What you can learn about priming your mindset for the day from the Philosopher King, Marcus Aurelius.
Between 161 AD and 180 AD, when the Roman Empire held reign over the near entirety of what we know as Europe today, Emperor Marcus Aurelius sat upon the throne. He is now remembered to be the last of the Five Good Emperors of Rome, dubbed to be the Philosopher-King.
Marcus can also be considered among the most virtuous human-beings of all time considering all the temptations he had to deal with as a King. He could’ve eaten anything he wanted. He could’ve made love to anyone he wanted. He could’ve exploited his power in any way he pleased. Yet, he restrained himself from doing any of these things and embodied the philosophy of the Stoics almost better than anyone else in history.
Lucky for us, we are able to gain insights into the mind of Marcus Aurelius within the timeless book he wrote, Meditations. The great part about this book is that he never intended for it to be published wholly because it was a book he wrote to himself. Essentially a personal journal of his thoughts and him walking himself through dealing with all of the world’s temptations and external forces. Words can’t explain the impact this book had on my life and how it affected the way I personally navigate through the world.
There’s much that you can learn from the way he talked to himself and how he thought about and approach things. That’s why I decided to share with you two very important quotes from his book regarding his morning rituals that I believe will impact you the most.
Expect the Worst So That You Can Prepare Appropriate and Empathetic Responses
“When you wake up in the morning, tell yourself: the people I deal with today will be meddling, ungrateful, arrogant, dishonest, jealous and surly. They are like this because they can’t tell good from evil. But I have seen the beauty of good, and the ugliness of evil, and have recognized that the wrongdoer has a nature related to my own — not of the same blood and birth, but the same mind, and possessing a share of the divine. And so none of them can hurt me. No one can implicate me in ugliness. Nor can I feel angry at my relative, or hate him. We were born to work together like feet, hands and eyes, like the two rows of teeth, upper and lower. To obstruct each other is unnatural. To feel anger at someone, to turn your back on him: these are unnatural.”
It’s much too often that we allow ourselves to get bothered by the actions of those external to us. It’s much too easy to take another person’s dishonest and arrogant actions personally.
Think about it: How do you react when someone cuts you off in traffic? When you find out someone lies to you? When someone doesn’t fulfill the promises made to you? When someone annoys you? When someone commits a crime against you?
You shouldn’t allow yourself to be bothered by such things.
You don’t have control over the actions of those external to you.
What you do have control over is yourself and how you react to the external events around you.
Peace of mind and happiness starts with the self. If you allow yourself to be bothered by all the wrongdoings and unexpected things that happen to you in the world, you’ll only be gassing yourself up to be experiencing life only seeing all the negatives around the world — potentially leading your head down the rabbit hole of anger, frustration, depression, and emotionally driven action rather than action that is driven by reason and virtue.
Here Marcus uses the incredible power of negative thinking to not only expect the worst to come his way throughout the day, but to also influence his mind to deal with all things external to him with the utmost fortitude. In Stoicism, this practice is known as Premedatatio Malorum — the premeditation of evils and troubles that may lie ahead.
Thinking negatively should not be mistaken for pessimism. Negative thinking is more of a strategy rather than a mode of thought. In the same way, optimism as a mindset is a strategy to help you persevere.
When you adopt this concept into your daily practice, you’ll find that it’ll be much more difficult for anything to bother you as it was something that you already expected. You have prepared your mind for every moment the world will throw you a curveball that could easily throw you off your equilibrium. This mental preparation will allow you to face almost anything external to you in a very calm and composed way.
How Can You Fulfill Your Purpose if You‘re Always Comfortable?
“At dawn, when you have trouble getting out of bed, tell yourself: “I have to go to work — as a human being. What do I have to complain of, if I’m going to do what I was born for — the things I was brought into the world to do? Or is this what I was created for? To huddle under the blankets and stay warm?”
So you were born to feel “nice”? Instead of doing things and experiencing them? Don’t you see the plants, the birds, the ants and spiders and bees going about their individual tasks, putting the world in order, as best they can? And you’re not willing to do your job as a human being? Why aren’t you running to do what your nature demands?
You don’t love yourself enough. Or you’d love your nature too, and what it demands of you.”
Clearly, Marcus himself struggled to break through the boundaries of the comfort zone. He has experienced the same feeling that many of us have had in early mornings where comfort much too often gets the best of us and seduces us away from what we sought out to do.
What he’s trying to say is that you must motivate yourself to get out of bed in order to fulfill your self-defined purpose.
Progress cannot be made in the comfort zone. Is that really the space you want to repeatedly park yourself at? Or would you rather want to zoom through life living through several experiences and feeling like you’re contributing something valuable to the world?
Every single second that you stay in your comfort zone taking the path of least resistance is a second wasted that could be utilized strategically to move you forward in life.
What he suggests is that you have to love yourself. If you loved yourself you would do what is best for your nature. You would participate in things that combat depression and progresses you towards where you want to be. You would constantly try to fill in that deeply-seated desire that you have embedded inside of yourself.
The dream can’t be lived underneath the darkness of your covers.
The moment your eyes open in the morning is the moment your day starts. And the way you start your day is exactly what builds the positive or negative momentum that you’ll experience throughout the day. This is the exact same reason why morning routines are so valuable.
You need to find ways to inspire yourself to get up in the morning and navigate life with a firm and courageous spirit. If the philosopher-king struggled with these things (perhaps to a greater degree than most people) and was able to overcome them, then you surely can too.
Remember: the best way to build the positive momentum you need for your day is to start it off by priming your mindset through self-talk that both inspires and prepares. Everything else stems from that moment.