Psychology

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Opportunity cost.


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Suddenly, you wake up in the back of a car. You don’t know why you are there and you feel a bit disoriented, the driver drives calmly. You are wearing a dark suit. If this is a kidnap, it’s certainly a really weird one. Five minutes later the car stops at a mausoleum.

The driver opens your door and you ask him where the hell are you, he just smiles at you and points inside the mausoleum. There are trees, green grass and people dressed in black talking and walking inside. Now you are curious about what this is all about. You get down the car, feel the breeze on your cheeks, a bit of cold, and the tightness of your black tie, you loosen it up a bit and start walking inside. This is definitely a funeral, you can hear a young girl weeping silently beside you. Inside, members of your family and friends surround you but nobody notices you are there, you yell and everyone seems oblivious to your screams, what the hell is happening, you hurry to get to the coffin to see whose funeral this is and as you push the people around the coffin, you realize to your dismay, that the person inside the coffin is you.

You are already dead and nobody seems to notice that you are standing there, watching your cold and motionless body. It seems, that the gods granted you the gift of watching your last appearance on earth.

GraveyardThe procession begins and you sit there, watching your family, your friends and the people who knew you.

The time for the speeches come and a member of your family goes up.

 

 

What does he say? What are his memories with you? Are they happy? Is he glad he was your kin?

Now, your best buddy.

Now a co-worker.

What do they say? How do you feel? Are you happy? Are you proud?

What did you leave behind?

Ah, the magic of Memento Mori. To put things in perspective, to sweep away what isn’t important and to give place to what really matters, what really matters in the end at least. Death is always near, always walking, sleeping, always at our side but we keep forgetting.

“You act like mortals in all that you fear, and like immortals in all that you desire” 
― Lucius Annaeus Seneca, On the Shortness of Life 

Opportunity cost

You are always choosing. Even when you think you aren’t choosing, you are choosing not to choose.

Many times, most of the time, you don’t even choose for yourself but you are letting something or someone choose for you. Ignorant, ignorant of your power, you let yourself be guided by other people’s agendas, blind to the opportunities and the possibilities presented for you. Every time you neglect a good opportunity, you incur in a cost, opportunity cost.

How?

By letting the things that are not under your control choose for you.

For example, Facebook or Instagram. Imagine you’ve arrived at your house after a long and arduous day of work, you don’t even think about having dinner, you feed the dog, put pajamas on and get straight down to bed. There are two things on your bedside table, a book you’ve been reading for a month that will make you fall asleep in 10 minutes top, and your phone. You grab your phone and open Instagram, just for a while (you say to yourself), 1 hour later you are still awake scrolling down the endless flow of pictures and memes. The next day you are tired and cranky and find yourself cursing damn Instagram as you open it again.

That right there is slavishness. The decision was made not by what is best for you but by the instant gratification you got out of your phone. That decision has a big opportunity cost as well, the opportunity cost was your proper rest, happiness and productivity for the next day. All that in the simple and non-threatening choice of scrolling down on Instagram, just for a while before sleeping.

1210979-7“It is not that we have so little time but that we lose so much. … The life we receive is not short but we make it so; we are not ill provided but use what we have wastefully.”
― Lucius Annaeus Seneca 

When you choose to do something, you have to be aware that you are spending your most valuable asset, time. We don’t think of time as an asset and that is wrong, very very wrong.

Your life is composed of moments, millions of them. Each and every moment you have control over how you are going to respond to what you are doing, to what happens to you and your dispositions towards it.

The better the choices you make at each moment, the higher the probabilities that you will find yourself smiling at the end, at your funeral.

Making choices, the right ones.

It’s easier to make bad choices than right choices.

At the moment it’s easier to “go with the flow” and let tiredness or laziness or feeling, in general, decide whether you finish your job or not, whether you grasp opportunity, whether you open facebook or a book, whether you go out with your friends and socialize or stay watching Game of Thrones for the 5th time.

It’s easier to fall into slavish choices because they seem to be more palpable in comparison to the better choices which seem far away in the future. Nevertheless, you have to become aware of the opportunity cost at the moment, the opportunities are presented alongside the slavish choices every time, but conscious effort is needed, otherwise, you’ll become blind to them.

Your awareness of the opportunities determines how much of your life is really under your control. A true stoic is aware of the costs of his choices and so makes his decisions accordingly.

Therefore, learning to ask yourself about the opportunity cost of your decisions becomes paramountly important.

Once the decision to make informed choices is made, a universe of possibilities will open. A universe you were blind to before. Open your eyes and see.

The present moment

“But life is very short and anxious for those who forget the past, neglect the present, and fear the future.” 
― Seneca

additional_f105d867a9d07dffb5271c52e342d908e7950e26-8All we have is the present moment.

There is no other place or time where you can make choices or anything else. Just right here, right now. The power to figure out the best course of action is under your full control right now. Not in the past, not in the future, but right now.

It might seem that the little choices in life don’t matter much compared with the years you are going to live. But in reality, they do, first, because you don’t know when you are going to die, it could be tomorrow or in an hour. Second, because every single choice you make determines everything in your life, it’s all connected.

The sad thing would be to be at your funeral and know that you had the power, in your hands, and you chose not to take it, letting slavishness take control and choose to be dead long before your funeral.

Don’t let that happen. Think about how much time is wasted in pettiness, all that time could be used investing in a great life and gratitude instead.

Choose the path of greatness. Choose to see opportunity, open yourself up towards possibility. There is where true control is, in your choices.

“You live as if you were destined to live forever, no thought of your frailty ever enters your head, of how much time has already gone by you take no heed. You squander time as if you drew from a full and abundant supply, though all the while that day which you bestow on some person or thing is perhaps your last.” 
― Seneca

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Modern problems, Psychology, Stoic advice

Attitude


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marcusaurelius“Begin each day by telling yourself: Today I shall be meeting with interference, ingratitude, insolence, disloyalty, ill-will, and selfishness – all of them due to the offenders’ ignorance of what is good or evil. But for my part I have long perceived the nature of good and its nobility, the nature of evil and its meanness, and also the nature of the culprit himself, who is my brother (not in the physical sense, but as a fellow creature similarly endowed with reason and a share of the divine); therefore none of those things can injure me, for nobody can implicate me in what is degrading. Neither can I be angry with my brother or fall foul of him; for he and I were born to work together, like a man’s two hands, feet or eyelids, or the upper and lower rows of his teeth. To obstruct each other is against Nature’s law – and what is irritation or aversion but a form of obstruction.”

― Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

Talk about starting a day with an attitude.

It’s important to know what attitude is and what it is not, however.

Recently I started reading the (to my surprise, quite stoic) book: The Subtle Art of not giving a Fuck by Mark Manson in which he discusses a term that can greatly aid you in correcting your thinking.

The feedback loop from hell

Remember the last time you were nervous about something? An uncomfortable chat 2700with someone? Maybe you had to address a difficult topic at your job or something similar? Ok, nobody likes to be nervous. We’d all want to be perfectly confident and secure of ourselves but the reality is that nervousness is a universal feeling that you will get from time to time as we all do. The problem here is not the feeling itself, but our wanting not to have that feeling,  which is what keeps feeding this perfectly normal feeling and converts it into a mountain of nervousness that shouldn’t be that big in the first place. This is the feedback loop from hell and it happens every time we don’t want to feel angry or sad.

The way out of this loop is to “not try” to eliminate the emotion. Trying to eliminate it will interrupt its natural cycle and will perpetuate it until you are fine with having it. This is how you stop the loop.

It’s especially difficult today when we are indoctrinated to “feel good” all the time, it’s culturally inappropriate to feel inappropriate, ironically.

You cannot decide “not to be angry”, you can only decide how you are going to respond to your anger and here is where attitude begins.

Attitude

Being ok with your emotions is not acting on your emotions. If everyone did this, many kingpeople would be punched in the face daily, trust me. Being ok with them is not to ignore them either, emotions are emotions are propositional content and you do not have to act on them, however, it is extremely useful to take them into account.

Knowing this you can focus on what you can control, which in this case is your attitude.

An attitude is a composition of manners and dispositions. 

Just like Marcus Aurelius knew, you are going to encounter many things throughout your day, some pretty and some not so pretty, you are going to feel bad and you are going to feel good. This does not change the fact that your attitude towards what happens to you should not be one inspired in the Stoic teachings.

An attitude of courage and responsibility, of compassion and magnanimity.

Your attitude is always under your control. And it will make you way cooler as well.


 

If you are interested in understanding emotion, stoically speaking, I recommend the book by Margaret Graver’s, Stoicism and emotion. How to be a stoic has excellent series as well, you can check it here.

Subscribe and receive for free the Askesis ebook to further develop your practice of stoicism. 

Subscribe here

Visit our Patreon page for more stoic, Patreon only content. Thanks.

Support Stoic Answers

Stoic answers is committed to the spread of knowledge and a cosmopolitan worldview. Our mission is to create a sanctuary online for serious stoic contemporary thinking. No ads, no paywall, no clickbait – just thought-provoking ideas from the great ancient Stoics and contemporary knowledge, free to all. But we can’t do it without you.

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