Optimize Stoicism

Locked 101 Classes

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 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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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 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 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 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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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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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.

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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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#892 Stoic Shipwrecks

And Kids at the Park Biting You
In our last +1, we had fun reflecting on a new ritual Emerson and I are having fun with. It’s been super fun to reflect on ancient Stoic
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#379 Stoic Spas

Are More Like Hospitals (Check Yourself In Yet?)
In our last +1, we talked about how to give advice Seneca-style. Recall that he didn’t do it from a soapbox. He did with the humility of a
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#851 Stoic Negative Visualization

A Practice in the Ancient Art of Stoic Joy
In our last couple +1s, we talked about a couple of ways to reframe life’s lemons into a little more Optimizade. We started with “At
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#1016 Stoic Love Advice

Musonius Says: Compete in Giving Care
As we discussed not too long ago, I recently had an epic party with some Stoics. And, by party, I mean, I hung out with some of the
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#1002 The Stoic Paradox

The Stockdale Paradox - Part 2
Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been having fun hanging out with some Stoics—some modern guys and some ancient ones. It started with
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#891 The Daily Stoic Kid

What Coin Will YOU Pick Today?
In our last +1, we talked about going deep to serve profoundly. Immediately after finishing that +1, I went downstairs to hang out with the
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#1059 Your Most Profitable Journey

Stoic Antifragile Origin Stories
In our last +1, we hung out with a couple of Zenos—Emerson’s leopard gecko and the founder of Stoicism. Side note: Every single time I
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#1004 The Cardinal Virtues

Of Stoicism + Science + Optimize
The other day we chatted about my recent staycation with my Stoic friends. (btw: Laughing as I type this but you know what I do when I’m
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#1152 Disaster =

Virtue’s Opportunity
If you haven’t noticed, I can’t quite get enough of Stoic wisdom. In fact, I can’t quite get enough of ancient (Stoic) wisdom AND
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#1142 Memento Aristotle’s River Creatures

Getting Perspective on Life and Death
Today we’re going to revisit Ward Farnsworth’s great book The Practicing Stoic. Chapter 4. It’s on “Death.” We’ll turn
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#1061 The God of Medicine

Prescribing Hardships to Cultivate Our Virtue
Continuing our exploration of Stoic practices that help us step in between stimulus and response so we can choose our optimal response,
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#1130 Alchemizing Adversity

Into Exceptional Opportunities for Growth
In our last +1, we all get issued our magic wand. It can alchemize any and all challenges into fuel for our growth. Thank you, Hermes and
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#1126 The Good Life

vs. The Good Mood
Not too long ago, we had fun revisiting some Stoic wisdom as we mined some goodness with a range of books—including Musonius Rufus’s
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#404 Caterpillars, Butterflies and You

(And Maslow, Aristotle, Stoics and Others)
In our last +1, we talked about Abraham Maslow’s wisdom and the ancient etymology of the word clamor in the context of your capacities
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#860 You and Your Gordion Knots

Conquering Our Super-Tricky Challenges
Skipping the longer philosophical chat about the ethics of being a conqueror, Today we’re going to chat about Alexander the Great. More
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#1129 Your Secret Weapon

Thank You, Epictetus and Hermes
In our last +1, we had some fun making our Optimize virtue compass. Recall the four cardinal points correspond with our four cardinal
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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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#1018 True Philosophy

Is the Practice of Noble Behavior
In our last +1, we talked about Musonius’s thoughts on theory vis-a-vis practice. Recall his wisdom: “Theory which teaches how one must
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#557 How to Reclaim Lost Time, Energy + Brainpower

Pro Tip: Practice Saying “I Don’t Know” + “I Don’t Care”
As we’ve discussed, Ryan Holiday is a modern Stoic. I think of him several times a day when I take his “Memento Mori” coin out of my
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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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#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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#378 Seneca on How to Give Advice

Like One Patient to Another
I recently interviewed Donald Robertson. Donald is one of the world’s leading thinkers on Stoicism. He wrote The Philosophy of Cognitive
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#850 Aurelius on Death

And Appreciating the “Uncovenanted Surplus” That Is Life
In our last +1, we reflected on the idea that little (and big) oopses provide us with opportunities to appreciate that we’re still alive
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#209 Memento Mori

Want to Live? Remember Death
As you probably know by this point, I’m a big fan of Stoicism in general and of my favorite living Stoic philosopher Ryan Holiday in
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#1131 Your Philosopher’s Wand

Goes Well with Your Philosopher’s Stone
In our last couple +1s, we’ve been having fun using our magic wands to alchemize adversity into exceptional opportunities for growth.
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#380 Seneca Says: Be Harsh with Yourself at Times

(With Self-Compassion, of Course)
In our last couple +1s, we had some fun at the hospital with our Stoic friends Seneca and Epictetus. Recall Epictetus’ wisdom that
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#381 Seneca: The Worse a Person Is the Less He Feels It

Aurelius: Don’t Like Yourself? Why Would I Care Whether or Not You Like Me?
Continuing our good times with our Stoic friends, how about couple more gems from Seneca and Aurelius? Seneca once said, “The worse a
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#1154 Operationalizing Antifragile Confidence

If… Then… Repeat. BOOM!
In our last +1, we spent some more time with our beloved Roman Stoic Seneca. As you may recall, first he told us that “Disaster is
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#898 Antifragile Fuel

Aurelius on How to Make Flame and Brightness
Have you ever had an experience that annoyed you? (Hah.) Or, perhaps, a particular person who seems particularly skilled at annoying you?

#61 The Obstacle Is the Way

Plus: The Paradox of Fire
Marcus Aurelius once wrote to himself in the journal he never intended to publish that we now know as Meditations that “The impediment to
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#240 Our Minds Must Relax

Seneca on How to Avoid Mental Dullness and Lethargy
In our last +1, we talked about the Cal Newport-inspired “Shut-down complete!” First, quick check in: You win that game? 😃 Get this:
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#1108 The 1, 2, 3 of Antifragility

How to Operationalize OMMS
This morning I was out on the Trail enjoying (yet!) another stunningly beautiful Ojai morning. I was thinking about our Mastery Series
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#1047 Zeno’s Paradox

Time to Reverse It
In our last couple +1s, we’ve been getting our riddles on with Ellen Langer. How about another quick pop quiz?! Two parts. Four questions.
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#571 Pankration = "All Strength"

Q: What Kind of Boxer Are You?
In our last +1, we talked about being an Optimus-Champion in our Big 3. We had fun with one of my new mantras: Champ Champ Champ.
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#1072 Memento Privilege

The Science of Memento Mori
Let’s continue our exploration of the science of gratitude for another moment (or three). In his great book Gratitude Works!, Robert
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#1274 Shall We Pray Together?

The Optimize Virtue Prayer
In our last +1, we talked about the potential catalytic force multiplicative power of our Optimize Coach program. I invited you to join us