Sunday, 10 July 2016

A Guide to the Good Life - William B Irvine

Just completed a first read of the aforementioned book and thought it might be wise to jot down a few quick observations and notes.

As the title suggests, William B Irvine espouses the formation of a personal philosophy of living, that helps guide one through his daily life. His choice of philosophy is that of Stoicism, but he, unlike some of the other 'philosophies of life' isn't dogmatic about that choice, and heartily declares that the everyone has his own path that he has to individually find, and that Stoicism, though which forms the foundation on which he attempts to base his daily life on, might not be for everyone. Other different philosophies that he did touch on briefly involved Cynicism, Hedonism, Christianity, Zen Buddhism, etc.

I found the book extremely helpful in providing practical examples on how to adopt Stoicism as a form of philosophy. I've come across many other interesting reads, such as James Stockdale's "Thoughts of a Philosophical Fighter Pilot" and Marcus Aurelius' "Meditations" and although many of those books did provide interesting insights, they were not as helpful in providing practical examples on application of Stoicism to a modern day livelihood.

Some of the traditional psychological Stoic techniques that were discussed in great detail were:

* Negative Visualization - Contemplating the loss of what you value in your daily life, which works in tandem between being grateful for what you have. For example if you received 6 months of bonus, but your colleague received 9 months of bonus, you might be inclined to go ape shit especially if you brought in revenues. But taking a moment that you could have gotten a big fat donut instead, and giving thanks that this situation provided you with a opportunity to develop your mentality, might result in you feel more satisfied instead of being bitter.

5 years ago, I might have thought of this as settling for less, and mental hocus pocus, or rather intellectually rationalising, but the main goal here is to achieve tranquility and eliminate negative emotions such as jealously, bitterness, anger, sadness, so that you can live a life of joy. So even though you are technically settling for less here, you would be more joyful with less bitterness, which brings us to the age old question of what exactly satisfies oneself. My personal view now is that the pursuit of tranquility and being satisfied with oneself yields more than the brief high that material goods and money can provide. Ever heard of the hedonistic threadmill?

* Self control - Touching on the serenity prayer, basically focusing on eliminating negative emotions such as anxiety through the use of the locus of control. This has probably been touched on in mainstream media, but essentially it's thinking and working on things that you have the ability to influence and control and just letting others slide. Works in tandem with being in the present moment instead of constantly fretting about what the next day will bring.

* Internalisation of goals - Instead of competing to win, compete to beat your personal best. In line with the thoughts on self control, focus on doing the best you can in every situation instead of aiming for some goal. Say in playing a tennis match, the focus should be on preparing for the match as best as you can be and playing to the best of your abilities instead of beating the opponent.

* If only doesn't yield fruit - Constantly wishing the past was different doesn't help with the present and the future. One should learn from how doing things different in the past can help with the future, but one should not constantly carry the baggage of the past and spend time wishing things could be different. One should do their best to accept the past, whatever it might have been and to embrace the present, whatever it might be.

There are also other strategies and thoughts on dealing with status, admiration, insults, anger, temporary discomfort, self-discipline, amongst others, which are extremely interesting, insightful and practical, but it's just too much to summarize on this medium. :)

This is definitely up there in my personal top 10 list of useful reads over the last 5 years.

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