If you’re not growing you’re dying

I’ve found over the years, my life has been much more fulfilled through growth in myself, and contributing to others. This has been fundamental to my happiness and is why depression, and negative thoughts, don’t enter my life. The past few months have been littered with high profile suicides. Anthony Bourdain, chef and travel journalist extraordinaire, ended his life recently. He had it all – fun, adventure, money, travel, great food and drink – what else could he want? Kate Spade was at the top of her career and was named as one of the Most Creative People in Business by Fast Company magazine before her life ended. I remember when Robin Williams, one of my most favorite actors, ended his life after bouts of depression. He accomplished so much, received a ton of accolades, but he still felt a need to not continue living. It is so sad.


What’s surprising about all of this is that these individuals reached the top of their game – so much so that it was tough to top what they’ve already done, or improve on their existing capabilities. They have worked so hard on being the best in their fields but in the end, it wasn’t enough. Dealing with depression and anxiety affected them because their model of the world isn’t what they expected. They needed fulfillment and couldn’t get it. One of the main methods for fulfillment is growth, and my belief, is for many of these successful people, it gets harder and harder to achieve the levels of growth they are accustomed to.


Since you were born, you learned skills as you went along. You learned how to walk, how to throw a ball, how to read, and how to play games. You were growing, and growing felt good. You can also see it in nature. A redwood tree will continue to grow, and continue to get more rings of bark, but when it stops, you know something is wrong. It starts turning from growing to dying.


Human skill, whether it’s playing guitar, or sailing a sailboat, is directly related to neural fibers in your brain and body, and the speed at which they function. The Talent Code, a book by Daniel Coyle, describes how the electrical pulses that send signals through your neurons and eventually into your muscles (when performing an activity) can strength and quicken by orders of magnitude, through deliberate practice and training. These nerve fibers (neurons), that originate in the brain, are wrapped in myelin. The myelin acts similar to insulation in a copper wire – it prevents the electrical impulses from leaking out. The more you practice and grow a skill, the more layers of myelin are created, and the faster and stronger the signals are transmitted (the layers grow like rings on the redwood tree).  This is why when you concentrate on developing a skill, you get better at it.


In children, your neurons get wrapped in myelin in waves, all the way until your 30’s. You keep gaining myelin until age 50 or so, at which point you might start losing a net total of myelin. However, you still retain your ability to myelinate throughout the rest of your life. This is why it is so important for us as we age, to continue working on our skills and increase myelination – if you don’t use it, you will lose it.


For me, I want to always keep growing, and getting smarter, better, and healthier as I age. I am always trying to get 1% better through reading, writing, learning and improving my skills (whether it’s guitar, sailing, languages, public speaking, etc.). There is a scientific concept called homeostasis – which is the tendency for a system (any system in general – but often a living system) to maintain its own balance and stability. The typical example is a thermostat which maintains a certain temperature in a room. If it gets too hot, the air conditioner turns on to regain balance. Your body also acts to maintain stability. If you’re lacking enough water, you get thirsty so you drink more water to regain the balance. If your blood glucose level (aka blood sugar level) gets high due to high carb intake, our bodies release the insulin hormone into our bloodstream from our pancreas. To maintain the glucose balance, the insulin tells your body to create more fat cells, ultimately from the glucose, and to stop using fat cells for energy (i.e. you get fatter) – yay, homeostasis!


You can also use the homeostasis principle to make yourself stronger. If you push your body hard enough and long enough, your body changes by increasing capillaries to handle more blood flow, it builds more muscle fibers, and your body can then handle the additional stresses in the future to maintain homeostasis. You have to keep pushing yourself harder to keep improving.


Like muscles, your brain improves, mostly through development of new connections and increased myelin. This is better done through skill building rather than practicing skills that you already know. So get better, practice, and build up new skills. Because if you’re not growing, you’re dying. Do you spend your time watching TV, taking in information that pollutes your mind (like obsessively watching the news or social media), and playing games on your phone?


Or are you getting better by learning a skill, building a business, writing a book or improving your fitness?


You only have a certain amount of time on this planet. Don’t spend it dying. Spend it growing. You’ll end up happier, more fulfilled, and able to contribute more to society, your family, and friends.

Routine and Flow

I mentioned in an earlier post, about the benefits of a Morning Routine. I feel strongly that it is a foundation for success and once you get into it’s groove, it becomes easier and easier. In general, routine and habits make things easier. Like meditation, I started out struggling to sit with a calm mind for more than two minutes, but after weeks of doing it, I can’t imagine not doing it every day. The same goes for exercise. Like everyone else, when I first starting working out regularly, it was hard to do it consistently, but once it became a habit, I don’t feel like myself if I don’t workout in the morning.

For many things, once you get to a point where things become easy, it almost becomes the path of least resistance, and it becomes your default when things become hard. This is how I feel about reading. Lately, reading has become my mode of procrastination. What I mean by this, is if I am struggling with something that’s difficult and challenging (like studying Japanese), I will feel intense pressure to just stop with the difficult task, and want to read. The reading is typically educational in nature (currently it’s more Stoic philosophy and Bold by Mr. Diamandis and Stephen Kotler). I know this isn’t so bad – I’m not vegging out in front of the TV, playing video games, or doing something unproductive. But for me, it is procrastinating, and is distracting me from the difficult, productive task, which generally means aggressive growth and learning. It annoys the hell out of me, that something I love is now something that makes me feel like I’m procrastinating – but it’s true. There are many things I want to get better at – playing guitar, sailing, learning languages, but when I’m tired, or unmotivated, my default is picking up a book I’m reading, and reading some more. Arrrrghh!

It’s the same thing with exercise. If I have a choice between working out or writing a book/article, I’ll work out. If I have a choice between during a normal workout, or changing something up, I’ll pick my normal workout. It’s the Path of Least Resistance. And it means I’m not growing…

If you never push yourself outside of your comfort zone, you won’t improve. If you practice guitar the same way day after day, or don’t try to speak the language that you’re learning, you won’t improve. You might actually regress.

Scientists use a concept called “homeostasis” which refers to the tendency of a system (often living creatures) to act in a way to maintain its own stability. A typical example of this is similar to what I described above – exercise. If you perform exercise that is not strenuous, and doesn’t strain your body’s homeostatic mechanisms, the exercise won’t cause any changes in the body. Your body won’t have any reason to change, so it won’t. But if you perform your exercises in such a way to strain your body’s homeostatic systems, it will compensate (by building more muscle, adjusting your metabolism, growing more capillaries, strengthening your heart, etc.) to return your body to homeostasis when exercising at that higher level. If you push your body hard enough, your body will change to make it easier to push.

It’s also the same for learning new skills. As you push yourself outside of your comfort zone, those things become easier to do. Mental growth requires challenging yourself outside of your comfort zone so you learn something new. That learning is typically difficult, but can be fun. Hopefully, it’s fun enough to keep you engaged. Eventually, what is difficult, will eventually become easy, after the habits and routines are developed. It’s this back and forth road that is the way to growth and learning.

“Many, like the great Roman statesman Cato the Censor, looked at comfort, almost any form of comfort, as a road to waste.” – Seneca

Most of you might have some familiarity with flow. If you’ve found that time flew by when playing poker with your friends, or lost an evening in a conversation, you’ve had a bit of that experience. When we are in flow, you’re so focused on the task that everything else becomes easy, time flies, and you are experiencing peak performance. The term flow was coined by Mihaily Csikszentmihalyi in his informative book “Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience.” This is an optimal state of consciousness where we perform and feel our best. You see Olympic athletes, musicians, engineers, Fortune 500 CEOs routinely trying to optimize this state to achieve peak performance.

The primary theory to why performance is increased in this state is due to a higher focus in the brain on the task at hand (while also shutting down other areas of the brain that aren’t related to that task). It dramatically increases information “flow” from your senses so that you can rapidly make decisions (have you seen guitarists who move their fingers on the the guitar strings so fast, you can barely see them? that’s them in flow).

To maximize flow you should have a rich environment of complexity, novelty, and unpredictability. This should hold our attention and makes us unsure of what will happen next. In the Rise of Superman, Stephen Kotler interviewed the Harvard psychologist Ned Hallowell, who mentioned “When you’re concentrating on something that matters, when you can’t proceed on automatic pilot, that’s when flow shows up. That’s creativity to a T. Once you’ve thrown out the rule book and begun making creative decisions, the risk involved tightens focus and triggers a neurobiological cascade — it sweeps you right into flow.”

This is key, you’re focused, not bored, and can’t be doing something on “automatic pilot.” This is a state which is somewhat hard and difficult, and you can’t be doing something super easy. But it can’t be too hard where your anxious. The experts cal this midpoint the “flow channel” and it is hard enough where we need to stretch, but not to the point where we get so stressed out. This sweet spot is typically four percent above our current skill level.

During the flow state, dopamine, a chemical in the brain that acts as a neurotransmitter, is released, helps us feel engaged, excited, and creative. This chemical is released whenever we take a risk and it rewards us for exploration. Since it helps increase attention and information flow, it helps improve our skills over time.

Also, during flow norepinephrine, also a chemical hormone and neurotransmitter, is released in our brain and helps focus attention, makes us more alert, and ultimately mobilizes the mind and body for action. With both dopamine and norepinephrine released, we feel very good and become hyper focused.

Next Steps

My advice to all of you is that if you want to maximize your growth in certain skills, create that habit, and get into this flow state as much as possible. Again, regularly push yourself outside of your comfort zone, and make your practice consistent, regular, and habit forming. You’ll feel good and have a lot of enjoyment if you get into the flow state, which will make you want to practice even more. The flow state combined with routine, can take your journey of learning new things to a much higher level. Have a healthier and happier life!

Language Learning to Improve your Brain

I’ve been learning Japanese for the last several months and it’s been one of the best journeys of my life. I’ve found that self-study and practice on a regular basis, improves my memory, helps me think more clearly and react faster, and I’ve found myself to become more creative.


During a study in 2012, researchers measured language learners’ brains before and after language training and discovered that certain regions of the brain grew, specifically the hippocampus (used for storing information and spatial navigation) and three areas of the cerebral cortex. Other studies have shown that language learning can induce dramatic, positive changes in the brain (these changes are sometimes referred to “neuroplasticity”). For all of us who are growing older, we have higher risks of age related reduced brain function and cognitive impairment. I don’t know about you, but I want to do anything I can to minimize these effects, and language learning is one great tool that anyone can use to counteract these effects. This is one of the main reasons I started on my journey to learning Japanese.




Japanese is hard. I had to learn a new character system (systems actually – Hiragana, Katakana, and Kanji), as well as a large amount of vocabulary and new grammatical rules. When I’ve had to speak it in my travels to Japan (I’ll give more tips in future articles), it’s been tough to understand others or have others understand me. Given these challenges, I’ve kept up the regular practice and feel that I’ve become a better person while putting the work in.


Languages have been hard for me but the benefits of learning a language can be dramatic. I have some rules and myth-debunking with some of these to help you become more effective at language learning to make the best use of your valuable time.


  1. YOU DON’T NEED CLASSES BUT LEVERAGE TECHNOLOGY. Technology and corresponding material have evolved. Don’t use the fact that you don’t have a good class nearby as an excuse for not learning a language. You can use online tools like Duolingo or Babbel.
  2. PAIR UP PHYSICAL ACTIVITY. Exercise helps brain function with endorphins and energy. You can accelerate learning by exercising before studying.
  3. USE MANGA/COMICS OR NATIVE MATERIALS INSTEAD OF STRUCTURED LANGUAGE BOOKS -Comics or native materials are typically dialogue based and more interesting. The words will be more commonly used and you’ll get better faster. And these books are fun!
  4. USE THE 80/20 RULE TO OPTIMIZE LEARNING – 80/20 rule is based on the Pareto principle, which essentially means, 80% of the effects comes from 20% of the effort. When applying this to language learning, you can see that 80% of the conversational vocabulary you use on a regular basis, comes from only 20% of the words you use. That means you only need to study 20% of the vocabulary to become truly effective. There are some good high frequency lists (often termed top 1000 lists) that can be used to focus your studying based on the most commonly used words.
  5. USE LANGUAGES TO MAKE LIFE ENJOYABLE – Pick a reason to learn a language. Maybe you are taking a trip to Japan in a year, or you have a family member from France coming to visit you in a few months. If learning a language is going to make life more enjoyable it will be a worthy endeavor. You may only learn a small fraction of the language, but it will make your experiences more enjoyable.
  6. MAKE FLASHCARDS – and make phrases with them. Learning phrases is way more effective than using individual words. AnkiWeb is a good app that can be effective way to use spaced repetition (a method for regularly repeating certain flashcards after a period of time to help you remember) to learn effectively.
  7. FIND A LANGUAGE PARTNER (TANDEM) – Find someone that is also learning a language (like English) and talk to them. You should go in prepared with a bio or prewritten, and they should also go in with similar material. They can help you translate your prewritten material into the language you want to learn, and you can help them edit their material into english. You can help quiz each other on different aspects of learning the languages. A good app for this is Tandem. Through this app, you can communicate with other language learners who are native speakers in your target language.
  8. USE MNEMONICS – Mnemonics is a system of memorization that’s typically used in memory championships (worldwide contests used to find out who can remember the most things). Forms of this are actually a very old technique, often used in Ancient Greece. I recently read a book on this topic called Moonwalking with Einstein that describes the author’s quest to win the US Memory Championships by using mnemonic techniques. For language learning, using the Memory Palace mnemonic technique, you can associate certain syllables in your target language with a visualization in your brain of an actual location. This article describes this technique in full detail and can be a great tool for rapidly increasing your vocabulary.


On a daily basis, here are my recommendations that you can use as a study plan:
  1. Do the morning routine I describe in this article to get you in the right state, and be able to study effectively. This routine also includes exercise, which will increase the endorphins and energy as I described above.
  2. Spend at least two hours using Duolingo to do your base studying and learning. Try to progress as far as you can. I highly recommend using the Pomodoro technique when studying your material. You can use a 25 minute interval where you study with no distractions, then take a 5 minute break. Do this continuously for two hours.
  3. Spend 30 minutes with flashcards for additional study. Also use the Pomodoro technique for this. Make sure you use the 80/20 Pareto principle for choosing which words/phrases to study.
  4. Spend another hour with your reading material or using Tandem to improve your conversational and language skills.


I hope this helps you start your journey into language learning. You will feel yourself improving your memory and thinking more clearly. Please let me know how this works for you.

Do you really need all this stuff?

People often measure their life by how much stuff they have. In America, we’ve had a high consumption lifestyle driven by heavy marketing, big corporations, and keeping up with the Joneses. But humans have been dealing with the problems of “stuff” for millennia – it’s not a new problem. Here’s a collection of wisdom that discusses the problems of stuff to help argue for keeping less of it, and freeing yourself from it.

Henry David Thoreau’s Walden

Henry David Thoreau was a philosopher, poet, naturalist, and a few other things, who was best known for his book Walden. As he described in that book, Thoreau parked himself in the woods of Walden pond, built his own shelter, and dedicated this time to living simply to the greatest extent possible – a desire to “live free and uncommitted.” He did this as part of an experiment and it ended up as a guide to a simplified lifestyle. Early in Walden, he explains that having excess possessions requires additional labor (and money) to buy them but also adds worry and constrains us to protecting these possessions.


This is a fundamentally IMPORTANT idea. These possessions, that we work so hard to acquire, traps us into a prison, adds stress, and wastes mental energy that could be used for other more productive activities. Often these possessions are also forcing some of us to work, in order to maintain these possessions. The neighbor down the street who bought that brand new Mercedes is working tirelessly to keep up with those payments. Thoreau makes it clear that if you compare having a lot of things to wanting less things, the optimal way to live is to want less things. Trying to live with more luxury is going to reduce your quality of life instead of improving it.


Instead of working, buying things to fill his house and cluttering his home, he focused his time on spending it on leisure, reading, writing, and working with his hands. All he needed was the cabin he built himself (with the bare minimum of materials), some books, the ability to live off the land, and an occasional trip to the town to trade goods for some necessities.

Buddhism and Attachment

Most people think of Buddhism as a religion, with temples, services, as well as some supernatural beliefs. However, the original teachings by Buddha isn’t a religion, and can be thought of as a guide for better living, clarity of thought, wisdom, and kindness. It is another pragmatic philosophy, to me very similar to a softer version of Stoicism. The Buddha was originally a prince in India who left a lavish lifestyle to become an ascetic. He was overwhelmed by the sight of poverty outside of his palace and decided to make a change, and started begging for alms in the street.


Once he became a teacher, his principles and philosophy spread like wildfire. His teachings often focus on suffering, and one of the causes of suffering is “attachment.” It’s similar to Thoreau and the Stoics, our focus on wanting things puts us in a prison. We are tied down to these objects (and desires).
“Attachment to your appetites – whether you deprive or indulge them – can lead to slavery, but satisfying the needs of daily life is not wrong. Indeed, to keep a body in good health is a duty, for otherwise the mind will not stay strong and clear.”
“A man who gives way to pleasure will be swept away by craving and his thoughts will make him suffer, like waves.”
These desires are human nature, and in fact, are typical of all animals. Have you seen your dog look at you at the dinner table while you eat? He is craving your dinner, often even though he just ate. Your dog seems to be suffering, and to him, he is suffering because he has no way to control his desires. We are able to control our desires, because we are human and have this amazing prefrontal cortex in the brain, that can plan and conduct rational thought. We can reason what we are feeling and understand that these attachments and desires may not be in our best interest.



The Stoics, the philosophy founded in ancient Athens which I wrote about in Aging gracefully – what I’ve learned from the Stoics, also believed in a form of non-attachment. The Stoics believe that the value of something shouldn’t be projected onto things dependent on the outside world. Those objects can disappear at any time, and could cause you to be upset.


Seneca advised to set aside some time every month to practice poverty. consume a small amount of food and wear some old clothes, and don’t sleep in your bed. is this the worst condition you can exist in? This practice sets you up to prepare yourself to live in more difficult times.


“It is in times of security that the spirit should be preparing itself for difficult times; while fortune is bestowing favors on it is then is the time for it to be strengthened against her rebuffs.”– Seneca


Both the Stoics and Buddhists had similar beliefs overall. Naseem Taleb, the famous author of the Black Swan, Fooled by Randomness, and Antifragile famously wrote that “a Stoic is a Buddhist with attitude, one who says F*** you to fate.”


The Millionaire Next Door

In Dr. Thomas Stanley’s bestselling book, The Millionaire Next Door, the author describes that wealth is a result  of a “lifestyle of hard work, perseverance, planning, and, most of all, self-discipline.” To accomplish this, individuals who tend to achieve the status of Millionaire, do the following:
1. They live well below their means. 
2. They allocate their time, energy, and money efficiently, in ways conducive to building wealth. 
3. They believe that financial independence is more important than displaying high social status.
4. Their parents did not provide economic outpatient care.
5. Their adult children are economically self-sufficient. 
6. They are proficient in targeting market opportunities. 
7. They chose the right occupation.
#1 is key – you must live well below your means. It’s not so much your realized income that determines your wealth – this doesn’t matter so much. It’s how much you already have that matters more. A high consumption lifestyle that deteriorates your savings and lowers your overall net worth WILL DESTROY YOUR MEANS OF ACQUIRING OR MAINTAINING WEALTH. You will have less money to invest, and you will also end up having to waste money on maintaining your high consumption lifestyle.


Economic Outpatient Care (EOC – #4 above) is another problem that can plague parents and retirees. Often we give gifts to our children that can be used to prop up a certain lifestyle for our children. He gives these gifts a unique, hospital-like name – Economic Outpatient Care. These gifts are not in our best interests of our kids. Dr. Stanley argues that these gifts can damage our children’s initiative and productivity. These gifts become habit forming and are expected throughout their lives. They weaken our children who may then be more likely to be underachievers because they haven’t yet figured out how to work hard and innovate to generate high incomes themselves. “The more dollars adult children receive, the fewer dollars they accumulate, while those who are given fewer dollars accumulate more.This is a statistically proven relationship. Yet many parents still think that their wealth can automatically transform their children into economically productive adults. They are wrong. Discipline and initiative can’t be purchased like automobiles or clothing off a rack”


Mr. Money Mustache

Mr. Money Mustache (I know, this is a funny name) retired young and his income prior to retirement wasn’t abnormally high. He learned frugality at a young age, and his parents didn’t buy much stuff. He learned to save an incredible amount while he was working and was spending only 25% of his disposable income, while others were spending 90% of their disposable income. The savings compound rapidly and you should be able to build wealth if you follow this discipline.


Mr. Money Mustache also makes a great argument that their is a higher cause for being frugal than just saving more money – IT’S GOOD FOR THE PLANET. Going to WalMart and buying some newly manufactured items is not so great for mother nature. You’re wasting energy, consuming metals, producing plastics, and polluting the earth for every new car that you’re purchasing. Instead of consuming, Mr. Money Mustache argues for spending your time focusing on your long-term happiness and health. Spend time with your family, read books, play your guitar, take a hike, and cook for yourself.

OK, having nice things is nice. But these things aren’t you and you’ll still be around if you take these things away. You don’t need this stuff. They are doing more harm to you then you know. Take a trip to the nearest Goodwill store and give some of it away. When you go to a store, think very carefully before you buy something. Do you really need it? Are you willing to  suffer more because of these things that you really don’t need?

Aging gracefully – what I’ve learned from the Stoics

Have you ever wanted a rule book on how best to live your life, how to make decisions, how to worry less, and how to deal with the obstacles that can come up on a daily basis? Over the last year, I’ve read many books on this highly practical philosophy that can change your life.

Philosophy is not just about talking or lecturing – it is something that should be used to solve problems. Stoicism was founded in Athens some time in the 3rd century BC, but was then practiced for the next thousand of years by some of the most famous leaders in the world. It was created and practiced by pragmatic individuals from all levels of society – some were slaves, some ran empires. Theodore Roosevelt was known to read Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations during his travels in the Amazon. Thomas Jefferson had a copy of Seneca by his side when he passed away.

I’ll break this down to a couple of my favorite Stoic philosophers:


Seneca lived in a turbulent time in Roman history and had a turbulent life. He was incredibly wealthy, had a career in politics, tutored the most important leader in the world, and became a famous writer of tragedies. He was also exiled to Corsica, but was eventually ordered to commit suicide by the Emperor Nero.

Most of his writings on stoicism are actually letters to friends and family, often giving advice. One of his most important works is “On the Shortness of Life” is an essay on one of Seneca’s most favorite topics – the use of one’s time. Life is actually pretty long, as long as you know how to use it. Seneca abhors people who spend their lives in useless or redundant activities.

Here’s a few of my favorites:

“People are delighted to accept pensions and gratuities, for which they hire out their labour or their support of their services. But nobody works out the value of time: men use it lavishly as if it cost nothing. But if death threatens these same people, you will see them praying to their doctors; if they are in fear of capital punishment, you will see them prepared to spend all to stay alive. So inconsistent are they in their feelings. But if each of us could have the tally of his future years set before him, as we can of our past years, how alarmed would be those who saw only a few years ahead, and how carefully would they use them!”

This is a bold statement. People don’t consider how they use their time and they waste this most precious resource (unless they are sick or have death knocking on their door). Can you imagine if you knew how many days or years you have ahead of you and tallied it up. These same people would use those days and years wisely. This is actually a common exercise for stoics. Meditate on death. Think about how many days or years you have ahead of you. REALLY INTERNALIZE THIS. Life is short, don’t waste it. Don’t waste it on people that take your time. Don’t waste it on useless activities.

“Life is divided into three periods, past present and future. Of these, the present is short, the future is doubtful, the past is certain. For this last is the one over which Fortune has lost her power, which cannot be brought back to anyone’s control. But this is what preoccupied people lose: for they have no time to look back at their past, and even if they did, it is not pleasant to recall activities they are ashamed of.”

Another direct statement by Seneca that criticizes those preoccupied people. Why spend your time focusing on the past? You can’t control the past and stoics believe in making sure you spend your efforts on things you can control. Being obssessed with what happened in the past is the one of the most egregious uses of our precious time. Again life is short, don’t waste it on regrets about what happened before.

“But life is very short and anxious for those who forget the past, neglect the present, and fear the future. When they come to the end of it, the poor wretches realize too late that for all this time they have been preoccupied in doing nothing. And the fact that they sometimes invoke death is no proof that their lives seem long. Their own follly afflicts them with restless emotions which hurl themselves upon the very things they fear: they often long for death because they fear it. Nor is this a proof that they are living for a long time that the day often seems long to them, or that they complain that the hours pass slowly until the time fixed for dinner arrives. For as soon as their preoccupations fail them, they are restless with nothing to do, not knowing how to dispose of their leisure or make the time pass. And so they are anxious for something else to do, and all the intervening time is wearisome.”

Whoa, there’s a lot wrapped up in this one. The fear of the future, the fear of death causes pain and worry for so many people. Again, these people are preoccupied with it and eventually waste their time being preoccupied with it. Don’t waste time worrying about death. Don’t waste time distracting your worrying by useless activities.

Marcus Aurelius

Marcus Aurelius also lived a couple thousand years ago and ruled the Roman Empire for nearly two decades. He was considered the last of the Five Good Emperors and had complete and total power of this massive empire. There wasn’t a more powerful man in the world at the time that he lived.

Can you imagine having that much power? It would corrupt most people, and certainly did for many emperors and rulers throughout history. How did Marcus Aurelius stay grounded? He constantly studied and journaled about Stoicism to remind himself about how to live. His book “Meditations” is actually a collection of his journals, and served as a reminder to himself on how to conduct his life.

Stoicism, for Marcus, provided a way to deal with the stresses of life that an emperor (that happened to run the most powerful army in the world) had to face. He wrote Mediations while he was on campaign against foreign invaders.

“The highest good was the virtuous life. Virtue alone is happiness, and vice is unhappiness.”
This is a common theme for stoics – BE GOOD. Do the right thing. It was important for Marcus as the leader of the Roman Empire to remind himself that he needed to always do the right thing. Good for stoics comes down to four things: wisdom, self-control, justice, and courage. Some people add being humble to this list. When I journal, I occasionally remind myself of these four or five components. It’s the essence of stoicism.

“Our rational nature moves freely forward in its impressions when it:
1) accepts nothing false or uncertain;
2) directs its impulses only to acts for the common good;
3) limits its desires and aversions only to what’s in its own power;
4) embraces everything nature assigns it.”

Again, Marcus is reminding himself of habits. 1) accept only what’s true, 2) conduct actions for the common good, 3) limit your wants and needs for what you can control and 4) embrace what nature has for you.

“Why should any of these things that happen externally, so much distract thee? Give thyself leisure to learn some good thing, and cease roving and wandering to and fro. Thou must also take heed of another kind of wandering, for they are idle in their actions, who toil and labour in this life, and have no certain scope to which to direct all their motions, and desires.”

Like Seneca, Marcus couldn’t stand wasting time on distractions. Learn something and don’t “wander to and fro.” Don’t be idle. Don’t act without purpose.

“When you first wake up in the morning, tell yourslef: the people I deal with today will be meddling, ungrateful, arrogant, dishonest, jealous, and surly. They are like this because they can’t tell good from evil. But I have seen the beauty of good, and the ugliness of evil, and have recognized that the wrongdoer has a nature related to my own – not of the same blood or birth, but the same mind, and possessing a share of the divine. And so none of them can hurt me.”

This is one of the most common quoted quotes from Marcus. There will be difficult people that you’ll need to deal with, but they haven’t seen the light – the simplicity and truth of Stoicism. Treat these “meddlers” as an obstacle that can benefit yourself. You can always learn to improve how you deal and negotiate with difficult people, and if you come up to someone like this, use it as practice on improving your own skills. That way they don’t hurt you, they actually benefit you. These people are meddling and difficult, because they are just human, and have the same faults as everyone else.

Stoicism is a pragmatic framework for living your life. You can use the wisdom found in these pages to help you deal with tough decisions and people, as well as preparing yourself for what may come up in the future.

Here’s a list of a few recommendations for books related to Stoicism to get you started:

  • The Daily Stoic – a good primer on Stoicism with great quotes and reflections.
  • Marcus Aurelius’ Mediations
  • Seneca’s Dialogues and Letters (includes On the Shortness of Life)
  • The Obstacle is the Way by Ryan Holiday – this is one of the books that got me started on the journey to learn more about stoicism, specifically focusing on using difficulties (or obstacles) in life as a way to learn, improve, and grow.

I hope you got a lot out of this. Please a comment or tweet if you have any questions or want further information.

A Morning Routine Guaranteed to Make You Healthier and Happier

This is a straightforward, basic morning routine that I’ve used for years that helps my creativity, makes me healthier, and keeps my mind in optimal shape. It can all be done within an hour and WILL CHANGE YOUR LIFE if you perform it regularly and make it a habit. Just try it for seven days and see what happens.

Here it is:

1. Exercise – I normally do 30 minutes a day, but you can go up to an hour or as little as 20 minutes.

As you’ll see in my other posts, I recommend some strength training depending on your level of fitness, and some amount of cardio. A brisk walk will also do – just get moving. You want to get the hormonal response with seratonin (which is a chemical in the brain that helps move messages through the nervous system) which will help your mood. Of course exercise will assist in keeping your muscles strong and your heart healthy.

2. Morning Pages/Journaling – I developed this habit after reading the Artist’s Way by Julie Cameron. This is one of my most recommended books on creativity.

The idea is that you should write three pages of anything you want every morning. These three pages should be unfiltered and non-judgemental. You can use it to talk about your past days events. Let’s say you had something bothering you – you should complain to the pages and get it out of your system. Maybe you have a problem you need to think through – put your thoughts onto paper and maybe you’ll think of an interesting idea. I like to write three things I’m grateful for, and this makes me happier and full of joy. Just the act of writing helps you think and exercises your brain in new ways. Getting new ideas and exercising creativity is a muscle, and as we get older it’s important that we use it.

3. Meditation – What do you think of when you think of meditation? Is it sitting in the lotus position under a tree, completely at peace, with your mind completely clear?

This is what most people think of, but in actuality, it’s just noticing what’s going on in your mind. Sometimes people call this “being present” and mindfulness. It’s impossible to make your mind completely clear and that is a completely useful goal. What you do when you meditate is sit for a period of time and try to focus on your breathing or something else on your body (like how the air feels on your skin, or how your feet feel on the ground). I recommend using the Headspace app or follow some of Sam Harris’ guided meditations here. Try to do it for five minutes first. It might be tough. The next day, try to do seven minutes. Eventually, work up to 10 minutes or more. At some point, if you go without meditation, you’re going to miss it. Just this one practice will have a huge impact.

Overall, these three tools will have a dramatic impact on how you live and how productive you will be. You’ll start the day completely energized, with new ideas and creativity. Your brain will work faster and you will be surprisingly sharper than before. Try it and let me know how it works out for you.