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. This philosophy revolves around the way in which you can live their life without letting yourself be ruled by detrimental 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 he gains 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 can 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 is to do is 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, lets 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 wrote Meditations, one the most important texts on Stoicism.
  • Stoicism is widely advocated for its practical lessons on helping you live your life 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.
  • To implement these lessons in your life, first pick a few that resonate with you. Then, keep them in mind, and when the opportunity comes, use them to guide your thoughts and actions.

 


A Simple Flowchart for Solving Any Technical Issue

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 afterwards if you’re interested. Even if it 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 it 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 post 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, the solution is relatively easy to find if you’re just willing to look for it.

If you’re tying 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 you’re restarting the device itself, and not just the screen (if the two are separate). It’s generally preferable to turn off it off completely, wait 10 second, 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 you’re asking a tech expert for help, and use the same keywords 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 directly. The benefit of asking for help in a relevant forum is that you reach a high concentration of experts, and it can sometimes take them a minute to answer a question that you have spent hours trying to find an answer to. Note that these forums tend to have strict posting rules, so make sure to dedicate two minutes to reading 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 also 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 find something that you missed. This is also 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 pretty simple to solve, and once you recognize that technology 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 an expert, you can solve nearly all technical issues by using a simple, systematic approach.
  • The steps you should follow are listed in the flowchart that appears at the beginning of the article.
  • The two most important things to do first are to try and find a relevant button/item to click on, and to search for a solution online using relevant keywords.
  • If you’re trying to solve a technical problem, restarting the device often helps.
  • Always consider whether it’s worth it to keep searching for a solution; sometimes it’s easier to ignore the issue, or try to solve it from a different angle (for example, by using a different software).

 


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 you now have to start racking your brain in an effort to decide which 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 most, 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 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.

You can substitute ‘lately’ for other variants, such as recently. The goal is the same: to make the question about an experience they had not too long ago.

An added benefit of doing this 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 go with the default “favorite X” questions.

 

Other types of 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 is to avoid asking the other person for a single, definitive answer. Some of the options you can use are:

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

You can combine this with using ‘lately’ if you want:

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

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

Note that different people will respond differently to the various questions, so you can modify the type of questions you ask based on the person you’re talking to and on the context.

 

Summary and conclusions

  • A lot of people hate answering questions in the format of “what’s your favorite X”.
  • The problem is that these questions are difficult to answer, as it’s hard to pick a single, definitive answer out of all the available options.
  • Instead, you should ask questions about things that people encountered lately, such as “what’s a good movie that you watched lately?”
  • There are other variants, such as asking them to pick a movie that made them laugh.
  • Doing this makes these questions easier and more fun to answer, while also making the conversation feel more natural.