Often in life, to be successful it doesn’t require doing more. It requires you to stop. To eliminate the waste in your life.
In a culture hardwired to “do it all”, it can be counterintuitive to do less. It goes against everything we’ve been told to do. Try harder, do more.
One man that lived nearly 2,000 years ago learned to implement the subtle art of elimination. By ceasing to do many “normal” habits and behaviors, he was able to overcome enormous challenges.
Marcus Aurelius, emperor of Rome from 161–180 AD, had unprecedented access to all the riches of Rome as emperor but due to his position, he also bore the weight of the entire empire.
His entire life was met by hardship and unfathomable situations requiring decisions that would make most men crumble under the pressure.
Loss of loved ones was a constant throughout his life: his parents at a young age, his wife, and even several children at a very young age. Throughout his reign, he witnessed the devastating effects of plagues and famines. War was a constant in his time as emperor, most notably with the Parthian empire to the east and the barbarians to the north. He even had to deal with what we would call a “hostile workplace” today: a treasonous general, Avidius Cassius, proclaiming himself emperor and trying to overthrow his power.
How did he survive? “Only philosophy” as he would say. Through restraint, he found the answer to each problem. By doing less he found a way to do more.
Fortunately, we know this because miraculously his journal writings survived nearly 2,000 years and have been compiled into the astounding work called Meditations.
Let’s look at how Marcus dealt with common life obstacles and how he would have found the answers through elimination with 16 different quotes from Meditations.
1. Stop seeking pleasure, seek purpose
“And why were you born? For pleasure? See if that answer will stand up to questioning.”
Pleasure is overrated.
Today pleasure is omnipresent and our pleasure receptors are shot.
We sit in perfectly controlled environments at 68 degrees, order fast food to be delivered in minutes, suck off of 72 oz energy drinks, all the while seeking likes and hearts. Like a heroin addict, we are chasing for the next quick hit of momentary pleasure. Each time extracting less and less enjoyment from each hit.
Rather than focusing on fleeting pleasure, find what leads to satisfaction: a purpose in life. Long-lasting achievement, accomplishment, and meaning that will propel you forward in life to thrive.
2. Stop doing so much
“‘If you seek tranquility, do less.’ Or (more accurately) do what’s essential — what the logos of a social being requires, and in the requisite way. Which brings a double satisfaction: to do less, better. Because most of what we say and do is not essential. If you can eliminate it, you’ll have more time, and more tranquility. Ask yourself at every moment, ‘Is this necessary?’”
In a culture that favors activity over inactivity, we’ve been hardwired to believe that doing something, anything, is greater than doing nothing.
But at what cost does this busy lifestyle come?
Are you distracting yourself from dealing with the real issues at hand? Are you distracting yourself with trivial tasks rather than confronting your greatest fears and problems?
As the author Greg McKeown writes about in Essentialism, essentialism is the key to a great life. If you feel like you’re working your ass off to no avail, then take an inventory of where your efforts are focused. Rather than spreading yourself thin across many activities, focus on one and do it well.
Watch how far you go by doing less.
3. Stop caring what other people think
“Enter their minds, and you’ll find the judges you’re so afraid of — and how judiciously they judge themselves.”
If someone doesn’t like you, so be it.
There are 7.6 billion other people in the world for you to befriend.
Focus on improving yourself daily and people will flock to your new brilliant attitude.
4. Stop filling your mind with garbage
“The things you think about determine the quality of your mind. Your soul takes on the color of your thoughts.”
If your soul takes on the color of your thoughts, then what is paying attention to the news doing to your brain? What is the lasting impression on your mood after watching all the hysteria unfold on TV?
If you pay attention to the headlines you would be lead to believe the world is spiraling out of control and things have never been worse. War is spreading like wildfire, hate is an epidemic, and poverty is rampant.
Are you that big of a narcissist to believe that what you are experiencing in this time is monumental and unprecedented?
What about the hundreds of thousands of people that lived and died in the bloodiest war in America, the Civil War. Or how about all the parents for centuries that faced the unbearable odds that having a child pass at a young age was one in four.
We like to think that what we are experiencing is unique, but in reality, it’s not.
In fact, things are measurably better than they have ever been. In his new book Enlightenment Now, Harvard psychology professor Stephen Pinker proves that “rates of war have been roller-coastering downward since 1946, rates of American homicide have plunged since 1992, and rates of disease, starvation, extreme poverty, illiteracy and dictatorship, when they are measured by a constant yardstick, have all decreased — not to zero, but by a lot.”
Fill your mind with knowledge from the masters of stoicism and seek the good in life. You’ll be amazed by how your anxiety washes away. Watch as your outlook on life changes.