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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.

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Conquering Fears, Modern problems, Uncategorized

Excellence, change, and mindset


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

Habits, habits make most of your life, if not all. We simply, cannot function without them. Just like you cannot think about breathing and digesting all the time, you cannot think about everything you do every day all the time.

Most of what you do is automatic. You don’t think when you tie your shoelaces, you don’t think when you wake up and walk straight to the restroom or drink a glass of water. You simply do it without thinking. In reality, you don’t even think about what you do every day.

These are really good news and really bad news. Why?

Neuroplasticity

Neuroplasticity is the ability of the brain to weaken or enforce the different neural connections used to perform different activities. Think about tying your shoelaces, you do it in automatic. This is because the neural highways you use to perform such actions are strengthened every time you perform such activity. By now, tying your shoelaces has been done so many times that you have enforced a freeway of neural connections that make tying your shoelaces so automatic that you don’t even have to think about the steps of making the knot, you just do it.

This is good because any activity can become easy, extremely easy, to the point of becoming automatic. If you play the guitar enough times, you will no longer think in terms of chords and progressions, you will ascend to a higher level and think in terms of emotion and expression because the chords and progressions you need to express yourself emotionally have become automatic in your brain due to intense practice. This is a fact, this is, essentially, how the brain works. You can practice anything so much that it becomes automatic.

Great! Right? It is indeed amazing, a brain is a wonderful machine, but, just as you can become great at anything, you can become lazy and sluggish and bad at anything as well.

The bad news is that our natural tendencies are not towards enhancement and betterment of ourselves but towards the other side, towards the comfortable and easy. The bad news is that every time you make a choice you are strengthening your neural pathways. If your decisions are bad, well, you will become better and better in making bad decisions. Every single decision you make every day counts.

If you’ve been making bad choices, with food, for example, you have been “training” your brain to eat more unhealthy food. This is why it is so damn hard to change.

What is the best, most practical way then to change those pathetic habits like gorging on Instagram or 3-hour Netflix-sessions then?

Stoicism, the seed of change

“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)

And he is right, you know he is damn right. What are you waiting for?

Philosophy is great in the sense that it makes our beliefs tremble, it gives us perspective. But sadly, just reading a quote will not make you the best version of yourself, you need to take action and more accurately, you need to change your neural pathways.

Changing your neural pathways is hard, it is hard because you have to think, you have to use your reason,  and override the neural pathways of failure that you’ve enforced and have become now automatic.

My recommendation

I am not Epictetus, but this is good for you, because just like you, I struggle with this as well, really hard. This is the reason I write here as well, I write because I need constant reminding of the stoic teachings to keep myself on track.

What works?

The first step in changing your habits into the habits of a person that demands the very best of himself is the actual belief that you can change.

“If something is difficult for you to accomplish, do not then think it impossible for any human being; rather, if it is humanly possible and corresponds to human nature, know that it is attainable by you as well.”― Marcus Aurelius

Carol S. Dweck Ph.D., writes in his book: Mindset. that there are two types of mindsets with which people operate: The fixed mindset and the growth mindset.

A fixed mindset is static, either you are good or you are not, either you know how to perform something or not. Either you are good with math or you are not. This mindset shots itself in the foot as it cannot do anything about anything, not even try, and worst, just by thinking this way, you will be using the incredible power of neuroplasticity against you, because you will be reinforcing the belief that you cannot do something.

In comparison, the growth mindset is more malleable, it grows, it changes and develops, it is the belief in the undeniable fact of neuroplasticity. If you believe in growth, then you are going to actively look for things that make you grow. It doesn’t serve your brain to stick with the easy and achievable as a person in the fixed mindset would do, you need problems to thrive and grow, you need challenges to form new neural pathways. You don’t run from challenges, you thrive on them because you need them to grow and strengthen your new neural pathways.

The second step is taking your time.

I know you are now all pumped up and ready to demand the very best in you. You are ready to turn your life around, trust me I know, I’ve felt the same way a lot of times before. 

But this approach does not work. 

Don’t try to turn your life around in a second. 

You may think that you are different and that with just a little bit of willpower you will be able to pull it through. The the thing is that becoming a different version of you in a day does not work because of the simple reason that you only have so much mental energy in a day. Your brain needs the automatic-aspect of your habits to function correctly and if you try to change everything in a day, you will simply overload it and you will stop doing all the things you wanted to change in a week or less. 

The best approach then is to start with just one thing, maybe two, tops. If you want to make working out a habit for example, start with that and do just that for 2 weeks, without missing one single day. 

Changing one habit at a time is better because you are not overriding your brain. You are changing one thing at a time and what will happen is that it will become automatic after a while. Once that habit has become automatic, you will be ready to change another one, and then another one, and then another one. 

Remember, your excellence is defined by your habits, your habits are simply neural connections strengthened or weakened with each decision. The recipe to becoming the very best version of yourself, resides in changing one habit at a time, just like reading and compound interest, you will not see big results in the beginning, but with time, the compound and they become big time changes. With time, you will become able to demand the very best of yourself. 

“As is a tale, so is life: not how long it is, but how good it is, is what matters.” 
― Seneca

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