DO THIS: How to make Decisions

Ok, so after reading 25 different ways that the Stoics tell you the only thing you have in your life is your own reasons choice (the ability to make decisions, to react to things), I have to say I agree.  Philosophically this one tenant whisks away the importance of many other things like possessions, status, wealth, relationships, etc.  It is actually a very heavy cognitive lift to realize that the ONLY thing that is TRULY AND EXCLUSIVELY mine is my Prohairesis.  Everything else is outside my control and allowing things outside my control to determine things like my happiness or wellbeing in life is a losers game.  Ok, over that cognitive hurdle.

Now comes the hard part.  Similar to my advice of “I Hope you don’t get what you want in life.”  Because then you have a REAL problem.  You have to decide what is next after your wants and desires are gone (either fulfilled or given up).  The hard part is when you accept the fact that you only have rational choice, then how do you make the best decisions?  One guy has put together a handy dandy Modern Stoic decision chart which I have found handy:

In the Stoic way, the high order bit is always “Is this decision in my control or not?”.  If it is, then decide if doing the thing would build one of the four virtues (wisdom, justice, temperance, courage), if yes, then do it.  If no (not build a virtue) does it deal with one of the indifferent things (wealth, health, status, etc.)  Do if preferred but not if dispreferred.  I found this very complex.  So I have come up with my own set of guardrails when faced with decisions.  And of course, I created a daily exercise to support the decision process.

Whenever I am faced with a decision in life, even small ones daily, if the answer is not immediately clear I ask myself the following framing guardrail questions:

  1.  Is this in my control? The standard Stoic question.  90 percent of decisions are here because the ones that are not in my control don’t even become decisions.  Habits are not decisions. If I decide to do morning pages as a habit, it is not a decision every day to do or not do morning pages.  The decisions that tend to fall outside my control have to do with other people.  Like if I ask myself “Should I try to make my girlfriend happy today?” That one has two terminal errors.  First, it has the weasel word “try”.  Never ever decide to try.  There is no try.  There is only do or not do.  It is NEVER a decision to “try”.  Second, it is impossible to “make” someone else anything, so there is nothing to decide.  The affirmative is impossible.
  2. Choose people.   There are many decisions in my day where I can choose an activity that engages with people or one that I do myself or with things.  Say to work out alone in my home gym or go to coffee with a friend.  Or work at home or work in the co-working space (where I may run into friends).  Or dinner with friends or a stay at home organizing the garage.  While I am an introvert at heart and my instinct is to do the alone thing or the inanimate thing, my experience has shown me that by choosing the decision that engages with other people, over time it results in a more well-lived life.
  3. Create instead of consuming.  Most activities in life can be put into either the creation (making something new, new experiences, new things, writing, making, etc.) or the consumption (watching TV, reading, eating, passively taking in the world) bucket.  The difference is engagement.  Am I active in creating something or am I passive?  The allure of passivity is very compelling.  Especially after a long day of work or mental engagement.  The desire to unplug can be overwhelming.  But again, after years of experience, when I choose the thing that creates something it always leads to a more well-lived life.
  4. Move your ass.  Basically, if the choice is between sitting at the desk or working out or doing something active, do the active thing.  Always choose the active thing.  When deciding where to have a meeting, a coffee shop or walking and talking?  Walking and Talking.

With any decision if I don’t know what to do, after going through those four questions, the best decision always comes out.

Glossary: Prohairesis, rational choice

At DGC I am all about waking up. Realizing that I have a choice in life.  How to live life. Who I am in life.  How I react to life events.  How I interact with the world.  When you are in the dream world you give up that choice to the story of the dream.  You give up AGENCY.  Turns out in realizing I had a choice, I was affirming a core tenet of Stoic philosophy: Prohairesis.

According to Epictetus, nothing is properly considered either good, or bad, aside from those things that are within our own power to control, and the only thing fully in our power to control is our own volition (prohairesis) which exercises the faculty of choice that we use to judge our impressions. For example, if a person says something critical to us, that is not bad; or, if something complimentary is said, that is not good, because such things are externals and not in our power to control. By exerting the power of choice, it is possible to maintain equanimity in the face of either criticism and praise, which is a moral good. On the other hand, when people become troubled by criticism, or elated by praise, that is a moral evil because they have misjudged impressions by thinking that things not in their power (such as criticism or praise) have value, and by doing that they place a measure of control of their own life in the hands of others.

So Who are You?  What Do I have that the world can not take away?  What super power is always in my power?  My own reasoned choice.  I always have a choice.  I may not decide to exercise it.  But that too is a choice.

I always have a choice.

DO THIS:  Question everything you are carrying through life (exercise)


Life is a journey. The stuff you bring along on the journey either helps or hurts you.  Much of what we are draging around with us we are barely aware of. In order to wake up to what is actually going on in your life you need to periodically stop and check what you are carrying along. And ask the question:  “does this serve the journey now?”  You may have picked the stuff up at one point when it felt necessary. But is it still?  Yes each and every thing.

I am big on learning by doing so here comes another paractical exercise.  It will take you less than 10 minutes to do and it will literally and figuratively lighten your load on the journey of life.  Last week I took a look around the hotel room and questioned everything I saw.  This week it is time to uppack the backpack.

The exercise:

Grab your backpack. Yea the thing you carry to and from work every day. Or your purse. Or Bike bag. Whatever you carry your stuff to and from work in, including your computer.

Put it on a scale and weigh it.  Mine came in at 11.83 lbs.

Now unpack it.  Here is an overall picture of what is in there then thrrr pictures of each compartment. 


Man that is a lot of stuff!  All added to the pack at some time when they seemed important.

Now go through each and every item and ask the question:

“Does this serve me for my journey ahead?”

If it does leave it in the pack.

If it does not, take it out.

Re pack for the journey ahead.  Weigh the backpack again.

The Results:

Here is a picture of the new contents with all the stuff taken out. And each pack section. It is noticeably less stuff.



Some of the stuff taken out:

6 pens (I only need one)

4 pairs of sunglasses (kept 2)

Fleece (I will pick the right one for the trip from closet)

Various trash items.

Keys I never use.

Out dated business cards.

Travelers checks that expired in 2008. (Yea I have been carrying them for almost 10 years).

Resulting new weight:  8.96 lbs.  a reduction of 2.87 lbs.  I have literally lightened my load in life. Going forward the journey will be easier and I will have more energy for the challenges ahead.  I will not be bogged down with as much from the past.


Whar are you carrying around that no longer serves you?  How much could you lighten your load?  Go ahead. Try it.  10 minutes now could save you days of carrying around stuff you no longer need.

The science:

I am sure some attachment theory applies here. But I invented this one myself.

References:

Self invented.

George Carlin said commented on “stuff”

Do This: Do Not stay on top of everything 

Last week I was reminded of this by the daily stoic passage 


In the end you are what is in your head. So what if you cut down on media consumption and worry about external events?  Would there be more room in your head for other things?   Say yourself?  Or things in your control?  Yes.  

This is the same message of mark Manson’s new book and the 40 years of zen program and the core idea of stoic thought.   Be very conscious of what you give a fuck about.  Fucks are expensive cognitively. Free up headspace spent on external events, the past and the future and you have more resources for what is right in front of you.  Your life. 

DO THIS: Be tolerant of others and strict with yourself. 

Stoicism came of age in a time of political turmoil as well.  Remember that Stoicism isn’t about judging other people. It’s not a moral philosophy you’re supposed to project and enforce onto the world. No, it’s a personal philosophy that’s designed to direct your behavior.
This is what Marcus Aurelius meant when he said: “Be tolerant with others and strict with yourself.”
Be open to the idea that people are going to be fools or jerks or unreliable or anything else. Let them be. That’s their business. That’s not inside your control.
But you have to be disciplined with yourself, and your reactions. If someone acts ridiculous, let them. If you’re acting ridiculous, catch the problem, stop it and work on preventing it from happening in the future. What you do is in your control. That is your business. Be strict about it.
This is especially important to remember at a time when many people seem to be consumed with every tweet or quip from certain politicians.  Leave other people to themselves. You have enough to worry about. 

This does not mean “sit down and shut up” like some will infer.  If other people are doing something that does intersect with something in your control than you can and must act.  But don’t keep reposting “outrage”.  Don’t let other people into your head.  Don’t let the monkey in your head run wild worrying about other people. Focus the monkey on what is in your own control.  

DO THIS: Be kind to your older self (exercise)

Barrels of ink has been spilled over “be kind to yourself.”  This one guy even wrote a new song about it.  So how can we get a new twist on this ancient advice?  I thought about this over the break while watching SuperWhy (ignore the haters) with my daughter Madison.  In every episode, the characters change just one word in a story to change the whole story.    Let’s try it here.  Insert “older” between “to” and “self.”  So “Be kind to your older self.”  The self you are going to become.  The old guy farting in the corner.  The slow driver in front of you.  The guy in the grocery checkout line digging for change in a wallet while you impatiently clutch your ApplePay iPhone, thumb hovering over the touchpad.  Yea that guy.   So here is how to do it

The Exercise:

  1. Download one of the photo aging apps.  I used the free AgingBooth.
  2. Take a picture of yourself, age it at least 30 years (the default in AgingBooth).
  3. Put this picture somewhere you will see it every day for at least 30 days. I put next to my computer monitor next to the Lucy skull (double whammy).  I will likely move it around the house.
  4. When you see the picture, say or think something kind of the person.  Initially, there will be revulsion. Get over it.  It is you.  Be kind.

Results Hypothesis:

I didn’t want to do this.  My father is 30 years older than me.  I don’t want to be my father.  Ever.  Getting old is scary.  But that is why I needed to do this.  It is very Stoic to face your fears. And the fear of getting old is one of the strongest in life.

I hypothesize that facing the fear of getting old will reduce the charge that fear has.  I hope to be less fearful of getting old and more at ease with my place in the world.

Actual Results:

It is Feb. 2 and I have done this for the last 32 days.  Noticeable results include:

  1. Less emotional charge when I see the picture of my older self.  Less revulsion.  Less tilt.
  2. Meaningful conversations have been started.  “What is that all about?” a couple of friends asked on seeing a copy of the “old” picture on my coffee table.  I am always looking for smart conversation triggers and that picture has been a good one.
  3. A couple people saw the picture and shut down completely. Didn’t want to talk about getting old or the exercise at all.  Upon reflection, these people are generally asleep, generally plowing through life with blinders on, generally adverse to contemplation.  I didn’t try to prod them into anything, but it was an interesting confirmation bias test for a couple of people I thought were asleep to life.  Show them this exercise.  If they are asleep they won’t want to engage.

Summary:

A fun exercise that reduced the emotional charge of a common fear in my life as well as energized my tribe with contemplative conversation.  Worthwhile all around.  I will keep the pictures around, but likely not focus on daily observation.

The Science:

There is plenty of science on Kindness in general, usually focusing on being kind to others. There has been plenty written on random acts of kindness.  I found far less relate to self-kindness.  Some recent studies show self compassion can improve mental health (duh).  I don’t know of any specific science studies around self kindness to your older self, but the general kindness research would apply.

References:

The idea to practice self-kindness to my older self I must admit was not my own, it came from a Tim Ferris podcast with AJ Jacobs.

http://www.refinery29.com/2016/09/123999/kindness-health-benefits-selfless

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/10/161005102254.htm

7 Science-Backed Health Perks of Being Kind