Stoic advice

Business advice, philosophy, Psychology, Self development, Stoic advice

The mad lust for wins is getting in your way


“How long are you going to wait before you demand the best for yourself and in no instance bypass the discriminations of reason? You have been given the principles that you ought to endorse, and you have endorsed them. What kind of teacher, then, are you still waiting for in order to refer your self-improvement to him? You are no longer a boy, but a full-grown man. If you are careless and lazy now and keep putting things off and always deferring the day after which you will attend to yourself, you will not notice that you are making no progress, but you will live and die as someone quite ordinary.
From now on, then, resolve to live as a grown-up who is making progress, and make whatever you think best a law that you never set aside. And whenever you encounter anything that is difficult or pleasurable, or highly or lowly regarded, remember that the contest is now: you are at the Olympic Games, you cannot wait any longer, and that your progress is wrecked or preserved by a single day and a single event. That is how Socrates fulfilled himself by attending to nothing except reason in everything he encountered. And you, although you are not yet a Socrates, should live as someone who at least wants to be a Socrates.” 
― Epictetus (From Manual 51)

Pretty straightforward isn’t he?

Ah, competition, the very heart of our capitalist societies.

It must be good right? I mean, competition is what drives business to make things better and to make things cheaper as well. It is competition what drives the economy and ourselves in it.

But is it?

There is a theory in business that can help us understand the concept of competition better. “The blue ocean and red ocean strategy”. The premise is that there are two types of competition. The first one, and most common, is the red sea strategy.

A company competing in red seas is going to compete fiercely against his competitors in a game kind of created by bought. They will compete with lower prices, bigger stuff and will always try to do the things the other company is doing slightly better. Fighting for a piece of the limited cake the market has to offer. If you win I lose mentality.

A company competing in the blue oceans. In a vast blue and abundant ocean will compete not against the other companies but instead, it will create a whole different game unique itself. This company will not be concerned with competition as it is not playing the game everyone else is playing, it is playing its own game. This is why you pay 1,000 bucks for an iphone.

We tend to see lives in either of these two axis. Vertical or horizontal.

The vertical and horizontal axis

Thinking vertically

A person playing and thinking in the vertical axis will tend to see people as above or below him. Everything is winning or losing, but what determines whether he loses or wins is not what he is doing particularly, but in how he is doing relative to other people. He may not be great at what he is doing, he might be terrible, but if he is greater than someone, then he is doing good because he is winning, just like the red seas.

This way of thinking inevitably leads to thinking of everyone in your life as competitors. When you think about your friends and think about how one is more successful than you, you no longer think about him as your friend and someone that can help you and aid you but you think of him as your competitor, someone you have to win over. You could even say he even becomes your enemy.

If you are thinking vertically, the world will become a dangerous and perilous place to be in, a place where everyone is out there to get you. Win or lose.

Thinking horizontally

You are pretty unique, and you should unabashedly so. That is one of the main characteristics of the human being, not one human being is the same as the other. Twins may look the same outside but each has its own aspirations and inclinations inside. It is a fundamental human characteristic. This is due to our sexual nature, but that topic’s for another occasion.

The point of the matter is that, just like in the blue oceans, you are perfectly suited to create a game of your own.

When you think horizontally you don’t think about people being above or below you. In a horizontal axis you can go anywhere you want, in fact, you should go anywhere you want.

In this axis your focus is your progress. The focus on becoming your ideal self. A self that no one can even wish to match because no one can be you.

Instead of trying to make something just as good or slightly better as someone else is doing it you will be concentrated in the actual ideal, where progress is limitless. Instead of trying to look good in the eyes of other people, which is the aim of anyone competing, you will actually be doing what’s needed for greatness.

This type of greatness is the greatness Epictetus speaks of.

Realize that people don’t care that much about you

We live our lives thinking that everyone is watching us and thinking about us all the time.

But, honestly, you know deep down that this is not the case. In fact, nobody cares that much. In your movie, you are the star, but you have to realize that everyone is the protagonist of their movies in their own lives. Everyone is too busy thinking about themselves and how they look in the eyes of others to be concerned about how you look or what you are doing with your life.

Once you realize this you will start thinking less about how you look on the eyes of other people and more on how they look at themselves.

This can either be depressing or liberating.

I think it is liberating, it is liberating because you are free to do whatever you want. But one thing is needed, courage, the courage to be disliked. You cannot be really free if you are not willing to be disliked. That is the cost of freedom.

If you let others decide what you need to do with your life, you are not really free. In competition, this is precisely what you are doing, you are striving for other people approval and to see you as the winner. A game you will never win. Better to invent your own game, no one can beat you there.

Why concern yourself with competing and seeing everyone as your enemy when you can concentrate on doing as best as you can with what you have and instead see everyone as potential helpers in your unique adventure?

Realize that you do are in the Olympic Games of your life, but there is only one competitor and that is yourself against yourself.

Get busy living, but more than that, enjoy. No need to have a bad time unnecessarily.

Want to read some more: Distraction and lack of time

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Reflections, Self development, Stoic advice

The dramatic age

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We live in the era of the fabulous, have you noticed?

Open Instagram and see for yourself. Everyone is having a blast, Red Bull guys doing humanely impossible feats anyone hardly imagine himself doing. Marriages, parties, traveling, and smiling faces everywhere you look. It’s just marvelous, stupendous, glorious.

But not just that, look at the news, they are just as entertaining. The world is moving so quick! Everything seems like a movie right now, so dramatic. It’s really hard not to lose yourself in all these drama play of the fabulous.

And then, there is your life. Feels, weirdly, too normal in comparison to the fabulous lives doesn’t it? Too Quotidian.

“All men want, not something to do with, but something to do, or rather something to be.” 
― Henry David Thoreau, Walden

With all these buzz going around, it’s hard to stop for a moment and think about your life and who do you want to be in it. We are too distracted.

Ironically, stopping and reflecting about your life is, arguably, one the most important and frequent attentions you have to put in it.

With so many stupendous ways of life being portrayed at you 24/7. It’s hard stop for a moment and think about the things that truly matter to you, not to the dumb masses.

It’s relatively easy to just believe that you want the same things everyone else wants, but deep down, you know this is not true.

Say, would you like to be as extreme as one of the Red Bull guys, but, if you really want that, you have to be aware that the probabilities of dying prematurely are quite high in that career. It’s too easy to see the glory, happiness and amazement in everything. You don’t see however, the struggle and the hardships, which are the things that make anything possible. All of those are not shown on Instagram or Facebook.

More than asking, what do I want out of life, you should ask:

What am I willing to suffer for?

What things are so damn important to me, that I’m really willing to put in the hours, face the inevitable failures and still have the will to keep going?

Those are the questions that are going to give you the chance of actually being something worthy.

But we are too busy daydreaming about the too-easy-to-want-lives of Instagram stars. Too busy to reflect on what you really want for yourself. And if you keep doing this daydreaming long enough, you will end up not really knowing what you want.

“If a man knows not to which port he sails, no wind is favorable.” 
― Seneca the Younger

The oldest advice on earth, know thyself. But how the hell are you going to know yourself if you are more worried about other people than you?

The era of the dramatic

Everything seems to happen in one big, dramatic event. Just like in Hollywood. We are all waiting for the next candidate to step into power and change everything as soon as he gets elected, or at least that’s what they promise (because that is what we want to hear). Or meeting the love of your life one evening and falling in love forever or maybe jumping from an airplane to save the entire world from destruction. One choice, that’s it.

See, that is the problem with Hollywood. A movie has 2 hours or 3 tops to show everything it needs to show. You cannot see years in the movie, you don’t see the day to day life, you don’t see people going to take a pee every now and then, or sitting at their desk’s working for hours on end. Everything is dramatic, it’s always one big thing that changes everything.

I don’t think I have to tell you that that is not real life.

Back in the real world. We wake up, go to the restroom go through our daily routines and end the day, almost every day, with nothing terribly dramatic happening.

Movies are great, I certainly enjoy watching a good movie but the problem begins when you start thinking about your life like how you think about movies. Waiting for some dramatic change to happen.

The reality is that in real life, nothing happens dramatically, nothings happens if you don’t make it happen, absolutely nothing, nada, zero. Life just keeps going without you really participating in it.

But becoming someone you consciously choose to be and acting upon it? Ah, now we are talking, that’s truly worthwhile, but, as Seneca so well put it:

“Non est ad astra mollis e terris via” – “There is no easy way from the earth to the stars” 
― Seneca

Change takes time, lots of it. This reminds me of the tale of the two frogs.

One day, two frogs where humping around when they saw a farm and decided to go exploring. When they got there, they encountered a bucket that smelled great. They decided to get inside of it too see it for themselves. This brother-frogs where milk-lovers and the bucket was full of it! Drinking as much as they could they were now full and sleepy so they decided to get out, but, to their dismay, they realized it was too easy to hop in but now they couldn’t get out. They started to paddle, frantically. After a while, one of the frogs, said to his brother: I’m done, oh brother, there is no way we will ever make it out of here alive. The brother urged him to keep paddling although he wasn’t sure paddling would do anything to change their situation. The brother gave up and let himself sink into the milk, and drown himself. But his brother continued to paddle desperately, with tears in his eyes and after an hour, just when he was about to give up he touched something solid. The milk had become butter! He hopped out, turned back to mourn his brother and thank god for coming out alive and went back to his pond where he became a wise king.

We, just like the frogs need to learn to paddle as well.

In an age were everything seems to be quick and mighty, you need to learn the power of small, consistent, everyday action. Learn to appreciate it and to love it, because it is in those daily actions where you are going to live most of your life and it is in those daily small actions that greatness is slowly but surely brewed.

“If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours. He will put some things behind, will pass an invisible boundary; new, universal, and more liberal laws will begin to establish themselves around and within him; or the old laws be expanded, and interpreted in his favor in a more liberal sense, and he will live with the license of a higher order of beings.” 
― Henry David Thoreau, Walden

Becoming who you want to be may seem far away right now, but it’s just a matter of starting and putting in those tiny daily actions that may seem worthless and it just too easy to give up. But glory awaits those that keep going, just like the frog.

Change those happen, gradually, consistently and it is made of all those tiny daily choices you make day to day. Don’t shun them as unimportant because they are not. Everything you do matters. Keep that in mind with everything you set your mind to.

Want one simple formula for bravery? One simple formula for bravery.

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