This book by Ryan Holiday is one of his many fine works, including “ego is the enemy”, “trust me i’m lying”, and “the obstacle is the way”. while still straddling his stoic-based modus operandi he interweaves buddhism, confucianism, and taoism in a way to propel us toward balancing our lives and blocking out the noise.
A wealth of information creates a poverty of attention. — Herbert Simon
Napoleon made it his habit to delay responding to the mail. his secretary was instructed to wait three weeks before opening any correspondence. when he finally did hear what was in a letter, Napoleon loved to know how many supposedly important issues had simply resolved themselves and no longer required a reply. while Napoleon was certainly an eccentric leader, he was never negligent in his duties or out of touch with his government or his soldiers. but in order to be active and aware of what actually mattered, he had to be selective about who what kind of info got access to his brain. in a similar vein, he told his messengers never to wake him with good news. bad news on the other hand, or an unfolding crisis, was to be brought to him immediately. only trivial problems had to resolve themselves without him.
^ We need to cultivate a similar attitude; give things a little space. don’t consume news in real time, be a season or two behind the cultural phenomenon, don’t let your inbox lord over your life.
There’s ego in trying to stay up on everything, whether it’s an acclaimed tv show, the newest industry rumor, the smartest hot take, the hottest crisis in the nightly news.
There’s who in trying to appear the most informed person in the room, the one with all the gossip, who knows every single thing that’s happening in everyone’s life.
Political scientists in the 90s began to study what they call the “CNN effect”; breathless 24 hour media coverage makes it considerably harder for politicians & ceo’s to be anything but reactive. there’s too much trivial info being magnified, speculation is rampant and the mind is overwhelmed.
Epictetus said if you wish to improve, be content to appear clueless or stupid in extraneous matters.
The first thing great chiefs of staff do, be it a president, ceo, or general, is to limit the amount of people who have access to the boss. they become gatekeepers: no more drop-ins, tidbits and stray reports. so the boss can see the big picture. so the boss has time and room to think.
Thich Nhat Hanh said before we can make deep changes, we have to look at our diet, our way of consuming. we have to live in such a way that we stop consuming the things that poison us and intoxicate us. then we will have the strength to allow the best in us to arise, and we’ll no longer be victims of anger, or frustration.
It’s as true of food as it is of information; garbage in, garbage out. if you want good output, you have to watch over your inputs.
Imagine if Kennedy had spent the cuban missile crisis obsessing over the bay of pigs. or if Shawn Green had tried frantically to recreate his swing bc it wasn’t working, or if he’d faced those pitchers with a racing mind, filled with insecurities & desperation. we’ve all experienced that “don’t mess this up” feeling and what happens? we mess up. whatever you face, whatever you’re dealing with will require not defeating yourself first. don’t make it harder by overthinking or second guessing.
Your job after you’ve emptied your mind is to slow down and really think:
what’s important to you?
what’s actually going on?
what might be hidden from view?
what does the rest of the chessboard look like?
what the meaning of life really is?
Jack London said to keep a notebook. travel with it, eat with it, sleep with it. slap into it every stray thought that flutters up into your brain.
Julia Cameron calls journaling “spiritual windshield wipers”. it’s a few minutes of reflection that both demands and creates stillness. it’s a break from the world. a framework for the day ahead. a coping mechanism for trouble of the hours just past. a revving up of your creative juices, for relaxing and clearing.
Find confidence, avoid ego. colin powell said avoid having your ego so close to your position that when your position falls, your ego goes with it.
Life without relationships, focused solely on accomplishment, is empty and meaningless. (in addition to being precarious and fragile) a life based solely about work and doing is terribly out of balance; indeed, it requires constant motion and busyness to keep from falling apart.
Fyodor Dostoevsky once described his wife, Anna, as a rock in which he could lean and rest, a wall that would not let him fall and protected him from the cold.
Freud said love is the great educator, we learn when we get it and when we give it. we get closer to stillness through both.
Goliath was driven by ego and hubris, and the israelites were paralyzed by fear and doubt. he defied the armies of Israel and requested a man to fight. 40 days passed and not a single soldier stepped forward, not even saul the king of Israel. David came forward, a poor shepherd who was confident enough for the challenge. was he crazy? David’s confidence came from experience, not ego. he had slayed the lions and bears who hunted his flock. he had been through worse and done it with his bare hands, he knew his strengths but also his weaknesses. Goliath’s bully approach and arrogance to david’s volunteering would be short lived, for when david came at him at a full sprint he could see the confidence in david’s eyes and was afraid for the first time. this is one of the best stories we have about the perils of ego, the importance of humility, and the necessity of confidence.
There’s no one less at peace than the egomaniac, their mind a swirling miasma of their own grandiosity and insecurity. they constantly bite off more than they can chew, constantly pick fights everywhere they go, creating enemies and totally incapable of learning from their mistakes (because they believe they don’t make any). everything with them is complicated, everything is about them.
Life is lonely and painful for the man or woman driven by ego. Trump in the white house at night, his wife & son far away, in his bathrobe ranting about the news. Alexander the Great, drunk again, fighting and killing his best friend over a stupid argument, thinking of nothing but the next conquest. Howard Hughes, trapped in his mansion, manically excited about some crazy project which he’ll inevitably sabotage. successful? yes, but would you want to trade places with them?
This toxic form of ego has a less-assuming evil twin often referred to as “imposter syndrome”. a nagging, endless anxiety that you’re not qualified for what you’re doing or you’re about to be found out for being a fraud. shakespeare’s image for this feeling was of a thief wearing a stolen robe he knows is too big. the writer franz kafka, son of an overbearing & disapproving father, likened imposter syndrome to the feeling of a bank clerk who’s cooking the books. frantically trying to keep it all going, terrified of being discovered.
Ulysses Grant once had an aide point out what an incredible rags to riches story his life was, almost like the plot of an epic poem, to go from a small cabin to the presidency. Grant shrugged and said “well i never thought about it in that light”. that is confidence, which needs neither congratulations nor glory in which to revel because it’s an honest understanding of our strengths & weaknesses that reveals the path to greater glory: inner peace and a clear minds.
Confident people know what matters. they know when to ignore other people’s opinions. they don’t boast or lie to get ahead (and then struggle to deliver). confidence is the freedom to set your own standards and unshackle yourself from the need to prove yourself. a confident person doesn’t fear disagreement and doesn’t see change— swapping and incorrect opinion for a correct one— as an admission of inferiority.
Ego, on the other hand, is unsettled by doubts, afflicted by hubris, exposed by its own boasting and posturing. and yet it will not prove itself or allow itself to be probed because it knows what might be found.
Confident people are open and reflective. they seek to develop a strong moral compass, steer clear of envy and jealousy, come to terms with childhood wounds, practice gratitude and appreciation for the world around them, cultivate relationships, place control in the hands of something larger than themselves, understand that there will never be “enough” and that the unchecked pursuit of more ends only in bankruptcy.
Our soul is where we secure our happiness and unhappiness, contentment or emptiness— and ultimately determine the extent of our greatness.
Freud wrote about how common it is for deficiencies at a young age to bring toxic, turbulent attitudes in adulthood. because we weren’t born rich enough, pretty enough, naturally gifted enough, bc we weren’t appreciated like other children in the classroom, or because we wear glasses or got sick a lot or couldn’t afford nice clothes, we carry a chip on our shoulder. some of us are like Richard III, believing that a deformity entitles us to be selfish or mean or insatiably ambitious. as Freud explained “we all demand reparations for our early wounds to our narcissism.” thinking we’re owed because we were wronged or deprived.
Leonardo da Vinci’s father had 12 other children, 9 of whom were sons. when he died he left no specific will, but legally disinheriting Leonardo in favor of his “real” children. by excluding him and never fully accepting him as his son, his primary bequest was to give him an insatiable drive for an unconditional patron.
The insecure lens, the anxious lens, the persecuted lens, the prove them all wrong lens, are all adaptations developed early on to make sense of the world. they don’t make things easier, contrarily they make it all worse.
Lust is a destroyer of peace in our lives: lust for a beautiful person, for an orgasm, for someone other than who we’ve committed to be with, for power, for dominance, other people’s stuff, for the fanciest, best, most expensive things that money can buy.
At least power, sex and attention are pleasurable. the most common form of lust is envy, the just for what other ppl have for the sole reason that they have it. Joseph Epstein said “of the seven deadly sins, only envy is no fun at all.”
Exstasis is a heavenly experience that lets us step outside ourselves, and these brilliant moments are available to us whenever we want them. all we have to do is open ourselves up to them.
Professor John Stilgoe has advice for those reeling from trauma or a stressful profession as much as those suffering from the ennui of modern life; get out now. not just go outside, but beyond the trap of the programmed electronic age so gently closing around so many people. go outside, move deliberately, then relax, slow down, look around. don’t jog or run, instead pay attention to everything that abuts the rural road or city street. walk. stroll. saunter. ride a bike. explore.
For nearly 100 years one of the most difficult steps in the 12 step recovery hasn’t been producing fearless moral inventory of ones feelings or making amends. it’s not admitting you have a problem, finding a sponsor or attending meetings. the step that many addicts— particularly those who fancy themselves “thinkers”—struggle with intensely is the acknowledgement of the existence of a higher power. they just don’t want to admit that they’ve come to believe a power greater than themselves could restore them to sanity. they see it as submitting to anything other than their own desires is anathema to what one addict describes as the “pathological self-centeredness of addiction”.
Being catholic doesn’t just mean you believe in jesus or go to church. only that you accept god as we understand him. that means that if you want to believe in mother earth, or providence, or destiny, or fate, or random luck, that’s up to you.
The stoics believed in the logos— the path of the universe. they acknowledged fate and fortune and the power of these forces had over them. by doing so they accessed a kind of stillness and peace (simply bc it meant less fighting battles for control) they helped them run empires, survive slavery or exile and ultimately even face death with great poise. in chinese philosophy, dao— the way, is the natural order of the universe, the way of a higher spirit. the greeks not only believed in many different gods but also the individuals were accompanied by a daemon— or a guiding spirits that led them to their destiny. confucians believed in the tian— a concept of heaven which guided us while we’re on earth and assigned us a role or purpose in life. the hindu’s believe that brahman was the highest universal reality. in judaism, yahweh is the word for lord. each of the major native american tribes had their own word for the great spirit, who was their creator and guiding deity.