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Two Questions Everyone Asks Themselves: Who Am I And What Am I Capable Of?

When Socrates was put on trial in Ancient Athens for corrupting the youth of the city, he allegedly uttered this famous phrase:

“The unexamined life is not worth living.”

This was derived from one of one of the most important of the Delphic Maxims:

“Know thyself.”

Whenever a visitor passed through the gates at the Temple of Delphi, they would see a set of maxims inscribed high above. These wise sayings were meant to guide their life and to show them the key elements that they should focus on.

In order to live a fulfilled life, the ancient philosophers believed that you need to constantly be examining your life and finding out about yourself. According to them, this was one of the most important tasks, ranking higher than most other things.

It is not only the philosophers that engage in this type of activity. It is a natural tendency of all humans to question their place in this world and to try to maximize their potential.

Who am I and where am I going? People’s life is a quest to find the answers to these questions.

They want to know who they are deep down and what they are capable of.

The most important parts of hero’s journeys are the ones where the hero seeks and finds answers to these questions.

The descent of the hero into the innermost cave marks their realization of who they really are, both in the positive and negative sense and is the turning point in finding out what they are capable of doing. This forms the basis of some of the most heroic actions that they do later on.

It is not only heroes that test themselves, but ordinary humans do it too, in the process sometimes becoming heroes. Especially in the modern age, when technological and societal progress has removed some of the life and death challenges that tested the humans of long ago, this push to test yourself is something that drives many.

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Applying The Thoughts Of Marcus Aurelius: A Day In The Life

What does the typical day of someone who applies the thoughts of Marcus Aurelius actually look like? Let’s imagine you put all those suggestions into practice. How would this help you to get through the day?

You are lying in your bed when the alarm clock suddenly rings. Rise and shine, you need to start your day.

You hesitate a bit, after all you still feel sleepy and the bed just feels so comfortable. You ponder staying in bed for longer, but then you remind yourself that waking up is what you are meant to do. By lying in bed all day, you don’t do any good to yourself or anyone else.

So you spring up and start your morning routine. You brush your teeth and do all the other necessary hygiene stuff, then a little stretching, followed up by a hearty breakfast.

After finishing up your breakfast you take 15 minutes to plan out your day. You sit down and think about the answers to these three 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?

You reflect on the things you did yesterday and what went right and what went wrong. Then you move onto the things that you want to do today.

You do a little mental visualization and then take out your little kanban board and a pack of Post-Its and start writing out your goals for the day.

You put all your chores (all the boring stuff like paying bills or answering emails) on red Post-Its, and all the goals (interesting stuff that will help you in your quest for self-improvement) on green Post-Its.

Then you put all the Post-Its into the first section of your kanban board, the To Do part. Throughout the day, as you work on these chores and goals, you will move the Post-Its from the To Do section, to the Doing section, and then finally to the Done section.

Lastly, as the final point of your short reflection session, you think about the potential problems and obstacles you will likely face today and come up with a few mitigation strategies.

After doing all this, you get dressed and head out to work.

You get to the bus stop and wait. You wait and wait and wait. You realize that the bus is very late.

At first, you start getting really anxious. You will be late for work!

Then you remember to go back to thinking about this particular situation itself. What can you control here? The fact that the bus is late is beyond your control. So stop getting anxious. It will not help the situation one bit.

You start thinking about the consequences of being late to work. You think of the worst case scenario. You could get fired!

You think of how likely this actually is. Not very likely. The most you will get is a few stares. Who cares, right? You have long ago stopped caring about what others think of you.

The bus finally comes and you get on it. After arriving at work you sit at your desk and start going through emails. Unfortunately this is a ritual that you have to do every time you get to work. You accept it.

Then suddenly a colleague barges into your space and starts shouting at you. This stokes your emotions and you are at the verge of shouting back.

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Get A New Job: The Ultimate Career Changer’s Guide

As the world turns, and AI starts taking over, many jobs will disappear. This means you might have to start looking for a new one. Or maybe you are sick of your current job and would like a change.

No matter the reason, there are many people out there that after years of working in one type of career want to change and switch career paths completely.

Recently, I was helping out a friend to totally reorient her life career paths. She was a flight attendant who was sick of her job. She started this job thinking it was going to be a jet-setting life style (after previously working customer-facing jobs in banks), but it turned out not to be what she expected.

Her goal is to get into project management, a completely different job role, and one unfortunately that she doesn’t have experience for.

Me to the rescue! I spent long hours trying to figure what she should do.

One of the reasons I was spending so much time helping her is because I really liked her. I spent long hours talking to her and I thought she was amazing.

To cut the story short, she left me heart-broken. I am always amazed at the type of men women choose, but I guess I can’t do much about it. It is beyond my control.

I did not get much appreciation for all my effort, however I am a generous person and thought that all this stuff should not go to waste and many other people looking for a career change could benefit from this.

If you want to change your career, these tips will hopefully help you to get a good start on the entire process.

General Mindset

1) The first thing that you need to do is to examine your situation and think of the worst case scenario. If you think about it, the worst case scenario usually isn’t that bad.

When trying to switch careers, you might be agitated about the entire process. You must have been fed up with your initial situation and decided that you need to try something else. The process will be hard and at times frustrating. It might even get depressing and you might feel really bad at times.

However the key here is to always look at the bright side. What is the worst case scenario here? You will just be unemployed for a little longer. You won’t die of hunger. You will also be supported by people who love you, so you won’t end up on the street. That’s actually not that bad.

2) Examine the situation and determine which factors are under your control and which aren’t. You can control the effort you put in, but you cannot control the result. That is why you need to focus on the effort and don’t let the result bother you too much.

The key to having a positive mindset in this entire process is to keep in mind what is under your control and what isn’t. What is under your control is the effort you put in. If you work hard on improving your skills, reading, learning, and also looking for jobs and applying for them, then you have done your job.

The effort you put in is under your control, the result often isn’t. So don’t let an initial lack of good results put you down. Just keep on working hard and things will figure themselves out eventually. You need to keep a positive mindset and keep working hard throughout.

Skills Improvement

3) What do you want to do? What can you realistically do now (as in jobs)?

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Get The Skills For A Robot-Proof Career In The Workplace Of The Future

The robots are coming and you better be prepared. They might not wipe out humanity, but they will certainly be gunning for your job.

In a world where artificial intelligence and robots will be able to carry out many of the tasks currently done by humans, a special set of skills will allow a certain set of people to thrive.

Yeah you guessed it. These skills are Renaissance Man skills. The time of the expert-generalist has come.

The importance of being able to take in lots of information from various sources and then apply it in different ways will only rise. The people who are able to do this effectively will be rewarded.

With the world changing at the speed of light and becoming more and more unpredictable, the ability to work in a multi-disciplinary and agile way will make a person anti-fragile. Their value will skyrocket.

The key will be to make sense of things quickly, and then embark on a course of action. You will have to take in information, determine what it means, and then make a decision based on this information.

What skills and abilities are necessary for this?

Take in information stage: curiosity, know how to deal with information (especially in an era of information overload and fake news).

Determine what it means stage: creativity, abstract thinking skills, critical thinking, logical reasoning.

Make a decision: problem solving skills, emotional intelligence (not fall for biases).

Joseph Aoun, educator and author of the book “Robot-Proof: Higher Education in the Age of Artificial Intelligence” believes that the way to be able to do all this is to change the way you learn.

He proposed a new curriculum which is based on life-long learning and called it “humanics”. This involves an integration of technical and non-technical skills. A set of technical literacies (like working with data, and other technical skills), should be complemented with a set of human literacies (like creativity and psychology).

“When I talk to business leaders, they tell me that they are seeking people with strong technical skills. But most of them quickly add that they also would give their right arm for more systems thinkers—“quarterbacks” who can lead diverse teams by seeing across disciplines to analyze them in an integrated way. And every student should be culturally agile, able to communicate across boundaries, and think ethically.”

The way you will get ahead is if you construct a learning curriculum for yourself, which will combine different skills, abilities and knowledge areas.

All these things are very relevant for each other. Knowledge is a set of facts and theories that serve as the fundamental inputs for skills.

If you want to apply skills in order to do a certain activity, then you need to have a certain amount of knowledge in order to do that.

Skills can be subdivided into generic cross-functional skills, and technical skills.

Generic skills consist of two types: cognitive (to do with information-processing and problem-solving), and non-cognitive skills (social skills like giving presentations and behavioral skills like perseverance). These can be easily transferred from one job to another.

Technical skills on the other hand, usually consist of job-specific skills and cannot be transferred so easily.

Abilities are the capabilities (physical or mental) that are needed in order to perform a job.

Which knowledge areas, skills and abilities do you need for future work and how do you get them? We will use the O*NET groupings of skills (and their definitions) in order to examine this further.

The first thing that you need is to know how to learn. This came up as a highly important skill among the various surveys, but is also fundamental if you want to be able to improve your skills and knowledge.

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Robot-Proof Your Career: How To Thrive At Your Job In An Era Ruled By Robots

The era of specialization is over. The future world of work will require the same type of skills that made the Renaissance Men of old so successful.

According to a report recently published by the McKinsey Consulting Group, about half of all the activities done at work could potentially be automated with current levels of technology. And the trend is accelerating.

Robots are becoming more mainstream, machine learning is creating more and more powerful algorithms, and cars are starting to drive themselves. It will still take some time before these technologies mature, but the trend has been set.

This means that you will have to adapt.

The jobs that are at risk are not just lowly menial jobs, but also more high-level jobs like lawyers, bankers, or even journalists.

There are bots that are scanning documents and drafting contracts, algorithms that trade stocks, and even articles in newspapers generated by computer programs.

People don’t really agree on what this trend will mean for the world of work. Some are predicting massive unemployment due to technology, while others are saying that the jobs will just be shifted into other types of jobs and new ways of working will be required to get ahead.

However one thing stays constant. Since the world of work will change, you will need to adapt to it. What do you need to do in order to thrive in this brave new world?

The answer is quite simple. You just have to look back in history in order to get it.

Different skills will be needed to tackle the challenges arising from a world where artificial intelligence and robots will take over many of the things that are done by humans today. The skills and attributes that humans need for this type of world are exactly the same ones that the Renaissance Men of ancient times had.

The expert-generalist is making a comeback. There will still be a place for specialists (and some of them will be quite key), however many specialist jobs will disappear to be replaced by automation. Machines are much better at crunching big data, and doing it fast. They are also much better at routine, repetitive tasks.

People holding these types of jobs will need to look elsewhere.

What do you need to do?

In order to analyze what you need to do, let’s try to use your higher level thinking skills and one technique (going back to first principles) that you have in your mental toolset.

Going back to first principles implies starting from basic assumptions and then reasoning up from there.

One basic assumption that is made about the world of the future is that change will be rapid, new trends and ways of doing things will come and go. What does this imply?

It will no longer suffice to learn one thing and then rely on it for the rest of your life. In order to thrive in this type of world, you will need to be adaptable and constantly be learning new things.

Technology will change and that one skill could become obsolete. This will require you to be constantly educating yourself and updating your skills and knowledge.

Another basic assumption being made is that the menial, repetitive work will be automated. Many of the specialist positions will disappear. What does this imply?

This means that the type of skills that you should have are ones that add value and are inter-disciplinary.

What will rise in importance is adaptability, higher level thinking skills, making connections between disparate fields, and human skills. Systems thinkers will thrive in this type of environment.

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Implementing The System Of Marcus Aurelius: The Discipline Of Assent

Discipline of Assent

What really matters is not the event itself, but instead how you think about the event. Your mind is your most powerful tool, but often it is also the reason of your troubles.

The discipline of action is all about thinking the right thoughts and using reason to guide you.

Your mind can fail you at many important points. Let’s illustrate this with a few examples.

Imagine that you are riding a bike and a car drives dangerously close to you, almost hitting you.

Your instincts take over and you swerve hard in order to avoid a collision. What often happens in an incident like this is that you will start cussing out the driver, making rude gestures and lose your cool.

There are emotions at play here at different points. First, your emotions alerted you to danger and you reacted quick in order to avoid it.

This is the correct use of emotions. However what happened next right after you managed to avoid the accident is that other emotions took over and made you angry.

This is the incorrect use of emotions. Think about it. What is the use of being angry at this point?

The danger to your life is passed. The only thing that you are doing is venting your frustration, which not only serves no purpose, but could even be counterproductive as it makes you more agitated and more prone to an accident.

Instead what you should have done is assented to the first emotion that saved your life, but not assented to the second one.

Imagine another common situation. You are having an argument. Your opponent hits you with some facts which destroy your argument. His position is correct. Yours isn’t.

However instead of reconsidering your position based on these new facts, you just start repeating your illogical talking points louder and louder.

What is happening here is that you have fallen for a cognitive bias. Your ego is at stake and instead of acknowledging the validity of the other side’s arguments, you fear a loss of status on your side and instead buckle down and start wailing about incessantly.

Thinking according to Nature

For the Stoics, the biggest part of living according to Nature was using your head. You need to be able to rise above your imperfections and instead use your ability to reason.

According to current research, there are two ways of thinking that humans engage in. Daniel Kahnemann, psychologist and the winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics, calls this System 1 and System 2.

System 1 is fast and intuitive. It is based on your emotions. System 2 is slow and deliberate. It is based on reason.

Both have their place. System 1 is good for situations which require an immediate action, such as in dangerous situations as given in the first example.

However, this type of thinking is often hijacked and can lead to cognitive biases.

What you should do instead is to take a step back and engage in System 2 thinking. Thinking out things rationally and critically. This can often lead to much better solutions and actions.

Take control of your emotions

However how do you do that? This is often very hard, since emotions have a way of creeping up on you.

When you feel your emotions are starting to get the best of you, you need to have a couple of techniques under your belt in order to regain control.

One of these is distancing.

There are two kinds of distancing: physical and mental.

For me, the best way to diffuse an emotionally charged situation is to just walk away. If you feel like you are getting into a heated argument, just walk out the door.

I have done that a few times, and immediately your head cools down and the emotions start fading.

However sometimes physical distancing is not feasible, so you will have to use some mental distancing techniques. This means stop and count to 10. Or stop and recite the alphabet in your head!

Be aware of your value judgments

A value judgment is your opinion of a particular situation. Usually people judge situations as being “good” or “bad” or any other type of adjectives.

Let’s go back to the bike situation above. Why did you get mad at the driver of that car that almost hit you?

Since you judged that situation as “bad”.

However is there really any advantage to making this judgment? No. This type of judgment is really irrelevant to the situation.

You cannot change the fact that a car almost hit you. That is a done thing. It happened. Get over it.

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Implementing The System Of Marcus Aurelius: The Discipline Of Action

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.

Having a purpose is the basis of intrinsic motivation. This type of motivation has been shown to be the key to your ability to achieve your goals.

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:

1) roles

2) values

3) goals

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

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Implementing The System Of Marcus Aurelius: The Discipline Of Desire

Discipline of Desire (Will)

What can you control?

People frequently worry about things that they cannot control. This is often the biggest sources of anxiety and unhappiness for most people.

In order to lessen this anxiety, you need to start dividing things into 3 categories: things you can control, things you can partially control, and things you cannot control.

Whenever you are faced with a problem, ask yourself this question: What can I control?

Based on the answer to this question, you can apply a simple formula.

1) For things you can control: change them up.

2) For things you can partially control: define which parts you can control, work on them, and forget about the rest.

3) For things you cannot control: forget about them.

You are stuck in traffic, there is an accident, and it is raining. You are late for work.

Which things can you control here?

You did everything as you usually do. You got up, did your morning routine and then took the car at the same time as you always do. You are usually at work on time.

This means that the fact that you are late is beyond your control. You cannot control the fact that there was an accident or it is raining. So don’t worry about it.

The only thing that you can change up for the future is maybe to consider taking public transportation.

Another exercise that you can do is to come up with the worst case scenario and prepare yourself for it. This is what the Stoics used to do. They would often imagine really drastic situations (like death) and start mentally preparing themselves for it.

You don’t even need to be that extreme. These types of extreme situations are very unlikely to happen. You can instead just prepare yourself for the realistic worst case scenario.

You are late for work? What is the worst case scenario that could happen here? You could get fired.

Is that realistic? No, not very. The most likely worst case scenario is that the boss will just look at you funny.

For any type of situation, ask yourself these two questions: What is the worst thing that could happen here? Is this scenario realistic?

Examining a situation from this perspective can have a really calming effect, so do this whenever you feel anxious or stressed. You will realize that often you have these feelings for no reason.

Focus internally.

One aspect of focusing on things that you can control is that while you can’t control what others think or do, you can to a large extent control what you yourself think and do.

That’s the reason why the Stoics focused internally. You should be your own judge of the value of what you do and create. Don’t let others be the ones who determine that.

That is why having intrinsic motivation is key if you want to achieve goals and have a happy life. You need to be internally driven, if you want to have complete control over your actions and reactions.

That is usually not the case. Many people are driven by external things like fame, money or other externalities. The problem is that these things are outside your control to a large extent (besides the fact that seeking fame as the goal of your existence is pretty vain), and that’s why focusing on them can cause a lot of unhappiness.

So how do you make intrinsic motivation a part of your system?

The first thing that you should do is to convince yourself how silly and vain some of these external pursuits are. Marcus Aurelius would often try to look at the big picture. Once you take things from a wider perspective, you will see how insignificant these things really are.

This type of an internal focus is at the basis of the discipline of desire. Realistically, you can only affect a limited amount of things, so your desire should be limited to these things. You need to want things that you can realistically get.

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Breaking Out Of Homeostasis: How To Stop Being A Lazy Bastard And Do Something With Your Life

Most people in this world are pretty lazy. They complain, the argue, they think they are the shit, but when it comes to doing, they don’t do anything.

They know things need to change, but what do they do? Keep on doing the same shit. They never learn from their mistakes and even if things don’t work, they still keep doing them.

You might have heard about experiments that they have done with mice in a maze. A mouse is put in a maze and it needs to get out of it. However there are a few obstacles blocking its path.

The mouse runs around the maze and then gets blocked by an obstacle. It will then run around the maze again, taking the same path and get blocked again. It does this a few more times, but eventually learns that this is not the right way.

The mouse then takes a different path. Eventually it learns, finds a new path through the maze and gets out!

What about people? I sometimes feel that some are more stupid than a mouse. A person will run around in the maze, get blocked and then run using the same path again. And again, and again, and again…

Unlike mice, some people will never learn that in order to get out of the maze, they need to run a different path.

The maze is a metaphor I like to use when people keep on doing the same thing, and making the same mistake over and over again, never learning from it and never changing things up.

Luckily, one man has come up with one simple hack that will magically change this and help you to turn into a superhero, without any effort! Seriously, no effort required on your part. Guaranteed! You can trust me, I am a consultant.

Just kidding… 🙂

There is no simple hack, but I did recently come across a book “Breaking out of Homeostasis” by Ludvig Sunstrom that discusses this problem and gives some tips on how to break out of this pattern.

I am a fan of Ludvig’s blog, probably mostly because I get massive amounts of confirmation bias from it. Yeah, I know. I preach against falling for cognitive biases and I do it myself. So sue me! 😛 😛 😛

Ludvig managed to put all his thoughts together and come out with this book. Before I go into my thoughts about the book, let’s define what he means by the phrase “breaking out of homeostasis”:

Homeostasis in biology terms is your body’s process of maintaining stability and equilibrium, a steady state. This usually refers to the body’s internal processes like the body temperature, PH levels, and different types of metabolic processes.

However, this term has also been expanded to mean psychological homeostasis and this is the meaning that Ludvig is working with.

Homeostasis is basically having a shitty routine and sticking to it. It can also be not having a routine, but doing random things without thinking of the actual purpose of doing them.

To quote Ludvig:

“It’s the person whose life is defined by their unwillingness to think and exert effort.”

Ludvig makes two categories of people:

1) Homeostasis Dwellers
2) Homeostasis Breakers

Homestasis Dwellers are the guys that just pass through life, going through the motions, never really striving for anything. Sometimes they are even proud of being lazy and self-centered:

“Homeostasis Dwellers are proud of being ignorant, lazy, or self-indulgent.”

This is the majority of the people in this world. The majority of the people will never read this book. And even most of the people who do read it will never take action.

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