Five thoughts to think about By Simon Cafferty

 

Five thoughts to think about

By Simon Cafferty


During the first lockdown of March 2020 I found my passion for reading again and it was all sparked by a book called The Obstacle is the Way, by American author Ryan Holiday. The book is about the timeless art of turning trials in triumph and has a huge base in the philosophy of Stoicism.

 

Reading the book led me on a path to reading more about the Stoic’s and to begin journaling each day, which allows me to start and end my days reflecting on different thoughts, looking inside myself for wisdom and having a safe place to explore my feelings. I am someone who would keep everything bottled up, so having somewhere to write about the highs, lows and everything in between of life has been very refreshing.

 

Stoicism was founded by Zeno of Citium around 300bc and is best summed up by What is Stoicism.com:

 

“Stoicism, or Stoic philosophy, is a philosophy of personal ethics and a methodology for seeking practical wisdom in life. A key principle of the ancient Stoics was the belief that we don’t react to events; we react to our judgments about them, and the judgments are up to us. They also advised that we should not worry about things beyond our control as everything in life can be divided into two categories – things that are up to us and things that are not”.

 

What I like most about the Stoics and other philosophers/writers I have read is that what they say gets me thinking and allows me to look at events from my life in a different life and approach new situations differently. It hasn’t been an instant fix by any means and I still have my difficult days but by letting some of the Stoic thinking sink in, I feel that I have a better control over myself than I have had for many years.

 

Here are five quotes which stood out to me, have helped me and will hopefully give you food for thought in the future.

 

1.    Focus on the moment, not the monsters that may or may not be up ahead.

            (Ryan Holiday)

 

Too often in my life I have been consumed so much by what is to come or what has happened in the past. Mainly, I just wouldn’t live in the current moment and enjoy what was happening right now, because I was trying to control things which I couldn’t, when the only thing I can truly control is what I’m doing right now (typing this post and singing along to A Day to Remember).

 

When I read Ryan Holiday’s three books, (The Obstacle is the way, Ego is the enemy and Stillness is the key), this is the one quote that stood out the most. For me, it is the words ‘May or may not’ which had the biggest impact.

 

Everytime I now read the quote I focus on those four words because all I have ever done when I’ve been nervous for something in the future is imagine the worst. I would get worried that it would end badly, I’d show myself up or just fail. I always told myself the future event was the worst, so I’d drive myself crazy in the build up to whatever it is that I would do.

 

What I was doing was telling myself that there would be monsters up ahead waiting for me, so I would look out for them more. When in reality there have been many more times that there has been no monsters and the future events have flowed smoothly. But, I forgot those each time something new and scary came around, the darkness inside dragging me to focus on when things always went wrong.

 

From spending time writing about this quote personally, it has shown me that I place too much emphasis on what I can’t control (the future) and I should focus on working on myself in this moment, so that if monsters do appear, I will be prepared. It goes back to what you control and that is what you do in this moment and by looking back all the time or forward you drive yourself crazy because you can’t rewind the tape to change the past and can’t fast forward to get to the future.

 

All you can do is focus right here, right now and put in the work to prepare yourself for anything that could happen.

 

2.    “We suffer more often in imagination than in reality.”

(Seneca)

 

Following on nicely from Ryan Holiday is a quote from my favourite Stoic Seneca, who always knows how to sum up my thoughts better than I ever could. He was such a deep thinker and here hits the nail on the head with how most of the things that I have been through have been in my imagination, rather than real life.

 

In 2018 I was due to start my first full shift working at a local restaurant, working as a kitchen porter. I had done a trial shift the week before, so I knew the people working there. It was a chance to make some money and try to get a routine back into my life.

 

I was due to start the shift at 10am and I woke up earlier than usual, the butterflies flapping extra hard in my stomach. As I tried to get up and about, my old friend the darkness reared its ugly head and told me it was a bad idea going to the shift, that I would fail, I was a horrible person, they wouldn’t have liked me the week before and I never did anything right. It pointed out that staying home was the safer option; by staying in bed I would be safe and nothing could hurt me. It brought back memories of times I'd failed at things and then gave me different reasons how I could get out of going. The main one having me stood by the drawer in my house which holds my anti-depressants and seriously considering taking them all so I wouldn’t have to go and the pain would end. I was on a treadmill of self-hate and I ended up agreeing and not going on the shift and taking the job.

 

Looking back I was suffering more in my imagination, I was putting unnecessary pressure on myself and not taking the day step by step.

I know now, and a small part of me did that day, that I can’t predict the future and wasn’t to know what would happen. I had done the hard part the week before doing the trial shift, but my darkness was taking all the negative and throwing it on me when I was nervous.

 

In life it can be so much easier to punish ourselves for every little thing we do. We think others are talking about us or we have done something wrong, when in reality we don’t know what others think and mistakes happen to everyone. By adding that self-punishment we are punishing ourselves for no reason.

I am learning to use this quote to remind myself that what has happened in the past is just that: the past. It is enabling me to learn from anything that happens and not reply it over in my mind and cause myself undue pressure and pain.


3.    “We are, each of us, a product of the stories we tell ourselves.”

          (Derren Brown)

 

One of my constant traits throughout my life has been to hate on myself. I could never give myself credit for the good that I did and would always jump to a reason to criticise myself. Whether that be playing football and pointing out instantly the one thing I did wrong, compared to the countless saves I’d made, or telling myself that I can’t do something because I’m too broken or unhappy.


I have told myself so many stories over the years, that it was nailed on that I would ultimately believe them.

 

This quote comes from Derren Brown’s book Happy, where he looks into the origins of happiness and he talks at length about how through our experiences we end up telling ourselves stories based on what has happened. We think because one thing has gone a certain way, we will always be like that, but we can change our perceptions. Our stories can be changed, we just have to be prepared to put in the work.

 

For the past few years I have always said that I don't like exercise and going to the gym. I have always found it boring and would join one, do it a few times to confirm that it was still boring and then stop altogether.

 

As the first lockdown ended and gym’s were reopening last year I made the decision to start Thai Boxing, knowing I needed to lose some weight and exercise. I wasn’t fully convinced I could do it but I started by doing three sessions a week. When the lockdown hit in November last year I carried on at home doing six sessions a week and found that I enjoyed it. It helped my mental health, gave me a sense of purpose and an aim each day.  Since then I have kept it up and now feel awkward if I don’t exercise. My mentality has completely changed and now I enjoy doing the exercise and pushing myself.

 

It was hard at first to begin exercising because my mind would fight back when I was sore saying that it wasn’t worth it and I should stop. By persevering with it and focusing on what I was enjoying about it, it helped me to make my mindset stronger and change the story completely.

 

There are still stories I tell myself which I need to work on and it can be difficult to do. But by knowing that it’s in my control to change those stories, I can begin to work on them each day.

 

4.    “My formula for greatness in a human being is amor fati; that one wants nothing to be different, not forward, not backward, not in all eternity. Not merely bear what is necessary, but love it.”

(Fredrich Nietzsche)

 

I love the power which words have and it was through reading the Daily Stoic website that I came across the words AMOR FATI. I hadn’t a clue what they meant but it was intriguing. Upon further inspection I found it was the German philosopher Fredrich Nietzsche who had originally said it and it’s meaning made it mean a lot to me and has been something I remind myself each day.

 

I will be the first to admit that when I am feeling depressed and in my world of self-hate and wanting to die, the idea of Amor Fati isn’t the most appealing. Why would I want to love the thoughts I am having? However, I also know that it is in those moments that I can have the most clarity and learn some valuable lessons.

The main way it has really helped me is that during covid 19 and the lockdowns we have found ourselves in, I have spent countless hours wishing for things to be different, that life was normal and I could be out drinking with my friends or performing. Not being stuck inside each day, feeling bored and frustrated.

 

Through Amor Fati I have tried my hardest to embrace the situation and look at how I can use the time to my benefit. When I look back on what I have done during the lockdown I am amazed at what I’ve achieved: started and maintained journaling, read a lot of books, lost weight, been more focused mentally and have more appreciation of the little things in my life.

 

Without the pandemic I may or may not have done all that and it is something we all wish hadn’t appeared. But by learning to embrace this situation it has pushed me to embrace everything that happens and try to make the most of them to help push me on in the future to be wiser and stronger.

 

5.    “If you want to improve, be content to be thought foolish and stupid.”

(Epictetus)

 

Another of the Stoic’s was Epictetus and his thoughts get right to the heart of living a better life and remembering that you can only control what you think and do in life. Everything else is out of your control.

 

Here he talks about how when you want to improve, or start anything, people may think you are stupid. They won’t know your reasons for wanting to do something, so in the end that doesn’t matter. All that does is that you ignore the ones who think you are foolish and work each moment to get better.

 

However, I look at this a different way. I see the quote as me talking to myself, that part of me that is so judgemental and hateful. I know that when I do anything new my mind will chatter away telling me I’m an idiot, I’m doing things wrong, will never pick up the skills and will be laughed at.

 

When I started Thai boxing I felt so self-conscious. The first night I walked in I thought all eyes were on me and people were wondering what this tubby lad was doing here. We did kettlebell work, pad work and sparring. Three things I had never done in my life. I felt stupid when I was being taught the correct way to swing the kettlebell and when holding pads for other people. I would constantly apologise if I got it wrong. Even when I was hitting the bags, I would think everyone was watching me and my mind would keep its chatter going at how stupid I looked.

 

Even when working at home, on my own, my mind would tell me how stupid I looked swinging a kettlebell or doing shadow boxing. It would tell me I was doing it wrong and that I should stop.

 

I don’t know when but one day I realised it was becoming easier to swing the kettlebell, I had better technique and I was enjoying myself. Currently I’m going through the same process with skipping!

 

It has taught me that anything new that I do in life, my mind will tell me I’m stupid and I will feel awkward, but the only way to get through it is to keep going and not stop. That I need to be content with the voice trying to put me off and push through until I am comfortable, because that moment will come, it just takes time.

 

Over the past year I have compiled a list of inspiring and thought provoking quotes which have helped me to delve into my underground and begin to strengthen my inner core. Nothing clicked right away, it took a lot of time journaling about why they piqued my interest and how I can use them in my life. But after a while it began to make sense and I can see that absorbing the messages has had a positive effect on me.

 

The one thing that I love about quotes is that everyone will take something different from them. We all lead completely different journeys in life and interpret things in our own unique way and it’s my hope that they will help to inspire you and get you thinking.

 

Thanks for reading :)

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