11 Important Things I’m Thinking About In 2023

Marcus Aurelius thought a lot about thinking.

“Our life is dyed by the color of our thoughts,” he wrote. So naturally, he tried to be thoughtful about what he thought and how he thought. “Get used to winnowing your thoughts,” he said, “so that when someone asked you what you were thinking, you could answer straightforwardly.”

This is a good test for us today as we run around busy and preoccupied by our thoughts. If someone asked us, “What are you doing? Why are you doing it? What are you thinking about?”—would we have a good answer?

One of the things I am doing at the beginning of this year is meditating on a handful of ideas—most from the Stoics—that will hopefully make me better. Things that will hopefully dye my life a good color.

Here are some of them…

[1] Doing less, better. One of the challenges of the Daily Stoic New Year New You Challenge was to pick a mantra. I picked, “do less,” an idea that comes from Marcus Aurelius. “If you seek tranquility,” he said, “do less.” And then he follows the note to himself with some clarification. Not nothing, less. Do only what’s essential. “Which brings a double satisfaction,” he writes, “to do less, better.”

[2] Being fast now and later. I had Olympic mountain biker Kate Courtney on the podcast while I was working on Discipline is Destiny and she told me a piece of advice she had gotten from her coach when she was pushing herself too hard in practice. “Do you want to be fast now,” they asked, “or later?” Meaning, do you want to win this workout or win the race?

[3] Being a good steward of Stoicism. Next to my desk, I have a notecard tapped to the wall that says, “Am I being a good steward of Stoicism?” Writing books is a business. My bookstore, The Painted Porch, is a business. Daily Stoic is a business. But I always try to ask myself not if I am making good business decisions, but if I am being a good steward of Stoicism, of the philosophy that’s given so much to me. Am I being honest and ethical and fair and reasonable and moderate—I try to think about all those things.

[4] Not always having an opinion. It’s possible, Marcus Aurelius said, to not have an opinion. You don’t have to turn this into something, he reminds himself. You don’t have to let this upset you. You don’t have to think something about everything.

[5] One small win per day is a lot. One of the best pieces of advice from Seneca was actually pretty simple. “Each day,” he told Lucilius, you should, “acquire something that will fortify you against poverty, against death, indeed against other misfortunes, as well.” One gain per day. That’s it.

[6] Paying my taxes. Not just from the government. Seneca wrote to Lucilius, “All the things which cause complaint or dread are like the taxes of life—things from which, my dear Lucilius, you should never hope for exemption or seek escape.” Annoying people are a tax on being outside your house. Delays are a tax on travel. Haters are a tax on having a YouTube channel. There’s a tax on money too–and the more successful I have been, the more I’ve had to pay. There’s a tax on everything in life. You can whine. Or you can pay them gladly.

[7] The garbage time. There’s no such thing as ‘quality’ time. Time is time. In fact, as Jerry Seinfeld said, garbage time—eating cereal together late at night, laying around on the couch — is actually the best time. Forget chasing HUGE experiences. It can all be wonderful, if you so choose.

[8] Having a crowded table. It’s helpful to sit and really think about what success looks like. When you flash way forward into the future, what is it? You’re not going to think about how much money you made, how great a business you built, how many books or albums or companies you sold…if you’re alone, if your kids won’t answer your call, if your friends won’t have anything to do with you. Success, at the end of your life, is a crowded table—family and friends that want to be around you.

[9] The mundane is beautiful. In Meditations, Marcus Aurelius marvels at “nature’s inadvertence.” A baker, he writes, makes the dough, kneads it and then puts it in the oven. Then Nature takes over. “The way loaves of bread split open,” Marcus writes, “the ridges are just byproducts of the baking, and yet pleasing, somehow: they rouse our appetite without our knowing why.” It’s a beautiful observation about such a banal part of daily life, something only a poet could see. It’s also just a beautiful way to move through life. Notice the soft paw prints on the dusty trunk of a car. Marvel at the steam wafting from the vents on a New York City morning, the sound of a pen gliding across a notecard, and the floor filled with a child’s toys, arranged in the chaos of exhausted enjoyment. Find the beauty in the mundane.

[10] Patience. Seneca wrote, “The greatest remedy for anger is delay.” And Robert Greene said, “practice patience. Wait a day before taking action on the pressing problem.” And Joyce Carol Oates had a simple rule, “I almost never publish immediately.” Every first draft is placed in a drawer where it sits, sometimes for a year or more. When three of my all-time favorite thinkers converge, I know I’ve found an important thing to think about.

[11] Alive time of dead time? Speaking of Robert, a few years ago, Robert gave me a piece of advice I think about just about every day. At a time when I was stuck in a job I wanted out of, Robert told me there are two types of time: alive time and dead time. One is when you sit around, when you wait until things happen to you. The other is when you are in control, when you make every second count, when you are learning and improving and growing. So I decided I would make the absolute most of every moment while I was stuck in that job. It became an incredibly productive period of reading and researching and filling boxes of notecards that helped me write The Obstacle is the Way and Ego is the Enemy.

And bringing it full circle, I’m excited to announce that Robert and I are hosting an evening of conversation and philosophy on Power, Seduction, Ego and Destiny on March 10th and 11th.

Tickets are on sale now at ryanholiday.net/tour. If you are in or can make it to San Francisco or Seattle, I would love to see you any and all of you there!

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