Practical Lessons in Stoic Philosophy from Marcus Aurelius

Marcus Aurelius Meditations in Stoicism

 

Marcus Aurelius was an eminent Roman emperor and one of the most influential writers on the topic of Stoic philosophy, which revolves around living your life without letting yourself be ruled by negative emotions. Aurelius’ writing on Stoicism is best represented in Meditations, a book which is frequently mentioned as one of the greatest texts ever written on practical philosophy.

Below is a collection of some of the useful concepts that Aurelius shared in his writing, followed by some advice on how to implement these lessons in your life. The book itself is brief and full of other useful gems, so it is definitely worth a read if you’re interested.

 

The lessons

Understand that every man is worth just so much as the things are worth about which he busies himself.

(VII, 3)

 

Shame on the soul, to falter on the road of life while the body still perseveres.

(VI, 29)

 

If it be a thing external that causes you grief, know that it is not that which causes it, but your own opinion concerning the thing. Of this, you may rid yourself, when you will.

(VIII, 45)

 

The best revenge is to not be like your enemy.

(VI, 6)

 

You may break your heart, but men will still go on as before.

(VIII, 4)

 

How much time gains he who does not look to see what his neighbor says or does or thinks, but only at what he does himself.

(IV, 18)

 

Socrates used to call the opinions of the many by the name of “Lamiae”: bugbears to frighten children.

(XI, 23)

 

Short-lived are both the praiser and the praised, and rememberer and the remembered: and all this in a nook of this part of the world; and not even here do all agree, no, not any one with himself: and the whole earth too is a point.

(VIII, 21)

 

If it is not right, do not do it. If it is not true, do not say it.

(XII, 17)

 

The soul becomes dyed with the color of its thoughts.

(V, 16)

 

Some people, when they do someone a favor, are always looking for a chance to call it in. And some aren’t, but they’re still aware of it, still regard it as a debt. But others don’t even do that. They’re like a vine that produces grapes without looking for anything in return.

(V, 6)

 

No carelessness in your actions. No confusion in your words. No imprecision in your thoughts.

(VIII, 51)

 

A cucumber is bitter. Throw it away. There are briars in the road. Turn aside from them. This is enough. Do not add, “And why were such things made in the world?”

(VIII, 50)

 

Men seek retreats for themselves: houses in the country, sea-shores, and mountains. You too will desire such things very much. But this is altogether a mark of the most common sort of men, for it is in your power whenever you shall choose to retire into yourself. For nowhere either with more quiet or more freedom from trouble does a man retire than into his own soul.

(IV, 3)

 

All is ephemeral — fame and the famous as well.

(IV, 35)

 

Never esteem anything as an advantage to you that will make you break your word or lose your self-respect.

(III, 7)

 

A wrongdoer is often a man who has left something undone, not always one who has done something.

(IX, 5)

 

Do not act as if you were going to live ten thousand years.
(IV, 17)

 

Implementing these lessons in your life

You might not relate to all of these concepts. Odds are, however, that there are a few lessons here which resonated with you; things that you think will help you improve yourself and grow closer to the person that you want to be.

Out of these lessons, pick the ones that you want to work on first. You can pick as many as you feel comfortable with, but the best thing to do is to focus on just a few at first, until you’ve mastered them enough that you feel ready to move on to the next ones.

Once you’ve picked a few lessons, the next step is to simply keep them in mind. You can do this by writing them down on a piece of paper, by repeating them to yourself, or by using any other method that works for you. Remember that it’s not about memorizing them verbatim, but about remembering what they stand for.

When you have these lessons in mind, learn to recognize opportunities where they can be applied. Whenever you encounter these opportunities, act in the way that these lessons guide you to, to the best of your ability. For example, let’s go back to this quote:

A cucumber is bitter. Throw it away. There are briars in the road. Turn aside from them. This is enough. Do not add, “And why were such things made in the world?”

The next time you encounter some minor inconvenience, remember this lesson. Then, instead of complaining about whatever happened and fixating on it in your mind, simply accept that it happened, deal with it, and move on with your life.

This might be hard at first, but you will find that doing it becomes more and more instinctive as time passes. Once you are ready, look at other lessons, and start to implement them too.

A final thing to keep in mind is that some of these lessons are not the sort that you will need to implement every day. That doesn’t mean they’re not worth remembering; when the day comes that you need them, they will be there to help you cope.

 

Summary and conclusions

  • Marcus Aurelius was an eminent and highly-respected Roman emperor. He wrote Meditations, one the most influential texts on the topic of Stoic philosophy.
  • Stoicism is widely advocated for its practical lessons on helping you live your life while in control of yourself, without succumbing to negative emotions.
  • These lessons cover a wide range of areas in life: from focusing your thoughts, to reaching inner peace, and to finding motivation.
  • A main theme that these lessons discuss is the fact that our thoughts shape who we are, and that we can therefore control who we become by controlling what we think.
  • To implement these lessons in your life, start by picking a few that resonate with you. Then, keep them in mind, and when the opportunity comes, use them to guide your thoughts and actions. When you feel ready, try to learn a few more lessons that you think are valuable, and implement them too.

 


How to Solve Any Technical Issue: A Simple Flowchart

Solving technical issues is generally simpler than most people think. In fact, by following the steps outlined in the upcoming flowchart, you will be able to solve nearly all of the issues that you encounter, whether they’re in your computer, in your phone, or in any of your other devices.

If you have a friend or a colleague whom you always thought of as a tech/computer expert, then know that this is most likely what they do each time you ask them for help. In fact, as long as you follow these steps, you can also become a local expert, even if you have no previous technical skills.

The chart itself is pretty self-explanatory, but there is a brief explanation afterward if you’re interested. Even if this looks complex at first, give it a shot; you’ll find that it’s surprisingly straightforward.

 

A flowchart showing the steps to follow when trying to solve technical issues.

 

If you’d like to print this flowchart out, here’s the PDF version.

I also want to give credit to this great flowchart from xkcd for the original idea. The chart in the current article adds a few important steps, such as restarting your device.

 

Flowchart walkthrough

This section contains some brief explanations regarding the different steps in the chart. These explanations can help you better understand what to do and why to do it:

Find a relevant button/menu item and click it. In most cases, something relevant should be easy to find. Try to play around with the options and settings a bit if you’re not sure what to do. Often, you can find the solution easily yourself if you’re just willing to look for it and try things out.

If you’re trying to fix a problem, restart the device. Doing this solves a huge amount of technical issues. If you’re not sure how to restart your device, search online for instructions. Make sure that you’re restarting the device itself, and not just the screen, if the two are separate. Note that it’s generally preferable to turn the device off completely, wait 10 seconds, and then turn it back on; this is because it sometimes takes a while for all the components to power down, and for the capacitors to discharge.

Search online for a solution using a few relevant keywords. Odds are that someone has encountered this issue before. If they did, there will often be a digital record of the solution online. If you’re not sure which keywords to use, pretend that you’re asking a tech expert for help, and use the same keywords that you would use when explaining to the expert what you’re trying to do.

Consider whether this is worth the trouble. Often, trying to figure out how to use a certain feature can be much more work than trying to do the same thing using a different feature. Similarly, some issues are so minor that they’re not really worth the time and effort. The steps up to here require only a small amount of effort and have a high success rate, which is why this is a good cutoff point for deciding whether to continue searching for a solution.

Post the question on a relevant forum or contact tech support. This can help in cases where you can’t find the solution yourself. The benefit of asking for help in a relevant forum is that you can usually reach a high concentration of experts, who will sometimes be able to answer in a minute questions that you would have otherwise spent hours trying to find the answer to. Note that these forums tend to have strict posting rules, so make sure to dedicate two minutes to read them before posting.

Ask someone for help. If you decide to ask someone for help, make sure to tell them what you already tried. This can help them find a solution, and it shows that you put some effort into solving the issue before coming to them. Keep in mind that unless they themselves are experts on the topic, they will probably follow the same steps outlined here, though they might be able to find something that you missed. This is also often true for hired, professional help.

 

Avoid learned helplessness

A lot of people have a sort of learned helpless when it comes to technological issues. This means that instead of trying to solve issues when they encounter them, they give up prematurely and simply assume that they won’t be able to find a solution. In reality however, most issues are relatively easy to resolve, and once you recognize that technical experts and IT people generally follow the same steps you saw above, you will realize that you can often solve these issues yourself.

 

Summary and conclusions

  • Even if you are not a tech expert, you can solve nearly all technical issues by using a simple, systematic approach.
  • The two basic things that you should try first are to find a relevant button or a menu item and click it, and to search for a solution online using a few relevant keywords, that describe your issue or what you’re trying to do.
  • If you’re trying to solve a technical problem, restarting the device or software can often help.
  • You can also try posting in relevant technical forums, though you should make sure to read through the posting guidelines before doing this. If this fails, and contacting tech support directly doesn’t work or isn’t a viable option, then you should consider asking a friend who’s good with technology or hiring a professional.
  • Always consider whether it’s worth it to keep searching for a solution; sometimes it’s easier to ignore the issue, or to try and solve it from a different angle (for example, by using a different feature).

 


The Power of ‘Lately’: How to Ask Personal Questions that People Want to Answer

 

You’ve probably been in the following situation: you’re talking to someone whom you don’t know very well, and in an effort to get to know you better, they ask something along the lines of “what’s your favorite movie?” or “what’s your favorite book?”

Odds are that you now have to start racking your brain in an effort to decide which movie or book you’re going to pick. After all, there are so many great ones you like; it’s hard to pick just one. Besides, there are all sorts of favorites. There is the one that’s most epic, the one that makes you laugh, the one that inspires you, and so on.

The following example illustrates this pretty well:

I always hate it when someone asks me, “What’s your favorite book?” since I never quite know what to say. I have so many books that I love, many of which are in wildly diverse categories. I usually end up telling them that I don’t have a single favorite book, or even a category.

From a discussion on Reddit

This is why questions along the lines of “what’s your favorite X” are generally a bad choice in conversations. Luckily however, you can modify these questions a bit, to make them easier and more fun for people to answer.

 

The power of ‘lately’

Instead of asking people what their favorite film is, ask them about a good movie that they watched lately.

This makes your question easier to answer for several reasons:

  • It narrows the number of options that they have to pick from.
  • It makes the decision less significant, which takes some pressure off.
  • It focuses the decision on recent experiences, which are easier for people to remember.

Furthermore, an added benefit of using ‘lately’ is that it makes your discussion feel more like a casual conversation, and less like an interview. It also helps you stand out and make a positive impression, since most people will usually go with the default “favorite X” questions, despite the fact that they rarely work well.

Note that you can substitute ‘lately’ for similar variants, such as ‘recently’. The goal is the same: to make the question easier to answer, by making it about something that the other person experienced recently.

However, make sure to use language that leaves it to the other person to decide what ‘recently’ means. That is, avoid using specific time frames, such as ‘last week’, since doing this places an unnecessary constraint on the other person.

In general, you want to use language that is as ‘open’ as possible. Just give other people the prompt, and let them think of something that they want to share. Don’t constrain their ability to share their favorite experiences by placing unnecessary conditions on how they should pick those experiences.

 

Other types of good personal questions

There are other ways to modify personal questions that you ask, so that they will be easier and more fun for people to answer. All these options revolve around the same theme, which, as we saw above, involves making sure to not ask the other person for a single, definitive answer. For example, two questions that you could ask someone are:

  • What’s one of your favorite books?
  • What movie really made you laugh?

Similarly to adding ‘lately’, using these variations helps make your question feel more like a part of a natural conversation and less like an interview.

Note that you can insert ‘lately’ into these types of questions if you want:

  • What book did you enjoy reading lately?
  • What movie made you laugh lately?

 

Remember that there are always exceptions

There is no single question that is the best to ask. Which question works best depends on various factors, such as the preferences of the person you are talking to, how well you know them, and the context of your conversation.

While using ‘lately’ in question is often preferable to asking definite questions, there are some situations where narrowing the scope of your question might be appropriate. For example, if you’re talking to someone who just spent their summer in a foreign country, it’s perfectly logical to ask them about positive experiences that they had while they were there.

As such, when asking people personal questions, remember that you can use ‘lately’ in order to improve your questions, but remember also that the best question to ask will depend on the situation you are in. As such, always assess the situation in order to try and find the best question that will work in this context, and don’t be afraid to make modifications as you go along.

 

Summary and conclusions

  • A lot of people hate answering questions in the format of “what’s your favorite X”, since such questions are difficult to answer, because it’s often hard to pick a single, definitive answer out of all the available options.
  • Accordingly, you can improve person questions that you ask by asking people questions about things that they experienced lately, such as “what’s a good movie that you watched lately?” or “what’s an interesting book that you read recently?”. Using these types of questions makes the conversation feel more natural and easygoing, and helps you avoid making the other person feel like they are being formally interviewed.
  • There are other modifications that you can make to your questions in order to make them easier and more interesting to answer. For example, you can ask people to tell you about one of their favorite books, or about a book that made them laugh.
  • In general, try to use language that is as ‘open’ as possible, and makes it easy for the other person to find information that they want to share.
  • Remember that the best type of question to ask depends on a variety of factors, including the other person’s preferences, and the nature of your conversation. Always try to assess the situation when choosing which type of question to ask, and be willing to adjust as you go along.