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“How To Think Like A Roman Emperor” Quotes

I recently read “How to Think Like a Roman Emperor: The Stoic Philosophy of Marcus Aurelius” by Donald J. Robertson. Below are the quotes I found most interesting (via Kindle page numbers). If you like the quotes, buy the book here.

Anxiety largely consists of the belief, for example, that “something bad is going to happen,” (Location 136-136) 

CBT and Stoicism have some fundamental psychological assumptions in common, particularly the “cognitive theory of emotion,” which holds that our emotions are mainly determined by our beliefs. Anxiety largely consists of the belief, for example, that “something bad is going to happen,” (Location 134-136)

Socrates used to say that death is like some prankster in a scary mask, dressed as a bogeyman to frighten small children. The wise man carefully removes the mask and, looking behind it, he finds nothing worth fearing. (Location 242-243)

Marcus wrote that nobody is so fortunate as not to have one or two individuals standing by his deathbed who will welcome his demise. (Location 336-338)

The Stoics observed that often those who are most desperate to flee death find themselves rushing into its arms. (Location 353-354)

Zeno founded his own school in a public building overlooking the agora known as the Stoa Poikile, or “Painted Porch,” where he used to vigorously pace up and down as he discoursed on philosophy. The students who gathered there were originally known as Zenonians but later called themselves Stoics, after the stoa, or porch. It’s possible the name “Stoic” also hints at the practical, down-to-earth nature of the philosophy. (Location 418-421)

Our initial automatic feelings are to be viewed as natural and indifferent. (Location 554-554)

Epictetus, in typical Stoic fashion, continually warned his students not to confuse academic learning with wisdom. (Location 620-621)

When animals are alarmed by the appearance of danger, they take flight, but after they have escaped, their anxiety soon abates and they return to grazing in peace once again. By contrast, the human capacity for thought allows us to perpetuate our worries beyond these natural bounds. (Location 838-841)

Stoic philosophy, which teaches us to accept our involuntary emotional reactions, our flashes of anxiety, as indifferent: neither good nor bad. What matters, in other words, isn’t what we feel but how we respond to those feelings. (Location 887-889)

We usually think of rhetoric as something used to manipulate other people. We tend to forget we’re doing it to ourselves as well, not only when we speak but also when we use language to think. (Location 930-931)

Clients suffering from anxiety should write “decatastrophizing scripts” in which they describe distressing events factually, without strong value judgments or emotive language. (Location 978-979)

One day, as Agrippinus was preparing to dine with his friends, a messenger arrived announcing that the Emperor Nero had banished him from Rome as part of a political purge. “Very well,” said Agrippinus, shrugging, “we shall take our lunch in Aricia,” the first stop on the road he would have to travel into exile. (Location 1015-1017)

Anger is nothing but temporary madness. (Location 1096-1096)

One of [method] is to wait until our feelings have naturally abated and then calmly consider what someone wise would do in a similar situation. (Location 1101-1102)

One of Aesop’s fables, which says that each of us is born with two sacks suspended from our neck: one filled with the faults of others that hangs within our view and one hidden behind our back filled with our own faults. (Location 1176-1178) 

A cheerful acceptance of that hindrance is required, along with a tactful shift to doing what circumstances allow (Location 1298-1298)

Writing down the virtues possessed by a hypothetical wise man or woman, or those we aspire to ourselves, is usually a very beneficial exercise. (Location 1358-1359) 

You can ask yourself these three very simple questions: 1. What did you do badly? 2. What did you do well? 3. What could you do differently? (Location 1414-1418)

People still confuse pleasure with happiness. (Location 1544-1544) 

“Nothing that is really good and admirable,” cautioned Arete, “is granted by the gods to men without some effort and application.”(Location 1567-1568)

From the Stoic perspective Hercules remained cheerful, despite the terrible things he endured. He enjoyed a profound sense of inner satisfaction knowing that he was fulfilling his destiny and expressing his true nature. His life had something far more satisfying than pleasure: it had purpose. (Location 1594-1596) 

the goal of his life is not pleasure but action. (Location 1621-1621)

Socrates had likewise claimed, paradoxically, that those who practice self-control actually obtain more pleasure from things like food and drink than those who indulge in them to excess. (Location 1772-1773)

The same principle, that self-awareness disrupts the automatic quality of the behavior, can be very helpful when you actually want to break a bad habit. (Location 1877-1878)

Set aside ten minutes each day to write stories for your children. (Location 2001-2002)

Epictetus told his Stoic students to imagine they’re guests at a banquet being handed a sharing plate, not greedily holding on to it and scoffing the lot but politely taking an appropriate share and then handing the rest along. (Location 2016-2017)

Be grateful for external things without becoming overly attached to them. (Location 2018-2018)

By focusing instead on the limits of your pain, whether in terms of duration or severity, you can develop a mind-set that’s more oriented toward coping and less overwhelmed by worry or negative emotions about your condition. (Location 2166-2168)

Dependence on being able to escape from stressful situations just creates its own problems. (Location 2727-2728)

He asked a group of college students to spot the times during a four-week period when they began to worry about something and to respond by postponing thinking about it any further until a specified “worry time” later in the day. Using this simple technique, the subjects were able to reduce the time spent worrying by almost half, and other symptoms of anxiety were also reduced. (Location 2788-2791)

The steps to follow in worry postponement build upon the general framework that should be familiar to you by now: 1. Self-monitoring: Be constantly on the lookout for early warning signs of worry, such as frowning or fidgeting in certain ways—this awareness alone will often derail the habit of worrying. 2. If you are unable to address your anxiety immediately using Stoic techniques, postpone thinking about it until your feelings have abated naturally, returning to the problem at a specified “worry time” of your choosing. 3. Let go of the thoughts without trying to actively suppress them—instead, just tell yourself you’re setting them aside temporarily to come back to them later at a specified time and place. Cognitive distancing techniques can be helpful in this regard. On a piece of paper to remind yourself of the thing you’re worried about, then fold it up and put it in your pocket to address later. 4. Return your attention to the here and now, expanding your awareness through your body and your surroundings, and try to notice small details you’d overlooked before. Worry goes chasing after future catastrophes and therefore requires inattention to the present moment. Become grounded in the here and now instead: “Lose your mind and come to your senses!” 5. Later, when you return to the worry, if it no longer seems important, you might just leave it alone. Otherwise, visualize the worst-case scenario or feared outcome that’s making you anxious, using the technique of imaginal exposure or premeditation of adversity. 6. Use cognitive distancing by telling yourself “It’s not things that upset me but my judgments about them.” (Location 2801-2808)

Decatastrophize by describing the feared event in objective terms, without emotive language or value judgments. Remind yourself of its temporary nature by asking “What next?” and considering how things will move on over time. (Location 2808-2810) 

Stoics believed that anger is a form of desire: “a desire for revenge on one who seems to have done an injustice inappropriately,” (Location 3008-3009) 

Modern cognitive theories of anger, which typically define it as based upon the belief that a rule that is personally important to you has somehow been violated. (Location 3011-3012) 

We might say that anger typically consists in the desire to harm someone because we think they’ve done wrong and deserve to be punished. (Location 3009-3010) 

Anger stems from the idea that an injustice has been committed, or someone has done something they shouldn’t have done. (Location 3012-3013) 

1. Self-monitoring. Spot early warning signs of anger, to nip it in the bud before it escalates. For example, you might notice that your voice begins to change, or that you frown or your muscles tense, when you’re beginning to grow angry, or you may think of someone’s actions as unjust or in violation of a personal rule. (“How dare she say that to me!”) 2. Cognitive distancing. Remind yourself that the events themselves don’t make you angry, but rather your judgments about them cause the passion. (“I notice that I am how to respond to the situation. Take a breath, walk away, and come back to it a few hours later. If you still feel like you need to do something, then calmly decide upon the best response; otherwise, just let it go and forget about it. 4. Modeling virtue. Ask yourself what a wise person such as Socrates or Zeno would do. What virtues might help you to respond wisely? In your case, it might be easier to think of a role model you’re more familiar with, like Marcus Aurelius or someone you’ve encountered in your own life. (“A wiser person would try to empathize, put themselves in her shoes, and then exercise patience when they’re responding…”) 5. Functional analysis. Picture telling myself ‘How consequences of following anger versus following reason and exercising virtues such as moderation. (“If I let my anger guide me then I’ll probably just yell at her and get into another argument, and things will get a lot worse over time until we’re not speaking anymore. If I wait until I’ve calmed down and then try to listen patiently, though, it might be difficult at first but it will probably start to work better with practice, and once she’s calmed down maybe she’ll begin listening to my perspective.”) (Location 3016-3038)

One of the most common mistakes we make is trying to challenge our angry thoughts when we’re not in the best frame of mind to do so. Instead, use these thinking strategies beforehand, in advance of facing situations that might provoke anger, or after you’ve taken time to regain your composure. (Location 3039-3041) 

It’s natural to mourn—even some animals grieve the loss of their young. But there are those who go beyond the natural bounds of grief and let themselves be swept away entirely by melancholy thoughts and passions. The wise man accepts his pain, endures it, but does not add to it. (Location 3332-3334)

Leaves that the wind scatters to the ground, Such are the generations of men. (Location 3339-3340) 

Everything is different, but underneath it’s all the same: anonymous individuals marrying, raising children, falling sick, and dying. Some fight wars, feast, work the land, and trade their wares. Some flatter others or seek to be flattered, suspect their fellows of plotting against them, or hatch their own plots. Countless among them engage in intrigues, pray for the death of others, grumble at their lot, fall in love, pile up fortunes, or dream of high office or even a crown. How many individuals whose names we’ll never know, their lives extinguished, lie forgotten, as if they had never been born at all? Yet turn your thoughts to the mighty, and what difference does it make? Death comes knocking at the king’s palace and the beggar’s shack alike.(Location 3355-3360)

It’s vanity to worry about how history will record your actions. (Location 3370-3371) 

I’m surrounded by people who are overly concerned with what future generations will think of them. They might as well lament the fact that centuries ago, before their birth, their names were utterly unknown. The lips of mankind can grant you neither fame nor glory worth seeking. What matters is how I face this moment, which shall soon be gone. (Location 3371-3373)

Fear of death does us more harm than death itself because it turns us into cowards, whereas death merely returns us to Nature. (Location 3385-3386) 

To practice death in advance is to practice freedom and to prepare oneself to let go of life gracefully. (Location 3391-3392)

after darkness and ignorance come arts and sciences, then the inevitable descent once again into darkness and ignorance. (Location 3428-3428)

The universe is a single living being, with a single body and a single consciousness. Every individual mind a tiny particle of one great mind. Each living creature like a limb or organ of one great body, working together, whether they realize it or not, to bring about events in accord with one great impulse. Everything in the universe so intricately woven together, forming a single fabric and chain of events. (Location 3456-3456)

Man was meant to be like this: striving his whole life with patient endurance to cultivate the pure light of wisdom within himself and allowing it to shine forth for the benefit of others. Alone and yet at one with the community of fellow men around him, living wisely and in concord with them. (Location 3476-3478)

“The Little Book of Stoicism” Quotes

I recently read “The Little Book of Stoicism: Timeless Wisdom to Gain Resilience, Confidence, and Calmness” by Jonas Salzgeber. Below are the quotes I found most interesting. if you like the quotes, buy the book here.

“The Stoics were living proof that it’s possible for someone to be exiled to a desert island and still be happier than someone living in a place. They understood very well that there’s only a loose connection between external circumstances and our happiness.” (4)

“Stoics recognized that the good life depends on the cultivation of one’s character, on one’s choices and actions rather than on what happens in the uncontrollable world around us.” (4)

“Epictetus wrote, “So, what should each of us say to every trial we face? This is what I’ve trained for, this is my discipline!” Hey, a boxer who gets punched in the face won’t leave the ring, it’s what he prepared for, it’s his discipline.” (18)

“Stoicism has nothing to do with suppressing or hiding one’s emotions or being emotionless. Rather, it’s about acknowledging our emotions, reflecting on what causes them, and learning to redirect them for our own good.” (21)

“It’s more about unslaving ourselves from negative emotions, more like taming rather than getting rid of them.” (21)

“We can train ourselves to act calmly despite feeling angry, act courageously despite feeling anxious.” (21)

“The goal isn’t to eliminate all emotions, the goal is to not get overwhelmed by them despite their immense power.” (22)

“For the Stoics, positive emotions are more like an added bonus than a motive by themselves.” (23)

“Since every man dies, it is better to die with distinction than to live long.” -Musonius Rufus (32)

“It never ceases to amaze me: we all love ourselves more than other people, but care more about their opinion than our own.” -Marcus Aurelius (34)

“A tower of strength can be born the moment you decide to give outside events no more power over you.” (39)

“Brian Johnson translates arete as “Expressing the highest version of yourself moment to moment to moment.”” (41)

“Eudaimonia, to live a happy and smoothly flowing live. To achieve this goal, we need to be on good terms with our inner daimon, the highest version of ourselves, our natural inborn potential.” (41)

“In whatever you do, imagine there are two lines: the higher line indicating what you’re capable of and the lower line what you’re actually doing.” (41)

“Handing power to things we have no direct control over causes emotional suffering.” (57)

“If we define success as giving our best in the process, then we cannot fail, feel calmly confident, and can accept any outcome with equanimity.” (63)

“Just because we should try to accept whatever happens does not mean we approve of it. It just means that we understand that we cannot change it.” (67)

“For the Stoics, the only good lies in our voluntary actions, and our actions can only be voluntary when we’re bringing awareness into every moment.” (96)

“Epictetus says that as philosophers we should adapt to whatever happens, so that nothing happens against our will and nothing that we wish for fails to happen.” (111)

“Marcus Aurelius has a trick to bring his will into harmony with reality. He compares what happens to us to what a doctor prescribes to us. Just like you take some medicine when a doctor tells you to, we should take external events as they are, because they’re like the medicine there to help us.” (112)

“What happens to us is nature’s treatment to become better people. Those things happen for us, not against us, even if it doesn’t seem so.” (112)

“Epictetus says that if you fulfill your duties toward others, then you’re living in agreement with nature.” (147)

“People who are excited by posthumous fame forget that the people who remember them will soon die too.” -Marcus Aurelius

“We’re better off if we’re indifferent to fame and social status. After all, it’s not within our control.” (151)

“By seeking social status, we give other people power over us. We have to act in a calculated way to make them admire us, and we must refrain from doing things in their disfavor. We enslave ourselves by seeking fame.” (151)

“Epictetus observes, “Freedom is not achieved by satisfying desire, but by eliminating it.” (154)

“It’s not about not playing video games, not watching TV, not working full-time – it’s about the awareness and purposefulness we bring into these things. We can still choose to do whatever we think is worth spending our time with.” (166)

“You are disturbed not by what happens, but by your opinion about it.” (173)

“Nothing but opinion is the cause of a troubled mind.” (173)

“Harm does not come from what happens – an annoying person or unloved situation – but from your reaction to it.” (173)

“He who does not desire anything outside his control cannot be anxious.” (183)

“Don’t wish for life to be hard, but neither wish for it to be easier when it gets tough. Rather wish for the strength to deal with it. It’s an opportunity for growth.” (198)

“Epictetus says, “We would do better to remember how we react when a similar loss afflicts others.” (205)

“Seneca says, Let philosophy scrape off your own faults, rather than be a way to rail against the faults of others.” (258)

Liked the quotes? Buy the book here.

“The Obstacle Is The Way” Quotes

I recently read “The Obstacle Is The Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials Into Triumph” by Ryan Holiday. Below are the quotes I found most interesting. As always, if you like the quotes, please buy the book here.

Screen Shot 2014-05-10 at 5.57.46 PM“Through our perception of events, we are complicit in the creation – as well as the destruction – of every one of our obstacles.” (22)
“Real strength lies in the control or, as Nasim Taleb put it, the domestication of one’s emotions, not in pretending they don’t exist.” (30)
“Epictetus told his students, when they’d quote some great thinker, to picture themselves observing the person having sex. It’s funny, you should try it the next time someone intimidates you or makes you feel insecure.” (34)
“Take your situation and pretend it is not happening to you. Pretend it is not important, that it doesn’t matter. How much easier would it be for you to know what to do? How much more quickly and dispassionately could you size up the scenario and its options?” (35)
“When you can break apart something, or look at it form some new angle, it loses its power over you.” (36)
“One meeting is nothing in a lifetime of meetings, one deal is just one deal. In fact, we may have actually dodged a bullet. The next opportunity might be better.” (38)
“Everything changed for George Clooney when he tried a new perspective. He realized that casting is an obstacle for producers, too – they need to find somebody, and they’re all hoping that the next person to walk in the room is the right somebody. Auditions were a chance to solve their problem, not his.
From Clooney’s new perspective, he was that solution. He wasn’t going to be someone groveling for a shot. He was someone with something special to offer. He was the answer to their prayers, not the other way around. That was what he began projecting in his auditions – not exclusively his acting skills but that he was the man for the job. That he understood what the casting director and producers were looking for in a specific role and that he would deliver it in each and every situation, in preproduction, on camera, and during promotion.” (39)
“Most people start from disadvantage (often with no idea they are doing so) and do just fine. It’s not unfair, it’s universal. Those who survive it, survive because they took things day by day – that’s the real secret.” (46)
“One thing is certain. It’s not simply a matter of saying: Oh, I’ll live in the present. You have to work at it. Catch your mind when it wanders – don’t let it get away from you. Discard distracting thoughts.” (48)
“Remember that this moment is not your life, it’s just a moment in your life. Focus on what is in front of you, right now. Ignore what it “represents” or it “means” or “why it happened to you.”” (48)
“Steve Jobs refused to tolerate people who didn’t believe in their own abilities to succeed.” (51)
“Take that longtime rival at work, the one who causes endless headaches? Note the fact that they also:
– keep you alert
– raise the stakes
– motivate you to prove them wrong
– harden you
– help you to appreciate true friends
– provide an instructive antilog – an example of whom you don’t want to become” (56)
“The struggle against an obstacle inevitably propels the fighter to a new level of functioning. The extent of the struggle determines the extent of the growth. The obstacle is an advantage, not adversity. The enemy is any perception that prevents us from seeing this.” (57)
“It’s a huge step forward to realize that the worst thing to happen is never the event, but the event and losing your head. Because then you’ll have two problems.” (60)
“Boldness is acting anyway, even though you understand the negative and the reality of your obstacle.” (60)
“Sure, Demosthenes lost the inheritance he’d been born with, and that was unfortunate. But in the process of dealing with this reality, he created a far better one – one that could never be taken from him.” (67)
“In persistence, he’d not only broken through: In trying it all the wrong ways, Grant discovered a totally new way – the way that would eventually win the war.” (77)
“Knowing that eventually – inevitably – one will work. Welcoming the opportunity to test and test and test, grateful for the priceless knowledge this reveals.” (78)
“We’re usually skilled and knowledgeable and capable enough. But do we have the patience to refine our idea? The energy to beat on enough doors until we find investors or supporters? The persistence to slog through the politics and drama of working with a group?” (79)
“Epictetus: “persist and resist.” Persist in your efforts. Resist giving in to distraction, discouragement, or disorder.” (80)
“Failure shows us the way – by showing us what isn’t the way.” (86)
“Don’t think about the end – think about surviving.” (88)
“But you, you’re so busy thinking about the future, you don’t take any pride in the tasks you’re given right now.” (94)
“Forget the rule book, settle the issue.” (99)
“I you’ve got an important mission, all that matters is that you accomplish it.” (100)
“Think progress, not perfection.” (102)
“In a study of some 30 conflicts comprising more than 280 campaigns from ancient to modern history, the brilliant strategist and historian B. H. Liddell Hart came to a stunning conclusion: In only 6 of the 280 campaigns was the decisive victory a result of a direct attack on the enemy’s main army.” (104)
“When you’re at your wit’s end, straining and straining with all your might, when people tell you you look like you might pop a vein… Take a step back, then go around the problem. Find some leverage. Approach from what is called the “line of least expectation.” (105)
“We wrongly assume that moving forward is the only way to progress, the only way we can win. Sometimes, staying put, going sideways, or moving backward is actually the best way to eliminate what blocks or impedes your path.” (112)
“We act out, instead of act.” (116)
“If you think it’s simply enough to take advantage of the opportunities that rise in your life, you will fall short of greatness. Anyone sentient can do that. What you must do is learn how to press forward precisely when everyone around you sees disaster.” (119)
“Ordinary people shy away form negative situations, just as they do with failure. They do their best to avoid trouble. What great people do is the opposite. They are their best in these situations. They turn personal tragedy or misfortune – really anything, everything – to their advantage.” (120)
“It’s much easier to control our perceptions and emotions than it is to give up our desire to control other people and events.” (132)
“Could you actually handle yourself if things suddenly got worse?” (135)
“About the worst thing that can happen is not something going wrong, but something going wrong and catching you by surprise.” (143)
“It doesn’t feel that way but constraints in life are a good thing. Especially if we can accept them and let them direct us. They push us to places and to develop skills that we’d otherwise never have pursued.” (145)
“If someone we knew took traffic signals personally, we would judge them insane. Yet this is exactly what life is doing to us. It tells us to come to a stop here. Or that some intersection is blocked or that a particular road has been rerouted through an inconvenient detour. We can’t argue or yell this problem away. We simply accept it.” (145)
“Love everything that happens: amor fati.” (150)
“To do great things, we need to be able to endure tragedy and setbacks. We’ve got to love what we do and all that it entails, good and bad. We have to learn to find joy in every single thing that happens.” (151)
“The Germans have a word for it: Sitzfleisch. Staying power. Winning by sticking your ass to the seat and not leaving until after it’s over.” (157)
“There are more failures in the world due to a collapse of will than there will ever be from objectively conclusive external events.” (158)
“Whatever you’re going through, whatever is holding you down or standing in your way, can be turned into a source of strength – by thinking of people other than yourself.” (165)
“Stop pretending that what you’re going through is somehow special or unfair. Whatever trouble you’re having – no matter how difficult – is not some unique misfortune picked out especially for you. It just is what it is.” (165)
“One does not overcome an obstacle to enter the land of no obstacles.” (172)
“On the contrary, the more you accomplish, the more things will stand in your way. There are always more obstacles, bigger challenges. You’re always fighting uphill. Get used to it and train accordingly.” (173)
“Passing one obstacle simply says you’re worthy of more.” (173)
Liked the quotes? Buy the book here.