Breaking your mental cycle

“Not to feel exasperated or defeated or despondent because your days aren’t packed with wise and moral actions. But to get back up when you fail, to celebrate behaving like a human–however imperfectly–and fully embrace the pursuit you’ve embarked on.”


Marcus Aurelius

I tend to get depressed and disjointed very easily. I get these little streaks where one slipup will blow itself out of proportion in my head. Worse is that a lack of any consistent results, for me, can and sometimes will induce complete despondency. Of course I know where these issues have their roots but that doesn’t make them legitimate. I do know that my generation is especially susceptible to these fits. Walk on any college campus and you can feel the melancholy weighing everyone down. It’s contagious, epidemic even. The problem truly is that it opens you up to all sorts of distractions that alleviate the symptoms but not the ill. Why the hook up culture? Well on paper it’s the perfect solution to the daunting loneliness that strikes students as they leave their computer screens and head towards campus. And to fight this battle cold-turkey and unarmed is no easy thing.

In work I have the same problem. Like I said if the results aren’t pouring in, I am tempted to lose all faith. Confidence, especially when you’re venturing ahead, can evaporate quickly.

Which is why this quote is so profound. Embrace the pursuit–whatever it might be and don’t let your obsession with unending satisfaction derail you. Your ego is not some power you’re forced to satiate at every turn. It can endure an off week or a set back. It always has. To think you could have made it anywhere without the doldrums is nonsense. To feel you are fit to protect the fruits of your labor if you’re not even strong enough to handle the calluses? Arrogant and delusional.

So when I see one of these cycles begin, I try to intercept, intercede. Isolate the catalyst and counteract it. Not feeling creative? Sit and write–even if it’s about not feeling creative. (What do you think I’m doing now?) No results? Find something you know will provide them and do it, however small, inefficient or temporary. Head it off now to save the time and struggle. But remember the metatheme. Don’t be too hard on yourself. It’s ok if one of them gets away from you every once in a while. There’s no shame in taking a little break and feeling human–it’s always better than bottling it up. But more often then not, step back and regain control. Do not let one emotion feed off another or let small bums throw you wildly off track. For you will find Aurelius’ “fluent stillness” to be a goal well worth striving for.


“When jarred, unavoidably, by circumstances, revert at once to yourself, and don’t lose the rhythm more than you can help. You’ll have a better grasp of the harmony if you keep going back to it.”

Written by Ryan Holiday
Ryan Holiday is the bestselling author of Trust Me, I’m Lying, The Obstacle Is The Way, Ego Is The Enemy, and other books about marketing, culture, and the human condition. His work has been translated into thirty languages and has appeared everywhere from the Columbia Journalism Review to Fast Company. His company, Brass Check, has advised companies such as Google, TASER, and Complex, as well as Grammy Award winning musicians and some of the biggest authors in the world. He lives in Austin, Texas.