Marcus Aurelius who was an emperor of Rome in (121-180 CE) is credited with developing practical ways of confronting daily life challenges. His quote “You have power over your mind and not outside events. Realize this and you will find strength,” Helps us be able to focus inwards and control our daily thought processes.
It gives a reality check, that you are what you think; but it is not possible to always think positively, especially when everything around you is crumbling. When the reality is so ominous and circumstances so tough it is important to delve into the following practices.
He who overcomes the travails of life, and has mastered the art of living. The following simple practices can help one master the art. “Assemble your life… action by action. And be satisfied if each one achieves its goal… No one can keep that from happening…Action by action.” — Marcus Aurelius
Morning- Wake up early
“The day has already begun to lessen. It has shrunk considerably but yet will still allow a goodly space of time if one rises, so to speak, with the day itself. We are more industrious, and we are better men if we anticipate the day and welcome the dawn.” — Seneca. It is important to develop a daily morning routine. Waking up early enables one to plan their day, shift their thoughts and reflect on yesterday. Meditation and exercise (especially aerobics) should be part of the daily morning routine.
We must always remind ourselves of the privilege of being alive, and be grateful for all that we have been given. Remind yourself of this when you wake up. Marcus Aurelius said, “When you arise in the morning, think of what a precious privilege it is to be alive — to breathe, to think, to enjoy, to love.” If we view each day as a bonus day — to live, to love, to do the things we love — we cannot help but experience gratitude. Viewing each day in this way will ensure that you live your day well.
It is important to regularly have this time alone with your thoughts — to find stillness and reset. Marcus Aurelius says, “People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills. There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . So constantly give yourself this retreat and renew yourself.”
Walking is important for everyone. “We should take wandering outdoor walks so that the mind might be nourished and refreshed by the open air and deep breathing.” — Seneca. Not only does walking provide physical exercise, but Seneca suggests that it shines a light to the soul: “Birds that are being prepared for the banquet, that they may be easily fattened through lack of exercise, are kept in darkness; and similarly, if men vegetate without physical activity, their idle bodies are overwhelmed with flesh, and in their self-satisfied retirement the fat of indolence grows upon them…But this, to my thinking, would be among the least of their evils. How much more darkness there is in their souls! Such a man is internally dazed.”
In Meditations, 6.38, Marcus Aurelius says, “Meditate often on the interconnectedness and mutual interdependence of all things in the universe.” Ryan Holiday further explains, “Sympatheia is an invitation to us to take a step back, zoom out and see life from a higher vantage point than our own. It changes our value judgments, weakens the power that luxury and temptation have over us, reduces the seemingly insurmountable differences between people and races, and turns the worries of daily life from anxiety attacks to absurdities.” Sympatheia reminds us that we are all one, and therefore helps us to treat others with respect and in a non-judgmental way. We must look out for one another and care about each other, and therefore we must be patient and accepting of others. This view also puts things in perspective — our problems are so tiny among the vastness of the cosmos.
Self-reflection and planning
Marcus Aurelius wrote, “When you wake up in the morning, tell yourself: The people I deal with today will be meddling, ungrateful, arrogant, dishonest, jealous, and surly. They are like this because they can’t tell good from evil.” Prepare yourself for any potential challenges you will face, so that if they happen, you will be equipped to deal with them.
Mentally rehearse your day, outlining what you want to accomplish in an ideal situation. Then, think about the ways in which your day could go wrong.
Mentally prepare yourself to deal with these setbacks in a way that aligns with your own core values. Seneca outlines how we can mentally prepare for the challenges that may lie ahead: “Cling tooth and nail to the following rule: Not to give in to adversity, never to trust prosperity, and always to take full note of fortune’s habit of behaving just as she pleases, treating her as if she were actually going to do everything it is in her power to do.
Whatever you have been expecting for some time comes as less of a shock. In self-reflection and planning, we can ensure that we live our days well. Seneca reminds us, “It is not that we have a short time to live, but that we waste a lot of it.” Use your time wisely.
Act with wisdom, justice, courage, and temperance. Treat others kindly. Live well. Ryan Holiday speaks of the importance of choosing alive time rather than dead time, a concept he learned from Robert Greene. “Life is constantly asking us, is this going to be alive time or dead time?
A long commute. Are we going to zone out or listen to an audiobook? A delayed flight? Are we going to get in a couple of miles by walking around the terminal or shove a Cinnabon into our face? A tour of duty or a contract we have to earn out. Is this tying us down or freeing us up? That’s our call….
We have to choose to make every moment a moment of a lifetime. We have to decide to be present and to make the most of whatever is in front of us. As you plan your day, identify ways where you can maximize alive time and minimize dead time. Realize the situations in which you can bring more value to your day, to ensure that your days are lived to their maximum potential.
Work- Remember your purpose
Marcus Aurelius frequently alluded to his purpose — what he was brought here to do. This kept him focused on the task at hand and gave him the motivation to wake up in the morning. “Don’t you see the plants, the birds, the ants, the spiders, and the bees going about their individual tasks, putting the world in order, as best as they can? And you’re not willing to do your job as a human being? At dawn, when you have trouble getting out of bed, tell yourself: I have to go to work — as a human being. What do I have to complain of, if I’m going to do what I was born for — the things I was brought into the world to do? Or is this what I was created for? To huddle under the blankets and stay warm?”
Marcus Aurelius reminds us to keep the focus on the task at hand and doing all things to the best of our ability: “At every moment keep a sturdy mind on the task at hand, as a Roman and human being, doing it with strict and simple dignity, affection, freedom, and justice — giving yourself a break from all other considerations. You can do this if you approach each task as if it is your last, giving up every distraction, emotional subversion of reason, and all drama, vanity, and complaint about your fair share.” Marcus Aurelius was passionate about working without distraction: Do external things distract you? Then make time for yourself to learn something worthwhile; stop letting yourself be pulled in all directions. Eliminate the distractions in your life — don’t let yourself be pulled in all directions. Approach each task as if it were your last. This will ensure that you do it with excellence.
Remember what you control
Part of working hard means understanding what you have control over and what you don’t. There is no point wasting time or energy on things outside of your control. Marcus Aurelius says, “You have power over your mind — not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.” As you go through your day, focus your energy on the things you can control — your actions, your thoughts, your judgments. And let go of all resistance to the things you do not have control over — the traffic, your colleagues’ actions, the neighbor’s loud music.
Remember your mortality
Marcus Aurelius always reminded himself of his mortality: “You could leave life right now. Let that determine what you do and say and think.” This will help you to do things well. If you approach each task as if it were your last, because it very well could be, you are likely to do it well and with your whole heart. This is related to the important concept of arête — essentially, excellence. Seneca has a similar outlook: “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.” Embrace each day as if it were your last. Do all things with excellence, and make the most of your time here on earth.
Sign up below to get exclusive access my weekly newsletter; new information and events.