The Good Life Handbook by Epictetus

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There are things over which we have complete control and things over which we have no control at all.

If you think you can control things over which you have no control, then you will be hindered and disturbed.

If you desire and avoid only those things that are under your control, then you will not feel victimized by things you dislike.

The Five Big Ideas

  • Focus on the things over which you have control.
  • Welcome everything that happens in life.
  • You have all the resources you need to overcome challenges.
  • You cannot lose anything you don’t own, to begin with.
  • Always conduct yourself as though you are at a formal dinner.

To achieve freedom and happiness, you need to understand that some things in life are under your control, and others are not.

What things are under your total control? What you believe, what you desire or hate, and what you are attracted to or avoid.

If you think you can control things over which you have no control, then you will be hindered and disturbed.

If you desire and avoid only those things that are under your control, then you will not feel victimized by things you dislike. But if you resent unavoidable things like illness, misfortune, or death, that are not under your control, you are headed for disappointment.

Select carefully what you want to choose and what you want to refuse. Be disciplined and detached while making the choice.

When you kiss your spouse or child, remind yourself that it is a mortal that you are kissing. Then you won’t be too distraught should they be taken from you.

When you blame others for your negative feelings, you are being ignorant. When you blame yourself for your negative feelings, you are making progress. You are being wise when you stop blaming yourself or others.

Don’t wish for things to happen the way you would like them to. Rather, welcome whatever happens. This is the path to peace, freedom, and happiness.

If you practice attributing the correct source to problems you face, whatever happens, you will soon find that nothing that happens outside of you pertains to you.

Remember that for every challenge you face, you have the resources within you to cope with that challenge.

You cannot really lose anything because you don’t own anything in the first place.

Think of all the things you have as things entrusted to you and you are free to enjoy them for a while.

What you lose is what you pay for your peace of mind.

To make progress, you should be able to accept being seen as ignorant or naïve.

You cannot be in agreement with nature and, at the same time, care about things outside your control.

Always conduct yourself as though you are at a formal dinner.

Like an accomplished actor, you need to perform the role assigned to you in life skillfully.

People with more prestige, power, or some other distinction are not necessarily happier because of what they have.

When someone provokes you, if you respond with anger or some other negative emotion, your mind is tricked into believing you are being harmed. So it is essential not to respond to impressions impulsively. Take some time before reacting. You will see you are in better control.

Whenever you face difficult situations in life, remember the prospect of death and other major tragedies that can and do happen to people. You will see that, compared to death, none of the things you face in life is important enough to worry about.

If you decide to live by lofty principles, be prepared to be laughed at by others.

You compromise your integrity when you seek outside approval.

We need to accept what happens to us in the same spirit as we expect others to accept their lot.

Remember how wisely you understand when others face unfortunate situations. Apply the same wisdom when something unfortunate happens to you. Learn to accept whatever happens.

If your body was turned over to someone else, you would be ashamed and outraged. Should you not be equally ashamed when you turn over your mind to others so they can control it?

When you are about to undertake a project, consider not only what is involved now but what it would involve later.

No one can hurt you unless you let them. You are hurt the moment you believe you are.

The labels good and bad apply only to things under your control. If you consider anything beyond your control as good or bad, you will fail to get what you want and get what you don’t want.

When something looks pleasurable, don’t get carried away by that impression. Take a minute and let it sink in. Then consider its effect at the time you experience pleasure and later. Will you still be happy or will you regret having indulged in something that’s not good for you? Think about how good you would feel if you controlled yourself instead of being swayed by your first impression.

Take extra care to make sure you are not pushed around by the seductiveness of impressions. Think about how much better you will feel if you exercise self-control.

When you decide to do something you believe to be right, don’t let others stop you, even if a majority of people disapprove of it.

Don’t undertake to do things that are beyond your means.

As you are careful not to step on a sharp object or sprain your ankle, so you should take care not to do any injury to your character. If you exercise caution when you act, you are less likely to damage your character.

While you should take care of your body, you should spend most of your time taking care of your mind.

When someone criticizes you, they do so because they believe they are right. They can only go by their views, not yours. If their views are wrong, it is they who will suffer the consequences. Keeping this in mind, treat your critics with compassion. When you are tempted to get back at them, remind yourself, “They did what seemed to them to be the right thing to do.”

Unless you know their reasons for their actions how can you be sure of your negative judgment of them? Not judging others too quickly will save you from misperceiving their actions.

If you have chosen a simple life, don’t make a show of it. If you want to practice simplicity, do so quietly and for yourself, not for others.

Once you undertake to do something, stick with it and treat it as something that should be carried through. Don’t pay attention to what people say. It should not influence you in any way.

Decide that you are an adult, and you are going to devote the rest of your life to making progress. Stick closely to what is best. If you are distracted by pleasure or pain, glory or disrepute, realize that the time is now. The game has started and waiting any further is not an option. Win or lose will be decided today. Use reason to meet every challenge.

Recommended Reading- Ifyou like The Good Life Handbook, you may also enjoy the following books:

A Guide to The Good Life by William B. Irvine

Meditations by Marcus Aurelius

The Obstacle Is the Way by Ryan Holiday

Buy The Book: The Good Life Handbook

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The Daily Stoic by Ryan Holiday

Categories PhilosphyPosted on

Stoicismis a ‘tool’ for living a good life.TheStoics asserted virtue (self-control, courage, justice, and wisdom) ishappiness.

It is our perception of things that cause most of our trouble.

The Five Big Ideas

  • Stoicismis founded on three critical disciplines: (1) the discipline of perception, (2)the discipline of action, and (3) the discipline of will.
  • “Thesingle most important practice in Stoic philosophy is differentiating betweenwhat we can change and what we can’t.”
  • TheSeven Clear Functions of The Mind: (1) Choice (2) Refusal (3) Yearning (4)Repulsion (5) Preparation (6) Purpose (7) Assent
  • Beforemaking a decision, stay poised and remember the purpose and principles youvalue most.
  • TheFour Habits of The Stoic Mind: (1) accept only what is true (2) work for thecommon good (2) match our needs and wants with what is in our control (4)embrace what nature has in store for us.

The Stoics framed their work around a series of exercises in three critical disciplines:

The Discipline of Perception. How we see and perceive the world around us

The Discipline of Action. The decisions and actions we take—and to what end

The Discipline of Will. How we deal with the things we cannot change, attain clear and convincing judgment, and come to a true understanding of our place in the world

“The Stoics were pioneers of the morning and nightly rituals: preparation in the morning, reflection in the evening.”

“The single most important practice in Stoic philosophy is differentiating between what we can change and what we can’t.”

“Education—reading and meditating on the wisdom of great minds—is not to be done for its own sake. It has a purpose.”

“Knowledge—self-knowledge in particular—is freedom.”

“One of the hardest things to do in life is to say ‘No.’”

“The more you say no to the things that don’t matter, the more you can say yes to the things that do.”

“The following little reminder sums up the three most essential parts of Stoic philosophy worth carrying with you every day, into every decision: Control your perceptions. Direct your actions properly. Willingly accept what’s outside your control.”

“Having an end in mind is no guarantee that you’ll reach it—no Stoic would tolerate that assumption—but not having an end in mind is a guarantee you won’t.”

“Have you taken the time to get clarity about who you are and what you stand for?”

Seven Clear Functions of The Mind:

Choice—to do and think right

Refusal—of temptation

Yearning—to be better

Repulsion—of negativity, of bad influences, of what isn’t true

Preparation—for what lies ahead or whatever may happen

Purpose—our guiding principle and highest priority

Assent—to be free of deception about what’s inside and outside our control (and be ready to accept the latter)

“You must reclaim the ability to abstain because within it is your clarity and self-control.”

“You don’t control the situation, but you control what you think about it.”

“All we have is our own mind.”

“If you want to be steady, if you want clarity, proper judgment is the best way.”

“Serenity and stability are results of your choices and judgment, not your environment.”

“This morning, remind yourself of what is in your control and what’s not in your control. Before lunch, remind yourself that the only thing you truly possess is your ability to make choices (and to use reason and judgment when doing so). In the afternoon, remind yourself that aside from the choices you make, your fate is not entirely up to you. In the evening, remind yourself again how much is outside of your control and where your choices begin and end. As you lie in bed, remember that sleep is a form of surrender and trust and how easily it comes.”

“A wise person knows what’s inside their circle of control and what is outside of it.”

“According to the Stoics, the circle of control contains just one thing: YOUR MIND.”

“Philosophy is simply asking us to pay careful attention and to strive to be more than a pawn.”

“Find what you do out of rote memory or routine. Ask yourself: Is this really the best way to do it? Know why you do what you do—do it for the right reasons.”

“There is clarity (and joy) in seeing what others can’t see, in finding grace and harmony in places others overlook.”

“Whoever we are, wherever we are—what matters is our choices. What are they? How will we evaluate them? How will we make the most of them? Those are the questions life asks us, regardless of our station.”

“What happened yesterday—what happened five minutes ago—is the past. We can reignite and restart whenever we like.”

Ask yourself, “What bad habit did I curb today? How am I better? Were my actions just? How can I improve?”

“The more things we desire and the more we have to do to earn or attain those achievements, the less we actually enjoy our lives—and the less free we are.”

“Try to remember that when you find yourself getting mad. Anger is not impressive or tough—it’s a mistake. It’s weakness. Depending on what you’re doing, it might even be a trap that someone laid for you.”

“Today, when you find yourself getting anxious, ask yourself: Why are my insides twisted into knots? Am I in control here or is my anxiety? And most important: Is my anxiety doing me any good?”

“The next time you are afraid of some supposedly disastrous outcome, remember that if you don’t control your impulses, if you lose your self-control, you may be the very source of the disaster you so fear.”

“The next time you find yourself in the middle of a freakout, or moaning and groaning with flu-like symptoms, or crying tears of regret, just ask: Is this actually making me feel better? Is this actually relieving any of the symptoms I wish were gone?”

“Practice the ability of having absolutely no thoughts about something—act as if you had no idea it ever occurred. Or that you’ve never heard of it before. Let it become irrelevant or nonexistent to you. It’ll be a lot less powerful this way.”

“Locate that yearning for more, better, someday and see it for what it is: the enemy of your contentment.”

“Ask yourself: Is [my vice] really worth it? Is it really that pleasurable? Consider that when you crave something or contemplate indulging in a ‘harmless’ vice.”

“What we desire makes us vulnerable.”

“Whether it’s an opportunity to travel the world or to be the president or for five minutes of peace and quiet, when we pine for something, when we hope against hope, we set ourselves up for disappointment. Because fate can always intervene and then we’ll likely lose our self-control in response.”

“When it comes to your goals and the things you strive for, ask yourself: Am I in control of them or they in control of me?”

“It’s easy to act—to just dive in. It’s harder to stop, to pause, to think: No, I’m not sure I need to do that yet. I’m not sure I am ready.”

“We should enjoy this brief time we have on earth—not be enslaved to emotions that make us miserable and dissatisfied.”

“Focus. Prioritize. Train your mind to ask: Do I need this thing? What will happen if I do not get it? Can I make do without it? The answers to these questions will help you relax, help you cut out all the needless things that make you busy—too busy to be balanced or happy.”

“One becomes a philosopher when they begin to exercise their guiding reason and start to question the emotions and beliefs and even language that others take for granted.”

“Don’t fear self-assessment because you’re worried you might have to admit some things about yourself.”

“We underestimate our capabilities just as much and just as dangerously as we overestimate other abilities.”

“Cultivate the ability to judge yourself accurately and honestly. Look inward to discern what you’re capable of and what it will take to unlock that potential.”

“As you walk past your possessions today, ask yourself: Do I need this? Is it superfluous? What’s this actually worth? What is it costing me?”

“Ego and self-deception are the enemies of the things we wish to have because we delude ourselves into believing that we already possess them.”

“When we experience success, we must make sure that it doesn’t change us—that we continue to maintain our character despite the temptation not to.”

“We lose very little by taking a beat to consider our own thoughts. Is this really so bad? What do I really know about this person? Why do I have such strong feelings here? Is anxiety really adding much to the situation? What’s so special about __________?”

On fighting biases and preconceptions: “Ask yourself: “What haven’t I considered? Why is this thing the way it is? Am I part of the problem here or the solution? Could I be wrong here? Be doubly careful to honor what you do not know, and then set that against the knowledge you actually have.”

“Your attention is one of your most critical resources. Don’t squander it!”

“To be rational today, we have to do just three things: First, we must look inward. Next, we must examine ourselves critically. Finally, we must make our own decisions—uninhibited by biases or popular notions.”

“When someone points out a legitimate flaw in your belief or in your actions, they’re not criticizing you. They’re presenting a better alternative.”

“When you catch an elbow or an unfair blow today, shake off the pain and remind yourself: I’m learning. My sparring partner is learning too. This is practice for both of us—that’s all. I know a bit more about him or her, and from my reaction, they’re going to learn a little bit more about me too.”

“When someone asks you what you did yesterday, do you really want the answer to be ‘nothing’?”

“How you handle today is how you’ll handle every day. How you handle this minute is how you’ll handle every minute.”

“What if, when it came to your reading and learning, you prioritized quality over quantity? What if you read the few great books deeply instead of briefly skimming all the new books?”

“Today, not tomorrow, is the day that we can start to be good.”

“Don’t spend much time thinking about what other people think. Think about what you think. Think instead about the results, about the impact, about whether it is the right thing to do.”

“Choose the right way, and watch as all these little things add up toward transformation.”

The First Two Things Before Acting:

“First, don’t get upset—because that will color your decision negatively and make it harder than it needs to be. Second, remember the purpose and principles you value most. Running potential actions through this filter will eliminate the bad choices and highlight the right ones.”

“Evaluate what you are doing, why you are doing it, and where accomplishing it will take you. If you don’t have a good answer, then stop.”

“Today, give yourself the most simple and doable of tasks: just don’t make stuff worse.”

“Whatever happens, don’t add angry or negative emotions to the equation. Don’t react for the sake of reacting. Leave it as it is. Stop digging. Then plan your way out.”

“You can ask anyone for help. You don’t have to face everything on your own.”

“The next time you face a political dispute or a personal disagreement, ask yourself: Is there any reason to fight about this? Is arguing going to help solve anything?”

“How you handle even minor adversity might seem like nothing, but, in fact, it reveals everything.”

“Every impediment can advance action in some form or another.”

“Today, don’t try to impose your will on the world. Instead see yourself as fortunate to receive and respond to the will in the world.”

Stoic joy is joy that comes from purpose, excellence, and duty.

“No matter what happens today, no matter where you find yourself, shift to what lies within your reasoned choices.”

“Silence is a way to build strength and self-sufficiency.”

“Our pursuits should be aimed at progress, however little that it’s possible for us to make.”

“Even one minute without playing the blame game is progress in the art of living.”

“If you give things more time and energy than they deserve, they’re no longer lesser things. You’ve made them important by the life you’ve spent on them.”

“There is no rule that says financial success must mean that you live beyond your means.”

“If you start something and right away feel yourself getting lazy and irritated, first ask yourself: Why am I doing this? If it really is a necessity, ask yourself: What’s behind my reluctance? Fear? Spite? Fatigue?”

“Your hidden power is your ability to use reason and make choices, however limited or small.”

“The Stoic does two things when encountering hatred or ill opinion in others. They ask: Is this opinion inside my control? If there is a chance for influence or change, they take it. But if there isn’t, they accept this person as they are (and never hate a hater).”

“The next time you make a donation to charity, don’t just think about the good turn you’re doing, but take a moment to consider that one day you may need to receive charity yourself.”

“Make yourself invulnerable to your dependency on comfort and convenience, or one day your vulnerability might bring you to your knees.”

“When we become successful, we forget how strong we used to be.”

“Remember today that you’d be OK if things suddenly went wrong.”

“No matter what’s happening to your body, no matter what the outside world inflicts on you, your mind can remain philosophical.”

“Self-awareness and wrongdoing rarely go together.”

“We go through our days responding and reacting, but it’s rare to really pause and ask: Is this thing I’m about to do consistent with what I believe? Or, better: Is this the kind of thing the person I would like to be should do?”

“When a bad habit reveals itself, counteract it with a commitment to a contrary virtue.”

“Goodness isn’t something that’s going to be delivered by mail. You have to dig it up inside your own soul. You find it within your own thoughts, and you make it with your own actions.”

On saying no to distractions: “Ask yourself: What is it that only I can do?”

“What is the best use of my limited time on this planet? Try to do the right thing when the situation calls for it. Treat other people the way you would hope to be treated. And understand that every small choice and tiny matter is an opportunity to practice these larger principles.”

“When you seek to advance your own position in life, character is the best lever—perhaps not in the short term, but certainly over the long term.”

“Instead of simply accepting what happens, [the Stoics] urge us to actually enjoy what has happened—whatever it is. Nietzsche, many centuries later, coined the perfect expression to capture this idea: amor fati (a love of fate). It’s not just accepting, it’s loving everything that happens.”

“No matter how much preparation, no matter how skilled or smart we are, the ultimate outcome is in the lap of the gods.”

“Acceptance isn’t passive. It’s the first step in an active process toward self-improvement.”

“To resent change is to wrongly assume that you have a choice in the matter.”

The Four Habits of The Stoic Mind:

Accept only what is true

Work for the common good

Match our needs and wants with what is in our control

Embrace what nature has in store for us

“Pretend that each event—whether desired or unexpected—was willed to happen, willed specifically for you.”



for a moment is the same as having it forever.”

Other Books by Ryan Holiday

Ego Is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday

The Obstacle Is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumph by Ryan Holiday

Recommended Reading

If you like The Daily Stoic, you may also enjoy the following books:

A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy by William B. Irvine

Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World Book by Cal Newport

Meditations by Marcus Aurelius

Buy this book

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Perennial Seller by Ryan Holiday: Notes

Categories Philosphy, sellPosted on

I love Ryan’s work. And I’ve read many of his books (see below). But I was compelled to read Perennial Seller after Ahref’s Head of Marketing, Tim Soulo, recommended it in his course, Blogging for Business (notes available in my commonplace book).

While I enjoyed it I felt there could have been more for the reader to act on. I understand Ryan’s decision to focus on principles in an effort to write a timeless book, but it would have been nice to know what to do other than “create great work.”

For more on why things catch on, I recommend reading Jonah Berger wonderful book Contagious.

The Five Big Ideas

Make creating great work your primary focus.

Be a verb rather than a noun (in other words, make creating a “need” rather than a “want”).

“The Dip” is inevitable in any creative endeavor.

Nobody creates better second drafts without the intervention of someone else (e.g. an editor).

The best marketing you can do for your book is to start writing the next one.

Perennial Seller Summary


In every industry, certain creations can be described as “perennial.” By that Ryan means that, regardless of how well they may have done at their release or the scale of audience they have reached, these products have found continued success and more customers over time.            

Part I: The Creative Process

Derek Halpern says you need to “create content 20% of the time. Spend the other 80% of the time promoting what you created.” Ryan makes an interesting counter argument,

The kind of important, lasting work we are striving for is different—we’re talking about making something that doesn’t rely on hype or manipulative sales tactics. Because those methods aren’t sustainable. And they do an injustice to great work.            

Ryan on creating great work,

To be great, one must make great work, and making great work is incredibly hard. It must be our primary focus. We must set out, from the beginning, with complete and total commitment to the idea that our best chance of success starts during the creative process.              

Austin Kleon says, “Lots of people want to be the noun without doing the verb. To make something great, what’s required is need. As in, I need to do this. I have to. I can’t not.” (Sam’s note: Austin has a wonderful book on creativity called, Show Your Work which I highly recommend.)            

“You must have a reason—a purpose—for why you want the outcome and why you’re willing to do the work to get it. That purpose can be almost anything, but it has to be there.” (Sam’s note: This echoes Simon Sinek’s thesis in Start with Why).

Ask yourself,

Why are you creating?

Why are you putting pen to paper and subjecting yourself to all the difficulties you will certainly face along the way?

What is your motivation?

“If you’re to create something powerful and important, you must at the very least be driven by an equally powerful inner force. If there is anything to romanticize about art, it’s the struggle and the dedication required to get it right—and the motivating force that makes it all possible.”               

“In the course of creating your work, you are going to be forced to ask yourself: What am I willing to sacrifice in order to do it? Will I give up X, Y, Z? A willingness to trade off something—time, comfort, easy money, recognition—lies at the heart of every great work. Sometimes more, sometimes less, but always a significant sacrifice that needs to happen. If it didn’t, everyone would do it.”                

Ryan’s analogy for creating art,

“Art is the kind of marathon where you cross the finish line and instead of getting a medal placed around your neck, the volunteers roughly grab you by the shoulders and walk you over to the starting line of another marathon.               

There is inevitably a crisis and a low point in every creative work. You will run into what author and marketer Seth Godin calls “the Dip.” The existential crisis where you’ll have to ask yourself: Is this even worth it anymore?

Ryan on creating work that matters,

Creating something that lives—that can change the world and continue doing so for decades—requires not just a reverence for the craft and a respect for the medium, but real patience for the process itself. By patience, I’m not referring just to the amount of time that creation will take, but also the long view with which you evaluate your own work. And the long view can be really long.

Ryan on creativity,               

Art can’t be hurried. It must be allowed to take its course. It must be given its space—and can’t be rushed or checked off a to-do list on the way to something else.

The risk for any creator is over-accounting for what’s happening right in front of them.               

“The best we can do is sit down and create something, anything, and let the process organically unfold. Tolerating ambiguity, frustration, and changes in the grand plan and being open to new experiences are essential to creative work. Indeed, they are what makes creativity work.”—Scott Barry Kaufman

Holding multiple contradictory ideas in your head at the same time is an essential phase of creativity. (John Keats called it “negative capability”). You have to be able to tolerate this and then refine your idea like mad until it gets better.               

“You don’t have to be a genius to make genius—you just have to have small moments of brilliance and edit out the boring stuff.”    

“An audience isn’t a target that you happen to bump into; instead, it must be explicitly scoped and sighted in. It must be chosen.”

There is a small publisher whose slogan is “Find your niche and scratch it!”               

“Successfully finding and “scratching” a niche requires asking and answering a question that very few creators seem to do: Who is this thing for?”               

“For any project, you must know what you are doing—and what you are not doing. You must also know who you are doing it for—and who you are not doing it for—to be able to say: THIS and for THESE PEOPLE.”

The best way Ryan’s found to avoid missing your target—any target—entirely is to identify a proxy from the outset, someone who represents your ideal audience, who you then think about constantly throughout the creative process.               

“Just as we should ask “Who is this for?” we must also ask “What does this do?” A critical test of any product: Does it have a purpose? Does it add value to the world? How will it improve the lives of the people who buy it?” 

One of the best pieces of advice Ryan received as a creator was from a successful writer who told him that the key to success in nonfiction was that the work should be either “very entertaining” or “extremely practical.”               

“You want what you’re making to do something for people, to help them do something—and have that be why they will talk about it and tell other people about it.”              

“The bigger and more painful the problem you solve, the better its cultural hook, and the more important and more lucrative your attempt to address it can be.”

Ask yourself,               

What does this teach?

What does this solve?

How am I entertaining?

What am I giving?

What are we offering?

What are we sharing?

What are these people going to be paying for?

“An essential part of making perennial, lasting work is making sure that you’re pursuing the best of your ideas and that they are ideas that only you can have (otherwise, you’re dealing with a commodity and not a classic).”               

Goethe observed that the most original artworks “are not rated as such because they produce something new” but because they are saying something “as though it had never been said before.”               

The higher and more exciting standard for every project should force you to ask questions like this:

What sacred cows am I slaying?

What dominant institution am I displacing?

What groups am I disrupting?

What people am I pissing off?

“You cannot violate every single convention simultaneously, nor should you do it simply for its own sake. In fact, to be properly controversial—as opposed to incomprehensible—you must have obsessively studied your genre or industry to a degree that you know which boundaries to push and which to respect.”               

“You want to provoke a reaction—it’s a sign you’re forging ahead.”

“Your work may shock people, they might not be willing to accept it right away—but that’s also a sign that you’ve created something fresh and truly original.”               

“Deep, complex work is built through a relentless, repetitive process of revisitation.”               

“Ignore what other people are doing. Ignore what’s going on around you. There is no competition. There is no objective benchmark to hit. There is simply the best that you can do—that’s all that matters.”

“It takes time and effort and sacrifice to make something that lasts.”

Part II: Positioning

The first wake-up call for every aspiring perennial seller must be that there is no publisher or angel investor or producer who can magically handle all the stuff you don’t want to handle.               

Perennial sellers are made by indefatigable artists who, instead of handing off their manuscripts to nonexistent caretakers—“kissing it up to God,” to use a Hollywood expression—see every part of the process as their responsibility. They take control of their own fate. Not simply as artists but as makers and managers.               

Instead, prior to release, considerable effort needs to be spent polishing, improving, and, most critically, positioning your project so that it has a real chance of resonating with its intended audience.

We have to take this thing that means so much to us and make sure that it is primed to mean something to other people too for generations to come. That it will stand out among a crowded field of other creators sincerely attempting to do the exact same thing. That it will be the best that it is capable of being and that the audience it is intended for is primed to love it. And the best person in the world to accomplish this difficult task? You.                

The competitive landscape for creating something that lasts is not one for the entitled or the half committed.               

Once you understand that this project’s chances of success or failure rest entirely on you, you must undertake a paradoxical and difficult task: finding and submitting your work to the feedback of a trusted outside voice (or, in some cases, voices).               

But ultimately, to take a project where it needs to go, you’ll need to rely on an editor to help you get there.               

As infuriating as it may be, we must be rational and fair about our own work.               

Ask yourself: What are the chances that I’m right and everyone else in the world is wrong? We’ll be better off at least considering why other people have concerns, because the reality is, the truth is almost always somewhere in the middle.               

“Remember: When people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.”—Neil Gaiman

Getting feedback requires humility. It demands that you subordinate your thoughts about your project and your love for it and entertain the idea that someone else might have a valuable thing or two to add.

Nobody creates flawless first drafts. And nobody creates better second drafts without the intervention of someone else. Nobody.   

Sometime after the bulk of the creative production is done but before a work is fully wrapped up, a creator must step back and ask: “OK, what was I trying to make here? Did I get there? What do I need to change or fix in order to successfully do so?”              

A similar exercise that I like to do with all my projects is one I call “One Sentence, One Paragraph, One Page.” It goes like this: Put the website or the beta version of your app or your manuscript aside and grab a piece of paper or open a blank Word document. Then, with fresh eyes, attempt to write out exactly what your project is supposed to be and to do in … One sentence. One paragraph. One page. This is a ______ that does ______. This helps people ______.               

When you know what genre you’re in and you know what you’re trying to accomplish, it becomes clearer which decisions matter and which don’t.               

You say to them: “Here’s what I’ve been aiming for. Do you think I am close? What do I need to change with my [writing, design, music, art, etc.] to get where I’m trying to go?”               

Regardless, you must start somewhere—ideally somewhere quantifiable. By which I mean: Who is buying the first one thousand copies of this thing? Who is coming in on the first day? Who is going to claim our first block of available dates? Who is buying our first production run?               

With a concrete number in mind, it’s a lot easier to establish and empathize with what your audience is going to need.               

You must create room for the audience to inhabit and relate to the work. You must avoid the trap of making this about you—because, remember, you won’t be the one buying it.               

Today, in order to even have a chance at people’s attention, your project has to seem as good as or better than all the others.          

Three critical variables determine whether that will happen:               

Positioning is what your project is and who it is for.

Packaging is what it looks like and what it’s called.

The Pitch is the sell—how the project is described and what it offers to the audience.

Work that is going to sell and sell must appear as good as, or better than, the best stuff out there. Because that’s who you’re competing with: not the other stuff being released right now, but everything that came before you.         

That’s why it’s critical that you be able not only to clearly and concisely explain who and what you are, but also to show it, too.       

If your goal is to create a perennial seller, you can’t measure yourself against people who aren’t aiming for the same thing—you can’t be endlessly checking industry charts or lists, and you can’t be distracted by the trends and fancies of other creators who are hopelessly lost.              

Knowing what your goal is—having that crystal clear—allows you to know when to follow conventional wisdom and when to say “Screw it.”

Part III: Marketing

“Marketing is your job. It can’t be passed on to someone else.”

“The mark of a future perennial seller is a creator who doesn’t believe he is God’s gift to the world, but instead thinks he has created something of value and is excited and dedicated to get it out there.”

“No one has the steam or the resources to actively market something for more than a short period of time, so if a product is going to sell forever, it must have strong word of mouth. It must drive its own adoption. Over the long haul, this is the only thing that lasts.”

“The strategy of perennial success is about trying to create work and products that will sell over the long term, but ideally we also want to sell in the short term.”               

“Selling in perpetuity and launching strong are not mutually exclusive.”               

“The first thing anyone planning a launch has to do is sit down and take inventory of everything they have at their disposal that might be used to get this product in people’s hands.”               

“As creators, we have to get more comfortable with giving people a taste of our work—or, in some cases, giving some people the entire meal for free. That’s how we build an audience and gather momentum.”               

What is the right price to create a perennial seller? Ryan’s answer is “as cheap as possible without damaging the perception of your product.”               

One of the best ways to build a readership, viewership, listenership, user base, or customer base early on is by making it cheap.

According to Amazon’s data, the cheaper a book is, the more copies it sells (and, counterintuitively, makes more money than if it were expensive).               

As a general rule, the more accessible you can make your product, the easier it will be to market. You can always raise the price later after you’ve built an audience.               

“Try to find the people least likely to get a request from someone like you, and approach them first, instead of going where everyone else is going.”               

“The most newsworthy thing to do is usually the one you’re most afraid of.”               

Don’t be afraid of pissing people off either. (Sam’s note: As Dan Kennedy says, “If you haven’t offended someone by noon each day, then you’re not marketing hard enough.”)               

Publicity is about temporarily breaking through the noise and contributing to the word of mouth that a product eventually needs to succeed.               

“Advertising can add fuel to a fire, but rarely is it sufficient to start one.”               

When it comes to creating a perennial seller, the principle to never lose sight of is simple: Create word of mouth.  

Part IV: Platform               

Becoming a perennial seller requires more than just releasing a project into the world. It requires developing a career.         

In Ryan’s definition, a platform is the combination of the tools, relationships, access, and audience that you have to bear on spreading your creative work—not just once, but over the course of a career.

“Creating a perennial seller and word of mouth is possible when you have high-level supporters who are willing to evangelize what you do and bring other people to your work.”            

“If you want people to consume your work and to know what you do next, you have to make it possible for them to hear about it as easily and regularly as possible.”

The best marketing you can do for your book is to start writing the next one.

Ryan on achieving mastery,

It’s not enough to make one great work. You should try to make a lot of it. Very few of us can afford to abandon our gift after our first attempt, convinced that our legacy is secured. Nor should we. We should prove to the world and to ourselves that we can do it again … and again.

“One of the things all creatives must do during their downtime is explore new ways of reaching new fans.”               

A great example of profiting from haters: Colonel Parker, the infamous manager of Elvis Presley, came up with the idea to sell “I Hate Elvis” memorabilia so that Elvis could profit from his haters too.

Other Books by Ryan Holiday

The Daily Stoic

Ego Is the Enemy

The Obstacle Is the Way

Recommended Reading

If you like Perennial Seller, you may also enjoy the following books:

The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing by Al Ries

Contagious by Jonah Berger

Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely

Buy this book

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The Obstacle Is the Way by Ryan Holiday: Notes

Categories Business, PhilosphyPosted on

The Obstacle Is The Way is a modern take on the ancient philosophy of Stoicism, which helps you endure the struggles of life with grace and resilience by drawing lessons from ancient heroes, former presidents, modern actors, athletes, and how they turned adversity into success, thanks to the power of perception, action and will.

I know you can’t really call people ‘versatile,’ but if you could, I don’t think there’s a man it’d more apply to than Ryan Holiday. If I could have a person in Swiss army knife format to bring wherever I go, I’d pick him. Online marketing, press and media coverage, growth hacking, relationship building, book publishing and now Stoic philosophy, there’s no stopping this guy.

The Obstacle Is The Way takes ancient philosophy, applies it to the success stories of ancient heroes, historic figures and modern celebrities and CEOs, and derives a framework from it, which you can follow to face the struggles of your own life with the right perception, actions and the will to see them through.

Here are 3 great lessons that will help you follow in Seneca’s footsteps:

  • Imagine you’re advising yourself as a friend to keep an objective perspective.
  • Large obstacles have large weaknesses – identify them and use them against them.
  • Use your will to accept what you cannot change and change the things you can.

Ready for some resilience? Let’s go!

Lesson 1: Imagine you’re advising yourself as a friend to keep an objective perspective.

Have you ever wondered why the solutions to our friends’ problems are sometimes so obvious to us, yet they can’t see them? “Dude, if you can’t pass that test, just take a crash course like you did with your driver’s license, remember?”

Damn. I could’ve thought of that.

But you didn’t. The reason why is perspective. Our initial reaction when we run into an obstacle is always emotional. We get frustrated, angry and think there’s no way to solve this problem.

However, when we look at other peoples’ problems, we don’t get so worked up about them and perceive them objectively. That’s what allows us to see a lot clearer, react accordingly and give much better advice on how to tackle them.

But you can be your own friend too. Imagine you are your best friend and try to tell yourself how to get past that obstacle, keeping in mind your skills and assets, but forgetting about the emotions.

Stoics did this too, they just imagined what a sage – an all-knowing, enlightened person – would do.

Lesson 2: The bigger the obstacle, the larger its weak spot – use it against the obstacle!

Alexander the Great once faced a huge obstacle. Literally. Bucephalus was one of the best horses in all of ancient Greece. A giant black stallion, with black skin, endless endurance and an indomitable will, no one could tame Bucephalus.

Whenever someone approached him, Bucephalus would fight off the rider with fury. Alexander saw his weak spot and used it against him. He made Bucephalus run in a straight line, until he could run no more. Exhausted from using all its energy in an angry sprint, Alexander mounted the horse, and from that moment on, he and Bucephalus were an inseparable unit.

Just like in this story, or in science-fiction movies, where huge monsters and gigantic creatures always have a fatal weak spot, the biggest obstacles in our lives often also have large weaknesses, which can be used against them.

For example, Jerry Weintraub had a really mean sergeant when he was in the army, who’d always treat him poorly and make fun of his name. One day, standing in line to get food, Jerry whispered into his ear: “I’m going to kill you.” Startled, his sergeant yelled at him. Jerry repeated: “One day, when you’re alone, I’m going to find you, and I’m going to kill you.” The sergeant completely lost it and hit Jerry in the face.

One complaint to the colonel later, the sergeant was gone. His anger and intolerance of cocky talk were his downfall.

All obstacles have weaknesses – you just have to look for them!

Lesson 3: Your will is best used to accept the things you cannot change and change the things you can.

Once you have the right perspective and know which actions you should take, getting past your obstacle is a matter of will. Your will enables you to stay persistent and not give up before you eventually find the solution and can move past your problem.

The stoic advice on cultivating that will suggests you accept the things you can’t change, and instead focus on changing the things you do have control over.

Natural events, other people’s choices and actions, sickness, death and economic ups and downs are all part of that first category – external factors. However, your emotions, judgements, attitudes, responses, reactions and decisions are all yours.

Take Thomas Edison, for example. When he was 67 years old, his entire laboratory burned down, including all of his experiments, prototypes, notes and research. Facing the facts he decided to start over, instead of mourning over a million dollar loss he could do nothing about. Once he’d “gotten rid of a lot of old rubbish”, as he called it, he could start fresh and ended up making $10 million in profit by the end of the next year.

Whatever you can’t change is not yours to complain about.

My personal take-aways

Maybe it’s because this sort of philosophy speaks more to introverts, like me, but I love Stoicism. It provides such a great balance to the YOLO-ish, hedonic society we live in today, which is all about clicks, bite-sized videos that barely cover our 8-second attention span, and finding the next purchase to satisfy our consumption cravings for a week at best.

Ryan’s take on this ancient philosophy is refreshing, because in The Obstacle Is The Way, he draws on a wide range of individuals, mixing the history with the present and evergreen advice with contemporary tips. Many of the examples have made it into the summary on Blinkist as well, so if you’re unfamiliar with Stoicism, I recommend you use that as a starting point and take it from there.

The Obstacle Is the Way by Ryan Holiday

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The Obstacle Is the Way Summary

The Book in Three Sentences

What stands in the way becomes the way.

Focus on the things you can control, let go of everything else and turn every new obstacle into an opportunity to get better, stronger, and tougher.

It’s three interdependent, interconnected, and fluidly contingent disciplines: Perception, Action, and the Will.

The Five Big Ideas

“The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way”.

“Overcoming obstacles is a discipline of three critical steps. It begins with how we look at our specific problems, our attitude or approach; then the energy and creativity with which we actively break them down and turn them into opportunities; finally, the cultivation and maintenance of an inner will that allows us to handle defeat and difficulty”.

“There are a few things to keep in mind when faced with a seemingly insurmountable obstacle. We must try: To be objective. To control emotions and keep an even keel. To choose to see the good in a situation. To steady our nerves. To ignore what disturbs or limits others. To place things in perspective. To revert to the present moment. To focus on what can be controlled”.

“There is no good or bad without us, there is only perception. There is the event itself and the story we tell ourselves about what it means”.

“Perspective has two definitions. Context: a sense of the larger picture of the world, not just what is immediately in front of us Framing: an individual’s unique way of looking at the world, a way that interprets its events.

The Obstacle Is the Way Summary

“Our actions may be impeded… but there can be no impeding our intentions or dispositions. Because we can accommodate and adapt. The mind adapts and converts to its own purposes the obstacle to our acting.”

“The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.”

“Whatever we face, we have a choice: Will we be blocked by obstacles, or will we advance through and over them?”

“The world is constantly testing us. It asks: Are you worthy? Can you get past the things that inevitably fall in your way? Will you stand up and show us what you’re made of?”

“Every obstacle is unique to each of us. But the responses they elicit are the same: Fear. Frustration. Confusion. Helplessness. Depression. Anger.”

The only this at fault is our attitude and approach.

“Bad companies are destroyed by crisis. Good companies survive them. Great companies are improved by them.”—Andy Grove

“Great individuals, like great companies, find a way to transform weakness into strength. It’s a rather amazing and even touching feat. They took what should have held them back—what in fact might be holding you back right this very second—and used it to move forward.”

“We’re soft, entitled, and scared of conflict. Great times are great softeners. Abundance can be its own obstacle, as many people can attest.”

“Overcoming obstacles is a discipline of three critical steps. It begins with how we look at our specific problems, our attitude or approach; then the energy and creativity with which we actively break them down and turn them into opportunities; finally, the cultivation and maintenance of an inner will that allows us to handle defeat and difficulty.”

John D. Rockerfella had the strength to resist temptation or excitement, no matter how seductive, no matter the situation.

“Nothing makes us feel [desperate, afraid, powerless etc.]; we choose to give in to such feelings. Or, like Rockefeller, choose not to.”

There are a few things to keep in mind when faced with a seemingly insurmountable obstacle. We must try:

To be objective

To control emotions and keep an even keel

To choose to see the good in a situation

To steady our nerves

To ignore what disturbs or limits others

To place things in perspective

To revert to the present moment

To focus on what can be controlled

“There is no good or bad without us, there is only perception. There is the event itself and the story we tell ourselves about what it means.”

“Just because your mind tells you that something is awful or evil or unplanned or otherwise negative doesn’t mean you have to agree.”

“We decide what story to tell ourselves. Or whether we will tell one at all.”

“Defiance and acceptance come together well in the following principle: There is always a countermove, always an escape or a way through, so there is no reason to get worked up. No one said it would be easy and, of course, the stakes are high, but the path is there for those ready to take it.”

“When you worry, ask yourself, ‘What am I choosing to not see right now?’ What important things are you missing because you chose worry over introspection, alertness or wisdom?”—Gavin de Becker in The Gift of Fear

“Does what happened keep you from acting with justice, generosity, self-control, sanity, prudence, honesty, humility, straightforwardness?”—Marcus Aurelius

“The phrase ‘This happened and it is bad’ is actually two impressions. The first—‘This happened’—is objective. The second—‘it is bad’—is subjective.”

“In The Book of Five Rings, [Musashi] notes the difference between observing and perceiving. The perceiving eye is weak, he wrote; the observing eye is strong.”

“Musashi understood that the observing eye sees simply what is there. The perceiving eye sees more than what is there.”

“Everything about our animalistic brains tries to compress the space between impression and perception.”

Take your situation and pretend it is not happening to you. Pretend it is not important, that it doesn’t matter. How much easier would it be for you to know what to do? How much more quickly and dispassionately could you size up the scenario and its options? You could write it off, greet it calmly.

Perspective has two definitions.

Context: a sense of the larger picture of the world, not just what is immediately in front of us

Framing: an individual’s unique way of looking at the world, a way that interprets its events.

“Where the head goes, the body follows. Perception precedes action. Right action follows the right perspective.”

“Focus on the moment, not the monsters that may or may not be up ahead.”

“Our perceptions determine, to an incredibly large degree, what we are and are not capable of. In many ways, they determine reality itself. When we believe in the obstacle more than the goal, which will inevitably triumph?”

“There is good in everything if only we look for it.”—Laura Ingalls Wilder

“The struggle against an obstacle inevitably propels the fighter to a new level of functioning. The extent of the struggle determines the extent of the growth. The obstacle is the advantage, not adversity. The enemy is any perception that prevents us from seeing this. ”

“Once you see the world as it is, for what it is, you must act.”

“We forget: In life, it doesn’t matter what happens to you or where you came from. It matters what you do with what happens and what you’ve been given.”

“The only way you’ll do something spectacular is by using it all to your advantage.”

“Remember and remind yourself of a phrase favored by Epictetus: ‘persist and resist.’ Persist in your efforts. Resist giving in to distraction, discouragement, or disorder.”

“[Nick Saban’s] process is about finishing. Finishing games. Finishing workouts. Finishing film sessions. Finishing drives. Finishing reps. Finishing plays. Finishing blocks. Finishing the smallest task you have right in front of you and finishing it well.”

“We don’t get to choose what happens to us, but we can always choose how we feel about it.”

“Persistence is an action. Perseverance is a matter of will. One is energy. The other, endurance.”

Other Books by Ryan Holiday

Ego Is the Enemy

Recommended Reading

If you like The Obstacle Is the Way, you may also like the following books:

A Guide to the Good Life by William B. Irvine

Meditations by Marcus Aurelius

Buy The Book: The Obstacle Is the Way

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Plato At The Googleplex Summary

Categories PhilosphyPosted on

Plato At The Googleplex shows you how the ancient wisdom of Greek philosopher Plato from 2,000 years ago still shapes our thinking today and can help us find answers to the big questions in life by relying on his timeless habits of striving for knowledge and reason in everything we do.

Rebecca Goldstein has written ten books. Some of them are fiction, some are short stories, and some are non-fiction, like this one, which also happens to be her latest piece of writing. As you can guess from the title, it poses the question: “What would Plato do and say if he were alive today?”

Would we think he’s a lunatic? Or still learn from him? Does that mean philosophy has become useless?

Questions upon questions, which the book, not quite coincidentally, answers with more questions. I’m a huge fan of Plato and Stoic philosophy here at Four Minute Books, so I’m happy to share three lessons from Plato with you today.

Here are my 3 big takeaways from Plato at the Googleplex:

  • Google can answer most questions, but not all of them.
  • No two people are the same, so neither should education be.
  • Plato came up with a definition of love that encompasses allhuman relationships.

What would Plato teach you if he just rang your doorbell today? Here’s an educated guess!

Lesson 1: You can google your way to answers to a lot of questions, but not all of them.

What’s your gut reaction to not knowing something? Sure, google it. In a 2016 world, we have the entire knowledge of history in our pockets, and while Google is great for fact-checking, recipe-reading and news-updating, it has a tougher time answering some questions for us than others.

For example, what about big questions, which concern morality, ethics, or highly debatable topics, like the death penalty, abortion, genetic crops? There’s no way one person can answer those in single a blog post.

What’s more, Google’s biggest advantage is also one of its greatest weaknesses: the fact that it crowdsources information.

For example, if you want answers about how to feed and take care of your horse, who would you rather go to: one, trained, certified, experienced horse trainer, or a crowd of 200,000 people, all of which know a little bit about horses?

The truth is that the highest ranking answers to questions on Google might be solutions to problems that have worked for a lot of people – but it doesn’t mean they’ll work for all people.

As great as Google’s answers are, there’s one thing you should never forget – to question them, like you’d do with all answers you’d get elsewhere too.

Lesson 2: Education should lay a solid foundation for each of us, but then must adapt to us as individuals.

When do you think school stopped being useful for you? For me, I think it happened somewhere around 7th or 8th grade. After learning the rule of three to calculate percentages and being set up with basic English and Latin grammar, I would’ve been a lot better off if someone had given me a pen, told me to write, learn about whatever topic I like and hand me a business book.

In Germany, if you finish high school, you’ll have 12-13 years of conventional education, which for most people means that at some point, they stop actually learning (except for memorizing stuff).

That’s because after laying the groundwork of learning, education needs to adapt to our individual talents, skills and needs.

As Plato put it, by laying words into his character Socrates’s mouth: “Every child is not the same, hence education cannot be the same for every child.”

Sadly, even today few school systems do this, so for now, it means educating yourself – which is what you’re doing right now, right here!

Lesson 3: Love is a pre-requisite for all human relationships – if you define it like Plato does.

Have you ever heard the term platonic love? It’s used to describe a loving relationship between friends that doesn’t involve sex or romance. Given the fact that he’s given credit by name, Plato obviously had a thing or two to say about love. However, what he didn’t want is to split it into two camps, like romantic vs. platonic love.

Instead, when Plato thought of love, he though of love as all-encompassing. To him, it marked the base of all human relationships, just with varying degrees of intimacy! Love is present among friends, family members, spouses and communities all the same – it’s just the romantic, sensual part that’s different.

Plato explains this by thinking of love in stages. Yes, some of our relationships start based on our senses, desire and attraction to one another. But over time, he argues, love always advances from our senses to our rational faculties. You know how science often says lovers have to be best friends to last a lifetime? That’s what this is about.

Love can even extend beyond people, for example you can be driven and motivated by a love for learning. I don’t know if this will make you think of love in a new light, but I do know this: if we all made love the pre-requisite for all our interactions with other people, the world would sure be a better place.

My personal take-aways

Nothing like some good old-fashioned philosophy to get your mental gears spinning! Is philosophy dead? Ha! It’s more relevant than ever. I’m sure Rebecca Goldstein would agree 🙂

On The Shortness Of Life Summary

Categories PhilosphyPosted on

On The Shortness Of Life is a 2,000 year old, 20-page masterpiece by Seneca, Roman stoic philosopher and teacher to the emperors, about time and how to best use it, to ensure you lead a long and fulfilling life.

On The Shortness Of Life is the definite call to action to end procrastination, and it’s 2,000 years old. De Brevitate Vitae in Latin, Seneca the Younger wrote it in 49 AD, as a moral essay in form of a letter, addressed to his father-in-law.

People are frugal in guarding their personal property; but as soon as it comes to squandering time they are most wasteful of the one thing in which it is right to be stingy. ~Seneca

If we had a bank account into which $86,400 were deposited each day, with the remaining balance being deleted at 12 AM, we’d all be sure to draw out every cent and spend it wisely. Yet, we gleefully give away the 86,400 seconds we’re given each day to strangers and senseless pursuits. Seneca will help us change that.

Here are my 3 lessons from this timeless masterpiece:

  • Chasing leisure, luxury and legacy is what makes a long lifeappear short.
  • You can be busy all your life without ever doing somethingmeaningful, so beware.
  • Your ability to contemplate and appreciate life can never betaken from you, and that’s what matters.

I hope you’re ready for a few lessons of history that have stood the test of time for ages. Tighten your time pouch, we’re about to get stingy where it counts!

Lesson 1: Life only seems short to those, who spend it chasing leisure, luxury and legacy.

A good question to ask yourself, to determine if an activity is worthwhile, is this: “If I did this for 24 hours straight, what would it amount to?” If the answer is “nothing” or not much, then you know it’s one of the activities Seneca considers the trivialities that make life seem short, when it really isn’t.

Three typical kinds of such activities are those supposed to lead to:

Leisure. He who spends all of his work day fantasizing about the tranquility of retirement, will never truly retire.

Luxury. He who works only for the next car, house or vacation, will always be worried about either the last one losing its touch or where the next one will come from.

Legacy. He who hopes for the grandeur of his tombstone, will spend much of his life planning an event he can neither attend nor control.

I’m guilty of the last one sometimes. Don’t spend your life preparing for life. The life in the future you’re working towards may never come, so don’t defer what matters to your 50s, 60s and 70s, for they may never come. To close out in Seneca’s words:

It is not that we have a short time to live, but that we waste a lot of it. Life is long enough, and a sufficiently generous amount has been given to us for the highest achievements if it were all well invested. But when it is wasted in heedless luxury and spent on no good activity, we are forced at last by death’s final constraint to realize that it has passed away before we knew it was passing. ~Seneca

Lesson 2: Don’t spend the voyage of your life being tossed about by wind and weather, or worse: other people’s vision.

A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for. ~John A. Shedd

To illustrate the difference between merely being busy and living a life of actual value, Seneca draws from naval vocabulary. The above quote relates to giving up your comfort zone, getting out there and living your life. Seneca remarks that how a ship fares on its journey matters too.

So you must not think a man has lived long because he has white hair and wrinkles: he has not lived long, just existed long.

For suppose you should think that a man had had a long voyage who had been caught in a raging storm as he left harbor, and carried hither and thither and driven round and round in a circle by the rage of opposing winds? He did not have a long voyage, just a long tossing about. ~Seneca

The ways in which people get tossed about are plentiful:

Some adjust course far too often.

Some never adjust course at all.

Some know they should adjust, but say they will do so later, which they never do.

Worst of all, however, is to let someone else’s vision be the wind behind your sails. What’s the point of spending your life worried about things that are not yours to worry about, working for someone who’s set sail to where you never want to go?

Lesson 3: What’s truly important in life can never be taken from you.

Once you see past possessions, pastime and power, Seneca says you will find peace in the fact that true self-worth comes from within. You’re independent and self-reliant when you ground your thinking in the following two truths:

You will always be able to contemplate life and its deepest meanings.

You will always be afforded with the choice to appreciate its beauty.

No other mortal can ever take these two things from you. In sickness and in health, in poverty and wealth, in good times and in bad, they will always be yours. So exercise these powers and take solace in their presence.

Being offended by other people’s actions and words is a choice. But so is being content. Choose the latter and you will live, in any sense of the word, a long life.

My personal take-aways

On The Shortness Of Life is a brilliant book. It’s only 20-ish pages long, but one of the most powerful written works I’ve ever held in my hands. It’s available for free online, but I highly recommend you get the Penguin Great Ideas Edition to mark, note, keep and remind yourself that…

We are not given a short life but we make it short, and we are not ill-supplied but wasteful of it.

Life is long if you know how to use it.

On Liberty Summary

Categories PhilosphyPosted on

On Liberty is the philosophy classic that laid the foundation of modern liberal politics, by applying the concept of utilitarianism to societies and countries, in order to create a working system between authority and liberty.

John Stuart Mill was the most influential English philosopher of the 19th century. He took an interest in civil rights, feminism and politics.

The maxims and principles laid out in his greatest work, On Liberty, would later become the foundation of what liberal politics are today.

  • Democracy alone does not guarantee personal freedom.
  • The only reason to limit liberty should be to save peoplefrom harm.
  • False opinions are not only good, they’re important.

Let’s take a stroll down politics lane!

Lesson 1: Democracy alone does not guarantee personal freedom.

Ancient Greece, England, pre-World War II Germany, Libya, Egypt, Cambodia – we all know plenty of cases of dictatorships and need not discuss the terrible consequences a single-leader tyranny can bring about.

Today we widely accept democracy as a useful tool to limit the power of political authorities by letting the people elect their political representatives.

But Mill says democracy alone still isn’t enough to ensure personal liberty.


Because in this model, the majority rules over the individual.

Yes, the elected officials are what the majority wants, but that’s not the same as allowing each individual to govern him- or herself.

Personal freedom can still be threatened in a democracy by something that he calls social tyranny.

This happens when the majority imposes their own opinions, views and beliefs on individuals who don’t agree.

For example, while today a lot of religions are common and accepted in the US, as recently as 1950, 91% of all Americans were Christians.

It’s easy to imagine that all people from other religions were often criticized, excluded and sometimes even prosecuted, just for holding a different belief than the majority.

So no, democracy alone won’t solve all of our problems.

Lesson 2: It’s only okay to limit people’s freedom when you’re trying to save them from harm.

One of the rational principles that Mill suggests we adopt in order to truly assure personal freedom is that we meddle in and limit other people’s freedom only when the reason is that we want to save them or others from harm.

There are 3 possible scenarios where interference with personal freedom can prevent harm:

  • Harm by default
  • Harm by omission
  • Harm by accident

Some examples: Harm by default means a person is known to cause harm to him or herself or others under certain conditions. In that case, legal entities should restrict their freedom until said conditions are cleared. This could mean punishing drug addicts with prison time, letting drunks sober up at the police station, or heavy fines for reckless drivers.

Harm by omission could be bystanders watching a murder, or tax evasion. In this case the government should use certain government agencies, like the IRA, to enforce people’s contribution to the greater good.

Harm by accident could literally mean pulling someone away from a nearing train and holding them back or catching a falling child, because it’s safe to assume that the harm they would’ve endured was unintended.

These are scenarios in which limiting freedom would be okay, because it helps the greater good, but in the next lesson, it wouldn’t.

Lesson 3: False opinions are good and important.

You would probably agree that we’d all be better off if people with radical opinions stopped spouting them around on Facebook, in public and at work.

But Mill says that’s not only wrong, prohibiting false opinions would actually hurt our society.

He says it’s important to be confronted with wrong and heavily controversial opinions, because it gets society to think about if and why the common opinions are correct in the first place.

If what you believe about gender equality wouldn’t constantly be tested and argued against, you’d eventually just start accepting it as the norm, which would lead right back to the problem in lesson 1.

When we reduce our convictions and values to mere customs and stop questioning their reason, we simply mimic what everyone else is doing and they won’t affect our character as much.

Never stop questioning yourself and challenging your own opinions. As billionaire partner of Warren Buffett, Charlie Munger would say:

I never allow myself to have an opinion on anything that I don’t know the other side’s argument better than they do. — Charlie Munger

My personal take-aways

The full text is available online for free, but if English isn’t your first language, and you don’t have studied politics, philosophy and history a lot before, you’ll find it overwhelming.

The level of thought is incredible and it’s very interesting to learn some of the thought patterns and ideas that precede what we consider to be the most evolved and modern form of governing countries.

Not a light read for sure, but if you’re taking an interest in any of the 3 above subjects, or just want to learn something that’s really outside of the box, you can try to read the full text. 

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Meditations by Marcus Aurelius

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Meditations is a collection of 12 books written by Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius, who’ll introduce you to Stoic philosophy, the concept of logic, self-discipline and give you faith that the course the world runs is a good one.

If you’ve ever wondered what Bill Clinton’s favorite book is, now you know. Meditations by Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius was probably never meant to be published, but in 1558 someone at Heidelberg University in Germany decided that these 12 books full of wisdom were too valuable to remain hidden from the world – and printed them.

I’m a dreamer. A head-in-the-clouds kind of guy, always planning far ahead, making up grand schemes, not fretting much about what goes wrong today, always sure that things will play out well in the long run.

If you’re like me, then some ancient Greek stoicism, which Marcus Aurelius bases his writings on, will speak to you as well. Opposite to the Epicureans, who sought as much pleasure as they could in the here and now, for tomorrow they could die, the Stoics believed in the goodness of things, no matter how bad they were at any given time.

Here are 3 lessons from one of the greatest men who ever lived:

  • Logic doesn’t always make sense, but everything happens fora reason.
  • Life is too short to complain.
  • The only pain you suffer is the one you create yourself.

Excited about stoicism? Let’s begin your training, young philosopher!

Lesson 1: Logic doesn’t always make sense, but everything happens for a reason.

The word logic as we use it today originally stems from ancient Greek. The word “logos” means “reason” and to the stoics, it was the force of life.

Logos gives everything its form and its order. It flows through every plant, every tree, every building and every human being. It is the essence of all life and the underlying master plan for everything that happens in the world. Therefore, every single thing that happens, whether good or bad, happens for a reason.

Things are exactly right as they are, which includes terrible things like terrorism, death and disease just as much as it includes wonderful things like rainbows, sunny days and long, fulfilled lives.

We’ve long deviated from this concept. To us, logic has become a much more mathematical concept.

1+1 = 2. That’s logic to us. But when a close family member unexpectedly dies, we don’t think that’s logical. It doesn’t make sense to us. It’s unfair, we get angry, we cry and resent the world.

Marcus Aurelius believed that everything happens for a reason. Always. Even in the worst of times, he took comfort in the fact that everything is exactly as it’s supposed to be.

Can you?

Lesson 2: Life is too short to waste even a second complaining.

If everything is exactly right the way it is, complaining becomes utterly useless then, doesn’t it?

There’s a saying I like:

“For every minute you are angry you lose sixty seconds of happiness.” ― Ralph Waldo Emerson

You could’ve spent those 60 seconds laughing. Talking. Breathing. Living. But you chose to complain to the person next to you in line at the cashier how hard life is. How much waiting at the grocery store sucks. And how stupid that employee is for making a mistake.

You never know how long you have. No one knows. You could get hit by a bus tomorrow, or never even wake up the next day. Your time on earth is limited. Incredibly limited. So don’t waste it.

Marcus Aurelius hated holding court, but he knew he shouldn’t spend even a second regretting his duties. Instead, he trusted in the grand scheme of things, knowing that logos had a plan for him, and right now his part in that plan was to let people waste his time with superficial arguments and small talk in court.

Complaining wastes your time and makes everyone that has to listen to it feel bad. So how about making it today’s mission to stop complaining?

Here’s some inspiration.

Lesson 3: The only pain you suffer is the one you inflict upon yourself.

Being an emperor in ancient Rome was a dangerous job. People tried to kill you, abduct you, stab you in the back and poison you at least once a week.

Marcus Aurelius believed that physical pain was part of logos’s big plan as well. He also suffered a lot of psychological pain in his lifetime. Out of his 13 children, 8 died before him, including his wife, who died at a very young age.

But he was convinced that all these things happen for good reason, trusted in the purpose, and thus remained calm even in the worst of times. After all, these deaths were external events that Marcus Aurelius had no hand in whatsoever.

He believed that any harm done to a person from an external source was beyond their control and therefore, couldn’t truly harm them. The suffering only starts if you allow it to, because you start blaming yourself, questioning why things happen, or complaining about how unfair everything is.

Whatever pain you’re facing, you have a choice. You can accept it and move on without complaining. Always.

So don’t make yourself suffer, it’s really all in your head.

My personal take-aways

Wow. For some of you this might all feel very abstract, but I can’t remember the last time I learned so much from a summary that’s this short (just 5 blinks). For books like these a Blinkist summary is the perfect intro, because it describes everything in plain words. As you can imagine, the original text is quite complicated.

Meditations is available for free online, but usually, professional translations by a publisher in paperback format will help you engage with the book more and digest its ideas better. I recommend the Dover Thrift Edition. I also tend to do better with heavier topics, like life, death, thinking, etc., when I have something in my hand that I can mark, leave comments on in pen, and so on.

If you’re new to stoicism, this is a must-read.

The Book in Three Sentences

Stoicism is as relevant today as it was when it was first recorded.

Serenity and ethical certainty come from within.

Detach from the things that are beyond your control and focus on your own will and perception.

The Five Big Ideas

Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth.

You have power over your mind—not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.

Very little is needed to make a happy life; it is all within yourself, in your way of thinking.

It is not death that a man should fear, but he should fear never beginning to live.

Never let the future disturb you. You will meet it, if you have to, with the same weapons of reason which today arm you against the present.

Meditations Summary

“When you wake up in the morning, tell yourself: 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.”

“Stop allowing your mind to be a slave, to be jerked about by selfish impulses, to kick against fate and the present, and to mistrust the future.”

“At some point you have to recognize what world it is that you belong to; what power rules it and from what source you spring; that there is a limit to the time assigned you, and if you don’t use it to free yourself it will be gone and will never return.”

“Concentrate every minute like a Roman—like a man—on doing what’s in front of you with precise and genuine seriousness, tenderly, willingly, with justice. And on freeing yourself from all other distractions. Yes, you can—if you do everything as if it were the last thing you were doing in your life, and stop being aimless, stop letting your emotions override what your mind tells you, stop being hypocritical, self-centered, irritable.”

“Do external things distract you? Then make time for yourself to learn something worthwhile; stop letting yourself be pulled in all directions.”

“People who labor all their lives but have no purpose to direct every thought and impulse toward are wasting their time—even when hard at work.”

“Don’t ever forget these things: The nature of the world. My nature. How I relate to the world. What proportion of it I make up. That you are part of nature, and no one can prevent you from speaking and acting in harmony with it, always.”

“In comparing sins (the way people do) Theophrastus says that the ones committed out of desire are worse than the ones committed out of anger: which is good philosophy.”

“You could leave life right now. Let that determine what you do and say and think.”

“Nothing is more pathetic than people who run around in circles, ‘elving into the things that lie beneath’ and conducting investigations into the souls of the people around them, never realizing that all you have to do is to be attentive to the power inside you and worship it sincerely.”

“You cannot lose another life than the one you’re living now, or live another one than the one you’re losing.”

“You can’t lose either the past or the future; how could you lose what you don’t have?”

“The present is all that they can give up, since that is all you have, and what you do not have, you cannot lose.”

“Don’t waste the rest of your time here worrying about other people—unless it affects the common good. It will keep you from doing anything useful. You’ll be too preoccupied with what so-and-so is doing, and why, and what they’re saying, and what they’re thinking, and what they’re up to, and all the other things that throw you off and keep you from focusing on your own mind.”

“We should listen only to those whose lives conform to nature.”

“Never regard something as doing you good if it makes you betray a trust, or lose your sense of shame, or makes you show hatred, suspicion, ill will, or hypocrisy, or a desire for things best done behind closed doors.”

“Each of us lives only now, this brief instant. The rest has been lived already, or is impossible to see.”

“Nothing is so conducive to spiritual growth as this capacity for logical and accurate analysis of everything that happens to us.”

“If you do [a] job in a principled way, with diligence, energy and patience, if you keep yourself free of distractions, and keep the spirit inside you undamaged, as if you might have to give it back at any moment— If you can embrace this without fear or expectation—can find fulfilment in what you’re doing now, as Nature intended, and in superhuman truthfulness (every word, every utterance)—then your life will be happy. No one can prevent that.”

“Nowhere you can go is more peaceful—more free of interruptions—than your own soul.”

“The world is nothing but change. Our life is only perception.”

“Choose not to be harmed—and you won’t feel harmed. Don’t feel harmed—and you haven’t been.”

“Every event is the right one. Look closely and you’ll see.”

“See not what your enemy sees and hopes that you will, but what’s really there.”

“Your conversion should always rest on a conviction that it’s right, or benefits others—nothing else.”

“Most of what we say and do is not essential. If you can eliminate it, you’ll have more time, and more tranquillity. Ask yourself at every moment, ‘Is this necessary?’”

“Don’t give the small things more time than they deserve.”

“What happens to everyone—bad and good alike—is neither good nor bad.”

“Suppose that a god announced that you were going to die tomorrow ‘or the day after.’ Unless you were a complete coward you wouldn’t kick up a fuss about which day it was—what difference could it make? Now recognize that the difference between years from now and tomorrow is just as small.”

“It’s unfortunate that this has happened. No. It’s fortunate that this has happened and I’ve remained unharmed by it—not shattered by the present or frightened of the future. It could have happened to anyone. But not everyone could have remained unharmed by it. Why treat the one as a misfortune rather than the other as fortunate?”

“Remember this principle when something threatens to cause you pain: the thing itself was no misfortune at all; to endure it and prevail is great good fortune.”

“The things you think about determine the quality of your mind. Your soul takes on the color of your thoughts.”

“If the gods have made decisions about me and the things that happen to me, then they were good decisions. Why would they expend their energies on causing me harm? What good would it do them—or the world, which is their primary concern?”

“Whatever happens to you is for the good of the world.”

“When you need encouragement, think of the qualities the people around you have: this one’s energy, that one’s modesty, another’s generosity, and so on. Nothing is as encouraging as when virtues are visibly embodied in the people around us, when we’re practically showered with them. It’s good to keep this in mind.”

“Remember that our efforts are subject to circumstances; you weren’t aiming to do the impossible. Aiming to do what, then? To try. And you succeeded. What you set out to do is accomplished.”

“Don’t be ashamed to need help. Like a soldier storming a wall, you have a mission to accomplish. And if you’ve been wounded and you need a comrade to pull you up? So what?”

“It doesn’t hurt me unless I interpret its happening as harmful to me. I can choose not to.”

“When people injure you, ask yourself what good or harm they thought would come of it. If you understand that, you’ll feel sympathy rather than outrage or anger. Your sense of good and evil may be the same as theirs, or near it, in which case you have to excuse them.”

“Treat what you don’t have as non-existent. Look at what you have, the things you value most, and think of how much you’d crave them if you didn’t have them. But be careful. Don’t feel such satisfaction that you start to overvalue them—that it would upset you to lose them.”

“Everywhere, at each moment, you have the option: to accept this event with humility to treat this person as he should be treated to approach this thought with care, so that nothing irrational creeps in.”

“Pain is neither unbearable nor unending, as long as you keep in mind its limits and don’t magnify them in your imagination.”

“You don’t need much to live happily. And just because you’ve abandoned your hopes of becoming a great thinker or scientist, don’t give up on attaining freedom, achieving humility, serving others, obeying God.”

“For every action, ask: How does it affect me? Could I change my mind about it?”


[an outcome]

is in your control, why do you do it? If it’s in someone else’s, then who are you blaming? Atoms? The gods? Stupid either way.”

“Blame no one. Set people straight, if you can. If not, just repair the damage.”

Three relationships:

With the body you inhabit

With the divine, the cause of everything in all things

With the people around you

“Don’t let your imagination be crushed by life as a whole. Don’t try to picture everything bad that could possibly happen. Stick with the situation at hand, and ask, ‘Why is this so unbearable? Why can’t I endure it?’ You’ll be embarrassed to answer.”

“External things are not the problem. It’s your assessment of them. Which you can erase right now.”

“If the problem is something in your own character, who’s stopping you from setting your mind straight? And if it’s that you’re not doing something you think you should be, why not just do it?”

“The existence of evil does not harm the world. And an individual act of evil does not harm the victim. Only one person is harmed by it—and he can stop being harmed as soon as he decides to.”

“Everything that happens is either endurable or not. If it’s endurable, then endure it. Stop complaining. If it’s unendurable … then stop complaining. Your destruction will mean its end as well. Just remember: you can endure anything your mind can make endurable, by treating it as in your interest to do so. In your interest, or in your nature.”

“If they’ve made a mistake, correct them gently and show them where they went wrong. If you can’t do that, then the blame lies with you. Or no one.”

“Characteristics of the rational soul: Self-perception, self-examination, and the power to make of itself whatever it wants.”

Four habits of thought to watch for, and erase from your mind when you catch them.

Tell yourself: This thought is unnecessary

This one is destructive to the people around you

This wouldn’t be what you really think (to say what you don’t think—the definition of absurdity)

And the fourth reason for self-reproach: that the more divine part of you has been beaten and subdued by the degraded mortal part—the body and its stupid self-indulgence

“Everything you’re trying to reach—by taking the long way round—you could have right now, this moment. If you’d only stop thwarting your own attempts. If you’d only let go of the past, entrust the future to Providence, and guide the present toward reverence and justice.”

“Don’t let anything deter you: other people’s misbehavior, your own mis-perceptions, What People Will Say, or the feelings of the body that covers you (let the affected part take care of those). And if, when it’s time to depart, you shunt everything aside except your mind and the divinity within … if it isn’t ceasing to live that you’re afraid of but never beginning to live properly … then you’ll be worthy of the world that made you.”

Recommended Reading

If you like Meditations, you may also enjoy the following books:

A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy by William B. Irvine

Ego Is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday

The Obstacle Is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumph by Ryan Holiday

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Meditations On First Philosophy Summary

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Meditations On First Philosophy is the number one work of philosophy of the Western world, written by René Descartes in 1641, abandoning everything that can possibly be doubted and then starting to reason his way from there.

The first time I ever learned something more from René Descartes than “Cogito, ergo sum” (I think, therefore I am) was in 2014. One of the steps in Tai Lopez’s 67 Steps program was labeled “Descartes & Solving Problems With A Calculator.”

It explained how Descartes kept questioning himself for days: “Is this really true? Is there a 0.000000000000001% chance it isn’t?” And every time he found doubts, he removed a particular belief from his mind, until he eventually saw he was left with only one thing: math.

This book shows how he reasoned his way to these conclusions and more. It’s one of the prime works of Western philosophy, written in 1641 and therefore part of any well-educated man’s (or woman’s) reference book.

Here are 3 lessons from Descartes:

  • Your senses don’t always tell the truth.
  • The fact that you think proves that you exist.
  • There are three levels of truth in the world.

Feeling smart? Our philosophical plane ‘descartes’ now! (pun intended)

Lesson 1: Don’t trust your senses without questioning them.

The first thing Descartes argues is that you can’t build your understanding and view of the world on lies. Therefore, anything that can be doubted in even the slightest way must be abandoned in favor of the truth.

Approaching life with a healthy dose of skeptical doubt means first not believing everything your senses tell you. Just imagine what it’s like to dream. Dreams are vivid, you can feel things in them, taste food and even pain seems real – yet when you wake up, none of it all has happened.

Similarly, mythical creatures like the minotaur, unicorns and mermaids sure seem unlikely, but don’t you still believe in them at least a little?

Fake pics and videos circulate the internet and thousands of U.F.O. sightings have been debunked over the years. Just think of The Matrix or The Truman Show (or how some animals try to lure others into traps with seductive scents) and you’ll instantly agree that not everything you see, hear and feel is real.

Lesson 2: The ability to think is the best proof of existence.

This is where Descartes most famous line “I think, therefore I am” comes in. Given that all things our senses tell us can be doubted, what’s even left?

According to Descartes, the one thing we can rely on is knowing that as long as you think, you truly exist. Even if your nose tells you that there’s an apple pie smell coming from around the corner, by thinking about it you can challenge this. Whether the apple pie really exists, or is actually something else, or even just part of a dream – the fact that you think about the apple pie proves that you exist.

Whatever our brain perceives, true or not, and can make judgments about, is further proof for our own existence. That’s why as long as you think, you exist and are alive. So much for you being a true thing, but what about all the other stuff in the world?

Lesson 3: Everything in the world can be put into one of three categories of truth.

Okay, so your brain is reliable, but your senses aren’t. That leaves us with three different levels of truth then:

The truth of things you can explain using only your mind.

The truth of things you can explain by using your senses.

The truth of things you can explain with a mix of your mind and senses.

Descartes says the first level is the most sound, simply because thinking is our most reliable asset. That’s why math, a sole construct of the mind, for example, is so utterly rational. By combining mind-constructs like math, astronomy, geometry, we can even derive knowledge about far-away objects like the sun, for example the fact that it’s a huge, round star.

Level two truths are less reliable, because they rely on our faulty senses. For example, if you thought the sun was very small, simply because you see it only as a small object in the sky, you’d sure be in for a surprise if you ever went there.

Lastly, everything where mind and senses mix to explain something based on a combination of our own ideas, like hippogriffs, fairies and dragons, is usually quite far from the truth. These level three “truths” have a small degree of reality.

The next time you doubt something, try to think which category it goes into!

My personal take-aways

For books like these I’m glad to have a set of blinks, Wikipedia articles, etc. to consult – simply because the original texts are super complicated. I’d still love to get a modern translation of this though, there’s a ton of things to learn from and make you a better thinker in philosophical works like this one.

Little quirk: When Descartes was close to despair from all his thinking, he’d resort to the recently invented calculator (adding machine, created by Blaise Pascal in 1642), for he could always find consolation in the truth of math.

Letters From A Stoic Summary

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Letters From A Stoic is a collection of moral epistles famous Roman Stoic and philosopher Seneca sent to his friend Lucilius, in order to help him become less emotional, more disciplined, and find the good life.

Science has repeatedly found evidence that optimists are healthier and tend to live longer. Intuitively, it also makes sense. If you’re happier and rather positive, your body doesn’t have to parse as much stress. You grind your teeth less, your heartbeat is calmer, blood pressure doesn’t rise as much, and so on. Though not hard science, a great way to verify this idea is to look at the outliers of history.

2,000 years ago, average life expectancy was 20-30 years. Seneca the Younger, however, lived to 69. And the only reason he died then is that his emperor, Nero, forced him to commit suicide, believing he had been part of a conspiracy. While his death was tragic and unnecessary, I like to think his philosophy contributed to his remarkably long life. Lucky for us, he shared much of it in Letters From A Stoic, a series of moral reminders addressed to his friend Lucilius, the procurator of Sicily.

There’s no way to tell if Seneca really sent those letters or wrote them as fiction, but their lessons about the good life are invaluable regardless, like the following 3:

The goal of attaining wisdom is to live in harmony with nature.

Your most valuable possession is your mind.

A wise man doesn’t need friends, but he chooses to make them anyway.

Are you ready to learn more about what may be the most suitable philosophy for the modern world? Let’s get to it!

Lesson 1: We should strive to gain wisdom in order to live a simple, natural life.

Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson has a great idea of the most astonishing fact about the universe:

“When I look up at the night sky, I know that yes, we are part of this universe, we are in this universe, but perhaps more important than both of those facts is that the universe is in us.”

Ancient Stoics believed the same. There are the gods, the divine, and then, there’s us, but our souls are divine too. Unlike our minds, however, we don’t control our souls. Seneca trusted that our capability for rational thought is what makes us truly unique among all creatures in the universe. Thus, we should exercise this ability as best as we can.

If we do so, the result is wisdom, which makes attaining it not just a logical goal for us to have, but also what’ll allow us to live more in tune with nature than any other species. Of course the definition of “in tune with nature” changes from generation to generation, but the Stocis thought we should live simply, refrain from excessive pleasures, like food, alcohol, or sex, and not desire fame and fortune.

Stoicism is all about being a good person, living truthfully and truly living, doing our work while we’re here, and one day letting go without attachment when it’s our time to die.

Lesson 2: The single most valuable thing you own is your mind.

Looking at life through the Stoic model of the world, the logic consequence is that your mind is your most valuable possession. Since your thoughts are the only thing you really control, Stoicism is mainly concerned with studying, training, and practicing your perception, action, and will. In one of his letters, Seneca compares the healthy mind to a well-loaded ship: everything is secured and fastened in its right place, so regardless of how rough the sea gets, the view is always clear.

The most important feature of a healthy mind is calmness; the Stoics called it tranquility. When you have inner peace and serenity, you will be able to endure all problems, carry success with humility, and make hard decisions without hesitating.

Today we have many forms of escapism that make it hard to achieve and maintain this state. We want to travel everywhere, rushing around to check places off lists, we exercise and obsess about shaping our body to perfection, or indulge endlessly in TV shows, various drugs, and material leisures and luxuries.

In reality, however, all we need to find true peace is turn inward and take care of our mind.

Lesson 3: Wise people don’t need friends, but they surround themselves with a few loyal ones regardless.

One of the many ways a calm mind helps you build a good life is by allowing you on only surrounding yourself with true friends. How? First, a wise man or woman who’s at peace with herself will be happy from inside. He or she won’t need friends to fill some void in their life. Instead, they can build friendships from abundance and giving, which is exactly what makes them a good friend.

Second, because they can wait for the right people to come around, Stoics truly trust the few friends they’ve carefully selected, which, in turn, makes their friends trust them. Trust is the best foundation of any relationship, but it’s hard to give and hard to get. That’s why you should be slow to open up to people, but if you do, fully let them in.

Stoics would choose no friends over fair-weather-friends, but because of their self-sufficiency and ability to trust, they make the few loyal friends everyone should have easily.

My personal take-aways

You can never have enough Stoicism in your life. You can read the letters for free here, but Penguin Classics does a great job of coming up with modern translations and helpful context. So if you want to learn more now, don’t sleep on Letters From A Stoic.

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