Been reading a lot of philosophy over the break. I am reminded that all this thinking about how to live is not for the thinking sake alone. Unless I turn these words into works there is no value. I would have just wasted all that brain power staring at my navel. As the Daily Stoic Journal puts it:
“The art of living will never be found anywhere but in your own efforts to be a good person. It is not to fill up pages with pretty thoughts but to inspire you to take action, to turn the words, as Seneca said, into works.
or as Marcus Aurelius wrote in Meditations 3.14,
“Get busy with life’s purpose, toss aside empty hopes, get active in your own rescue – if you can care for yourself at all -and do it while you can.”
This weekend I was with an interesting group of misfits on a short retreat focused on consciousness exploration and insight. There was a lot of time spent identifying negative stories that may no longer serve us going forward. One verbal trick the facilitator used to break negative habits is to replace “but” with “and” in most cases. I found it incredibly liberating and helpful. “But” tends to be an ending, to stop the thoughts, while “and…so” offers the opportunity to continue. Here are some common examples.
“That girl is so amazing, but she will probably not want to talk to me.” End of conversation.
“That girl is so amazing, and she will probably not want to talk to me, so If I am right, I don’t lose anything by trying.” Opportunity opens.
“I want a promotion at work, but I don’t have enough experience to get it.”
“I want a promotion at work, and I don’t have enough experience to get it, so I will Focus on building experience needed for a future promotion.”
“My father was an asshole, but I am sure he did the best he could.” making excuses, a justification for hurt.
“My father was an asshole, and I am sure he did the best he could, so I am going to do the best I can with my children and not dwell on how bad my parents were.” Turn a negative memory into motivation to do better now.
This morning during Morning Pages, I went on a rant which started from one of my core beliefs: That the only thing which is truly my own is my Reasoned Choice: Prohairesis. The bottom line is that you are the sum of the choices in your life. And everything in life can be taken away except your choice (assuming your brain is still working, if you loose your mind, you may not even have choice left).
The problem of this morning was the flip side of Choice. The consequences. What if you never look authentically at the consequences. I have come to believe that the reality of rational choice also imposes the responsibility of rational contemplation and review of choices and consequences thereof. If you never review your choices and evaluate if they are serving you, then you give up the responsibility for those choices. Choices without reflection are just reactions. They are of the autonomic nervous system. The challenge in this world is to be a better HUMAN, not a better animal. The Human part requires reflection, contemplation, and review of the Choices. That is why I like the morning gratitude journal and the evening Examin prayer (modified). I see I need to write about those. More tomorrow.
At coffee this morning with a buddy of mine, we were discussing his “emotional bank account” with his wife and the balances/imbalance thereof. While many relationship books and advice talk about this “bank account” and the importance of keeping it in “balance”, this has never sat well with me. In my experience, the problem is not the absolute balance in the emotional bank account at any one time, but the degree of AGENCY you allow the balance is this fictitious “account” over your mood and actions at any given point in time. In short over attachment to the emotional account balance is the problem. The solution is to remove the attachment, reduce the agency of the absolute balance at any one time. As with most things, focus on the process, the journey, not one point in time measurement.
By focusing on the “balance” at any one point in time, one can lose focus of the bigger picture: the journey. That is the core problem with allowing a measurement tool like the emotional bank account to determine or influence your reaction to the world or your current mood. Let us consider the three possible states of the account and the natural reactions to each.
Even. You feel like the balance in the account is even between you and your partner. Everything is easy, peasy. In balance. And boring! What happens in this state too long is you get restless. Nothing is happening. There is no drama either way. So you get complacent and bored. And you do something to put it out of balance mostly out of boredom rather than any malice. In my experience, “even” has never been a long-term state of an account like this. While ‘even” may seem like a laudable goal, when I have been in it, it never lasts and never satisfies. Identification with an “even” balance in the account always leads to boredom and an abrupt state change in my experience.
Negative. When my balance is at a deficit somehow. Either I am not getting enough of what I want/need/desire (all problematic words in themselves), or when my partner tells me they are not getting enough (meaning I have not put enough into my side of the equation). However it is calculated, when I feel like I am in a “negative” state, feelings of guilt, shame, unworthiness come up. Also, self-righteousness can rear it’s head “I deserve better than this”, “I am doing all I can and it still isn’t good enough for XXX, why am I bothering?” So I get sensitive and defensive which is never a good state to be in, especially if trying to have a relationship. I have found it is very hard to grow to a positive place when I am focused on how negative the balance in an account is and how much I “deserve” more/better balance. Identification with a “negative ” balance in the account always leads to defensiveness and makes progress out of that state even harder in my experience.
Positive. When my balance is positive in my favor somehow. Either I have put in (in my mind) multiple deposits over and above the average, or in relation to my “other” in the deal, I am somehow “better” than the other at some point in time. This causes feelings of superiority, separation, and more self-righteousness. Identification with a “positive” balance in the account always leads to feelings of superiority/separateness and makes connections even harder in my experience.
In my experience, I am not happy in any “state” of the emotional balance account. Given that no state of the account produces contentment, nor is any state a stable state (they always change), the best way to deal is to transcend the attachment to ANY STATE. This is not the same as ignoring or denying the existence of the emotional balance sheet. It is a real thing. People generally keep the register in their head. The register is not the problem. It is your identification with any particular STATE of the register which is the problem. You are not your emotional balance sheet state. Transcend identification with the state and you are then FREE of that burden. Be aware of the state, make deposits and withdrawals, but do not IDENTIFY with the STATE.
Saturday was Women’s Equality Day and it happened to fall just as the controversy about a memo from an employee of Google about female programmers is finally dying down. If the ancient Stoics were here they would have shaken their heads at that entire fiasco. First, they wouldn’t let the scribblings of anyone, let alone some random employee at a tech company, get them so upset. And second, they would have said to that random employee, “What the hell are you so worked up about, man?”
They would have disliked the memo because it tried to argue about averages, as if they mattered in any practical way. The Stoics had no time for that nonsense—they cared about the individual. They would have agreed with Theodore Roosevelt’s point when he was asked about the then controversial movement for women’s suffrage. He said he didn’t understand the big deal, because whatever differences there might have been between genders, it paled between the differences he saw between “men and other men.” Point being: It doesn’t matter what group anyone is a part of—it only matters what they do with their individual capacities and potentials.
The Stoics were shockingly early to the notion of equality of the sexes. As Musonius Rufus put it, “not men alone, but women too, have a natural inclination toward virtue and the capacity for acquiring it, and it is the nature of women no less than men to be pleased by good and just acts and to reject the opposite of these.” More important, they believed that everyone and anyone was capable of excellence, regardless of station, origin, or gender. Epictetus was a slave, Marcus was emperor, Cato’s daughter was a woman and so was Seneca’s mother Helvia, who he wrote often about Stoicism—all were expected to rise to their particular occasions and we admire them because they did.
The next time you find yourself drawn into some idiotic debate about racial differences, about gender, about immigration, about identity, resist the mistake of applying labels and make judgements from them. There are brilliant men out there and utterly incompetent ones. There are brilliant women and utterly incompetent ones. (And this is true for every other kind of category.) We are all equal in that way. The only inequality that matters—that we should judge people on—is what they do as an individual.
I have always wondered why I have a crappy night sleep when I go to bed a little tipsy. While I feel like I can fall asleep faster, the net metabolic effect is negative. The liver basically steals resources from the brain to clear the toxins and you do r get the restoration you need.
From fast company:
“Alcohol is a depressant and neurotoxin, which means it slows down the central nervous system’s processes by reducing electrical conductivity in the brain. This means that neurons, which send and receive the electrical signals that cause the release of neurotransmitters, operate more slowly. In fact, if you spent the evening drinking and then went to sleep wearing a heart-rate variability monitor, it would show significantly increased levels of stress for your body while you slept.
That’s thanks to the body’s physiological response when it’s trying to break down a toxin, the liver works harder when it should be resting, leading to a stressed state from which you’ll wake up feeling exhausted. Throughout the night, as the liver uses a higher proportion of the body’s energy than usual, the brain is starved of its usual resources and struggles to recuperate effectively for the next day.”
This is a question Subir’s grandfather used to ask him when he was six years old and he still remembers. I am going to do this with Madison soon.
Offer your child a coin (quarter) ( I may upgrade this to a $5 for inflation) or a pen. Which would they choose?
If they choose the money (which most will to fulfill an immediate desire for candy or some other short-term “need”), say “No, the wrong choice”.
Always choose the pen. With a pen, you can create something, you can write notes for years on college, you can take tests, you can pen a master piece. With the pen, you have long term creativity. With the money you have short term desire fulfillment, then you need more. Always choose long term creativity.
Bulletproof Labs, is working on a new battery of assessments to measure how “Bulletproof” someone is. While “Bulletproof” in many ways is a marketing term which defines a lifestyle brand, the brand seems to be putting some work into quantitive measurements (in the good old hacker vein of “data is good”). Over at Bulletproof Training Institute, they have taken a stab at how to measure “Bulletproof” through a series of self-reported assessments. These are mostly clinical or academic assessments that have been well tested and validated. Bulletproof Labs has implemented digital versions of each of these assessments as part of developing their business. The assessments are here:
Taking all six will take you less than half an hour. Each assessment has a results page and a follow-up email pointing to the underlying research and some advice on what to do if you want to change your score. I look forward to how BP Labs is going to integrate assessments into their business. From my experience after taking over 1,000 of these things of all shapes and sizes, these six assessments give you a pretty good window into how well you are living life. For a quick snapshot, take these six. Contemplate the results. Decide if you want to change anything to move any of these scales in a different direction.