. 

If you can live your life in alignment with your deepest convictions and focus on constantly bettering yourself (and those around you) while relishing in the emotions you want to feel throughout the process, you are a living success. 

At least in my eyes you are 🙂

So ask yourself the important questions. 

Gain clarity on and define what success really means to you so that you can acquire a lifetime of it throughout your journey here on earth. 

“Define success on your own terms, achieve it by your own rules, and build a life you’re proud to live.” – Anne Sweeney