Friday, January 29, 2016

Week 5: Renounce

Renouncement. It sounds like such an archaic concept, doesn't it? Sure, these days we may “give up” things these days, but it doesn't quite have the same impact as renouncing something.

Renouncement is somewhat different than giving something up, though, yes, it does mean letting things go. It also means to reject something, to disown something. Disown. That's a harsh term, isn't it? Parents disown their kids and that's pretty much the only time we use that word.

I touched a bit on this in the last post about endurance. I talked about how I gave up my gaming system and had to deal with the subsequent feelings. I wouldn't call this renouncement, though, because I didn't give it up for my own good, but rather because we, uh, we bought a cavy. We needed the money.

However, if I disowned the system, I would have gotten rid of it because it was eating up my life. Even though I enjoy playing games and still do, I would have gotten rid of it for myself personally.

Of course, there's bigger things we can renounce in our lives, too. Perhaps we stop a certain way of living because, even though it may feel good, it ends up destroying your world and maybe even others. Maybe you renounce a job because of stress, even if it pays very well.

Okay, but how is this really all that different from giving something up?

To answer that, let me tell you a few things.

I just finished reading Level Up Your Life by Steve Kamb, of Nerd Fitness fame. He speaks of calling his goals in life “quests” because there's a more heroic quality to them by saying that. It motivated him to live his life out like a video game.

Gretchen Ruben, author of The Happiness Project, calls some of her activities meditations. She isn't just standing in life, it's her “line standing meditation.” She isn't just writing, but her “writing meditation.” It helps her focus more and gives her an almost Buddhist-like patience, even if for only a little while.

The same could be said of renouncement. There's an almost mystical quality, something a monk does. There's something to be said about adding more profundity to life, even if you're the only person that knows you're doing it.

The Challenge

Like last week, this one's hard to make people do. Some people don't have much to renounce to begin with. Others don't even know where to begin. So this is going to be part challenge, part journal.

If you can think of something to renounce, try it. If you have given something up, write about it.

Yeah, that's all I got for this week. These past two weeks haven't been so much of a challenge as it was a spiritual exercise.

Saturday, January 23, 2016


So I have to thank Aubrey Portwood for this idea because I never would have thought of it.

For everyone who feels like sharing their progress during the Year of Stoic Living, use #stoicliving2016 to let everyone know in the community.

Mr. Portwood posted his Week 2 and Week 3 experience over at his blog, And if anyone else is publicly writing a journal or feels like talking about how they doing so far, let me know!

Friday, January 22, 2016

Week 4: Endure

For the next two weeks, we're going to focus on a paraphrased saying of Epictetus: Endure and renounce.

For the fourth week, we're going to focus on “Endure.” In order to do that, we have to know what that means in a Stoic sense.

Stoics were known for enduring a lot in life. Epictetus endured pain. Cato endured moral corruption. Marcus endured wars and traitors. And this isn't even to count all the nameless Stoics whose lives were filled with their own personal woes that had to be confronted and survived.

It might sound like the Stoics were sort of pushovers that let life do pretty much whatever it want to do. The thing is, endurance of problems doesn't mean you don't try to change anything. Cato fought the corruption he saw. Marcus forgave the traitors and did his best to end the wars. And Epictetus, unable to do much for the pain, focused instead on changing his thoughts about his pain.

Enduring is a concept seemly missing in today's world, at least as far as I can see. People openly complain about coworkers they don't like, making themselves and others around them miserable. If they don't like their job, they'll let everyone short of the people that can fire them know. Don't like your elected officials? TO THE INTERNET! Surly airing one's political views on Facebook will calm your ire.

Except, none of it does. Oliver Burkeman, author of the book The Antidote, cites a study suggesting that airing your dirty laundry to everyone – also know as letting off steam – can keep the feelings fresh. Plus, when other people can give you input, they also might give you even more reasons to be upset.

But endurance, as I said, isn't just rolling over. Is your coworker impacting how you work, or how well your job goes? If not, well, maybe you just let it go or muster the courage to talk directly to them. If they truly are a problem, talk – not whine – to management. Don't like your job? Quit, or work on finding a new one. Mayor Jim Bob McCoy passes a law you don't like? Write to Jim Bob. Protest Jim Bob. Let Jim Bob know.

Endurance helps us in other ways, too. For one thing, it helps build up our willpower. If we start a new diet or try to quit smoking or drinking, we're going to have to endure cravings, people possibly teasing us, and having to learn new ways to cope with the problems these things might have help us solve once. If we seek a new path in life – liking trying to write a novel or going back to college later in life – you might have to deal with mocking, uncertainty, and pushing past failures.

Endurance is a skill we all can learn. It's also something that, if weak, can be made stronger. It will also help you with next week's task: renounce.

There aren't too many ways we can build this skill up in life voluntarily, but here are a couple of suggestions:

  • Try to keep complaining down to a minimum. I've tried this one and, let me tell you, it's not as easy as it seems.
  • Quit doing something you find rewarding, but it impacts your life negatively. Video games were this for me for awhile. I'd play for hours, ignoring work I wanted to do as well as my wife and son. I sold the system I had (which plays into renouncing) and was able to quit for awhile. Now that I can play games again, though, I feel it creeping back up on me.

That's it for now. Next week, we're going to tackle renouncing. I'm also looking for ideas for week 6, so keep those suggestions coming.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Year of Stoic Living, Week 3: Create a Motto

I'd like to apologize for this getting posted late. My son has been sick lately and the doctor we've been seeing has been prompt, yet a little inattentive. So we took him to the hospital. Needless to say, he missed the strep throat my son has. Because of this, I'm not going to make this one too long.

Anyway, here's this week's post.

Stoic Memories

Part of the Stoic training of old included coming up with way to remembering the teachings in times of need. It's was hard to remember the entirety of The Discourses while in the middle of a war, in times of extreme distress, or any time that makes thinking too philosophical too hard.

The best way to remember something is to make it simple.

The Challenge

Okay, this one is simple, more for preparing for future troubles.

Choose some texts to read for this week. It could be from one philosopher, one text, whatever. It doesn't even have to be a Stoic text. Anything that inspires mental calm or moral fortitude in you will work.

Read however much you'd like or until you get inspired.

For example, having read Letter 1 of Seneca's, I came up with “I am dying everyday.” It reminds me that my life is short.

Like I said, I'm going to have to cut this short this week. I just wanted to have this posted for you guys.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Year of Stoic Living, Week 2: Negative Visualization

A lot of people like beginning the New Year contemplating all the good that might come into their lives. Everyone thinks about the weight they'll lose, the many book they'll read, and in general about the better people they'll become. But how many of us keep in mind that a New Year could mean things becoming worse, too?

We could lose loved one. We may lose our jobs. Our homes. There's as much hope in the New Year as there is dread. But most don't take this fact to heart. And I think this is what causes most people to stop improving themselves. Because they forget the other half of hope, dread overcomes them the second something bad happens.

Let's try to change that up by taking the time to think of what may go wrong with our resolutions.

How to Negatively Visualize Our Resolutions (or Personal Goals)

This isn't about being Sadness from Inside Out. We're not just thinking about the worst that could happen. We're also thinking of ways to deal with the worst.

Let's take the common resolution of weight loss. We already know the best outcome: we lose weight. But what's the worst outcome? We gain weight. And can we deal with that? By being careful observers of what gave us more weight. Maybe you binged. Maybe you have a food addiction problem. Whatever the case is, doing our best to detail what could go wrong and plan accordingly will help ease the emotions we may feel in our darkest times.

One way to make this process is to make a flow chart, like this:

Yes, I know. It's amazing.

Maybe a flow chart isn't your thing. You could make a bad things outline:

  • Resolution 1
    • Bad Outcome 1
      • Fix 1
      • Fix 2
    • Bad Outcome 2
      • Fix 1
      • Fix 2
      • Fix 3

As a general point, you might not want to tackle too many resolutions at once. And you should also keep in mind there isn't always a fix. Sometimes we fail and there's just nothing we can do but start over. Or perhaps our goal just isn't realistic.

But maybe you aren't a resolution kind of person. Maybe the resolution you have is to pick up the habit of negative visualization.

How to Do Negative Visualization

I've already written a post on this subject if you want to go more in-depth on the subject of why we should and how to do it. However, I'll do a quick and dirty version here for you.

This one is a little harder if you ask me, because it's not failure of minor goals we're focusing on. We're focusing on the things in life we could lose.

People could die. We could die. Bad things happen.

Much like with our resolutions, sometimes by thinking of the worst that can happen, we can think of ways to fix it ahead of time so that, when it happens, so can quickly try to take control. But more often than not, these bigger loses aren't about us being able to fix it. It's about being able to cope with the bad happening.

What if you were dying? Odds are, there's no fix for this. But there are ways to cope. There are ways to make it easier on you and others. The first step is to acknowledge that this may happen this year.

This doesn't have to be one of those things you do every year or even that long. Sometimes, the simple acknowledgment of something going wrong is enough to give us the ability to cope. A sticky note with the words I'm dying everyday placed somewhere you can see it might be enough to change how you live your life. Perhaps you want to take a half-hour once a week and pick something to think about. All you have to do is find what works for you.

The Challenge
  • Choose a resolution you made and make a flow chart or outline (or whatever) of things that could wrong. Make sure you include ways to cope and/or fix failures. Have this flow chart somewhere you can find it when you fail so you can remind yourself of your fixes and coping tacit. Aren't the type to make resolutions? Choose a personal goal of yours.
  • Pick up the habit of negative visualization. Figure out how often you want to do it and a way you want to do.

Your Journal

Just so we're clear, your journal doesn't have to be everyday. You could write once a week, once a day, once every five minutes, whatever. And it doesn't always have to be about the challenge, either. It could be how you used Stoicism or want to start using Stoicism. I like to do mine once every other day or so, at least once a week.

A Facebook and Subreddit

Next Week...

We'll see...

Monday, January 4, 2016

Short Post: Action and Inaction

I saw an interesting comic over on Reddit the other day that sums up something I never realized really until just today:

We make the lives we want not only by what actions we take, but also by what actions we don't take.

I guess that thought was always in the back of my mind, but it never really came out until now. While there is a lot to say about what actions we do take, I think we can sometimes found out more about ourselves by the actions we don't take. It also speaks a lot about what we say to ourselves.

For example, for the longest time, I've been determined to become a fiction writer. Or so I thought.

See, for all the complaining I do about having to deal with bosses, by not having enough time to do what I want with life, by everything I say really, I thought that somehow, one day, maybe something would click.

The only think that clicked was my mouse as I played video games.

See, my mouth might have been saying I wanted to be a writer, but my actions said I wanted to be a seafood clerk that pretends to really love his job but really just sort kind of like it. My actions tell me that I actually want to be an inattentive father who pretends he's just doing one more thing on the computer, trust me son, I'll be right with you, but oh look, I'm just checking this game out one last time.

My lack of actions as a writer, a father, and as a man who wants to be free of the 9-5 crap tell me that much as well.

“People pay for what they do, and still more, for what they have allowed themselves to become. And they pay for it very simply: by the lives they lead.” -James Baldwin

I would add one more line: People pay for what they don't do, too.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Year of Stoic Living, Week 1: Cold Showers

Wow. Just, wow. I didn't think you guys would go down this route for the first week. But cold showers won, so...

Really? I have to freeze my ass off? For what?

Yes, but it isn't as bad as you think it is.

First, let's start with some non-Stoic reasons to take a cold shower.

  • It's good for the blood. Taking a cold shower makes your blood run towards your organs to warm them up. Heat it up and your blood goes to your skin to keep your innards cool.
  • It can make you happier. A quick cold shower releases a chemical in your brain that helps battle depression.
  • According to some, it'll help you lose weight. The cold increases metabolism, which works those calories right off. You know, if you're into that sort of thing.

There are other reasons, but what does this mean for the Stoic? Why should taking a cold shower be considered a philosophical practice?

For starters, cold showers aren't know for being fun. I've taken a few myself just for the experience of it and still find myself gasping like a ninny, thinking that maybe, somehow, I'll be better about it. But, no, just as bad as before.

Which makes it great for confronting discomfort in a safe way. After all, there are good odds that a cold shower isn't going to kill you. Sure, maybe if you have a heart problem, the jolt could be too much. But for most of us, all it's going to be is a jolt. It doesn't hurt. It just sucks.

For a Stoic, this is ideal. Few things in your life is going to suck as much as a cold shower. Your day to day is not likely to be so disastrous and terrible that the cold shower is actually the best part of your day. Boss is getting on your case? Traffic is terrible? Well, at least they're not ice cold water running down your back.

Learning to deal with discomfort in this controlled way trains you to do better when other discomforts come along without warning. And it doesn't take much to train this skill, either.

How to Take A Cold Shower

There are few ways you can take a cold shower.

  • Just blast the ice and jump in. This is how I do it as taking a hot shower first lessens my chances of turning it to cold. It'll be the quickest shower you'll ever take, though. Get wet, get soapy, get rinsed. Out in a few minutes.
  • Do what the Art of Manliness calls the “James Bond shower”: Start hot to get wet and soapy, then turn it ice cold to rinse off. Supposedly, this is better for getting cleaned, as the hot water opens the pores to clean out the dirt and the ice water closes them up tight to keep dirt out.
  • Turn the cold water on to the point where it's annoying enough. This is good for your first time and how I used to do it. Start off like you'd take a shower normally, then get it so the cold is just a little colder than you'd like it.
How often should you do this? The Art of Manliness suggests taking a cold shower at least once a day. Personally, I think this is a bit much, but for this week, try to take one once a day if at all possible, barring anything that might prevent this (currently, our shower is being rebuilt, so to be honest, I'll have to start later this week). Afterwards, do it at least once a month.

Oh, One More Thing

You're starting a journal. No, you can't wiggle your way out of this.

I've avoided this one for a long time, too. But one of the best ways to keep habits we want is to monitor what we're doing and one of the best ways to do that is journal about what we're doing.

It doesn't have to be major. It could be at the end of the week, every other day, whatever. It's could be a paragraph or a full-fledged thesis. Whatever it takes for you monitor yourself and get your own feedback on how you're doing.

Anything Else?

Yeah, one more thing. I want to try to do a Google Hangout once a week, but I can't promise a certain date or anything like that. Retail makes that hard. But this is meant to be a group project, something we all have a say in, so I'd like it if we got together when we can and talk about how we're doing and where we want to go.

Next Week

Negative Visualization. It's good to practice the basics.

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