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Stoicism 101

How to Apply the Ancient Wisdom of Seneca, Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius to Your Modern Life

I love Stoicism. In this class we take a quick look at the cast of characters (from founder Zeno to Seneca + Epictetus + Marcus Aurelius) and then dive into the ultimate goal of Stoicism (hint: become bff’s with your inner daimon so you can experience a state of well-being and flourishing) along with the practices that help us apply this wisdom to our lives. We’ll create energized tranquility and equanimity as we have fun becoming our own ideal sages.

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The Nicomachean Ethics

Aristotle's writings have been extraordinarily influential since ancient times. This treatise is named after his son and is a collection of his lecture notes--imagining attending his Lyceum and listening to him teach 2,300 years ago! Of course, it's packed with culture-changing Big Ideas. Some of my favorites we cover include the ultimate end: eudaimonic happiness (vs. "happiness" as most of us think about it!), how to achieve that eudaimonia (hint: "virtuous activity of the soul" aka areté), how to win the Olympic Games (hint: you can't just show up; you need to ACT!), the doctrine of the mean (and the vice of deficiency + excess) and the virtue of magnanimity: meet YOUR great soul.

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Marcus Aurelius was the Emperor-Philosopher of the Roman Empire and one of the most enlightened leaders ever. Meditations is a collection of journal entries he wrote to himself and in this Note, we'll explore some Big Ideas of his Stoic philosophy—from the importance of never confusing ourselves with visions of a lifetime all at once, to not worrying about what others think of us and living a life of purpose and service.

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Epictetus is known as one of the world’s leading Stoic philosophers. (Along with Seneca and Marcus Aurelius, the three make up a very interesting bunch.) Epictetus was a former slave turned philosopher who lived from 55-135 (a little later than Seneca and before Aurelius). This book is a transcription of the informal lectures Epictetus gave to his students. It’s awesome. Big Ideas we explore: why Hercules needed challenges (and so do you), what figs can teach us about greatness, the good + the bad + the indifferent and how to tell the difference, “impressions” and the tricks they play, and the fact NOW is the time to live this stuff.

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On the Shortness of Life

Life Is Long If You Know How to Use It
by Seneca

Seneca was an old-school Roman statesman and one of history’s leading Stoic philosophers. In this book he tells us that life is only short if you don’t know how to use it and also gives us some tips on how to deal with challenging times and cultivate tranquility. Big Ideas we explore include making T.O.D.A.Y. the day, how to deal with being exiled (never know when it could happen ;), and why flexibility is the virtuous road to tranquility (and how to avoid the detours).

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The Bhagavad Gita

A Classic of Indian Spirituality

The classic text of Hinduism is *packed* with wisdom. In the Note, we take a super quick look at the context for the book and then jump into some powerful wisdom—including the importance of meditation, the fact that making mistakes is an inherent part of our growth process and the uber-importance of letting go of our attachment to results.

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The Dhammapada

The Sayings of Buddha

A core text of Buddhism, The Dhammapada literally means something along the lines of "the path of truth and righteousness" and is packed with wisdom. In this Note, we'll take a quick look at some central tenets of Buddhism (like the Four Noble Truths, nirvana, and the eightfold path) and soak up some Buddha mojo on how to rock our wisest lives.

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Rumi Daylight

A Day Book of Spiritual Guidance
by Rumi

Rumi's poetry is stunning. In this Note, we'll explore some inspiring wisdom from the Sufi mystic and have fun applying it to our 21st century lives—from the importance of having patience and seeing challenging times as God's way of strengthening us to working hard and going for it.

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The Analects of Confucius

Confucius. Talk about old school. I’ve waded through some of the arcane stuff from his classic "Analects" to bring us some highly practical wisdom for our 21st century lives. We'll take a look at a bunch of Big Ideas on the importance of being a passionate (and patient!) student of life while striving to do our best. Good stuff.

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The Tao Te Ching

The Tao te Ching. It's the core text of Taoism and one of the top old school classics of all time. In this Note, we'll take a look at everything from making use of solitude to the fact that the journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step (heard that before, eh?!). We'll also learn to let go of our attachment to future results and gracefully roll with the ebbs and flows of life.

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Trying Not to Try

Ancient China, Modern Science, and the Power of Spontaneity

Edward Slingerland is one of the world’s leading experts on both ancient Chinese thought AND modern cognitive science. This book is a melding of those two realms. It’s a truly fascinating read. I read it in a day and felt like I was spending the day hanging out with a brilliant thinker—getting privileged access to twenty years of deep thinking. If you’re into ancient wisdom and modern science I think you’ll love the book as much as I did. Big Ideas we explore include defining wu-wei + de (one of the coolest words/concepts ever), what Confucius + Lao Tzu + Mencius + Chuang Tzu have to say about wu-wei, and the spontaneity of mirrors.

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The Jefferson Bible

The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth

The Jefferson Bible. Thomas Jefferson created it for himself and never intended it for broad publication. Jefferson *literally* snipped out the passages and parables (from four different translations of the Bible) that he felt best captured the essence of Jesus’s moral philosophy and conformed with his sense of reason. Big Ideas we cover: Love your enemies (+ everyone else), seek ye first the kingdom of God, take the beam out your eye, use your talents, and build your life on the rock of wisdom.

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The Daily Stoic

366 Meditations on Wisdom, Perseverance, and the Art of Living

This book combines two of my favorite things: Stoicism + Ryan Holiday’s wisdom. Stoicism was one of the most influential philosophy of the Roman world and has continued to influence many of history’s greatest minds. As Ryan says: It’s time to bring it back as a powerful tool “in the pursuit of self-mastery, perseverance, and wisdom.” This is one of the my favorite books ever. Big Ideas we explore: the #1 thing to know about Stoicism, how to create tranquility, a good answer to “What’s the latest and greatest?!,” the 2 essential tasks in life and the art of acquiescence (aka amor fati).

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The Enchiridion

Epictetus is one of three Stoic philosophers we profile (Marcus Aurelius and Seneca are the other two) and this former slave turned leading philosopher of his era is incredible. He echoes the wisdom of all the great teachers as he reminds us that, if we want to be happy, we've gotta realize the only thing we have control over is our response to a situation. We'll have fun tapping into a lot more of his vast mojo in the Note.

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The Inner Citadel

The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius

Pierre Hadot was one of the most influential historians of ancient philosophy. In this book, he gives us an incredible look at Marcus Aurelius and his classic Meditations. You can feel Hadot’s incredible intellectual rigor and equally incredible passion for engaged philosophy. It’s inspiring. Big Ideas we explore include spiritual exercises, your inner citadel, your daimōn, amor fate, turning obstacles upside down and carpe areté.

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How to Think Like a Roman Emperor

How to Think Like a Roman Emperor

Donald Robertson is one of the world’s leading thinkers, writers AND practitioners of Stoic philosophy. He’s also a therapist who integrates Stoicism into his work with individuals. This is our second Note on one of his great books. The first Note was on The Philosophy of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy in which he connects the philosophical underpinnings of CBT (one of the most empirically-validated, effective modern therapies) to ancient Stoicism. This book is part biography and part philosophy. It’s all awesome. If you want to know how to think like a Roman emperor, start here. I think you’ll enjoy the book as much as I did.

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How to Be Free

An Ancient Guide to the Stoic Life (Ancient Wisdom for Modern Readers)

A.A. Long is professor emeritus of classics and affiliated professor of philosophy at the University of California, Berkeley. He is also one of the world’s most respected scholars of Stoicism. As per the inside flap, in this beautiful little (hand)book, he provides “splendid new translations and the original Greek on facing pages, a compelling introduction that sets Epictetus in context and describes the importance of Stoic freedom today, and an invaluable glossary of key words and concepts. The result is an unmatched introduction to this powerful method of managing emotions and handling life’s situations, from the most ordinary to the most demanding.” Big Ideas we explore include freedom vs. slavery, the ultimate target (progress!), wisdom daggers (ready at hand), Rule #1 of Stoicism, how to win at life and using our full powers.

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How to Be a Stoic

Using Ancient Philosophy to Live a Modern Life

Massimo Pigliucci is a Professor of Philosophy at City College of New York. He has three PhDs—one in genetics, another in evolutionary biology and a third in philosophy. And, most importantly for our purposes, he’s a practicing Stoic philosopher. In this book, Professor Pigliucci teaches us how to be a Stoic via an imaginary dialogue with Epictetus, one of the leading Stoic teachers of the ancient world. It’s a wonderfully written, super-smart look at how we can use “ancient philosophy to live a modern life.” Big Ideas we explore include an introduction to our guide Epictetus, Rule #1 of Stoicism (some things are in our power, others are not), the cardinal virtues (of Stoicism + Science + Optimize), the power of role models (and the Stoic Paradox), and the ultimate how to be a Stoic practice question: How can I use virtue here and now?

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The Practicing Stoic

A Philosophical User's Manual

Ward Farnsworth is the Dean of the University of Texas School of Law. As you can imagine, he brings a logical precision to his discussion of Stoicism that is distinct and powerful. (Seriously. It’s actually ASTONISHINGLY powerful.) I really enjoyed the book and I highly recommend it for the aspiring Practicing Stoic. Big Ideas we explore include Principle #1 of practical Stoicism (Judgment!), the good life vs. the good mood (virtue for the win!), what others think (<- pro tip: ignore it), preferred indifference (committed but not attached), and using adversity as fuel for our Optimizing (use Hermes' magic wand!).

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The Obstacle Is the Way

The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumph

Ryan Holiday is brilliant. So is this book. The ancient Stoics taught us how to not only accept challenges but to thrive on them. Ryan brings their wisdom to life with compelling stories of great peeps who have rocked it in the face of adversity. In the Note we'll take a quick look at the three keys to making obstacles work for us: Perception + Action + Will.

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The Philosophy of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy

Stoic Philosophy as Rational and Cognitive Psychotherapy

Got problems with your soul? These days, you’d see a psychotherapist. But, back in the day, it was the philosopher who’d help you optimize—they were the preferred physician of the soul. This book is about the philosophical roots of modern psychotherapy. Specifically, it outlines the connection between cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and Stoicism. Big Ideas we explore include being a warrior of the mind vs. a librarian of the mind, your highest human purpose, getting on good terms with your inner daimon, practicing the reserve clause and modeling your ideal sage.

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Musonius Rufus

Lectures and Sayings

Musonius Rufus was one of the four great Roman Stoics. In fact, he was known as the “Roman Socrates.” To put him in historical context with the other three great Roman Stoics: He was born in AD 30, about 34 years after Seneca. He taught Epictetus (who was born in AD 55). Epictetus died in 135 but taught the guys who taught the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius (who was born in AD 121) his Stoic philosophy—which is why Aurelius refers to him more than any other teacher in Meditations. Big Ideas we explore include: Theory vs. Practice (which is more important?), practicing philosophy (is where it's at!), vice vs. exile (free yourself from vice!), food (it's the medicine of life), and stoic love advice (competing in kindness).

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The Stoic Challenge

A Philosopher's Guide to Becoming Tougher, Calmer, and More Resilient

William B. Irvine is a professor of philosophy at Wright State University. He’s also a fantastic (and prolific) writer. And… Unlike many of his academic, professor-of-philosophy peers, he is a practicing Stoic philosopher. In the words of Donald Robertson (another Stoic author and practitioner; see The Philosophy of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy), he is both a librarian AND a warrior of the mind. We featured another one of Professor Irvine’s great books on Stoicism called A Guide to the Good Life. I enjoyed that one quite a bit but I REALLY (!) enjoyed this one. Like, jumbo loved it. In fact, I’m going to put this one right at the top of our growing collection of books on Stoicism—along with the must-read classics by Aurelius (Meditations), Seneca (Letters from a Stoic, On the Shortness of Life), and Epictetus (Discourses, Enchiridion) plus the modern classics like Ryan Holiday’s The Obstacle Is the Way and The Daily Stoic. If you’re looking for “A Philosopher’s Guide to Becoming Tougher, Calmer, and More Resilient,” I think you’ll enjoy it as much as I did. I HIGHLY recommend it.

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Thoughts of a Philosophical Fighter Pilot

Vice Admiral James Stockdale is an American hero. Stockdale spent nearly eight years as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam. He spent four of those years in solitary confinement and was repeatedly tortured. He was the commanding officer of hundreds of other U.S. soldiers and received the Medal of Honor for his service beyond the call of duty. This is an incredibly inspiring look at the powerful mind and equally powerful moral commitment of a hero. Big Ideas we explore: Being our brother’s keeper, chiseling our integrity to achieve delight with life, courage as endurance of the soul and heroes vs. bums.

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Courage Under Fire

Testing Epictetus's Doctrines in a Laboratory of Human Behavior

James Stockdale spent 7 1/2 years as the highest ranking prisoner of war during the Vietnam War. 4 years in solitary confinement. 2 in leg irons. This book is about how he endured all of that with the wisdom of Stoic philosopher Epictetus in mind. In the Note, we explore the key tenets of Stoicism, the Stockdale Paradox, playing your role well and mastering your emotions.

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Ego Is the Enemy

Meet the enemy: Your ego. Our guide, Ryan Holiday, wrote one of my favorite books of 2015: The Obstacle Is the Way. Ego Is the Enemy is now one of my favorite books of 2016. It’s fantastic. Big Ideas we explore include: defining ego, becoming more than a flash in the pan, finally answering the question of whether it takes 10,000 or 20,000 hours to attain mastery, the virtue and value of staying true to your own path and making it rather than faking it.

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Stillness Is the Key

This is our fourth Note on one of Ryan Holiday’s books. Ryan is one of my absolute favorite writers. One of the testimonials in the front of the book perfectly captures my sentiment. Screenwriter and director Brian Koppelman (Rounders, Ocean’s Thirteen and Billions) puts it this way: “I don’t have many rules in life, but one I never break is: If Ryan Holiday writes a book, I read it as soon as I can get my hands on it.” (btw: Cal Newport’s the first testimonial. He says: “Some authors give advice. Ryan Holiday distills wisdom. This book is a must read.”) Penguin Random House sent me an advance copy of this book. As I knew it would be: It’s fantastic. Of course, the book’s packed with Big Ideas and I’m excited to share some of my favorites so let’s jump straight in!

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Letters from a Stoic

by Seneca

Seneca. He was born around the same time as Jesus and was one of the leading figures in his Roman Empire. He was also one of history's leading Stoic philosophers (along with Marcus Aurelius and Epictetus who we also profile) and has some powerful wisdom to share. In this Note, we'll explore the purpose of philosophy, the importance of focusing our attention and the mojo that comes from facing our fears.

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A Guide to the Good Life

The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy

Stoicism. I love it. Although pretty obscure today, Stoicism was once the primary philosophy of the Western world. (We’ve done Notes on the three leading Stoics: Marcus Aurelius and his Meditations, Seneca and his Letters from a Stoic, and Epictetus and his Enchiridion.) In this, Note, we’ll cover some of the essential ideas of the Stoic philosophical approach along with some Big Ideas on the art of living, the true meaning of virtue, how to visualize and the fact that we’re living in a dream world.

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The Stoic Art of Living

Inner Resilience and Outer Results

This is our fourth Note on one of Tom Morris’s books. As we discussed in our Notes on True Success, The Art of Achievement, and Superheroes and Philosophy, Tom Morris got a dual Ph.D. from Yale in Philosophy and Religious Studies. Then he taught at Notre Dame for fifteen years before lecturing widely. This book combines two of my favorite things: Tom Morris’s practical, philosophical wisdom with Stoic philosophy. Big Ideas we explore include: Inner Confidence (and how to build it; remember: "Disaster is virtue's opportunity."), philosophy and what it's really about, how to deal with stress (pro tip: put it in a cosmic perspective), authentic living (and how to train it), and an emperor's wisdom for the battles of life.


#2 The #1 Key to Happiness + Flourishing

Hint: Become BFFs with your Inner Soul
Imagine your ideal self. Smiling and waving at you. See ‘em?! (Seriously. Take a deep breath/10 seconds and bring that epically awesome
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Man's Search For Meaning

An Introduction to Logotherapy

Viktor Frankl survived the horrors of the holocaust and describes his Logotherapy in this classic book. In the Note, we'll explore the fact that our attitudes determine our happiness and that *no one* can ever take away the freedom for us to choose our response to any given situation. We'll also look at the importance of having a mission in life and that as we serve something bigger than ourselves, our happiness and success will follow.

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Plato’s Lemonade Stand

Stirring Change into Something Great

Tom Morris has a joint Ph.D. from Yale in Religious Studies and Philosophy and is one of the most popular teachers in Notre Dame’s history. He’s one of my favorite teachers. In this book, he distills decades of wisdom into the ultimate philosophical lemonade-making recipe. Big Ideas we explore include lemon alchemy (Antifragility for the win!), the Big 3 + 1 (Socrates + Aristotle + Ockham --> Self-knowledge + Ideals + Courage + Simplicity), Plato’s Ideals (and yours), “I’m Getting Nervous!” (--> “I’m getting ready!”), and The Alchemy of Life (fuel for the second mountain).

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Superheroes and Philosophy

Truth, Justice, and the Socratic Way (Popular Culture and Philosophy)

Tom Morris is one of my favorite modern philosophers.
He has a dual Ph.D. from Yale in both Philosophy and Religious Studies. He also taught at Notre Dame for 15 years before becoming one of the most sought-after practical philosophers. We’ve featured two of his other books in which he brings ancient wisdom to our modern lives: True Success and The Art of Achievement. (He’s also the philosopher behind Philosophy for Dummies and wrote If Aristotle Ran General Motors and If Harry Potter Ran General Electric.) I got this book after he and I had an electric chat about Optimize 2020 and the role of The Modern Hero. It’s a collection of essays written by some of the smartest and wisest academic philosophers out there. Tom edited it with his son, Matt—which makes me think of *another* book we’ve featured on the wisdom of superheroes written by a dynamic father-son duo: Deepak Chopra and his son Gotham who wrote The Seven Spiritual Laws of Superheroes. I loved diving into some of the deeper philosophical questions inherent to our modern superhero tales. If that sounds like fun, I’ll think you’ll enjoy it as well. Of course, the book is packed with Big Ideas so, KABAM! Let’s throw on our spandex tights and capes and jump straight in.

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The Way of the Bodhisattva

The Way of the Bodhisattva is one of the classics of Buddhism that teaches us the key elements of the Bodhisattva—one who has dedicated his or her life to serving the world and releasing all sentient beings from suffering. In this Note, we’ll check out the importance of cultivating bodhichitta (an “awakened mind”) and how we can do it. (Hint: It’s all about “diligence in virtuous ways”! :)


#3 How to High Five Your Inner Daimon

My Philosophy in One Word
To the extent that there’s a gap between who you’re capable of being in any given moment and who are actually being in that moment, you
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#18 Deo Volente + Thy Will Be Done

Wisdom from Apollo, the Patron God of Philosophy
Deo volente. It’s Latin for “God willing.” The ancient Stoics told us that it’s important to have clear goals but we need to qualify
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#53 Little by Little

The Buddha on How to Optimize
One of my favorite gems from the Buddha is this wisdom: “Little by little one becomes evil, as a water pot is filled with water. Little by
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#184 The Ultimate Jihad

Winning the Battle with Ourselves
Continuing our theme of Sufi wisdom via the great 13th century Muslim poet Rumi, let’s talk about the ultimate jihad. First, we need to

#98 The Equanimity Game

How to Play It Like an Emperor
In our last +1, we talked about getting really good at recovering from our inevitable glitches. My favorite way to do that? I like to think
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#133 The Serenity Prayer

Serenity + Courage + Wisdom = A Winning Combo
In our last +1 we talked about Byron Katie’s idea that you can be in one of three businesses: someone else’s business, God’s business
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#100 Euthymia

How to Live with Energized Tranquility
First: Welcome to our 100th +1. It’s a special milestone. Kinda excited about it. 😃 Let’s celebrate it with one of my favorite words
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#200 The 5 (Greek) Keys to Optimizing

Areté + Eudaimonia + en*theos + Hērōs + Euthymia
We’re hitting another exciting milestone in our +1 series today: #200. Let’s celebrate in style. We celebrated #100 with one of my
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#398 The Parable of the Talents

Using Yours?
In our last +1, we talked about a wise daughter-in-law who planted her seeds and reaped a bountiful harvest. Another great teacher once told

#229 Virtuous vs. Vicious

Which Are You?
Here’s another interesting etymological distinction. We all know that when we live with virtue we are virtuous. But, what about when we
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#466 Aristotle’s Doctrine of the (Virtuous) Mean

vs. The Vices of Excess and Deficiency
Continuing our “What does Aristotle have to say about Optimizing?” theme, let’s chat a little more about HOW Aristotle tells us we can
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#431 Going the Second Mile

Jesus Says: It's the Way to Roll
Do you know where the whole “go the second mile” concept comes from? Many of you probably know that it’s from the Bible where Jesus
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#438 Jesus Said: Who Shall Inherit the Earth?

Was It the “Meek” or the “Disciplined”/”Tamed”?
Once upon a time, an extraordinary teacher gave a little Sermon on the Mount. Among other things, he told us: “Blessed are the meek: for
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#472 Confucius Says

The Original Optimizer on Intensity
Continuing our old-school theme, let’s move back a couple hundred years before Aristotle, and, according to Google maps, let’s go east
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#473 Confucius on the Long Game

Play It with Intensity
In our last +1, we spent time trying to keep up with Confucius and his Optimizing intensity. Today we’re going to focus on the time
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#474 Confucius's #1 Tip

The Way of the Master Consists of…
While we’re enjoying our time with Confucius, how about we ask him what his #1 tip is for Optimizing? Let me Google Hangout Confucius
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#477 Virtuous, Charismatic Power

via Effortless Effort (Wu-Wei + De)
I hope you enjoyed our time with Confucius. Today we’re going to invite a modern philosopher-neuroscientist named Edward Slingerland to
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#503 For Whom the Siren Wails

Don’t Ask … It’s for You
The other day as I was driving to the mountain for my sunrise Trail work, I passed an ambulance in front of a house and saw two paramedics
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#578 Creating a Confident, Dignified Life

Running into Buddha and Confucius at the Local Grocery Store
The other day I was waiting in line at our local grocery store. It’s kinda like a mini-Whole Foods. Note: There were no horses tethered in
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#620 Spiritual Sports

Scoring Touchdowns with Rumi
With all this talk about sports heroes and scoring touchdowns and winning forever, I think it’s time to remind ourselves that sports
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#714 Noli Timere

<- “Be Not Afraid” (= The #1 Phrase in the Bible)
In our last +1, we spent some time hanging out with my friend Katherine Collins who is, I am quite sure, the only human on the planet who
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#862 You, Seneca and Alexander the Great

On Philosophy
In our last couple +1s, we had some fun hanging out with Alexander the Great as we watched him bust out his sword and slice the Gordion Knot
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#863 A Disposition to Good

Pleasant + Honorable = the Same = Blissipline
In our last +1, we got some advice from Seneca. He encouraged us to remember that philosophy “tells all other occupations: ‘It’s not
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#864 Fortify Your Pertinacity

Seneca Says: “Until the Will to Good Becomes a Disposition to Good”
In our last +1, Seneca taught us how awesome it is to pursue the straight course to reach the destination where doing the right thing is the
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#906 Hanging out with Confucius

Learning from the Good and the Bad
A few +1s ago, we posed the question: “How is this making me stronger?” Specifically: How is this challenge I’m facing Today making me
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#1017 Theory vs. Practice

Musonius Says: One Is More Important Than the Other
In our last +1, we got some great marriage advice from the Roman Socrates, Musonius Rufus. He told us that: “When this mutual care is
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#1128 The Optimize Compass

And How to Make One
As I was preparing for our Mastery Series Module on Hero-ology (aka: The Study of a Good Hero), I was having fun thinking about how to
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#1181 Jesus, Tolle, You and Your House on the Rock

The Parable of the Wise and the Foolish Builders
The other day I ran into my friend Michael on the Trail. Well, technically, we did a 6-feet-apart virtual elbow tap as it was the start of
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#1182 Changing Times

Call for Unchanging Principles
In our last +1, we talked about Jesus, Tolle and You and your House on the Rock. I mentioned the fact that Tom Morris leaned on Jesus’