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That’s torture. Seneca would call it a design problem. “Life without a design is erratic,” he wrote. “As soon as one is in place, principles become necessary. I think you’ll concede that nothing is more shameful than uncertain and wavering conduct, and beating a cowardly retreat. This will happen in all our affairs unless we remove the faults that seize and detain our spirits, preventing them from pushing forward and making an all-out effort.”
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Without a disciplined schedule, procrastination inevitably moves in with all the chaos, complacency, and confusion: What was I going to do? What do I wear? What should I eat? What should I do first? What should I do after that? What sort of work should I do? Should I scramble to address this prob...
Don’t let your imagination be crushed by life as a whole… Stick with the situation at hand, and ask, “Why is this so unbearable? Why can’t I endure it?” You’ll be embarrassed to answer.—Marcus Aurelius, Meditations , 8.36
Fortunately, unlike our ancient counterparts, we have ages of wisdom to help us avoid the mental traps that lead us to procrastinate.
Here are seven anti-procrastination tactics that are rooted in ancient philosophy and can be applied in the modern world.
With any goal, our imaginations often run wild envisioning all the things that can go wrong. While it can be productive to think about the troubles that might lie ahead — the S...
Yes, you can — if you do everything as if it were the last thing you were doing in your life, and stop being aimless, stop letting your emotions override what your mind tells you, stop being hypocritical, self-centered, irritable.—Marcus Aurelius
In many circumstances, we do not deal with our affairs in accordance with correct assumptions, but rather we follow thoughtless habit.—Musonius Rufus, Lectures and Fragments , 6.7
Stop letting yourself be distracted. That is not allowed. Instead, as if you were dying right now… Stop allowing your mind to be a slave, to be jerked about by selfish impulses, to kick against fate and the present, and to mistrust the future.—Marcus Aurelius
Arnold Schwarzenegger is a filmmaker, entrepreneur, author, former governor, professional bodybuilder, and father of five. He’s also a fan of the Stoics. In a recent video , he...
Epictetus once said that “every habit and capability is confirmed and grows in its corresponding actions, walking by walking, and running by running… therefore, if you want to ...
An adage of author and historian Cyril Northcote Parkinson was that “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” Today, we know that principle as Parkinson’s law. So, if you have two weeks to write a paper for school, it will take two weeks. If you block off all day Sunday ...
When a dog is barking loudly because someone is at the door, the worst thing you can do is yell. To the dog, it’s like you’re barking, too. When a dog is running away, it’s not helpful to chase it — again, now it’s like you’re both running. A better option in both scenarios is to give the dog som...
In the sports world, University of Alabama coach Nick Saban taught his players to ignore the big picture — important games, winning championships, the opponen...
Putting off our responsibilities is easy. Complaining is easy. Both are as natural to us as breathing. But what good has either ever done for anyone in the long run? Sure, shaking your fist at the sky and venting your frustrations can feel liberating in the moment, but has it ever changed your ci...
All the crises, distractions, and temptations we face today have their analogs in the past. So we should listen to the command that Aurelius gave himself on one of those days when he was struggling to stay focused: “Concentrate every minute like a Roman — like a man — on doing what’s in front of ...
The writer Haruki Murakami talks about why he follows the same routine every day. “The repetition itself becomes the important thing,” he says. “It’s a form of mesmerism. I mesmerize myself to reach a deeper state of mind.” Procrastination feeds on our uncertainty. Routine eliminates that uncerta...
Well-being is attained by little and little, and nevertheless is no little thing itself.—Zeno
Since habit is such a powerful influence, and we’re used to pursuing our impulses to gain and avoid outside our own choice, we should set a contrary habit against that, and where appearances are really slippery, use the counterforce of our training. — Epictetus, Discourses , 3.12.16
It is essential for you to remember that the attention you give to any action should be in due proportion to its worth, for then you won’t tire and give up, if you aren’t busying yourself with lesser things beyond what should be allowed.—Marcus Aurelius
We can use Parkinson’s law to our advantage. The Stoics did. Memento mori — the reflection on mortality — was their reminder. Remember that you are mortal. Remember that you ar...
One gain per day. That’s it. This is the way to curbing our procrastinating tendencies: remembering that incremental, consistent, humble, persistent work is the way to improvem...
Procrastination can often be a product of overwhelm. We have so much on our to-do list that we don’t even know where to begin, so we don’t begin. Seneca liked to use the word “discursive.” When we have our attention pointed in so many different directions, we have it pointed nowhere. He compared ...
It was Aurelius’ simple recipe for improvement and for happiness. And the fact that it came from such a busy man with so many obligations and responsibilities should not be forgotten. “If you seek tranquillity,” he said, “do less.” And then he follows the note to himself with some clarification: ...
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