The Rules (Live By Your Own)

I have writen these to center myself by striking bedrock on the foundations of my life at thirty. It is absolutely insane that we are not all taught to define and live by our own rules.

Have inner peace. This comes from listening to and following your heart. This is the essence of loving yourself.

Trust yourself. Trusting yourself means cultivating and following your intuition. It means never having to doubt yourself. It also means not ignoring your feelings and instincts. And if you don’t trust yourself, you are out of touch with your inner voice and need to reconnect to it. Pray, meditate, write, spend time alone, make art.

Don’t worry. Worrying is like praying for what you don’t want. Don’t fall prey to fear, which is imagined, unlike danger, which is real. Remember: Confidence is merely the absence of insecurity.

Be at peace with your past. Otherwise, it will control your future. The past is over and done. Once is enough. Accept that the past could not have been any different. What was no longer has to be. You are wiser for mistakes. Your character deeper for what you have suffered. Go forth a better person. It’s a new chapter, stop re-reading the old one.

Forgive. Forgive yourself. Forgive others. Let go of the pain you have held onto for so long. You deserve to be free sweet child.

Love your fate. For what could be more suited for you than that which is fated for you – Marcus Aurelius

Believe in yourself. Be like the raccoon. Do not deny your nature nor your natural desires and wishes. So long as they bring no harm to others there is no reason you do not deserve a thing.

Gain pleasure through fulfillment. For there is no fulfillment in mere pleasure. Furthermore, you must sacrfice one at the expense of the other. Just remember: pleasure is over when the activity stops. Fulfillment is a good thing which lasts and benefits you evermore.

Be kind to people. Everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle. Everyone has their own hopes and dreams and fears. Be kind to them, please.

Do the right thing. The easy thing and the right thing are seldom the same. As the French proverb states: there is no softer pillow than a clean conscience.

Be good to your body. If you are young, you may not see the effects of your lifestyle for years. Work out. Drink water. Don’t ignore the mental and physical perils of chemicals and intoxicants.

Don’t compare yourself to others. Comparison is the great thief of joy. It serves zero beneficial purpose aside from motivating you, which requires consciously choosing to compare those who inspire you only to your future self.

Be grateful. Seriously, if you knew how much you had to be grateful for, you would never be unhappy again.

Do good by serving others. We all have something to give the world that it desperately needs. Think of all others have done for you.

Be your own best friend and treat yourself as such, after all, whose side you are on? Treat yourself as you would the person you love most in the world. As encouraging, supportive, compasionate, and forgiving.

Master your inner reality. For if you do not master your thoughts they will make a slave of you.

Be aware of your thoughts and your self-talk; direct and manage both. The goal is for your inner existence to be as positive and healthy as the outer existence you desire.

Be true to your soul. Ask yourself one question prior to all you do: Is it good for my soul? If not, don’t do it.

Define your own values. Not society’s, yours. Otherwise you cannot possibly be true to yourself. To begin defining your own values you need only think for yourself.

Pro tip: There is who you are (the Soul) and there is who you pretend to be (The ego). Where do your values lie?

Make art. There is no greater care you can bestow upon your soul than giving it the freedom to create something solely for it’s own joy. And if you do not make art, enjoy art and your soul will thank you nonetheless.

Do your best everyday. Do not underestimate what your best is either.

As Shakespeare writes in Hamlet:

Be not too tame neither, but let your own discretion be your tutor. 

For the sky is not the limit, your beliefs are. Be prolific: marked by an abundance of productivity.

But also be realistic. In the immortal words of Hamlet again:

Suit the action to the word, the word to the action, with this special observance, that you o’erstep not the modesty of nature.

Be honest with yourself. Figure out why you have done what you have done, and why you are doing what you now do. Uncover the bullshit excuses and stories you tell yourself as to why you cannot do as you wish and create what you want.

Take full responsibility for your happiness. If your happiness lie anywhere or in anything or anyone beyond the boundaries of your own thoughts, you are a damned fool and deserve to be miserable.

Follow a plan. For your life, for your days. You must have a plan. Follow it. Adjust it. Refine it. Make it so. Remember, goals are simply dreams with deadlines. Work backwards to do each day what is required for YOUR personal success.

Don’t take offense to what others say and do. Nothing. What others do and say is their reality – based on their values – do not let it define your’s. It’s about them, not you.

Never give up. They can take my dreams from my cold, dead hands. Otherwise, bitch please.

Make love. If you are physically young enough and in a relationship where this is not possible, I pity you. The difference between making love and f*cking is that in making love you are receiving communion from someone who cares deeply about your hopes, dreams, and fears. Wheares in the other, the heart is not in it.

Be there for your parents. They did their best. They brought you into this world. They gave up a lot for that. And while they will be there for you always, they won’t always be there. Enjoy the time you have left with them. It will be too late one day.

Have manners. Next time you order something, say: May I please have, not: can I get…. Say thank you as well.

Don’t manipulate people. Manipulation is making others feel a certain way to get what you want. Don’t be this creature (No matter how learned you may be at it). It’s incredibly self-centered and shows a lack of basic care and respect for others. You are better than this.

Don’t take love for granted.. Trust me on this one or you’ll look back one day and realize you didn’t know what you had. Tell her you love her, morning noon, and night. Enjoy quiet nights by her side. Kiss her back. Don’t neglect your own pastures for greener grass.

Change the things that need changing. Drink too much? Resolve to stop. Have an eating disorder? Find help. Do not suffer in silence. We all have our demons. Shake the devil off your back. Be a conscious parent to your own inner child.

Don’t piss your time away. Facebook. News. Petty people. Petty things. Your life is fading. It’s too precious to spend addicted to things that do not serve your higher self.

You are enough. No one and nothing else can complete you. This is a toxic and dangerous game to play. Don’t even entertain the idea. You’re okay.

Forget not your mortality. For you will die one day. None of us know when.


These are just the rules I have chosen to live by. You are welcome to choose your own, and you ought. Just keep in mind: if you don’t shape your reality, your reality will shape you.

Jules Evans: 8 Great Ideas from Stoicism

Note: The following non-italicized copy was originally published at Psychology Today, and I am republishing the content here for preservation’s sake.

According to Jules Evans, author of Philosophy for Life and Other Dangerous Situations: Ancient Philosophy for Modern Problems, a combination of philosophy and psychology is not only practical, but an effective way of approaching today’s problems. Not unlike cognitive-behavioral therapy, the classical ideas explored by Evans make use of the mind to deal with one’s less helpful emotions.

Of course, you can work with emotional pain in any number of ways. But for those with the tiniest bit of an analytic bent, or those who have been unhappy for way too long—like Evan’s himself was in his college years—this combo approach can be extremely helpful.

I found Evans’ book to be thoughtful and a pleasure to read, and even his appendices (especially Appendix 3 where he compares Socrates and Dionysus) are not to be missed. A journalist and writer, Evans is policy director at the Centre for the History of Emotions at Queen Mary, University of London, and helps run the huge London Philosophy Club. He’s also one of ten BBC Next Generation Thinkers for 2013.

Consider the following ideas, in Evans’ own words:

8 KEY IDEAS FROM STOICISM:

1) It’s not events that cause us suffering, but our opinion about events.

The Stoics thought we could transform emotions by understanding how they’re connected to our beliefs and attitudes. Often what causes us suffering is not a particular adverse event, but our opinion about it. We can make a difficult situation much worse by the attitude we bring to it. This doesn’t mean relentlessly ‘thinking positively’ – it simply means being more mindful of how our attitudes and beliefs create our emotional reality.

2) Our opinions are often unconscious but we can bring them to consciousness by asking ourselves questions.

Socrates said we sleepwalk through life, unaware of how we live and never asking ourselves if our opinions about life are correct or wise. The way to bring unconscious beliefs into consciousness is simply to ask yourself questions. Why am I feeling this strong emotional reaction? What interpretation or belief is leading to it? Is that belief definitely true? Where is the evidence for it? The Stoics used journals to keep track of their automatic responses and to examine them.

3) We can’t control everything that happens to us, but we can control how we react.

Epictetus, the slave-philosopher, divided all human experience into two domains: things we control, things we don’t. We don’t control other people, the weather, the economy, our bodies and health, our reputation, or things in the past and future.

The only thing we have complete control over is our beliefs – if we choose to exercise this control. But we often try to exert complete control over something external, and then feel insecure and angry when we fail. Or we fail to take responsibility for our own thoughts and beliefs, and use the outside world as an alibi. Focusing on what you control is a powerful way to reduce anxiety and assert autonomy in chaotic situations. The Serenity Prayer is a nice encapsulation of this idea.

4) Choose your perspective wisely.

Every moment of the day, we can choose the perspective we take on life, like a film-director choosing the angle of a shot. One of the exercises the Stoics practiced was called the View From Above: If you’re feeling stressed by some niggling annoyances, project your imagination into space and imagine the vastness of the universe. From that cosmic perspective, the annoyance doesn’t seem that important anymore – you’ve made a molehill out of a mountain.

Another technique the Stoics used (along with Buddhists and Epicureans) was bringing their attention back to the present moment, if they felt they were worrying too much about the future or ruminating over the past. Seneca told a friend: “What’s the point of dragging up sufferings that are over, of being miserable now because you were miserable then?”

5) Habits are powerful.

One thing the Stoics got, which a lot of modern philosophy (and religious studies) misses with its focus on theory, is the importance of practice, training, repetition and, in a word, habits.  Because we’re such forgetful creatures, we need to repeat ideas over and over until they become ingrained habits. It might be useful to talk about the Stoic technique of the maxim, how they’d encapsulate their ideas into brief memorizable phrases or proverbs (like “Everything in moderation” or “The best revenge is not to be like that”), which they would repeat to themselves when needed. Stoics also carried around little handbooks with some of their favorite maxims.

6) Fieldwork is vital.

Another thing the Stoics got, which modern philosophy often misses, is the idea of fieldwork. One of my favorite quotes from Epictetus is: “We might be fluent in the classroom but drag us out into practice and we’re miserably shipwrecked.” If you’re trying to improve your temper, practice not losing it. If you’re trying to rely less on comfort eating, practice eating less junk food. Seneca said: “The Stoic sees all adversity as training.” Imagine if philosophy also gave us street homework, tailor-made for the habits we’re trying to weaken or strengthen, like practicing asking a girl out, or practicing not gossiping about friends, or practicing being kind to someone every day. Imagine if people didn’t think philosophy was “just talking.”

7) Virtue is sufficient for happiness.

Stoicism wasn’t just a feel-good therapy, it was an ethics, with a specific definition of the good life: the aim of life for Stoics was living in accordance with virtue. They believed if you found the good life not in externals like wealth or power but in doing the right thing, then you’d always be happy, because doing the right thing is always in your power and never subject to the whims of fortune. A demanding philosophy, and yet also in some ways true – doing the right thing is always in our power.

8) We have ethical obligations to our community.

The Stoics pioneered the theory of cosmopolitanism – the idea that we have ethical obligations not just to our friends and family, but to our wider community, and even to the community of humanity. Sometimes our obligations might clash – between our friends and our country, or between our government and our conscience (for example, would we resist the Nazis if we grew up in 1930s Germany?). Do we really have moral obligations to people on the other side of the world? What about other species, or future generations?

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Jules Evans is a figure in the Stoicism community whom I respect. His website, Philosophy For Life, is exceptional. I’m looking forward to reading his book: Philosophy For Life and Other Dangerous Situations.

Update: I just published 10 Themes from Stoicism, which is the perfect follow up to this, and really compliments these ideas well.