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Rediscovering the essentials

juanfrank77 profile image Juan F Gonzalez ・10 min read

Hello folks!

In this post, I'll be talking about the 3 essentials for the mind that I mentioned in my previous article (which in case you haven't read that one, go back and do it. It's a small read and will give you the context of what's in here).

This is what I've found works best for me and if I had to go back and start again, these are the things I would use to rebuild everything from the ground up.

So, here they are

  • Stoicism
  • Kaizen
  • The long-term vision

We'll go over each of these three in no particular order of importance

Stoicism

Stoicism is a set of beliefs and practices that originally started with Zeno of Citium who founded this philosophical school around 304 BC. It flourished throughout the Roman and Greek world until the 3rd century AC.

There were three of its main proponents, the great Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius, Seneca, and Epictetus. Most of the writings related to this philosophy have survived through the ages and led to revivals of its ideals in the Renaissance and in the contemporary era, something called "Modern Stoicism".

There are several practices of the stoics which allowed them to understand their current world, gain clarity about the happening of situations, develop emotional resilience, find happiness among circumstances, and being present in the moment amongst other things.
For the purposes of this post, I want to talk briefly about 4 which are the ones I've found the most useful.

These are

  • Practicing misfortune
  • Memento Mori
  • Premeditatio Malorum
  • Amor Fati

Practicing misfortune

"It is in times of security that the spirit should be preparing itself for difficult times; while fortune is bestowing favors on it is then is the time for it to be strengthened against her rebuffs."
Seneca

Seneca, who enjoyed great wealth being the adviser of Nero, suggested that we should set aside some time each month to practice poverty. That is, taking little food, wearing the oldest clothes, and getting away from our regular comforts.

The idea with this is not just being a thought experiment. It's actually living for a set period of time. It's reclaiming our human capacity of adaptation that has been robbed from us by the comforts of our modernized world.

The rationale behind this is that if you're living for a moment in your worst-case scenario, you have no fear of what worse thing could happen. You learn how to deal with bad situations when they'll happen.
But if you have never prepared yourself for a situation of difficulty, how will you deal with it when it inevitably happens?.

Memento Mori

"Let us prepare our minds as if we'd come to the very end of life. Let us postpone nothing. Let us balance life's books each day. ... The one who puts the finishing touches on their life each day is never short of time."
Seneca

This is a Latin expression that means "remember your mortality". It reminds us that we are just temporarily on this earth and we aren't going to live forever.
So many people live like they are going to have 100 years or more and think they have the luxury to waste time doing unfulfilling or unproductive things.

In the constant rush of daily life, obligations we have, projects that we have to work on and many other things, we don't take a moment to stop and think that there's the possibility that an accident can happen leaving us injured or, God forbid, dead. And once we're gone there's no coming back.

Many modern stoics carry a medallion (a small coin) that reminds them not only of the inevitability of death but also of the fact that every day that passes is a day that doesn't come back. It's like when people say "Time waits for nobody". or "Don't leave for tomorrow what you could be doing today."

Premeditatio Malorum

"What is quite unlooked for is more crushing in its effect, and unexpectedness adds to the weight of a disaster. This is a reason for ensuring that nothing ever takes us by surprise."
— Seneca

This is another Latin expression that means "premeditation of evils". Is an exercise that makes us think about the things that could go wrong and be taken from us. It's good to have plans and expect all the positive outcomes but if we're not planning alternatives as well, we're in for disappointment.

Seneca would be reviewing his plans and then he would go over the things that could go wrong in order to prepare and have a "plan B" for it.
By doing this, he would be prepared for disruption and setbacks whenever he was working on his goals.

This is the kind of practice that led Tim Ferriss to talk about what he calls "Fear setting". Instead of setting goals that you want to accomplish, think about all the things that you fear and do not want to happen. Then, think about how to prevent them.

Amor Fati

"To love only what happens, what was destined. No greater harmony."
— "Marcus Aurelius"

In this case, "Amor" means love both in Spanish and Latin, "Fati" means fate. So the expression can be translated as "Love of fate". The idea is loving what happens in your life, regardless of it is "good" or "bad". It's the notion that "things happen for a reason" and the mistakes you've made are part of what has forged you into the person you are right now.

Sure, most (if not all) of us have regrets about things in our past but in this context, you wouldn't change anything if you had a time machine to go back and do things differently.

Friedrich Nietzsche would describe his ideal of greatness as Amor Fati. "That one wants nothing to be different, not forward, not backwards, not in all eternity. Not merely bear what is necessary, still less conceal it.. but love it"

Also, Marcus Aurelius would write in his personal journal "A blazing fire makes flame and brightness out of everything that is thrown into it". Is this the stoic exercise that helps us take the mindset of "doing the best we can with what we have".

Taking not only the positive aspects of life but also the negative ones, learning from them and becoming better because of them. It's the concept of using obstacles and adversity as fuel to achieve our full potential, like what is being taught in entrepreneurship as forging ahead and pivoting when necessary.


As you can see, there's a lot of topics to be covered in this philosophy alone. But I'm going to leave it at that and rather point you to other sources that can explain the rest of the concepts much better than I could.

For instance, Ryan Holiday is one of the authors that have promoted the stoic cause in several of his books, and writings like "The Obstacle is the way", "Ego is the enemy" and "Stillness is the key" among others. Also, the articles in the daily stoic do a great job of offering context and summarize the main takeaways of this philosophy.

Now, moving on...

Kaizen

Kaizen is the Japanese principle for continuous improvement, the term literally means "improvement" and it has been used mainly in the business world and also in manufacturing, logistics, and the supply chain. It started being practiced in Japanese businesses after World War II and became more known after being adopted and used by Toyota in all of its processes.

Kaizen applied to our daily lives would be making small improvements consistently (ideally on a daily basis) that would lead to big results over time.

Tiny gains graph

Although it is a useful practice in manufacturing and businesses that aims to improve processes and eliminate waste (lean methodology). It is more than that. Kaizen is a habit of consistency. Is a commitment to personal excellence. It's the type of ideals and standards that one has for oneself and lives accordingly. The constant practice of Kaizen is what makes people go from being merely good at what they do to being truly great.

Kaizen is one of those things that are difficult to do initially but as you do them more often it starts becoming part of what you normally do and the initial price you pay results in much greater dividends over the long run.

You start to become the type of person that not only wants better results but actually works to get them and looks for ways to do things better next time. Learning and course-correcting along the way and keeping on the lookout for ways to get that slight edge over the rest and be a step further.

In summary, we could say that people who keep on the practice of Kaizen, realize that are much better than their previous selves up to the point of embarrassment and, on the other hand, know that they're little compared to what their future selves are going to be.

Long-term vision

A vision is the positive future state that involves all that you want to accomplish. That ideal in your mind that you create that is bold, audacious, and challenges your current idea of what can be achieved.

It's the thing that whenever you see it in your mind clear with all its details, it charges you, turns you on, stirs your blood inside, and propels you into action, puts you into motion towards this grand achievement.

The difference between having goals and having a big long-term vision is that you work on the goals when you are motivated whereas the vision compels you to work and move forward.

You don't have to use willpower to push yourself to do it. Instead, it pulls you towards.

Steve Jobs quote

Now, the long-term vision is for what you want to achieve that is greater than yourself and probably won't be realized in your lifetime and that's why you will have to associate with other people who can help you make the vision a reality in a much shorter period.

Having that vision and aligning our actions towards it has a bunch of benefits for us and for who we want to be because it gives us a sense of direction.

Most of our results come from having (or not having) the kind of vision that we defined for ourselves. That vision is what gets you excited to work towards, is what gives you a sense of purpose and at the same time, it inoculates you from distractions.

In a world engineered to deviate our attention to momentary entertaining things, a vision is what allows us to cut through the noise and look up to our desired outcome, our north star.

A person ideally wouldn't be wasting time knowing that he/she has a vision to fulfill and that it still has a long way before making it happen.

while (!visionAchieved) {
     keepImproving();
}

Most people occupy their time with responsibilities like school or work and outside of those they just use their time to chill and do nothing.

But it is a common occurrence that when people have a bigger than usual period of free time, like vacations, they eventually grow so bored that they want to go back to their usual activities.

I'm the first one guilty of this back in school and most of college. That period of free time evidentiates the lack of something worth doing, something else that occupies the time that can be put to good use in the creation of something that could bring value to your life and the life of others.

That long-term vision is what people that have changed the world in one way or another have used to rally others to their cause, they recruit others who don't have a vision to help build theirs. And as Simon Sinek says "you can have your own Just Cause or you can choose to join other's. You can start a movement or join someone who already has and make it your own".

The best example of this is Steve Jobs and his vision for Apple. His vision was so big, bold, audacious, enormous that he spent all his life making it a reality and created an entire team that was compelled to work towards that vision and bring their best talents and skills to make it happen.

His dedication and resolve were such that he and his team made things that otherwise seemed impossible in which later came to be described as Job's reality distortion field. Examples like these abound across history and serve as a testament of what can happen when a person gets clear on its own vision.


Now, knowing these 3 things we can upgrade the Operating System of our minds and be several steps closer to building that 2.0 version (or maybe 3.0 or more) of ourselves and of course, be several steps ahead of those who are still running with their own default settings.

Certainly, this is a process that requires a great amount of effort in order to accomplish. The good news is... that we are developers and people that work with technology so we are already used to spend big amounts of time & effort overcoming difficulties in order to create great things out of nothing using only a computer and our brains (and our skills, and Wi-Fi, and coffee and you know the rest :p).

That's it for this post. If you made it this far thanks for your time and attention. I hope this helps you as a starting point to discover more things for yourself if you are new to this type of topics and if you have heard about them before, then I hope it serves as a reminder of them and a refresher of what you know has worked for many others and can also work for yourself.

I'll be back next week with another post but for now... Stay safe, stay healthy, and stay awesome. 😎


Photo by John Hernandez on Unsplash

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Juan F Gonzalez

@juanfrank77

Systems engineer. Frontend dev. Professional lifelong learner. Doing my best at sharing practical knowledge.

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