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Marcus Aurelius: How to Think Clearly



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At 17 Marcus Aurelius was adopted it made him heir to the throne of Rome

Born into a wealthy family. Aurelius was primarily raised in a household of his grandfather

Both his parents passed away relatively early in his life

From the start his defining characteristic was his pursuit of knowledge

He was drawn to philosophy and he was particularly interested in stoicism

A subset based on the notion that behaviors not thoughts or words should define virtue

According to legend the old emperor Hadrian took notice of him after a brush with death and impressed with a young Aurelius

Hadrian adopted him into his line of succession

Aurelius upheld his duty to the state for over 20 years through the death of Hadrian and throughout the rule of Antoninus Pius

Until the day he became the emperor of Rome

There's much uncertainty regarding the details of Marcus Aurelius story

It's almost 2,000 years old and most sources are questionable at best

The clearest image of the man is painted through a series of notes he wrote to himself, known by the name of "Meditations"

"Meditations" is one of the most influential works of stoicism. There isn't much left to be said about it

that hasn't been said before. It's a timeless manual for living a balanced life

More than the philosophy, however, it also gives us an insight into the clarity with which Marcus Aurelius thought

He very much saw the world as it was rather than as he hoped it would be

That may not sound like an accomplishment, but it's rarer than most of us would like to think

The application of this kind of awareness

pays dividends in every aspect of life and we can dissect Aurelius' story to break down how it can be deliberately nurtured

First the hurdle

Every day we're loaded with external stimuli and if we were to absorb each one of these stimuli we wouldn't be able to function properly

It would overwhelm our brain and we would cease to operate in a way that would allow us to attend to our daily responsibilities

As a result the brain has efficiency filters, it's good at figuring out what information we need and when

It knows that if you're in a busy restaurant, for example,

the sound of the person you're talking to is more important than the background noise, so it adjusts.

This mechanism, however unfortunately also comes with an unintended side effect

The byproduct is that sometimes attention isn't fully deployed to certain areas of importance unless we're active in directing it there

With efficiency, there's compromise

Michael Caine is a cognitive psychologist at the University of North Carolina who studies the interaction between memory and attention

In one of his experiments. He sampled students for their thoughts at eight random times in a day for a week

Out of 124 participants

he found that on average people were thinking about something entirely different to what they were doing about 30% of the time

This is a conservative number compared to the results turned up by similar work and it shows how easy it is to neglect relevant information

and fall into the trap of our brain's default setting

There are three ways to fight this

One train yourself to fight the autonomous loop

Throughout "Meditations"

Aurelius is active in pointing out the value of looking beyond what we

intuitively see on the surface in daily life to better understand the world. In his own words

"Nothing has such power to broaden the mind as the ability to investigate

systematically and truly all that comes under thy observation in life"

Although attention doesn't automatically lend itself to each relevant piece of information. We can train our brain to be more proactive

By keeping this fact at the top of our mind we can paint a more representative picture of the world

That's where the awareness and clear thinking begin

Set a few times in your day to really look and to listen

Be deliberate in seeking to bypass the compromised made by the autonomous brain. There's a lot out there and a lot of it matters

Two. harness objectivity through another pair of eyes

One of the cornerstones of awareness is objectivity

It's a kind of neutrality that aims to see the world as it is and not through personal judgment and bias

It's not easy to cultivate

By design our senses absorb information in relation to where we are what we're doing and how we feel

The world bombards us with stimuli and these stimuli follow a different neural pathway in each of us

We all make sense of them differently

We predominantly go through life understanding the world and influencing our behavior

Like we're at the center of reality and that everything around us derives its importance according to how it fits into our narrative

It warps our perception of our surroundings and how they unfold

In cosmology the Copernican principle states that Earth has no privileged position in the universe

In spite of its importance to us on a grander scale it's very unimportant

The same reasoning applies to people

Despite the intensity with which we feel and sense much of what happens in the broader world isn't just about us

There's a larger picture and there's more going on. The sooner

We can put aside our personal biases the sooner we can understand reality for what it is rather than how we feel about it

It's a crucial distinction

Throughout his work

one thing that stands out about

Aurelius is his profound ability to step away and out of his own mind and see the world and himself

Without emotional attachment, it helps explain the depth of his insights

He was able to expand this circle of awareness by tuning himself out and by aspiring to see things from a pair of eyes

With more than just a singular perspective. It's a very practical tactic and most of us don't use it enough

Step outside your own shoes

Conceptualize your observations as if you're in the body of someone else around you and try to harness objectivity through a different host of eyes.

Three, routinely seek out ways to declutter the mind

One of the distinguishing aspects of meditations is that Aurelius didn't write it for anyone other than himself

By all accounts. It appears to be a very personal journal there isn't much coherence or structure to how it's presented

This tells us that his purpose for writing wasn't necessarily to share his wisdom

But it was likely to practice clearing out and organizing his own mind

There's a lot of sense in doing that and a look into the work of Dr. James W Pennebaker explains. Why?

Pennebaker is a pioneer in writing therapy and the professor of psychology at the University of Texas at Austin

American Psychological Association has recognized his work on the benefits of journaling as some of the most important in the field

In 1994, Pennebaker and his team split people who had been out of a job for eight months into three groups the

First was asked to write about their layoff and how they felt about it

The second was invited to write that about nothing in particular and the final group was given no writing instructions

The participants that recorded their layoff experiences were notably more likely to find new jobs in the aftermath of the study

By writing they were able to formally declutter the stress and the noise in their minds and become more aligned with what they were feeling

It gave them the push they needed to grasp where they were and where they needed to go

Similar studies by Pennebaker have shown the benefits of journaling ranged from helping people better manage trauma to a bolstered immune system

By journaling, Aurelius was able to extract the information

restlessly roaming around in his mind, and organize it into concrete principles

He could strive towards. For others the same effect is reached through meditation nature walks or even certain types of exercise

The human mind is extremely noisy

but by creating a routine that allows us to clear it up we can make it less so

By building a habit that focuses on ordering our thoughts we can declutter the complexity that comes with living in an increasingly

busy and crowded world

Awareness is defined as a state of being conscious. Conscious of relevant knowledge, conscious of surroundings, and conscious of personal feelings and thoughts

It's a state of mind that aims to understand reality as close to the truth as possible

Marcus Aurelius is known today as what the Greek philosopher Plato characterized as a philosopher king

A political leader who actively aspired to wisdom and was primarily driven towards knowledge

A leader who relentlessly asked what it means to live well

More than his virtues and desires, however

what drove Aurelius to successfully lead one of the most powerful empires in history was his ability to leverage the clarity of his mind

The scope of your awareness defines the outer limit of what you can accomplish

The more you know, the more accurately you can understand your surroundings

The better you are organizing your thoughts the more possibilities lie ahead of you

The ability to think clearly is a keystone advantage and it can be acquired like any other skill...

Practice