Because if the leader can’t take the time to develop a clear sense of the bigger picture, who will? If the leader isn’t thinking through all the way to the end, who is?
Story about Kennedy where he recently read a book The Guns of August, about world leaders rushing into a conflict. And he wanted for everyone to slow down during the missile crisis and think through the problem. (Thinking fast and slow)
In the critical situations we must:
- Be Fully present.
- Empty our mind of preconditions.
- Take our time.
- Sit quietly and reflect.
- Reject distractions.
- Weight advice against the counsel of our convictions.
- Deliberate without being paralyzed.
Tolstoy observed that love can’t exist in the future. Love is only real if it’s happening right now.
Jesus told his disciples not to worry about tomorrow, because tomorrow will take care of itself. Another way of saying that is: You have plenty on your plate right now. Focus on that, no matter how small or insignificant it is. Do the very best you can right now. Don’t think about what detractors may say. Don’t dwell or needlessly complicate. Be here. Be all of you.
There is ego in trying to stay up on everything, … There is ego in trying to appear the most informed person in the room, … who knows every single thing that’s happening in everyone’s life.
The point is, it’s very difficult to think and act clearly (to say nothing of being happy) when we are drowning in information.
In his Meditations, Markus Auerlius says, “Ask yourself at every moment, ‘Is this necessary?’”
Knowing what not thing about. What to ignore and not to do. It’s your first and most important job.
“Tao is in the emptiness. Emptiness is the fast of the mind.” Markus Aurelius once wrote that “cutting free of impressions that ling to the mind, free of the future and the past,” to become the “sphere rejoicing in its perfect stillness”
Appearances are misleading. First impressions are too. We are disturbed and deceived by what’s on the surface, by whats others see. Then we make bad decisions, miss opportunities, or feel scared or upset. Particularly when we don’t slow down and take the time to really look.
“Just be quite and think. It’ll make all the difference in the world.” - Rogers
Your job, after you have emptied your mind, is to slow down and think. To really think, on a regular basis.
… Think about what’s important to you, what’s actually going on, what might be hidden from the view, what the rest of the chessboard looks like, what the meaning of life really is.
“How noble and good everyone could be if at the end of the day they were to review their own behavior and weight up the rights and wrongs. They would automatically try to do better at the start of each new day, and after a while, would certainly accomplish a great deal”
Seneca explained to his friend, “I examine my entire day and go back over what I’ve done and said, hiding nothing from myself, passing nothing by.” Then he would go to bed, finding that “the sleep which follows this self-examination” was particularly sweet.
Journaling is a way to ask tough questions: Where am I standing in my own way? What’s the smallest step I can take toward a big thing today? Why am I so worked up about this? What blessings can I count right now? Why do I care so much about impressing people? What is the harder choice I’m avoiding? Do I rule my fears, or do they rule me? How will today’s difficulties reveal my character?
We can’t be afraid of silence, as it has much to teach us. Seek it.
what made Socrates so wise was that “he knew nothing except just the fact of his ignorance.”
Both the Epicureans and the Stoics held sophia (wisdom) as a core tenet.
The noble person who studies widely and examines himself each day will become clear in his knowing and faultless in his conduct.
The need to ask questions. The need to study and reflect. The importance of intellectual humility. The power of experiences - most of all failures and mistakes - to open our eyes to truth and understanding.
Find people who you admire and ask how they got where they are. Seek book recommendations. Isn’t that what Socrates would do? Add experiences and experimentation to the top of this. Put yourself in tough situations. Accept challenges. Familiarize yourself with the unfamiliar.
Confident people know what matters. They know when to ignore other people’s opinions. The don’t boast or lie to get ahead (and then struggle to deliver). Confidence is the freedom to set your own standards and unshackles yourself from the need to prove yourself. A confident person doesn’t fear disagreement and doesn’t see change - swapping an incorrect opinion for a correct one - as an admission of inferiority.
The great archery master Awa Kenzo preferred to teach his students an important mental skill: detachment. “What stands in your way is that you have too much willful will. He wanted his student to detach from the idea of an outcome. “The hits on the target are only the outward proof and confirmation of your purposelessness at its highest, of your egolessness, your self abandonment, or whatever you like to call this state.
Mastering our mental domain - as paradoxical as it might seem - requires us to step back from the rigidity of the word “mastery”. We’ll get the stillness we need if we focus on the individual steps, if we embrace the process, and give up chasing. We’ll think better if we aren’t thinking so hard.
The closer we get to mastery, the less we can about specific results. The more collaborative and creative we are able to be, the less we will tolerate ego or insecurity. The more at peace we are, the more productive we can be.
Markus Aurelius would ask himself, “What am I doing with my soul? Interrogate yourself, to find out what inhabits your so-called mind and what kind of soul you have now. A child’s soul? An adolescent’s?… A tyrant’s soul? The soul of a predator or its prey?”
Virtue is not holiness, but rather moral and civic experience in the course of daily life.
Different situations naturally call for different virtues and different epithets for the self. When we’re going into a tough assignment, we can say to ourselves over and over again, “Strength and courage.” Before a tough conversation with a significant other: “Patience and kindness.” It times of corruption and evil: “Goodness and honesty.”
Each of us must cultivate a moral code, a higher standard that we love almost more than life itself. Each of us must sit down and ask: What’s important to me? What would I rather die for than betray? How am I going to live and why?
As Freud explained, “We all demand reparation for our early wounds to our narcissism,” thinking we are owed because we were wronged or deprived.
It’s dangerous business, though, creating a monster to protect your wounded inner child.
Give more. Give what you didn’t get. Love more. Drop the old story.
Indeed, most desires are at the core irrational emotions, and that’s why stillness requires that we sit down and dissect them. (Think awareness and meditation) We want to think ahead to the refractory period, to consider the inevitable hangover before we take a drink. When we do that, these desires lose some of their power.
Only those of us who take the time to explore, to question, to extrapolate the consequences of our desires have an opportunity to overcome them and to stop regrets before they start. Only them know that real pleasure lies in having a soul that’s true stable, happy and secure.
Most people never learn that their accomplishments will ultimately fail to provide the relief and happiness we tell ourselves they will.
The need for of progress can be the enemy of enjoying the process.
You will never be okay by way of external accomplishments. Enough comes from the inside. It comes from stepping off the train. From seeing what you already have, what you’ve always had.
It’s perfectly possible to do and make good work from a good place. You can be healthy and still and successful.
What do we want more of in life? That’s the question. It’s not accomplishments. It’s not popularity. It’s moments when we feel like we are enough.
Don’t let the beauty of life escape you. See the world as the temple that it is. Let every experience be churchlike. Marvel at the fact that only of this exists - that you exist. Even when we are killing each other in pointless wars, even when we are killing ourselves with pointless work, we can stop and bathe in the beauty that surrounds us, always.
Who is there would would wish to be surrounded by all the riches in the world and enjoy every abundance in life and yet not love or be loved by anyone? was Cicero’s question some two thousand years ago. It echoes on down to us, still true forever.
Life without relationships, focused solely on accomplishments, is empty and meaningless. A life solely about work and doing is terribly out of balance; indeed, it requires constant motion and busyness to keep from falling apart.
Love, Freud said, is the great educator. We learn when we give it. We learn when we get it. We get closer to stillness through it.
It’s been said that the world “love” is spelled “time”. It is also spelled “work” and “sacrifice” and “difficulty”, “commitment” and occasionally “madness”. But always punctuated by “reward”.
To go through our days looking out for no one but ourselves? To think that we can or must do this all alone? To accrue mastery or genius, wealth or power, solely for our own benefit? What is the point?
Our stillness depends on our ability to slow down and choose not to be angry, to run on different fuel. Fuel that helps us win ad build, and doesn’t hurt other people, our cause, or our chance at peace.
The truly philosophical view is that not only is originally necessary, but everyone is necessary. Even the people you don’t like. Even the ones who really piss you off. Even the people wasting their lives, cheating, or breaking the rules are part of the larger equation. We can appreciate - or at lest sympathize with-them, rather than to try to fight or change them.
We can make an active effort to practice forgiveness, especially to those who might have caused those inner-child wounds we have worked to heal. We can seek understanding with those we disagree with. To understand all is to forgive all. To love all is to be at peace with all, including yourself.
The less we are convinced of our exceptionalism, the greater the ability we have to understand and contribute to our environment, the less blindly driven we are by our own needs, the more clearly we can appreciate the needs of those around us, the more we can appreciate the larger ecosystem of which we are a part.
“The balance he maintained between flat-out work and creative and restorative leisure is worth study by anyone holding a top position.” - Paul Johnson (one of Churchill’s best biographers)
… other four lessons from Churchill’s remarkable life were to
- aim high
- never allow mistakes or criticism to get you down
- to waste no energy on grudges, duplicity, or infighting
- make room for joy
“Every night I try myself by court martial to see if I have done anything effective during the day. I don’t mean just pawing the ground - anyone can go through the motions - but something really effective.”
In a little book titled Painting as a Pastime, Churchill spoke eloquently of reliance on new activities that use other parts of our minds and bodies to relieve the areas where we are overworked. “The cultivation of a hobby and new forms of interest is therefore a policy of first importance to a public man,” he wrote. “To be really happy and really safe, one ought to have at least two or three hobbies, and they must all be real.”
Churchill himself would write that every prophet must be forced into the wilderness - where they undergo solitude, deprivation, reflection, and meditation. It’s from this physical ordeal he said that “psychic dynamite” is made.
Epicurus once said that the wise will accomplish three things in life: leave written works behind them, be financially prudent and provide for the future, and cherish country living.
If we are to be half as productive as Churchill, and manage to capture the same joy and zest and stillness that defined his life, there are traits we will still need to cultivate. Each of us will:
- Rise above our physical limitations.
- Find hobbies that rest and replenish us.
- Develop a reliable, disciplined routine.
- Spend time getting active outdoors.
- Seek out solitude and perspective.
- Learn to sit - to do nothing when called for.
- Get enough sleep and rein in our workaholism.
- Commit to causes bigger that ourselves.
You don’t solve a maze by rushing through. You have to stop and think. You have to walk slowly and carefully, reining in your energy - otherwise you’ll get hopelessly lost. The same is true for the problems we face in life.
“It is only ideas gained from walking that have any worth.” - Freidrich Nietzsche
Done enough times, done with sincerity and feeling, routine becomes a ritual. The regularity of it - the daily cadence - creates deep and meaningful experience. To one person, taking care of a horse is a chore. To Simon Bolivar it was a sacred, essential part of his day. When the body is busy with the familiar, the mind can relax. The monotony becomes muscle memory. To deviate seems dangerous, wrong. As if it’s inviting failure in.
One of Seneca’s most powerful metaphors is the slaveowner owned by his slaves, or a wealthy man whose vast estates lord over him rather than the other way around (in modern times, we have our own term for this: being “house poor”)
The person who is afraid to lose their stuff, who has their identity wrapped up in their things, gives their enemies an opening. They make themselves extra vulnerable to fate.
The best car is no the one that turns most heads, but the one you have to worry about the least. The best clothes are the ones that are the most comfortable, that require you to spend the least amount of time shopping - regardless of what the magazines say. The best house for you is the one that feels the most like home. Don’t use your money to purchase loneliness, or headaches, or status anxiety.
“If I was to sump up the single best problem of senior leadership in the Information Age,” four-star Marine Corps general and former secretary of defense James Mattis has said, “it’s lack of reflection. Solitude allows you to reflect while others are reacting. We need solitude to refocus on prospective decision making, rather than just reacting to problems as they arise.”
Many of us have talents and gifts that are so extraordinary that we owe it to ourselves and the world to express and fulfill them. But we’re not going to be able to do that if we’re not taking care of ourselves, or if we have stretched ourselves to the breaking point.
Moderation. Being present. Knowing your limits.
This is the key. The body that each of us have was a gift. Don’t work it to death. Don’t burn it out.
Protect the gift.
The overworked person creates a crisis that they try to solve by working harder. Mistakes are piled upon mistakes by the exhausted, delirious mind.
Leisure historically meant simply freedom from the work needed to survive, freedom for intellectual or creative pursuits. It was learning and study and the pursuit of higher things.
Leisure is not the absence of a activity, it is activity. What absent is any external justification - you can’t do leisure for pay, you can’t do it to impress people. You have to do it for you.
“If an action tires your body but puts your heart at ease,” Xunzi said, “do it.” There is a reason philosophers in the West often trained in wrestling and boxing, while philosophers in the East trained in martial arts. These are not easy activities, and if you’re not present while you do them, you’ll get your ass kicked.
Of course, leisure can easily become an escape, but the second that happens it’s not leisure anymore. When we take something relaxing and turn it into a compulsion, it’s not leisure, because we are no longer choosing it.
Sure, the rush of traveling, the thrill of surfing, or the altered state of a psychodelic can relive some of the tension that’s build up in our lives. Maybe you get some pretty pictures out of it, and some pseudo-profundity that impresses your friends.
But when that wears off? What’s left?
When you defer and delay, interest is accumulating. The bill still comes due… and it will be even harder to afford then than it will be right now.
The one thing that you can’t escape in your life is yourself.
What you seek will come only if you sit and do the work, if you probe yourself with real self-awareness and patience.
Build a life that you don’t need to escape from.
Action is what matters.
Pick up the phone and make the call to tell someone what they mean to you. Share your wealth. Run for office. Pick up the trash you see on the ground. Step in when someone is being bullied. Step in even if you’re scared, even if you might get hurt. Tell the truth. Maintain your vows, keep your word. Stretch out a hand to someone who has fallen.
“As a well-spent day brings a happy sleep, so a well employed life brings a happy death. - Leonardo Da Vinci
Seneca reminded himself that before we were born we were still and at peace, and so we will be once again after we die. A light loses nothing by being extinguished, he said, it just back to how it was before.