Anthony Lam and Stoicism

How To Get Your Life Back On Track With Stoicism

Lately, I have been encountering a lot of people that seem to be either “lost” or at a “low.”

I’ve been there before; it’s not pretty.

When I look back, the reason was always related to my career path.

I’m not saying I’m some master or guru, but I do have some experience with these dark periods in life.

If I could give one piece of advice during these times, I would tell you to refer to Stoicism – Stoic Philosophy.

What Is Stoic Philosophy?

Yeah… You’re probably thinking how philosophy can help you?

Let me first say this is not some woo-woo self-help BS. It’s practical philosophy – you can actually practice and apply this in real life.

Stoic philosophy is like an operating system on how to live life in ANY situation.

The ideas that I’m about to write may sound nice on paper, but if you practice it, you won’t get anything out of it. It’s like any other skill – you have to practice it to get good at it.

So you may be wondering how does this woo-woo stuff help you get your life back on track?

Here are some Stoic ideas and principles that you can practice in your everyday life

1. How To Get Yourself Out of Bed

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?”

– But it’s nicer here…

So you were born to feel “nice”? Instead of doing things and experiencing them? Don’t you see the plants, the birds, the ants and spiders and bees going about their individual tasks, putting the world in order, as best they can? And you’re not willing to do your job as a human being? Why aren’t you running to do what your nature demands?

– But we have to sleep sometime…

Agreed. But nature set a limit on that – as it did on eating and drinking. And you’re over the limit. You’ve had more than enough of that. But not of working. There you’re still below your quota.

You don’t love yourself enough. Or you’d love your nature too, and what it demands of you. People who love what they do wear themselves down doing it, they even forget to wash or eat. Do you have less respect for your own nature than the engraver does for engraving, the dancer for the dance, the miser for money or the social climber for status? When they’re really possessed by what they do, they’d rather stop eating and sleeping than give up practicing their arts.

Is helping others less valuable to you? Not worth your effort?” – Marcus Aurelius

Back in the dark days of working 60-80 hours a week, I was very reluctant to get out of bed. I was dreading what was to come during the day.

I’m sure most of you would feel the same if you were feeling unmotivated/lost in life.

Sure, you could lay there all you want, but it’s not going to solve the problem – your job that you despise.

At this point in time, you are contracted to work at your current job. You signed up for this, so do your job right.

Why are you even sticking around if you hate it? Something I was too blind to do and too scared to leave.

2. Change Your Perception

“Choose not to be harmed and you won’t feel harmed. Don’t feel harmed and you haven’t been.”

One of the biggest points in stoic philosophy is that although we don’t have control what happens to us, what we do control is our perception of those events.

Some examples of how I practiced this:

  • Feeling alone – When I was in Vietnam, the novelty of a new country wore off, and I felt alone after two months. Mainly due to not having found people I could “click” with. I changed my perception of feeling lonely as a motivation to go out more and meet more people – and I did meet some cool fucking people.
  • Stressing over Uber/Grab drivers – Uber drivers in Asia are one of the biggest headaches ever. You ping a location on the map to get picked up, but they would circle your location for a good 15-30 minutes. I can’t control how stupid these people are, but what I can control is booking 10 min in advance and messaging them with an exact address/landmark – a lot harder when you can’t speak the language

3. Turn the Obstacle Upside Down

If you can properly turn a problem upside down, every “bad” becomes a new source of “good.”

Back in 2016, I was “let go” from my civil engineering job after six months – shit… I studied for four years to get this job, and I get fired from it… I could’ve been worried about how this would look on my resume and worry about how can I get another job in the same industry, but I let this event become a way to start a new – I hated it anyway. Why not start afresh in a new industry?

Marcus Aurelius described it like this:

“Our actions may be impeded, but there can be no impeding our intentions or dispositions. Because we can accommodate and adapt. The mind adapts and converts to its own purposes the obstacle to our acting. The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.”

It’s a chance to practice new virtues, in my case – a fresh start in a new career path.

So whatever you are facing now, just know that this a chance to practice a new virtue.

You have a client or a boss giving you grief? – you can practice patience.

Yes, the situation you are facing now is uncomfortable and stressful. And yes, it’s fucking overwhelming right now, you don’t know how you’re gonna survive. BUT, if you embrace this setback, challenge it, and take action against it, you will discover things about you that you never knew you had.

4. Be In The Present

“Even if you’re going to live three thousand more years, or ten times that, remember: you cannot lose another life than the one you’re living now, or live another one than the one you’re losing. The longest amounts to the same as the shortest. The present is the same for everyone; its loss is the same for everyone; and it should be clear that a brief instant is all that is lost. For you can’t lose either the past or the future; how could you lose what you don’t have? Remember two things:

i. that everything has always been the same, and keeps recurring, and it makes no difference whether you see the same things recur in a hundred years or two hundred, or in an infinite period;

ii. that the longest-lived and those who will die soonest lose the same thing. The present is all that they can give up, since that is all you have, and what you do not have, you cannot lose.”

So when I broke up with my girlfriend, the “feels” hit me pretty hard. It was not pretty. The only good thing that came about from it was that it ended on good terms.

However, for others, they don’t have the privilege of this. They would catch their other half “getting it on” with some other person.

They then go into turtle mode, where they would withdraw themselves from the world and feel sorry for themselves for weeks/months on end. They would replay all the past events thinking: “oh, where did I go wrong?” They would live in the future thinking, “I wonder what would happen if…”

Whatever your situation, yeah, you can lay there and feel sorry for yourself, or you can get up and do something in the NOW.

You came into this life with nothing, and you’re gonna leave with nothing. Might as well make the most of that ONE life you have.

Stoic Books You Need To Read

Here are the books that I recommend you read. These books will get your life back on track:

The Daily Stoic – Read this as you read other books. This is a daily read – you just read one page per day (takes a minute).

The Obstacle is The Way – Read this second – Easy to digest

Ego Is The Enemy – Read this third – easy to digest

Meditations – Read this after the top three

On The Shortness of Life – Read this after the top three

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