Marcus Aurelius on the Key to Living Fully

One of the philosophers who has influenced my thinking the most is Marcus Aurelius. He was known as one of the last “good emperors” of Rome — who genuinely cared for the well-being of his citizens at a time of chaos everywhere.

Marcus Aurelius

He wrote a manual (for himself) which we now know as the “Meditations.” I don’t think he ever intended to publish it to the public. He wrote it for himself — to deal with his own internal demons but it’s packed with so much wisdom.

How can we apply his stoic philosophy to our everyday life? Below are some insights & action items on applying these to your life.

Stop Caring about what others are doing

Our natural instinct is to do things that we think will benefit us in some way (good or bad). Mimetic theory is a concept which highlights that human desire is not an autonomous process, but a collective one. For example, we might not want the new Air Pods but when we see a friend with them, we all of a sudden feel as though we did want them in the first place.

Marcus tells us to do the opposite. He tells us to stop caring so much about what others are doing, which in turn minimizes the possible negative impact they have on you.

“Do not waste what remains of your life in speculating about your neighbors. Anything that distracts you from fidelity to the Ruler within you — means a loss of opportunity for some other task.” — Marcus Aurelius

We have limited time on earth. But we waste a lot of negative energy comparing ourselves to others. Instead, we should spend time focusing on “our calling” on earth — whether that means creating art, empowering others, or being a loving parent.

A lot of this stems from our addiction to social media, and need to always keep up with what others are doing. That is actually okay but when we start spending too much time thinking about it and entering a state of comparison, it becomes wasted time.

Instead, we should practice spending more time by ourselves, reflecting on our actions and goals.

Action Item #1:

For an entire week, don’t use social media. Uninstall all social media apps from your phone, and don’t check your Facebook, Instagram, or any other social media network.

This doesn’t mean to totally ignore everyone for the rest of your life. But spend more time focusing on the task at hand and reflecting on your own goals.

Reality can be whatever we want it to be

There is no “objective” reality out there — we shape our own reality.

There is no one path to happiness either. Everything is what you make it.

For example, you could be a billionaire but still, feel like a “failure” (you might compare yourself to other billionaires who are even richer than you).

You might be poor and living in a slum, but you might be extremely happy because feel a ton of gratitude for what you do have.

Marcus Aurelius tells us:

“Life is but what you deem it.”

“Life is opinion.”

Everything in your life depends on your opinion of it. Whatever you deem as good and bad in your life.

The easiest way you can apply this mode of thinking in your life is by looking at everything in a positive light.

I found this metaphor really cool:

“Imagine you’re in a boat in the middle of a lake. It is foggy and dark. You suddenly get hit by another boat, and you bump your head. You’re angry and frustrated, and want to curse out the other person who just bumped into you. But then when the fog clears, you realize that the other boat was empty. Now you no longer feel angry, because you realize the other boat was empty. Realize that everyone else who tries to harm us is just an empty boat.”

→ This reinforces how everything is our head and based on our perception. You can choose to always be happy and look at things from a positive light or blame others. Blaming others often helps us rationalize our reason for anger but if you can just control that anger in the first place you’ll truly be at peace

Action Item #2:

For a week, take in every action that happens to you as positive. Catch yourself self-rationalizing things that don’t make sense.

For example, next time you get angry at someone for something they did, think about how this could help you grow and what is in your control.

Take every opportunity heads on as a growth opportunity.

3. Quality > Quantity in Life

We should optimize for doing a few things really well vs a lot of things satisfactorily.

Marcus Aurelius’ reminds himself of the importance of doing less in life — and cutting out the superfluous actions from his life:

“‘If thou wouldst know contentment, let thy deeds be few,’ said the sage. Better still limit them strictly to such as are essential, and to such as in a social being reason demands, and as it demands.”

We are literally the happiest when we do a few things, but doing them well:

“This brings the contentment that comes of doing a few things and down them well. Most of what we say and do is not necessary, and its omission would save both time and trouble. At every step, a man should ask himself, ‘Is this one of the things that are superfluous?’ Unnecessary action will not ensue.”

Many of our actions and words are unnecessary. By not doing unnecessary actions, we will be less stressed and will optimize for more growth. People are obsessed with numbers but the cheat code is literally doing things you care most about.

We should always ask ourselves: “Is this unnecessary?”

We need to cut out the unnecessary things in our lives. The less fluff in our actions, words, thoughts, and emotions — the more focus we will have for what is really important to us in life.

Action Item #3:

For a week, always ask yourself: “Is this unnecessary?” whenever making decisions.You can apply this in many different ways.

I think part of this being really aligned with your goals and what you want to prioritize in life. If something doesn’t align, either defer it or learn to say no.

My goals now are to get better at controlling my reactions & aligning goals so I’m reducing “fluff” from my life.

That’s it for now, let me know what your action items are from this reading. If you have any points on this and want to chat more I’d love to connect:)

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I’m a developer & innovator who enjoys building products and researching ways we can use AI, Blockchain & robotics to solve problems in healthcare and energy!