Marcus Aurelius had a very practical way of looking at the world, and his pragmatism stands out in his book Meditations when he is taking about the ways in which we become frustrated. Rather than allowing himself to be driven by emotions he was able to slow himself down and think about his thoughts and what should be done. This aspect of stoicism helped him see the world in a more wholesome manner, and it can help one reduce stress and overcome points of frustration.
Aurelius wrote, “It is not right to vex ourselves at things, For they care nought about it,” to remind himself that he should not give anything outside of his mind the power to control his mind. In our world of technology I think this idea fits perfectly into our lives. It is not uncommon for a piece of technology (our computers, TVs, wireless routers, headphones, etc…) to frustrate us. When we expect our technology to operate seamlessly, we become very disappointed and sometimes irate when things fail. Allowing ourselves to be overcome with emotion in these situations will not help our devices, and will often lead to worse situations. What Aurelius would argue is that we should never allow an inanimate object to control our life to the point where it can challenge our emotional wellbeing.
When looking at how we should perceive the world around us, Aurelius wrote, “the things which are external to my mind have no relation at all to my mind.” What he is explaining in this quote is that his mind is its own entity and that it cannot be directly affected by anything outside of our heads. We choose how we want to allow our mind to react to the world around us because our mind is in control of itself. When we allow our technology to be the singular thing that brings us joy then we are giving an item control over our brain. When an external event demolishes our emotional state, we are choosing to abandon control of our mind, and we are letting things that do not directly touch our brain to have power over the one thing we absolutely control.
Divorcing ourselves from reliance on things outside ourselves (technology, relationships, activities) helps us to regain control of our faculties of mind. Aurelius would not argue that we should not enjoy the world around us and the point of stoicism is not to avoid any emotional feeling, but we should be able to recognize our thoughts and emotions and adjust our mental framing to be more productive and helpful. We should accept our feelings and understand them, but we should also have the mental control to shape the actions, decisions, and perspectives of our life. When we give things external to the mind the power to direct the mind, we give up our independence and become subordinate to things.
In Meditations, Marcus Aurelius focuses on the power of our minds and how we can change our thoughts to improve the way we move through the world. He focuses on self-awareness and the importance of recognizing how we behave and react to things and events in our lives. By taking control of our thoughts and actions we give ourselves the power to guide our life in a way that is the most productive and helps us be the best possible version of ourselves.
When it comes to our behaviors and reactions Aurelius writes, “It is in our power to have no opinion about a thing, and not to be disturbed in our soul, for things themselves have no natural power to form our judgements” (emphasis mine). What Aurelius is saying in this quote is that we can decide how we will react to events in our world and that we shape the way that our lives play out. In the general course of our lives we can change the way we think about and perceive events that we deem to be negative if we can refocus our thoughts and find a positive perspective.
Changing our thoughts means that we have to recognize that no event and no thing has power over our individual faculties of mind. We always have control over our mind even if we have lost all else. Certainly this is a great challenge during major life challenges like illness, foreclosure, and death, but recognizing your own ability to control your faculties of mind can help give you a stillness during the tempest, and return power to your situation. Aurelius argues that this ability allows us to abandon the idea that something is either good or bad, and gives us the skill to evaluate the world in a more complete manner. It is in our power to decide whether we think something is good or bad, an it is up to us to determine how any event or item impacts our life.
“Take away thy opinion, and there is taken away the complaint, “I have been harmed.” Take away the complaint, “I have been harmed,” and the harm is taken away.”
This is one of the short passages that Marcus Aurelius wrote down in his common place book in the second century, and it is one of my favorite quotes in the work which was published after his death as Meditations. His views and ideas about stoicism are shared throughout his writing, and the quote above is one of the best examples of what stoicism is, and how it can be implemented in our lives. Taking control of the mind is a central part of stoicism, and controlling our thoughts leads to better actions, controlled behavior, and choices that lead to better life outcomes.
Aurelius’ quote above shows how important our thoughts and perceptions can be. It shows how frequently we filter everything in our lives through a good or bad lens, and what we are truly doing when we look at the world in such a way. How we respond and what we think is very often shaped by how we perceive an event. If we think that something is good while it is happening or being said, then we are more likely to be moved to participate with it. When someone says something that we view as being wrong or negative, we react by pushing against what was said and holding ourselves in opposition to the individual or group that said it.
For Aurelius, the stoic emperor, the goals was to live without opinion and to be able to open perspective to take in all angles of an event. He strained to see the world objectively by taking away his opinion, and examining the world in the way it is, and not how he wanted it to be. This is never an easy task as it does not eliminate all perspective, but it helps us begin to see things and think about things from the perspective of others. Abandoning opinion and not needing to deem every situation or occurrence as good or bad allows us to grow and connect with others in new ways. We become better at understanding the motives and actions of others, and we can make better decisions that do not intentionally ostracize or damage another.
One of the main ideas in the philosophy of stoicism is the ability to control the mind and the thoughts that we have. When we practice stoicism we are building our self-awareness so that we can reflect on not just our actions and decisions, but also the thoughts that we have. We are able to use an increased self-awareness to better organize our thoughts and begin to think in a better way. Marcus Aurelius wrote a note to himself in his book that would be published as Meditations, and in his note he address the idea that we can build our mind up through thought and self-awareness to where we can have an internal place of safety and comfort. “Tranquility is nothing else than the good ordering of the mind,” Aurelius wrote in the middle of a passage about desire and distress.
When I first read and highlighted this quote I left myself a note saying, “no matter what happens around us, the mind can be peaceful and tranquil through the control of our thoughts.” This idea encompasses what Aurelius was writing about in the larger section from which I took this quote. He is addressing the idea that we are sovereign over our mind and that no one can tell us how to think, what to think, how to react or feel, or how to behave in any situation. For Aurelius, the idea of mental sovereignty meant that he had the power to control himself in any situation and that he could determine who he was in any situation.
Through meditation and self-awareness Marcus Aurelius explains that we can learn to become more egalitarian and magnanimous in our lives. He encourages us to live comfortably and simply, and to not let ourselves be guided by passion as opposed to reason. When we practice self-awareness we are able to recognize parts of ourselves that are not treating others fairly or are allowing other people to shake our mind. By focusing inward and recognizing our emotions and reactions we can change the way we think and the way we behave. Ultimately, this recognition will give us greater control and focus throughout our lives, and it will allow us to become more temperate and peaceful in our actions, decisions, and interactions with others.
Marcus Aurelius was the emperor of Rome during the 2nd century, and while he was leader he wrote down his thoughts in what would later be published as the stoic philosophy guide book, Meditations. A reoccurring thought for Aurelius and something he focused on from multiple perspectives, is the way in which we think about ourselves, those around us, and how we relate to others. For Aurelius, comparing ourselves and our fortunes to that of others and those around us was one of the most dangerous things we could do. In Meditations he wrote down multiple notes reminding himself that he should focus inward and practice self-awareness as opposed to looking outward at others. His point is well explained by the following quote, “Do not waste the remainder of thy life in thoughts about others, when though dost not refer thy thoughts to some object of common utility.”
What he is explaining in this quote is the importance of focusing your thoughts toward useful and meaningful objects or goals. When we look at other people and spend our time wondering what they are thinking, feeling, or trying to accomplish, we are losing an opportunity to do something meaningful and powerful with our own thoughts. Rather than finding a useful outlet for our focus, we are dialing in on forces we cannot control and cannot ever know. Thoughts about others should be centered around ways in which you can interact with them to reach toward a common goal, to improve society, or to do something that benefits the other.
To build Aurelius’ advice into our lives today, a practice of self-awareness is necessary. For me, I try to focus inward and understand my thoughts while I am exercising or writing. A reflective focus during these times helps me build a habit of being more present in my thoughts throughout the day so that I can better recognize when my thoughts are drifting into negative or wasteful areas. It is a constant practice, and I need to be continually reminded to refocus my thoughts and outlook. I believe that Aurelius would have felt the same way in his life, after all, he felt the need to write these ideas down time and time again in his common place book. Once we begin to better recognize our thoughts and feelings we can pause throughout our day to ask ourselves why we are thinking a certain way about those around us. We can begin to change those thoughts and to adjust during times when we sense our focus drifting toward gossip.
In Meditations, Marcus Aurelius writes about how we should think about those around us to become more benevolent in our thoughts and actions. Specifically, while writing about the way we think of and speak of others who are not as educated as us, he introduces an idea of compassion that is not seen very often in our society today. When we think about those around us we often paint a negative image of those who have different points of view or seem to have very limited knowledge regarding a particular subject. We enjoy laughing at others and we enjoy putting them down (usually not to their face). Aurelius writes that he learned a key skill from Sextus, “to tolerate ignorant persons, and those who form opinions without consideration.” This skill that Aurelius learned translated into the way he thought about others and the jumbled beliefs that arise from a lack of true study of any given subject.
Aurelius truly believed that everyone was acting in a way that made the most sense to them. He saw everyone as doing the best that they could to disentangle the world and understand it better, even if that meant that they were relying on faulty reasoning or were guided by misinformation. His argument is that we should not shame others for holding beliefs that we do not agree with or that we see as counterfactual. By tolerating ignorance we avoid falling into rage and anger and we do not elevate ourselves beyond others. When we understand that others are trying to focus their lives in a way that seems the most logical to them, then we understand why they may be ignorant in the ways that they are. Building this perspective also helps us to see that we are not any better than others and that we have our own fields where we are misinformed and ignorant of the true functioning of the world.
In our world today we share videos making fun of people that are uneducated, misinformed, or are acting in ways that seem primitive to us. When we do this we are subconsciously grouping ourselves and reverting back to a tribal mentality. We belong to a camp of more sophisticated people, while the people who we find ignorant belong to a camp of primitive savages. We may get a laugh, but we are not recognizing the value of others while we are asserting our own superiority. Often times we attack the individuals we laugh at for being misinformed or ignorant rather than asking ourselves how they came to hold the beliefs that they have cultivated. When we can shift our focus through a practice of tolerance and understanding, we can create safer institutions for sharing positive information, build better connections between ourselves and the portions of society we do not agree with, and help everyone progress in a more meaningful manner.
Fred Kiel addresses his ideas about disciplined decision making processes in his book Return on Character which focuses on the ways in which leaders with strong moral character make greater impacts on the companies they lead than do leaders with weak moral character. Part of Kiel’s idea regarding these strong moral leaders is that they have worked on processes of self reflection, and they are able to control the quick emotional side of their brain in favor of the slow, deliberate, and rational part of their brain. By understanding that their immediate reaction may provide valuable intuitions and by slowing down their decision making process to use reason over emotion, these leaders can make better decisions that help improve the lives of everyone, not just themselves.
While discussing this decision making process Kiel also mentions the idea of confirmation bias. He hits briefly on the idea that we find information that confirms thoughts and ideas that we had already developed which in our mind proves our thoughts correct. Rather than seeking information that challenges our preconceived notions, we look for news stories, data points, and other people who see things the same way. When we succumb to confirmation bias we begin to build a capsule of likeminded individuals around us that shields us from opposing thoughts and ideas. The danger here is that our ideas could be wrong, impractical, morally shallow, or just not as advantageous for growth and progress as we think they are. If we can become comfortable with shifting perspectives and learn to discuss other view points, then we will become a more well-rounded individual.
By striving to avoid confirmation bias leaders can make better decisions and be more connected to their employees, customers, and competition. They can become more adaptive and better predict how the world in which they operate will change, giving them an advantage in moving forward. When leaders succumb to confirmation bias they have only one option for success, and if it does not pan out they will not have the flexibility and varying perspectives to turn the situation around.
When we incorporate multiple perspectives we can actually better develop our own perspective. We can begin to add new parts and pieces to our ideas helping them become more robust. The goal of finding new perspectives should not be to stockpile our own ammunition against those perspectives, but to better understand why others see the world in those differing manners so that we can better connect with them and better adapt to suite not just our own needs, but everyones. To truly avoid confirmation bias you must seek out other information which conflicts with your thoughts, and you must digest that information from multiple perspectives.
In his book Considerations Colin Wright borrows from Marcus Aurelius and the philosophy of stoicism when he writes about the way we respond to the world and the events that occur in our life on a daily basis. “You can’t change the world around you. Not easily, at least. And as a result, it’s far better to have control over how you respond to the outside world, rather than trying to adjust and manipulate and manage every other person (and thing) on the planet.” Wright’s statement is very similar to the idea of stoicism that Marcus Aurelius lays out in his book Meditations where he constantly explains that our opinions shape our reactions and emotions to given situations. He urges the reader to better control their thoughts so that they can chose their response in a given situation, and choose their ideas and beliefs about people and situations around them. By increasing self awareness we can better understand our feelings and reactions, allowing us to be the best version of ourselves.
Wright’s quote provides a dose of reality in addition to self awareness. We like to think that we control the world around us and influence the people we interact with on a daily basis, but in many ways we have little impact on what happens around us. As we enter a presidential election year we will likely forget this at many points as we think of the value of our vote and the impact that national policy may have on our lives. If we start to think more deeply we may notice that national policy will not have the great impact on our lives that we imagine, and our vote may not be as consequential as we wish. We should not be filled with despair at these realizations, but rather, we should recognize that we can choose our response and and find a way to react more positively and more aligned with reality.
Writing about our responses to the world around us, Wright argues that we should build our awareness of our thoughts and reactions so we can recognize how we think about the world so that we can act in a way that better serves ourselves and others. Rather than believing we can control and manipulate others, we should allow ourselves to understand our lack of control so that we see more value in cooperation. Reacting positively to our lack of control will give us more control in the long run since we will not be locked into a system of micromanagement. Wright’s quote does not change the world, but it shows that we can change how we see and react to the world.
Throughout much of his writing, author Colin Wright tends to focus on our thoughts and the ways in which we react to things. He frequently writes about self awareness and the ways in which our interpretations of our situations affects our thoughts and reactions. By becoming a more aware person and being able to control our thoughts we are able to have more positive reactions to the world around us. In his book Considerations he writes, “Very seldom does failure have permanent repercussions. Unless you allow it to that is. Many of the negative consequences of an action tend to result not from outside forces, but from our own negative thinking.”
I think this quote shows the power of self awareness and the power of controlling our thoughts. When we are able to recognize how we are thinking and feeling about any given event, we are better able to control our thoughts and shift them in a positive direction. When we are able to do this, we are in many ways able to chose our reactions and the ways in which we act.
To me the part that stand out the most from this quote is the last few words about negative thinking. By building self awareness and focusing in on our thoughts we can reduce the amount of negative thinking in our lives in all situations. Recognizing how your are thinking and acting allows us to see when we are over emphasizing small problems. For me, being able to recognize when I am letting something unimportant impact me in a negative way has helped me feel better about myself and my situations on a daily basis.
When it comes to failure, recognizing what Wright is discussing can be huge, especially in our professional careers. We tend to fixate on things we have not done well, and we do not remember the positive parts of our workday. When we dial in on the negative we build self doubt and cling to fears. What Wright is showing when with this quote is that others won’t remember those failures as long as we will, so it is not worth lamenting over those failures. If we do not learn to control our emotions and thoughts then all we gain from failure is a negative self impression and fear. Practicing self awareness can help us shift those thoughts so that we do not hang on to a past failure and allow it to become a roadblock as we move forward.
“To cling to a view because it’s comfortable is lazy and all too common. This resistance to change is so widespread because there’s a part of our brain that tells us ‘familiar is better,’ and therefore existing views take precedence over new views we might adopt — new perspectives from which we might see the world”
Colin Wright uses this quote as the second paragraph of the chapter titled “Views” in his book Considerations. The quote ties in with his principals of learning, flexibility, and the ability to understand and see the world from as many distinct viewpoints as possible. Throughout his book Wright urges his readers to think in a more profound way about the people, events, and ideas that surround and influence them. By being a more considerate person, meaning that we take the time to consider more aspects of life than just the headlines, we can find better alignment within our life and and live more purposefully.
Allowing our views to change helps us find a true alignment with who we are. If we can not shift our views then we will be limiting our growth, and acting out of ignorance by adopting the simple views of the national media and those around us.
In the United States we have this idea that changing our views is a negative thing. It seems to imply an admission of having been wrong, a lack of integrity, and a lack of knowledge. What Wright argues is that changing our views represents the opposite of all of those things. Simply because we have changed our view on something does not mean that we were wrong to begin with. It simply means that we were looking at something with a particular perspective, and now that we have gained more information, have made new considerations, or opened up to see something the way another person would, we are viewing the world with a new perspective. Growing and developing new perspectives helps us act with more people in mind and gives us the ability to better think about what we pursue. Making decisions with better information and from perspectives that are more inclusive of others leads to greater integrity as we better understand the forces that influence us.