I belong to a fantastic business mentorship group made up of gym owners. We share a ton of information and it has become an invaluable Think Tank for me, both personally and professionally.
We all LOVE to read. And we read A LOT. So of course we recommend great books to one another. More often than not, they are books about improving yourself, serving others, and being a better human being. One of the books that I absolutely loved was The Obstacle is the Way by Ryan Holiday. That led me to another one of his books, The Daily Stoic. This little gem is 366 days of quotes from some of the great Stoic philosophers like Seneca, Epictetus, and Marcus Aurelius along with practical commentary to apply to our lives by Holiday. I highly recommend you get both.
According to the Stoics, as social beings, the path to happiness for humans is found in accepting this moment as it presents itself, by not allowing ourselves to be controlled by our desire for pleasure or our fear of pain, by using our minds to understand the world around us and to do our part in nature’s plan, and by working together and treating others in a fair and just manner.
The obstacles we face in life make us emotional. The only way we’ll overcome them is by keeping those emotions in check—if we can keep steady no matter what happens, no matter how much external events may fluctuate.
The ancient Stoics had a word for this state: apatheia.
It’s the kind of calm equanimity that comes with the absence of irrational or extreme emotions.
How do you achieve apatheia?
Step 1: Steady Your Nerves
“What such a man needs is not courage but nerve control, cool headedness. This he can only get by practice.” — Theodore Roosevelt
During the Civil war troops were unloading a steamer when it exploded. Everyone hit the dirt except Ulysses S. Grant, who instead ran towards the scene.
That is nerve.
Like Grant, we must prepare ourselves for the realities of our situation, steadying our nerves so we can throw our best at it.
Step 2: Control Your Emotions
“Would you have a great empire? Rule over yourself.” — Publius Syrus
When America first sent astronauts into space, they trained them in one skill more than any other: the art of not panicking.
Here on Earth, when something goes wrong we trade in our plan for a good ol’ emotional freak-out.
As Nassim Taleb put it, real strength lies in the domestication of one’s emotions, not in pretending they don’t exist.
Step 3: Practice Objectivity
“Don’t let the force of an impression when it first hit you knock you off your fee; just say to it: Hold on a moment; let me see who you are and what you represent. Let me put you to the test.” — Epictetus
In our lives, how many problems seem to come from applying judgments to things we don’t control?
Perceptions give us information at the exact moment when it would be better to focus on what is immediately in front of us.
We must question our animalistic impulse to immediately perceive what happens. But this takes strength and is a muscle that must be developed.
Step 4: Practice Contemptuous Expressions
The Stoics used contempt to lay things bare and “strip away the legend that encrusts them.”
Roasted meat is a dead animal. Vintage wine is old, fermented grapes.
We can do this for anything that stands in our way, seeing things as they truly, actually are, not as we’ve made them in our minds.
Step 5: Alter Your Perspective
“Man does not simply exist but always decides what his existence will be, what he will become the next moment. By the same token, every human being has the freedom to change at any instant.” — Viktor Frankl
Remember: We choose how we’ll look at things.
What we must do is limit and expand our perspective to whatever will keep us calmest and most ready for the task at hand.
Think of it as selective editing—not to deceive others, but to properly orient ourselves.
Step 6: Live in the Present Moment
“The trick to forgetting the big picture is to look at everything close up.” — Chuck Palahniuk
It doesn’t matter whether this is the worst time to be alive or the best, whether you’re in a good job market or a bad one.
What matters right now is right now.
Focus on the moment, on what you can control right now. Not what may or may not be ahead.
Step 7: Look for the Opportunity
“A good person dyes events with his own color…and turns whatever happens to his own benefit.” — Seneca
The reality is every situation, no matter how negative, provides us with a positive, exposed benefit we can act on, if only we look for it.
Maybe you were injured recently and are laid up in bed recovering. Now you have the time to start the book or the screenplay you’ve been meaning to write.
That business decision that turned out to be a mistake? See it as a hypothesis that was wrong. Like scientist you can learn from it and use it in your next experiment.
Remember: This a complete flip. Seeing through the negative, past its underside, and into its corollary: the positive.
Another way of putting it: Does getting upset provide you with more options?
Sometimes it does. But in this instance? No, I suppose not.
Retired Navy SEAL Jocko Wilink has a great podcast and I am currently reading two of his books. The first is his Discipline Equals Freedom Field Manual.
“Jocko, how do I wake up earlier”? Wake up earlier. “Jocko, how to I stop procrastinating?” Stop procrastinating. “When should I start?” Start NOW. Your get the picture. He states that everyone wants to find the easy road, the hack, to help them in their quest for happiness. But, there is no hack. No easy road. It comes down to decisions. It comes down to using the will. You make a decision to be disciplined. And by repeating this over and over, you become more DISCIPLINED. And through disciplined thinking, decisions, and actions you achieve FREEDOM. You accomplish your goals. Is it easy? NOPE. Is it worth it? Aren’t YOU worth it?
For me, his philosophy of discipline meshes so well with achieving apatheia. I am working hard on not letting my emotions, vices, passions rule me. Rather, I am trying to use my reasoned thinking. Being disciplined to be objective. Being disciplined to keep my eye on the prize. I want to be the person that my daughters are proud of: level headed, calm, loving, humble, sincere, focused on a healthy body / mind / soul, gracious, with a heart for charity and a passion for helping others.
The other book by Jocko, The Way of the Warrior Kid, is one that I am reading with daughter #3. I am blessed with four daughters ages 16, 14, 9, and 7.
It is an illustrated novel for kids ages eight to twelve.
Fifth grade was the worst year of Marc’s life. He stunk at gym class, math was too hard for him, the school lunch was horrible, and his class field trip was ruined because he couldn’t swim. But what was most awful thing about fifth grade? Kenny Williamson, the class bully, who calls himself the “King of the Jungle.”
When Marc’s mother tells him that his Uncle Jake is coming to stay for the whole summer, Marc can’t wait. Uncle Jake is a for real, super-cool Navy SEAL. And Uncle Jake has a plan.
Anyone who listens to his popular podcast knows that he is extremely passionate about kids developing discipline and self-respect at an early age.
From Amazon.com –
Q: What made you want to write a book for kids?
Jocko Willink: Seeing my own kids grow up made me remember that kids face a lot of challenges. I wanted to show how kids can apply the fundamental principles I learned in the SEAL Teams to overcoming the various challenges they face.
Q: Marc is a very typical fifth grader. He doesn’t like math or gym class and struggles with self-esteem. But with help, he becomes motivated to develop good habits and confidence. What advice do you have for parents whose kids are experiencing similar problems?
Jocko Willink: That’s what the book is about. All of these problems can be overcome with a good plan, clear goals, and disciplined execution. That is what we did in the SEAL Teams and that is what Marc learns from his uncle Jake in Way of the Warrior Kid. Get the book, get on the warrior path, and get these problems solved!