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

DO THIS:  Contemplate the impermanence of things (exercise). 

Today a friend said “I am worried about loosing my money in XYZ investment.”  To my own surprise my first thought was “You really believe it is YOUR money?”  The stoic stuff is really getting ingrained. I recently highlighted these passages:

“What fortune has made yours is not your own.”

Seneca, Letters from a Stoic

“Until we have begun to go without them, we fail to realize how unnecessary many things are. We’ve been using them not because we needed them but because we had them.”

Seneca, Letters from a Stoic

“No man is crushed by misfortune unless he has first been deceived by prosperity.”

Seneca, Dialogues and Letters

“There is no enjoying the possession of anything valuable unless one has someone to share it with.”

Seneca, Letters from a Stoic

“Fidelity purchased with money, money can destroy.”

Seneca, The Conquest of Happiness
Okay.  Okay. Enough quotes. It is better to really experience a concept than just read it.  So I have been making up practical exercises to remind myself of these truisms (exercises are very stoic).  Here is the one i developed today to remind myself that none of the things in my life are actually “mine”. I do this about once a quarter. It will take you 10 minutes. Do it right now!

The impermanence of things exercise.

On a rulled sheet of paper write “things” in the center at the top of the page.  To the left write -5, -10, and Birth.  To the right write +5, +10, and Death.  Make columns for each with the middle one under “things” the widest.

Now look around where you are and start writing down the middle column all the things that are “yours” that you see.  Fill the page, should be just over 20 or so.  Now down the left columns for each thing put a “Y” in the -5 box if it was in your life five years ago, or ten years a go or at your birth.  Do this for all the things.  Then go down the right side columns and predict if this thing is going to be in your life five years from now +5, ten years and at your Death.  You get the idea. Now count up the number of “Y” in each column and put it at the top along with what percentage it is of the total number of items. Here is one I did today in my hotel room in Honolulu.


Of the 24 things on my list (and there were like over 100 things around the room) less than half (42%) were in my life 5 years ago, almost none (8%) were in my life 10 years ago and exactly zero were in my life at birth.  Looking forward I was fairly optimistic that a majority (62%) would be in my life five years from now, exactly a third (33%) would be around in 10 years and 17 % would be with me at death.  But then I will be dead and I can’t take them with me so they will be someone else’s at that time so 0% will go with me at Death.

What did this exercise remind me of is a very visceral and visual way ?

1. Coming into this world I had nothing.

2. The majority of things around me are recent additions.

3. The things I believe will be with me at death have lots of experiential value to them (I have had meaningful experiences with them with other people to create memories additional to the thing itself).

4. Most of the things I see are temporary objects in my life (were not here 5 years ago and will not be here 5 years from now).

5. While some things may be with me at death I can’t take any of it with me so the things really are not “mine”.

Side note:  I have an absurd number of things with me on vacation. And multiples of things. Seven paddle shirts. Three surf shorts.  The experiential value of a thing is inversely related to the number of them I have. For example I have only one watch with me (while I own many). The one watch i wear the most often has the most experiential value. Is the one I see myself with at death.  So the obvious question is “do in need all those other watches?”  This exercise made me contemplate that question.  While I don’t have an answer it is a good thought exercise and moves my thought in the right direction (which is to keep asking the questions).

Summary:

This exercise builds on the stoic idea that DOING philosophy is the best way to ingrain the core ideas.  I like this exercise because it is short, can be done anywhere, and is a stark reminder of a couple major philosophical concepts that I struggle to keep the top of mind including:

  1. Give up your attachments (they aren’t yours anyway)
  2. Things don’t make a life.
  3. Meaning comes from experiences with other people.
  4. I was born with nothing and will die with nothing.

The Science:

I designed this exercise myself so it is not based on any academic or scientific study.  There has been a lot of research around attachment theory which sometimes includes “stuff” but mostly is focused on relationships.

References:

The Psychology of Stuff.

How interest in science has been fueled by attachment to “things” but that is fading.  A little off topic, but interesting idea.

Why am I blogging again?

It has been about 18 months since I began posting semi-regularly.    At the time, something indefinite was pushing me to write down some stuff I thought important.  Today as I sit on the balcony of my suite overlooking the surf in Honolulu, and looking back on 2016, the focus is becoming a little more clear.

During the last year a number of people have asked me “What are you blogging about really?”  or “Are you trying to make this a business?” or “Why are you doing all this work?”  I have asked myself those questions as well many times.  While there have been temptations to make a run at becoming a “famous” blogger, someone with a large following ala Tim Ferris or Dave Asprey, I keep reminding myself “Been there, done that” on the “famous” thing.  I have been mining a much more personal vein.  Marcus Aurelius wrote Meditations primarily for himself.  As little reminders to turn back to in times of crisis or decision.   I have found myself doing the same with a number of these posts, going back to take more self-assessment tests, re-reading posts like “how I prepare for conflict situations” before a conflict situation and generally using this blog as a personal reference.  To that end, I have not done a lot of syndication, cross posting, nor have I gotten a newsletter going.  That all sounds like work to build an audience.  I don’t intend this to be a business, nor do I intend to be any kind of authority on anything except my own personal life journey.

So in 2017 I will be doubling down on the Marcus Aurelius aspect of this blog.  All advice and documented learnings of myself for my better self.    Don’t expect me to change your life.  That is up to you.

 

TEDFAV: Ken Robinson: Do Schools Kill Creativity?

Mark Twain once said “I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.”

My oldest, Finn is a Junior in highschool this year.  Yea, the worst year in highschool.  You have to do all your normal school work AND buff up the extra curricular activities AND do well on the SAT test AND figure out what colleges to apply to.  The pressure is intense.  And the only thing that seems to matter in Junior year are the results.  Grades.  Test Scores. College acceptance letters.  The focus is 100% on Outcomes.  No process.  No creativity.  No talk about the purpose or meaning behind all these outcomes.  No deviation from the objective measures of “success” as defined by our western academic system.

But does this model of education produce the best possible humans? Does it work for the wide variety of personality types out there?  Where does creative thinking come in?  America prides itself on innovation. But the educational system doesn’t teach innovation. By definition, any standardized system kills the outliers.  Yet the outliers is where the creativity and innovation comes from.

Leave it to a Brit (lovers of organization, conformity, empires) to ask the right question.  Are we teaching the skills we really want in our kids?  Or just stamping degrees on them?

DO THIS: 30 days of Thank You

New Year, New exercises for your well lived life.

One of the most impactful category of exercises and practices for me in 2016 were those related to Gratitude.  For 2017 I am building on those with a specific practice around “Thank You”.  While many Gratitude exercises are internally focused on building your OWN CAPACITY FOR GRATITUDE, the Thank You practice turns gratitude outward and includes the objects of your gratitude in the practice.  In some ways externalizing gratitude is a “next step” or “advanced” gratitude practice as you are taking a risk putting yourself out there to other people.  While there is very little downside to this (and lots of potential upside!) I would not recommend the Thank You practice as a first step gratitude practice.  This is best done from a place of quite confidence built on a solid Gratitude foundation.

Lots and lots and lots of other bloggers have written similar challenges, but I like mine because it is all notes to people.  External.  Not just a list of cues for a personal journal.

The Exercise:

Every day for 30 days I send an asynchronous “Thank You” note to someone who has done something for which you are thankful as part of your morning routine.

Try to be specific.  Thank them for something specific.  Like “remember the time you came and brought flowers to the hospital when my daughter was born? Thank you.”  You can go general, but the more personal the connection, the more authentic.  Do NOT include anything else with the thank you.  Focus on sincerely expressing the gratitude.  You can catch up in the follow up.  And remember to leave out the weasel words.

In my case, I wanted this to take less than 5 minutes each day from beginning to end, so I allowed the Thank You to be either a text, email, phone message, thank you card in the mail, Slack message, Facebook message, Instagram comment, or any other form of asynchronous communication.  No phone calls.  Why Asynchronous?  Because I didn’t want to blow the 5 minute budget catching up or getting off topic.

Pro TIP:  Because I am a nerd, I actually brainstormed a list of almost 100 people and created a google spreadsheet of the 30 I was going to do this exercise with before hand.  I listed what I am going to thank them for and I am tracking the reactions also.  I put them into three categories, Family, Close friends, Acquaintances with 10 in each.  I wanted to have a balance of close, near and far to see if there is any material difference in the reactions or the feeling of different categories.  You don’t have to plan it out that much if you are more spontaneous (and less of a data nerd).  You should be intentional about it though. Think through who you are going to include and why.  Try to reach a bit to people who you should have thanked long ago, but have not talked to in quite a long time.  The oldest “thank You” in my list is 40 years ago.

Results Hypothesis:

My hypothesis is that the exercise will:

  1. Build gratitude and overall happiness of myself with my life and friend network through the regular recognition of thanks to other people.  I hope that engaging with the network will reinforce the internal feelings of overall gratitude in life (and replace the negative monkey).
  2. Re-ignite conversations with some network nodes (ok friends/acquaintances yes I am a nerd) that have been dormant.  (excuse for connection). I am interested in the long term network effects here.  How many people will get “infected” and do something similar?  How many dormant connections will be reconnected?
  3. Make each day happier by starting off with memories of someone I am thankful for and acting on that thanks.
  4. I also believe this exercise has a chance to reinforce resilience.  Or build some resilience.  When the day shovels me a pile of shit I can remember that just earlier that day I had something to be thankful for. That should make the pile of shit easier to dig through.

Actual Results:

Not complete yet, will post in Feb.

Initial results (after five days) include:

  • My daughter Finn (16) cautioned: “You should probably tell people why you are sending the notes up front so they don’t think you are going to kill yourself.”  A highschool student in our town had sent a series of “thank you” texts just hours before committing suicide earlier in the year.  Result:  This post and linking to it in my messages as explainer.
  • Since I planned the whole thing in advance and had a list much longer than 30 people to thank, the exercise of planning was very interesting as well, figuring out the categories of people, who to include and who to drop.  Who would make your list?  Who will you cut?  Why?  I prioritized the top 30 as the “greatest” appreciation I had for the event. Sure it i subjective.  And not all the things I am most thankful for in life have gotten thank you cards in this exercise, it is more related to finding 30 people who I am most thankful for.
  • I read a good blog post and added the guy to my list for that day, dropping him a email just saying “thank you for writing that post”.  Not asking for anything. He sent back a nice note as well.  Small connection.  Authentic appreciation.  Maybe I will email him again about something else, but the start was not an “ask” it was authentic thankfulness, gratitude.

 

Summary:

Gratitude is a well documented good life enhancement.  Externalizing this with outbound thank you notes is an advanced practice with interesting potential network effects.

More coming in Feb.

The Science:

Harvard wrote about this

There is a 26 study round up here.

Berkeley is doing good work here.

 

 

References:

There is a Coach.me 30 day thank you exercise here (slightly different as they tell you what to be thankful for each day).

There is of course lots of Pintrist boards on this  (also typically giving ideas of what to be thankful for each day rather than focusing on people).

 

REVIEW: Not Fade Away, Peter Barton

Not Fade Away: A Short Life Well LivedNot Fade Away: A Short Life Well Lived by Laurence Shames
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In perhaps a misguided attempt to explore what it means to “live well”, a couple months ago I bought a bunch of books on dying. Or more correctly, on living knowing you are dying. While everyone is dying, most people live like it will never happen to them. Rarely do you hear from those who are actively living a life with the full, active knowledge that they are dying. The Stoics say EVERYONE should live every day like this, and wrote in detail about how to do that. Unfortunately modern man tends to not consider death until it is too late. The ones who do write about it tend to have some kind of terminal illness that brings the question to the top of mind. So the most available modern thinkers on living well while dying are the rich, smart terminally ill. Like Peter Barton. Or Paul Kalanithi.

Barton is not a philosopher. He was a very successful and smart business man. The book (thankfully) doesn’t spend too much time on biography and all the self important things done in life (although Barton did some awesome things). Barton stays focused on what the cancer was TEACHING him about living. On how to separate the body and the mind/soul. On how to focus on building the present. Barton had a partner writer live with him and help write the book over the last 9 months of his life. While I understand why he did this (he was not a writer), the chapters trade off between Barton’s first person account and Shames’ second person account. I didn’t like that structure and wish it had all been first person (even if it was ghost written).

I guess what I am looking for in these books are the nuggets that become self evident when you know your days are numbered, that you should have figured out beforehand. Here are some of my favorites.

“… as death grows imminent, the fear of it no longer serves a purpose.”

“My frame of mind was something I could still control.”

“Don’t ask permission, just beg forgiveness. If you’re going to make a mistake, make it with your foot on the accelerator. If you drive with one foot on the brake, you’re not for us.”

“No future. If that notion is surreal and terrifying, it is also vastly liberating.”

“…wealth is a great deal more enjoyable if you’ve already taught yourself that you can have a good time without it.”

“There’s a next level where the soul can go, and the body can’t. Not that dissolving a partnership is every easy. But the alternative is even worse. Let the sout be sullied by the complaints of the body, and you’ve lost not only in one of life’s arenas, but two. ”

“When I hurt, I hurt. But it’s the attitude toward the pain that makes all the difference. Pain can make you thoroughly miserable, or pain can just be pain.”

Overall, a worthwhile read, but not 5 stars due to the clunky structure and mixed narrative.

View all my reviews