On the First Half of 2021
Last updated in Summer 2021
The best way to accomplish more is to do less.
Towards the end of 2020, I started delving into Stoicism. The path that led me there was something like:
- Adam Wathan tweets about Atomic Habits
- Atomic Habits mentions The Obstacle Is the Way
- Introduction to Marcus Aurelius and Meditations
I'm sure a lot of 30-something white guy programmers/productivity nerds have a similar story about how they wound up at Stoicism. What appealed to me about the philosophy was its focus on amor fati, or loving your fate. This is not to say that you should never take umbrage with injustice or stand by as atrocities happen, but it means that the things that happen to you are out of your control. The only thing in your control is how to react to and perceive the events happening around you. You can choose to be angry or you can choose not to be. That choice about our impressions is the only thing we're truly in control of.
Even your own body is out of your control. You can attempt to provide it with quality fuel and exercise it so that it builds muscle, but sometimes you just get sick—all the prevention in the world can't account for every weird little thing that universe can throw at you. So if you can't even control your own body, what control can you possibly have over others and their words, thoughts, and actions? Just accept that God, the gods, nature, or the Universe exists and happens to you, whether you like it or not. Letting go is the first step in moving on.
A major part of Stoic practice is journaling. I began dabbling with journaling in late 2020 after I finished Meditations. But I drank the Kool Aid and bought the official Daily Stoic Journal and like a good little OCD boy started writing in it on January 1, 2021. Haven't missed an entry yet. I'd tried journaling in the past, but having prompts greases the wheels a bit. Nothing's as scary as the blank page, so a little nudge is always welcomed.
What I get out of journaling twice a day is that in the morning, it preps my mind for the day ahead and primes the pump towards living a virtuous life. The four cardinal Stoic virtues being courage, justice, wisdom, and temperance (not to be confused with the no-booze variety). The before-bed journaling session is a chance to reflect upon your day. Did I live up to my proclaimed principles? Did I do go deeds? Did I carefully decide how I reacted to things that happened to me? Taking a hard look at yourself and your actions is important and this journaling habit is a part of me now. I'd be a worse person without these pauses to reflect on who am I and what I do.
I've always had anger issues. One of the promises of Stoicism is that it will help curb feelings of rage. It mostly does this by getting you to pause after the initial pangs of anger and question yourself as to why you're angry. If you can train yourself to just take a moment to ponder why you're angry, you often see that there's little reason to be angry. It's likely you don't have enough information. It was just a miscommunication. Maybe someone is having a bad day. Maybe you've done the same thing in the past—how can you be mad at someone for doing the same things you've done.
In general, Stoicism is a philosophy of calm. It urges you to pause whenever your passions flare, and examine why they're flared. We tend to jump from one extreme to the next, and Stoicism guides you to temperance. Ah, there's that word again. Remember, temperance isn't just about not drinking alcohol. It means to practice moderation and restraint—in all things. Moderation in all things, even moderation.
Stoicism changed how I looked at productivity too. I ditched digital task managers. I've gone super analog. I write in a paper journal twice a day, I keep a notebook next to my Mac while I work, and I track my tasks using Ugmonk's Analog cards . I have fewer tasks in my system now. When I write up my plan for the next day, I limit myself to 5–6 tasks even though Analog's Today cards have space for ten.[^1] In Meditations there's a thing that Marcus Aurelius says that goes a little like:
If you seek tranquility, do less.
It's true. If you focus on what you want to do, you'll say "yes" to fewer things—both from others and things you tell yourself you should do—and you'll have less bobbling around in your brain. So much less, that you probably won't need OmniFocus, or Things, or whatever other app you've blown a bunch of money on in the past. I know, them Analog cards are expensive. But you could do the same thing with any cheap paper. If you're a design snob and can afford it, splurge on something you'll enjoy looking at and touching on a daily basis. But like I've said before, "if you can't do GTD on paper, an $80 app ain't gonna help you."
So what did I want to do this year, have a baby, it would seem. My boy—drum roll—who we've named, Marcus, is due September 20. I've spent most of my non-work time this year prepping to be a father. Stoicism has been a great teacher on how to live life and by living the good life, I set a good example for my son and how he should live his.
I've always been a lover of history and language too, so this year I combined the two and started studying Latin and Attic Greek. Latin was surprisingly easy to get started with thanks to the Lingua Latina series of books. I was able to read the first chapter of the textbook, which is all in Latin, without any prior Latin experience. It achieves this by presenting you with easy to digest passages that any European language speaker should be able to parse the meaning of and lots of pictures in the margins.
Attic Greek isn't quite as easy to get into, there isn't the same kind of great learning materials for Greek like Latin has, so you have to combine lots of resources together. The different alphabet also takes time getting used. I'm not as far along in my Greek study as I am with Latin, but I've got all the materials I need to continue on.
If you should happen to be interested in ancient languages, Luke Ranieri is the person you should look into. He's got lots of helpful free resources on his site and on YouTube as well as premium content to help with difficult areas like learning the extensive grammatical rules of Latin and Greek.
It should also be said that the main impetus for learning Latin was that I wanted to read all the Stoic texts written by Romans. After learning that aside from Seneca, most of the famous Stoic texts were written in Greek, I decided that if I wanted to truly be able to read the original Stoic texts, I'd have to learn both languages.
Also stemming from my study of philosophy, I knew that Man cannot only train his mind, but must also train his body. A friend I made last year here in Nagoya was an MMA fighter previously and recently started training people in Brazilian jiu-jitsu. I began training in January. While I'm still a white belt, I'm consistently improving and will be competing for the first time in August.
Health & Wellness
Last thing I want to mention is how I've improved my health so far this year. I used to have a gym membership. It was expensive, and I never enjoyed going to the gym. Working out, yes. Being at the gym, not so much. I picked up at set of resistance bands and starting lifting at home—without the dumbbells. It's been just a month, but I feel stronger and the bands are pretty convenient. If you're also a lapsed gym rat or have little space for workout equipment, I'd recommend you check out James Granger's content on YouTube about resistance band workouts.
I also recommitted to my Primal Blueprint eating habits and got back into intermittent fasting. I prefer the term "compressed eating window" though. Essentially, I eat only between 12pm–8pm. So, no after dinner snacks and you break your fast around 12pm the following day. Means you're fasting 16 hours a day, giving your digestive system a nice long break. If you're fat-adapted, it's pretty easy to get used to. If you're eating a high-carb diet, best to work on eating a higher fat, lower carb diet first before trying the compressed eating window.
I guess that's it. That's what I've been doing with my 2021 so far. It's been great. I've taken on lots of new challenges and I feel better about my choices and my reactions to things going on in the world. (I finally deleted my Twitter account, which helped a lot with that!) Looking forward to meeting my son in less than two months and teaching him all about this wondrous world he's about to be born into.
[^1]: Something like the Ivy Lee method (Medium alert!) .