Single tasking in a stoic manner and avoiding being counterproductive; Dissecting Meditations, a personal journal by Marcus Aurelius Part #13

What you are getting into: 381 words, 2mins read

Here, I will share my contemplations upon reading the published personal journal of Marcus Aurelius, a roman emperor from 161-180 AD. Thoughts mainly stemmed from Stoicism, and Marcus Aurelius used the notes for guidance and self improvement. It’s a translated book by Gregory Hays, or you can read it online.

For this and upcoming posts I attempt to dissect quotes I favour upon reading the book.


Photo by rawpixel.com on Unsplash

If someone asked you how to write your name, would you clench your teeth and spit out the letters one by one? If he lost his temper, would you lose yours as well? Or would you spell out the individual letters?

Remember — your responsibilities can be broken down into individual parts as well. Concentrate on those, and finish the job methodically — without getting stirred up or meeting anger with anger.

Focus on the job. Focus. It is everything we can do. Without focus how else are we going to accomplish anything worth pursuing? Trying to juggle many projects at once will produce mediocre results. Expend your limited attention only on a few tasks. Even better, single tasking will output excellent results.

Next, many times due to our ego, we may engage in detrimental behaviour. Sometimes unconsciously! Possessing high amount of ego does no one any good. The conversation goes nowhere and everyone gets held back because of our own ego. What good it is when you one-up the others and get nothing done at the end of the day? This not only hold back your progress, you are holding back others from progressing as well — this is a selfish notion and it’s called being counterproductive. Remember, getting shit done is what matters; getting your ego satisfied produces nothing.

Fighting fire with fire fuels fire. Same goes for reacting to an angry person with anger. From an innocuous question to a full fledged shouting match. No wonder the Gods are laughing at us! Marcus Aurelius wrote to remind himself to get the job done methodically despite being the Roman Emperor — he actually has absolute power to indulge in authoritative abuse.

I suggest the following:

  • Think about putting your ego aside and focus on the objectives;
  • Focus on getting the work completed with the least amount of friction and effort;
  • If you find that others are often the ones being counterproductive, check yourself, you may be the counterproductive one instead of others.

Show where I’m wrong and I’ll change; Dissecting Meditations, a personal journal by Marcus Aurelius Part #12

What you are getting into: 547 words, 3mins read

Here, I will share my contemplations upon reading the published personal journal of Marcus Aurelius, a roman emperor from 161-180 AD. Thoughts mainly stemmed from Stoicism, and Marcus Aurelius used the notes for guidance and self improvement. It’s a translated book by Gregory Hays, or you can read it online.

For this and upcoming posts I attempt to dissect quotes I favour upon reading the book.

If anyone can refute me — show me I’m making a mistake or looking at things from the wrong perspective — I’ll gladly change.

It’s the truth I’m after, and the truth never harmed anyone. What harms us is to persist in self-deceit and ignorance.

Most want to be right. Some want to be right all the time. Some are willing to agree to disagree. Just how many are willing to question their own beliefs and maybe accept their view could be wrong?

Header image attached is an incredibly accurate depiction when two stubborn loggerheads are duking it out. From an outsider’s POV, it’s just a matter of perspective. We know that from a third person. And how many times we get caught in such situations? It is our own folly, myopia, and failure to recognise different views can exist, apart from ours.

It takes tremendous work to convince someone otherwise. So respect people who points out your own faults. It would have taken them consideration thought in delivering the corrective message. Thank them for their hard work, if you can (let go of your crushed ego).

Photo via Pixabay

Paul Graham wrote about this in his sticky yet politically right essay:

Do religion and politics have something in common that explains this similarity? One possible explanation is that they deal with questions that have no definite answers, so there’s no back pressure on people’s opinions. Since no one can be proven wrong, every opinion is equally valid, and sensing this, everyone lets fly with theirs.

I think what religion and politics have in common is that they become part of people’s identity, and people can never have a fruitful argument about something that’s part of their identity. By definition they’re partisan.

Which topics engage people’s identity depends on the people, not the topic.

The most intriguing thing about this theory, if it’s right, is that it explains not merely which kinds of discussions to avoid, but how to have better ideas. If people can’t think clearly about anything that has become part of their identity, then all other things being equal, the best plan is to let as few things into your identity as possible.

Need not be religion or politics. That’s not the point. It’s about disengaging your beliefs from your identity. Is having only few things as our identity the best possible way? Will we have better ideas once we discard the identity we have so carefully created over the years? Or is it that being mindful that ideas we conjure carries identity baggage the key to better thinking?

Circling back to Marcus Aurelius’s original thought, how can we catch ourselves engaging in self-deceit and ignorance? That’s something to reflect upon..

Dissecting Meditations, a personal journal by Marcus Aurelius Part #11

What you are getting into: 553 words, 3mins read

Here, I will share my contemplations upon reading the published personal journal of Marcus Aurelius, a roman emperor from 161-180 AD. Thoughts mainly stemmed from Stoicism, and Marcus Aurelius used the notes for guidance and self improvement. It’s a translated book by Gregory Hays, or you can read it online.

For this and upcoming posts I attempt to dissect quotes I favour upon reading the book.

Photo via Unsplash

How have you behaved to the gods, to your parents, to your siblings, to your wife, to your children, to your teachers, to your nurses, to your friends, to your relatives, to your slaves? Have they all had from you nothing “wrong and unworthy, either word or deed”?

Consider all that you’ve gone through, all that you’ve survived. And that the story of your life is done, your assignment complete. How many good things have you seen? How much pain and pleasure have you resisted? How many donors have you declined? How many unkind people have you been kind to?

This is an invitation to reflect on your own behaviour. I like how Marcus Aurelius followed a hierarchy down from the gods to his slaves.

  1. God — Omniscience being
  2. Parents — Two divine human beings who brought us to life
  3. Siblings — Human beings who shared the same womb
  4. Wife — Our lifelong companion
  5. Children — Miracle of life we are able to create
  6. Teachers — Mentors who impart knowledge to us so we can do good
  7. Nurses — Altruistic people who take care of our health and well-being when we need it the most
  8. Friends — Not by blood, but comrades nevertheless
  9. Relatives — Sharing the same bloodline, they are family
  10. Slaves — Selfless friends born of lesser stature, serving us for greater good

It invites us to contemplate if the 10 people were to speak of us, would they describe our behaviour as ‘wrong and unworthy’, or ‘benevolent and great?’ Every single person is in our lives, but why do we treat each differently? Even if each is ranked, what does giving a different treatment serves us? To be demeaning to your slaves and then turn around loving your children, what would our children think of us?

Second, jump to the end of your life, how would you measure your life? Have you done well? Could you have done better? Can you do the things you ought to have done, now? Can you change? Do you know what you need to change? Are you willing to change? Do you want others to change or do you wish to change your bad habits away? Do you even need to change? Or others need to change to suit your needs? What is a good life? What is a meaningful life? What kind of life do you want? Even if you do not know what kind of life will pan out, do you have any immediately goals to achieve?

These are all good questions to reflect upon from time to time. Some of the questions do not have an answer, but instead it serves as a prompt for us to rethink, restrategize, and to take action.

Consider this a reflection on our own virtues.

Try it, you will get insights you never thought of.