Written by Rogério Marques
Dear reader, as highly educated Ancient Romans would write at the beginning of their letters, I hope you are well; if so, all is well; I am well. However, as much as we’d all wish for it, life is not just about happiness and goodness. On the contrary, life can, at any time, impose on us moments of hardship, tragedy, and grief. Do you want to overcome what life gives you? Do you aim to embark on a path of daily self-improvement? If yes, this article is for you.
Use What Life Throws at You Wisely
Suppose you find yourself feeling like life is crushing you. Negative thoughts on unworthiness, lack of self-esteem, and perhaps even uncourteous ideas toward yourself might be streaming throughout your mind every day, every hour, every minute, or every second.
Contrast the above with this frame of thought: you have found what you love to do, are doing it every day, you receive compensation for it such that your needs don’t go unattended, and you are regularly receiving feedback from the world that your actions are helping others and how to improve further. Your life’s purpose is clear: you are following it determined. You could even feel like you are a divine manifestation on Earth.
In this article, I will provide a few possible routes for you to find that you were always worthy in the first place. Instead, because you are a being with the ability to reason, feel emotion, and examine yourself, you are right to feel great about yourself. Further, you can improve yourself and find your duty to help others.
Start by pausing. And ask yourself a few questions:
Are these negative thoughts I am having about myself genuinely rational? Are they really classifying me accurately?
Become the Gardner of Your Mind
My own introspection regarding personally negative thoughts about myself is like this:
I was born as a human being, not a lump of coal. Surely a lump of coal has no potential other than being burnt into non-existence, right? Whereas a human being has tremendous potential if you really think deeply about it. While I have breath in my lungs and a beat in the heart, I have the potential to rise to the occasion, face the adversities, transcend them, even use these so-called adversities in my own favor, and then, even go on to fulfil my duty: to help others.
However, suppose you return to the humble lump of coal and think beyond the obvious. In that case, you might realize that it can be turned into a diamond if subjected to heat and pressure. Similarly, you can edit your mind to become even better than the equivalent of a diamond: you can become a traveler on a path of daily self-improvement.
Scientists that study the human brain find that the brain and consequently the mind can transform throughout life, much more during infancy and childhood, but still a great deal during adolescence and adulthood.
The next step is to seek positive thoughts that you identify with and remind yourself to think them every day, every hour, every minute, or every single second. Then, keep rewriting your thoughts, much like a gardener would care for his garden by replacing herbs with beautiful greenery and delightful flowers.
Listen to the Great, Become Great
Below are a few examples of some of the greatest positive thoughts I’ve found.
|We are what we think. / All that we are arises with our thoughts. / With our thoughts we make the world. / Speak or act with a pure mind / And happiness will follow you / As your shadow, unshakable. / How can a troubled mind / Understand the Way?|
Your worst enemy cannot harm you / As much as your own thoughts, unguarded.
But once mastered, / No one can help you as much, / Not even your father or your mother.
– Siddhartha Gautama, Buddha, The Dhammapada, Section 3
|The soul is dyed the color of its thoughts. |
Think only about those things that are in line with your principles and can bear the light of day.
Your integrity is your destiny… it is the light that guides your way.
– Heraclitus, Ancient Greek Philosopher
|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?’|
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? You don’t love yourself enough. Or you’d love your nature too, and what it demands of you.”– Marcus Aurelius, the Stoic Emperor of Rome, Meditations
|Imagine a man selling his donkey|
to be with Jesus.
Now imagine him selling Jesus
to get a ride on a donkey.
This does happen.
Jesus can transform a drunk into gold.
If the drunk is already golden,
he can be changed to pure diamond.
If already that, he can become the circling
planets, Jupiter, Venus, the moon.
Never think that you are worthless.
God has paid an enormous amount for you,
and the gifts keep arriving.
– Rumi, Medieval Persian poet
The Good Emperor’s Thoughts
What helped me transcend my state of stupor and wretchedness (daily dread and anxiety) and care for myself and others? It was undoubtedly the writings of Marcus Aurelius, known today as Meditations (audiobook link). Aurelius, who trained extensively in philosophy (mainly Stoicism), ruled the Roman Empire during trying times. A tumultuous era of constant war, betrayal by close friends, frequent natural disasters, and even a devastating smallpox epidemic. He wrote his thoughts on subjects such as gratitude, life, death, overcoming adversity, self-improvement, virtues, and vices.
Although he intentionally wrote his thoughts as self-journaling (as part of his evening routine that also included physical exercise, meditation, revision of the day’s choices, and introspection), Aurelius’s writings have been cherished, praised, translated, and studied for nearly two millennia after his death.
What makes his writings so remarkable? Well, besides infusing his journals with superb knowledge from personal experience leading his empire, Marcus Aurelius included wisdom acquired from his formative years of studying the greatest thinkers of his time and eras before. A few examples of great thinkers Aurelius mentions in his writings include Heraclitus, Plato, Socrates, Diogenes, Seneca, Epictetus, Rusticus, and Hippocrates.
Marcus Aurelius’ writings are undoubtedly an amazing wonder of human thought. The ideas therein likely helped Aurelius deal with the immense challenges he faced, so you too, might find the thoughts it contains helpful.
Alternative Starting Points to Kickstart Your Self-Improvement
However, different people have different minds, and Meditations might not captivate you. To still rise out of the mental place you might be in, try instead one of the books below. They all provide many instances of positive, and wise thought to build your inner peace of mind:
The Essential Rumi. A book that results from the outstanding work by Coleman Barks to compile a substantial amount of Rumi’s body of work consisting of profoundly inner-nourishing poems (audiobook link).
The Dhammapada. Siddhartha Gautama, assuming the role of a spiritual leader named Buddha, shared teachings that his disciples inscribed in this book. It contains profound insights into avoiding suffering, discovering and learning about yourself, and embarking on a self-improvement path (audiobook link).
The Enchiridion. Written directly from the lectures by the ancient, incredibly wise Roman slave-philosopher Epictetus. It consists of a concentrated collection of Epictetus’s wisest teachings, his philosophy’s fundamentals, and recommendations for living a good life (audiobook link).
Moral Letters to Lucillius by the Ancient Roman sage Seneca, written during his retirement at the near end of his life, after having worked as advisor to the emperor Nero (audiobook link).
To sum up, if you are in a rut, the first key step is to find a way to relinquish negative thoughts about yourself. It does not matter which of the sage’s teachings I’ve mentioned in this article will actually help you. It matters only that you start the project, the project of edifying yourself.
The Power of Habits & Self-Discipline
When you have improved your thought vocabulary enough, then you will be able to improve your decisions. And then, you will be able to examine and improve your habits. Finally, with habits improved, mere months can be sufficient to transform you into a much more realized version of yourself.
To improve your habits, I recommend these books, by current-day authors, which are so well packed with practical advice, that they have proven instrumental in my gaining desirable habits such as daily exercise, rejecting caloric snacks, reading daily, writing daily, and enjoying cold showers:
Atomic Habits by James Clear helps you examine your habits, introduce the habits you want, and reject undesirable habits. It even enables you to prune unwanted habits that are old and entrenched in your mind.
Self-discipline by Martin Meadows is a powerful book that will surprise you about what self-discipline is all about. It also teaches you how to develop self-discipline and perform daunting tasks without forcing yourself to acquire the motivation to do them.
And my parting gift to you, robbed from one of the greatest philosophers (he wouldn’t mind anyway) I’ve had the good fortune to have studied:
“He who says either that the time for philosophy has not yet come or that it has passed is like someone who says that the time for happiness has not yet come or that it has passed.” – Epicurus
I wish you well.
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