“Excellence is never an accident. It is always the result of high intention, sincere effort, and intelligent execution; it represents the wise choice of many alternatives – choice, not chance, determines your destiny.” ― Aristotle
Today, I woke up thinking about why I write in Stoic Answers. I’ve written so many articles about Stoicism that I began to develop the idiotic idea that there wasn’t much more to write about.
I was very wrong to think that, because becoming a Stoic, or any sort of a great man, doesn’t happen with the reading of a single blog post, it happens through day-in and day-out effort. This is why Ryan Holiday’s of “The Daily Stoic”, is genius.
You do not become a great man with one reading of Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations, you become a great man by consistently doing little acts of greatness, like doing the dishes when you don’t want to or sitting down to write or work on your business for 30 minutes, with sincere effort and low expectations, trusting the compounding effect of day-in, day-out actions.
I must confess that writing is one of the things I hate the most doing, or getting myself to do, better said. Just the idea of thinking about sitting down, putting my thoughts in order, disarming them, as in a puzzle, and then putting them back together in a more cohesive way, makes my stomach churn.
It’s weird because it is also one of the things in my life that give me the most meaning. It’s a hard thing to write, put your thoughts together, and then submit them for criticism. But one thing I know to be true is that the more you write, the better you get at it. And the better you get at it, the more you want to do it. It works the same way with everything.
“Are you paralyzed with fear? That’s a good sign. Fear is good. Like self-doubt, fear is an indicator. Fear tells us what we have to do. Remember one rule of thumb: the more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it.”― Steven Pressfield
One thing that we need to understand is that there is never going to be a point in our lives when we’re “done”. You have to find yourself continuously making hard choices if you want to determine your destiny yourself.
Freedom to choose who you want to “be”, lies in constantly making those hard choices. Things you don’t “feel” like doing.
It’s counterintuitive because you would expect that the way it should work, is that you choose you’re going to be a “writer”, and then writing is something that you would naturally be inclined and motivated to do, and so you would just be writing out of innate motivation. But that is not the case, far from it in fact.
If you want to decide who you are going to be in this life, you need to start making the scariest, choices, the choices that make you the most nervous, the choices that you really don’t feel like doing at that moment, the choices that give you dread, the choices where laziness will just not fit. The hard choices. That’s where freedom lies, in your power to say no to your lazy, scary self, and yes to your grand one. Consistently, day in, day out.
It gets easier though, and it’s wildly addicting
“Sow an action, and you reap a habit; sow a habit and you reap a character; sow a character and reap a destiny.” — William James
It really comes down to washing the dishes when you don’t want to. It really comes down to sitting to write when you don’t want to. It really comes down to talking to that cute girl in the street when you don’t want to. It really comes down to fixing that thing you’ve been pushing off.
What kind of a life is that one? you might say, one in which you’re constantly doing things you don’t want to? Well, let me tell you, the best one.
It is strangely addicting. You do something you don’t want to do, and you realize that it wasn’t so scary after all, and you feel proud about having done it afterward. You do it another time, and it is not as hard and difficult as the last time, and you start to get cocky, and eventually, it comes to a point where it is not hard for you anymore, you’re competent and you start looking for grander challenges.
And in this process, you literally become another person.
Our brains, by the simple, but powerful power of habit, wire themselves differently.
William James describes it best:
What is so clearly true of the nervous apparatus of animal life can scarcely be otherwise than true of that which ministers to the automatic activity of the mind … Any sequence of mental action which has been frequently repeated tends to perpetuate itself; so that we find ourselves automatically prompted to think, feel, or do what we have been before accustomed to think, feel, or do, under like circumstances, without any consciously formed purpose, or anticipation of results. — William James
It is important to act as if you were already the man you’re intending to be, even though you don’t feel like it, no, better said, especially because you don’t feel like it. If it’s a hard thing to do, you must do it.
You’ll notice that you have old habitual connections bugging you and telling you why you cannot be this other person you’re intending to be, but that’s the old bundle of messed-up habits talking. It’s easy to believe that the world is fixed, or that you and your personality are something fixed and unchangeable, but this cannot be farther from the fact that everything is in change and flux all the time. Psychedelics make you, sometimes, painfully aware of this.
One thing is true, a man can’t change if he doesn’t start taking hard choices.
But the possibility of forming new habits and a new self is always there.
I’ll finish with the following quote, which, on top of speaking of the possibility of change, gives you a warning:
“We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.”― Kurt Vonnegut