Discipline of Action
Above all else, Marcus Aurelius was a man of action. Unlike most people, his day did not end by reading the flowery words of philosopher-gurus and motivational quotes.
Instead he tried to put all these lessons into practice. In the ancient world, you became a philosopher not by reading, but by living.
The discipline of action was one of the three disciplines that the Roman Stoics thought were fundamental for living a worthy life. It was about taking the right actions for the right reasons.
While the discipline of desire is about what you should want, the discipline of action is about what you should do.
You need to have a purpose
You probably have several roles that you play in real life. These might be tied to your family, your job, or your personal pursuits.
Go ahead and write down the roles that you have. Make a list and then think about what you want to achieve by playing each of these roles and what duties stem from this. What is your purpose for each of them?
The list of these roles should form a fundamental part of the crafting of the overall vision for yourself for now and for the future.
They can also help you to find a purpose. There are different types of purposes: you can have one grand purpose for life, or smaller purposes based on your roles, or even ones based on actions. What is important is that all your actions are done with a purpose in mind.
It helps if the vision you create is written on paper. This will make it much more likely for you to carry it out. It won’t be just an abstract concept in your head, but something concrete.
Having something concrete in front of you, a vision that you can always return to, can serve as a powerful incentive and help you in your drive.
The vision should include your:
The vision will serve as your guiding document, but the Stoics were all about living in the present. The past is the past and cannot be changed and the future is unknowable. You do not have control over your past or your future, only your present.
That’s why it is crucial that you take action now. Forget about the past, and stop waiting for the perfect moment in the future. Start doing things now. However how do you achieve your vision by doing this?
The key here is to take things action by action. The vision contains the big goals, but you need to break them down into mini-goals, a series of steps to get you to where you want to go.
Take things action by action
Implementing this can be made easier if you adopt an agile system of self-improvement. This is something I picked up from doing IT projects.
Read about the complete system here: An agile system of self-improvement for reaching your goals.
What you do is set a larger goal and then break it down into a series of steps. Each of these steps (or sprints) lasts a month in total.
At the beginning of every month, you plan out what you will want to achieve for that month and then try to carry that out.
You do a similar type of planning at the beginning of every week, as well as every day. This looks like a lot of work, but in reality it is not. In fact, it makes you much more effective.
The Stoics did things with a reserve clause, meaning that they understood that even if you plan out something perfectly, you will most likely encounter unforeseen difficulties.
An agile system is perfect for this. The fact that you do daily plannings and reflections makes sure that you incorporate feedback into your system and change things up when you need to.
You start each day by asking yourself three basic questions:
1) What have I done yesterday and how did it go?
2) What do I plan to do today?
3) Are there any potential problems that I will face today?
Based on the answers to these questions, you plan out what you want to do that day. At the end of the day, you can also have a short time on reflecting on how things went.
There is a little tool that you can use to keep track of your tasks for the day. All you need is to create three columns and label each of them: To Do, Doing, Done.
Then you can take a bunch of post-it notes and write down your tasks for the day on them. As you go through doing these tasks, you move them from one of the columns to the next based on the status of the task.
Read more about the tool here: How to create one little tool that will greatly increase your productivity.
The Stoics were all about self-discipline. This is basically the ability to control your actions (and feelings) and do things, even if you don’t want to (there is some internal resistance).
A lot of people rely on willpower, but this can fail you at crucial moments. Self-discipline is made easier by habits and having a routine.
The agile system that I described above can be the basic framework that you use in order to create a routine for yourself, one that is underpinned by a series of good habits.
Don’t talk about being a good man, just be one
In the ancient times, the Discipline of Action was linked to ethics. It doesn’t matter if you act, what really matters is if you do the right actions for the right reasons.
Having a good character was incredibly important for the Stoics. Morality was a big aspect of the Stoic way of life. You cannot be truly happy, unless you have your virtue.
What is crucial to understand here is that your life is a series of choices. You have a choice whether you take an action or you do not.
Good and evil are the results of actions taken based on choices specific people made. Each action you take will reflect on you and your character.
Let’s take the example of lying. If you lie, this will reflect on you. People will no longer trust you and that can have an impact on how they treat you in the future.
Even if you are not caught, there will still be consequences. One bad choice can destroy your character, so be careful what you do.
You are a part of the wider world and your actions reflect on your place in it. Your actions should always have an ethical purpose in mind.
This is linked to taking responsibility for your actions and your life. You need to understand that there are many things outside of your control, however how you react to these things is within your control and will have a huge impact on your life.
The Framework for applying the Discipline of Action
The basic framework for applying the Discipline of Action consists of three elements:
1) Taking action.
2) Doing things with a purpose.
3) Doing the right things for the right reasons.
Read the article linked below first. This will be one of the most powerful reads ever, as I take lessons from the quotes of Marcus Aurelius directly. Lessons and quotes from the “Meditations” of Marcus Aurelius:
Marcus Aurelius: How to gather the strength to survive in adversity.