Become Stoic

How to Commit to Your Long Term Goals

Marcus Aurelius
AD 121 - 180

Welcome back! I hope you have done your homework well and now have a clearer understanding of what kind of person you would like to become.

It is already a significant step on the path to becoming the best version of yourself.

But you have to be prepared that this path will be long and thorny.

Human beings are notoriously resistant to changes.

People might feel an initial motivational jolt to change their lives radically, but this jolt fades away very soon, and they sink into old behavioral patterns.

Various emotional disturbances get in the way of our most cherished plans and goals.

It can be your desire for immediate gratification or comfort that forces you to take the path of the least resistance.

You know it firsthand. How often did you try to work harder, eat better, exercise more but failed to do it in favor of something else that seemed more fun or easy in the moment?

Many emotions make us myopic about future gains. Under their influence, we neglect future concerns for the sake of present ones.

But even though emotions that underlie unhealthy behavior can easily lead us astray, we would make a profound mistake to stigmatize and neglect all of them.

Just because many emotions lead us into temptations does not mean all emotions will.

Some emotions, on the contrary, make future goals more attractive. They open our eyes and facilitate the decisions favoring the future. They make us more in control of ourselves.

When it comes to long-term success, the "farsighted" emotions are principally these: gratitude, compassion, and pride.

Unlike basic feelings of happiness, sadness, anger, or fear, these emotions are intrinsically tied to social life, and that provides the key to their effectiveness.

Humans are first and foremost social beings. We are inherently designed to live in communities.

Cooperation and working together are essential to our existence and thriving.

In all cases, successful cooperation requires an ability to resist an immediate temptation.

It means in present you must forgo some immediate benefit. One person has to give something upfront to reap later benefits.

Thus to ensure this reciprocal help and cooperation, nature endowed us with social emotions of gratitude, compassion, and pride.

These emotions grease the wheels of social life by making us act in ways that, though costly to our pleasure or resources in the short term, bring the promise of greater rewards in the future. They give us self-control.

Due to gratitude, we move mountains to ensure that others whose friendships we value know we appreciate what they had done for us. And in so doing, they kept those bonds from fraying down the line.

Compassion is similar. It moves many people to give money, time, or emotional support to others in need. It encourages altruism that ensures efforts will be returned for our kind acts when we need them.

Now pride. Pride also can encourage people to sacrifice for future gain. People want themselves and others around to have a high opinion about them. So pride pushes us to persevere in the face of complex and tedious work to acquire socially praised skills that would benefit us in the long run.

Think about the last time you felt any of these three states — really felt them. They probably pushed you to accept some immediate cost.

The social nature of these emotions provides the essential key to exploring their power to boost self-discipline.

Just as social emotions help us forgo self-interest in dealing with other people, a slight pivot can also help us cooperate with a very specific person crucial to our long-term success: our future self.

And fundamentally, sacrificing immediate pleasure to help that person is what self-control is all about.

But what is most important, these emotions make self-control effortless. You don't need to fight with yourself to make the right choice. There is no coercion.

Decisions and actions that benefit the future self become naturally desirable.

To invoke and channel the power of effortless self-control, you must identify with your past and future self.

Let's first proceed with spiritual exercises intended to establish the connection with the past self, starting with gratitude.

For what are you grateful to your past self? Make a list of 2-3 traits, skills, habits that you are grateful to have now that contributed to the best sides of your present self.

Recall how it was to work on those skills and habits? How much time it required?

Most of your skills and habits required hard work and diligence. Your past self could easily do something more pleasant in the moment. Don't take those skills for granted. Let yourself feel gratitude.

Now let's invoke pride. Those lists may overlap, but it does not matter. The point is to awake different emotions to strengthen the bond with the past self.

Compare your current self with who you were in the past. Make a list of 2-3 improvements in particular habits, lifestyle in general, or even when you just stood up for yourself. Recall those moments and feel deep respect for whom you have become. You are the one being responsible for your own achieved greatness.

Last but not least is self-compassion. For many, self-discipline means being strict and punitive to oneself.

Our present self very often tends to belittle a past one for its shortcomings. It critically looks at past failures in an attempt to make itself work harder next time.

This approach is not the best to establish a warm, friendly connection between the past and present self.

Choosing to condemn past failures will only foster shame and anxiety about future ones—two emotions that will themselves continually chip away at self-control.

Remember that if you really want to motivate yourself, love and compassion are more powerful than fear.

Feeling compassion doesn't mean accepting poor performance; it doesn't make you blind to failure.

On the contrary, when you feel compassion for yourself, you want to become better without causing any additional pain.

You should acknowledge failure while motivating a desire to sacrifice enjoyment at the moment to improve the future but without punishing or belittling oneself.

Training your mind to make self-compassion the default response will increase self-control and help make your body resilient in the face of stress.

Remember the last time you failed. Were you harshly judging or shaming yourself?

Try to be as accurate as possible, noting your inner dialogue at that time. Were there key phrases that come up over and over again? Write them down.

Now I want you to embrace the sense of warmth and forgiveness. Use language that a wise and nurturing friend would to gently point out how your behavior is unproductive while simultaneously encouraging you to do something different.

What is the most supportive message you can think of that aligns with your underlying wish to be healthy and happy?

After eliciting gratitude, pride, and self-compassion to the past self, let's channel their power to your future self. The following exercise is going to be your daily evening routine.

Pride. What was your biggest win today? What did you accomplish to feel deep respect for yourself?

Gratitude. What one thing about this day are you grateful for? What's the best thing that has happened today so far?

Self-compassion. What is a lesson you can learn from today's mistake? What advice would a nurturing friend give you to avoid it in the future?

Marcus Aurelius
AD 121 - 180

Roman Emperor (161–180), best known for his Meditations on Stoic philosophy. Marcus Aurelius has symbolized for many generations in the West the Golden Age of the Roman Empire.

Source: Britannica

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