Don’t let the force of an impression when it first hits you knock you off your feet. Just say to it: ‘Hold on a moment; let me see who you are and what you represent. Let me put you to the test.’ — Epictetus
I don’t know what I’m doing with my life. So far, I believe I’ve done everything well… Why do I feel lost then? Maybe it’s because I’m still single, I should get a wife. No, maybe it’s just that I don’t have that much money yet. Yes, that must be it. All my friends are getting iPhones and I still have this piece of shit iPhone 6. I need to get a new one.
Finally! I’ve got it. Now I can take amazing pictures and share them on Instagram. Surely everyone will realize the amazing quality and realize I have the newest iPhone. This is great.
Why did you buy it?
Oh, the camera, it is absolutely nuts mate!
Yeah man, the photos are really beautiful.
In the privacy of my mind, the question remained, why did I buy it? I’ve only taken one picture of my dog since I bought it, and it’s not great. In fact, I’ve been doing the exact same thing I was doing with my previous iPhone, watching memes on Instagram, and playing this dumb videogame.
Why did I buy it?
What’s important in your life?
Arming a Lego is super fun. It’s also objective. Open the box and take out the little pieces. Good. Now, open up the instructive and follow the instructions. It’s done! No drama.
Life is not as simple as arming a Lego. It’s more complicated. When you’re arming a Lego, the objectives and the final goal are super clear. With life, not so much. There are tons and tons of things to do. And because of this, sometimes you can even forget why you are doing what you’re doing, i.e. buying an iPhone or a new car.
Why did I buy it?
Asking yourself why do you do what you do is the first step to take to practice objectivity in your life. Let me tell you why this is so important.
I used the iPhone example because it is so universal, everybody wants an iPhone. But why though? You can argue that you need it because of the camera and all the extra space and technology, but come on, let’s be honest, there is a high degree of status-wanting in that decision as well.
It’s perfectly OK to buy an iPhone, don’t get me wrong. What is wrong is to buy it without being completely honest to yourself as to why you are doing it.
If you don’t practice objectivity, if you’re not honest with yourself, you’re not going to know what it is that you truly find important in your life.
Let’s say that you’re honest with yourself and you admit that you want the iPhone because of the status it gives you. Now you know something about you that you didn’t know. You want to buy it because it will give you a sense of security and confidence in yourself. That’s your ultimate goal. Now that you know this, please go ahead and buy the iPhone, but also know that you are looking for a sense of confidence and security in something outside of yourself. How absolutely badass would it be if you could find that sense of security within yourself and then buy the iPhone. Not to solve that need with the phone, but just for fun and genuine enjoyment?
I know that you know that our phones are just for-profit dopamine factories.
This is just a dumb example. Can you imagine the truths you’re going to arrive at if you practice objectivity more often in your life?
This is how you find meaning, this is how you find what you really care about. And this is why practicing objectivity is so important.
How to practice objectivity
Step #1, undress everything around you
When we have meat before us and other food, we must say to ourselves: ‘This is the dead body of a fish, and this is the dead body of a bird or of a pig, and again, this Falernian [wine] is only a little grape juice, and this purple robe some sheep’s wool died with the blood of a shellfish’…This is how we should act throughout life: where there are things that seem worthy of great estimation, we ought to lay them bare and look at their worthlessness and strip them of all the words by which they are exalted. For the outward show [of things] is a wonderful perverter of reason, and when we are certain the things we are dealing with are worth the trouble, that is when it cheats us most’ (Meditations, 6.13).
In short, ask why until you arrive at the fundamental facts of stuff. Undress reality.
Marcus Aurelius battled with not overeating all the delicacies that they offered him. So he undressed them:
we must say to ourselves: ‘This is the dead body of a fish, and this is the dead body of a bird or of a pig,
Marcus had it easy!
We have to battle with the temptation of looking at our phones every couple of seconds because they are engineered to be as addictive as a cigarette.
Let’s undress the iPhone. Sure, it takes amazing pictures, but more than that, it is a superb surveillance machine. It knows where you are and at what time, at any given moment. It also knows what you like and it sells the information to people that want to sell you stuff. I wonder who benefits more from our phones, ourselves, or the cellphone companies?
Haha, dumb me. Actually, that’s the reason why Android phones are so cheap. It’s because Google knows there’s much more money to be made off from people having phones and milking their data than from selling the phone at a high price.
How do you like that undressing?
Step # 2 Use your reason, ask why all the time
Ask your mind a question and it will come up with an answer, it’s inevitable. Ask why again, it will come up with another answer. Repeat this process until you find an answer of true value.
This is how you practice objectivity.
Practice it, and you’ll find out what is important to you. Once you know what is important to you, follow that path.
Use your reason, and please, please, don’t get played.
Thanks for reading,
Subscribe and receive the Askesis (practice) e-book for free to further develop your practice of stoicism.