Sorry about the delay in this episode post. it was scheduled to go out on the day the show went out but it... well didn't. That's technology for you.
Today I came across a post by Scott Myers, who is a must follow on twitter with the account @gointothestory - if you love screenwriting, you need to get following him by the way.
But anyway, he put out a quote on twitter by Kevin Coyne which reads as follows - “I have a mantra in class: ‘Clear thinking leads to clear writing, which leads, most importantly, to clear understanding.” And that quote is particularly relevant here as I’d already recorded and finalized this episode, but when I recorded the first version I was perhaps a little unclear in my head about what I was trying to say – either that or I was trying to be a little too clever.
This has not really got anything to do with today’s topic of Stoicism which I’ll get onto in a moment, but I wanted to do it justice, so am giving it another go. Without clear thinking, the subject of today’s show could have become academic, but like the subject of the New Year shows stoicism is action oriented, where actions speak louder than words. I first called this show WHY STOICISM IS LIKE A SUPERPOWER which was nice, but with a somewhat clearer message today’s show is now called 5 VITAL LESSONS WE CAN LEARN FROM THE STOICS.
“We are more often frightened than hurt; and we suffer more in imagination than in reality.” – Seneca
Stoicism is a school of philosophy that hails from ancient Greece and Rome in the early parts of the 3rd century, BC. It was a school that taught a particular way of living and its principal focus was how to live a virtuous life to maximize happiness and reduce negative emotions.
Stoicism these days however is often either unknown or misunderstood. To the average person, this vibrant, action-oriented, and paradigm-shifting way of living has become shorthand for “emotionlessness.” and “Stoic philosophy” on the surface sounds like the last thing anyone would want to learn about, let alone urgently need in the course of daily life and work but the reality is that Stoicism is a valuable tool for anyone engaged in the pursuit of self-mastery, of perseverance, and of wisdom: It is something we can use to live a great life, and not just a dry academic concept.
It was my brother Robin that first mentioned Stoicism to me. After he talked about it I hit Wikipedia and discovered that stoics think that the best indication of an individual's philosophy is not what a person said, but how a person behaved. This worked well with my outlook and values as I hold very much in the idiom that actions speak louder than words.
This realization has come about through years of working in the creative industries meeting a never-ending line of people who talk about making films or doing great things, or treating others with respect and kindness, but never actually do the things they say.
If you follow me on twitter @fight_director or @filmproprodpod you will soon discover that the accounts of people I support and actively retweet or react to are usually the ones of those that actually take action, and not the ones who talk just about it or passively engage. The bullshitters on social media and in life are ever present and if you get caught up with them they will do nothing but take from you for very little in return. I promise I will do a future episode on them as they are such a hindrance to productivity but look to my episodes on time wasters, toxic people and scams for a few thoughts on that subject right now.
People's primary concern at the time when stoicism came about was to avoid living an unfortunate life so they were more likely to order their thoughts, decisions, and behaviours to promote increased life satisfaction than most peple are these days.
I’d add too, that one of the most important things to keep in mind about that time is that, unlike today, individuals didn’t automatically assume that they would achieve happiness by attaining money, prestige, and/ or beautiful things. They just wanted to understand how they could have an excellent soul.
Stoicism has many vital lessons within it, but for today I’m just going to bring you 5 which I’ve found to be effective. These lessons can be applied to our lives and our creative works.
1. The first lesson I want to bring you is that Stoic people CONSCIOUSLY TRY NOT TO COMPLAIN ABOUT WHAT THEY LACK. Instead, they guide their awareness towards gratitude for what they do have. Seneca expresses this when he wrote that “No person has the power to have everything they want, but it is in their power not to want what they don’t have, and to cheerfully put to good use what they do have.” Wanting what we don’t have is a very modern affliction - It’s that niggling feeling that we should have more, travel more, do more and it’s particularly prevalent in filmmakers as we are constantly being marketed to to buy the next new bit of kit, the next light, camera, piece of software or whatever. And you only have to open up Instagram or Twitter these days to trigger a mid-life crisis and wonder what the hell you're doing with yourself when so many people seem to be having this "perfect" time when you are struggling to get ahead. You have to learn to stop Comparing your Behind-The-Scenes dirt and all view of your life with other people’s Highlight Reel of theirs – what they choose to share. Don’t get caught up emotionally in social media, and certainly don’t believe everything you read on the internet. We are living in what Katy Cowan of Creativeboom.com calls "Generation Perfection", and it's putting unnecessary pressure on all of us. I believe that when you work in the creative industries, it can feel much worse because so much of what we do is on display. If you are a filmmaker as I said a second ago, don’t get bogged down in waiting for that latest bit of kit, and spend days and months pining over it at the cost of your current projects. It does nothing but harm. Look to my episode called Shoot with What You’ve Got, for more on this.
2. The next lesson we have is WE DON’T CONTROL EVENTS, BUT WE CAN CONTROL HOW WE REACT TO THEM. One of the great Stoics Epictetus said
“The chief task in life is simply this: to identify and separate matters so that I can say clearly to myself which are externals not under my control, and which have to do with the choices I actually control. Where then do I look for good and evil? Not to uncontrollable externals, but within myself to the choices that are my own…”
Marcus Aurelius wrote something similar – he said “External things are not the problem. It’s your assessment of them which you can erase right now.” They believed that everything that happens in your life can be controlled by your own mind to be good or bad and once you understand this you can take back the power – take control of your own destiny as I might say. In effect what I am saying is that you need to accept that Disruptions cannot be avoided. Tranquility can never be reached by avoiding or blocking out distractions or horrible events. The way to get to that tranquil place is through your choices and judgments about those events and situations. The stoics might say this - In good and bad times we have a choice. This is captured nicely in this quote from Eckhart Tolle
All it takes is a simple choice, a simple decision: no matter what happens, I will create no more pain for myself. I will create no more problems.
We all come from different backgrounds and we’ll all go through major highs, and painstaking lows in life. Through all of these different circumstances though, we have a choice. It’s that freedom of choice that will ensure you don’t waste your life away thinking about stuff you can’t control. You can train your brain to move away from the negative and into a more positive space. Adopting a positive mindset is a subject for another show but I’ve dipped into it a few times already in the past. Look to my season 1 show about the inner critic or my more recent one on affirmations. Starting the day with a positive affirmation is no bad thing when trying to rewire your brain into a positive mindset, but you can also focus on the good things, however small, find humor in bad situations, turn your failures into lessons, turn negative self-talk into positive self-talk, find and surround yourself with positive friends, mentors and co-workers, and get rid of the ones that bring you down. Finally I’d say focus on the now and don’t get hung up on the stuff that’s went wrong in the past.
3. Number 3 on this list is that YOU MUST DISRUPT YOURSELF - the Stoics taught us that doing things the way they’ve always been done will only lead you to be disrupted by someone or something that changes with the environment. I did a whole episode on this topic earlier this season, no 70 LEARNING TO ADAPT, so I won’t go into too much detail on this but again it’s all caught up with one of the key elements of this podcast, taking control of your destiny. If you are operating solely out of habit it means that you’ve stopped thinking and are mindlessly drifting through life. It means you’re not in control. You need to take on that high level state of thinking that I talk about in episode 1 and assess what has been working for you and what has not. If you’ve been doing the same things for a long time and getting nowhere fast then you need to stop and try something new. You need to disrupt yourself. It’s essential that you hear this and act on it. It’s too easy to keep on cruising. Jay Samit the author of Disrupt You!: Master Personal Transformation, Seize Opportunity, and Thrive in the Era of Endless Innovation says that
Self-disruption is akin to undergoing major surgery, but you are the one holding the scalpel.
So get out your scalpels folks, and start making changes, if, that is, you genuinely want to find success in your life and work.
4. I have an advanced degree in procrastination and another one in paranoia. Joanne Harris UNQUOTE The next principle is that BEING PARANOID AND FEARFUL WILL DESTROY YOU. The antidote to fear and paranoia is self-control so you must learn to control your impulses. If you become fearful that others will sabotage your success and you don’t remain in control over these fearful thoughts, you’ll lose sight of reality. These fearful thoughts will cause you to project your fears onto other people and they’ll give you exactly what you fear. In simple terms, fear is a self-fulfilling prophecy. What you put out comes right back at you. Ryan Holiday says that we should Focus on the moment, not on the monsters that may or may not be up ahead, so if paranoia has you in its grip, remember this and deal with it.
5. I’ll end today's list with Number 5 YOU BECOME WHAT YOU GIVE YOUR ATTENTION TO. Epictetus said
You become what you give your attention to...If you yourself don't choose what thoughts and images you expose yourself to, someone else will, and their motives may not be the highest.
The first part of what Epictetus said is You become what you give your attention to and others said this too - I see it often in the productivity world - but Brian Tracy’s version comes to mind as the most succinct.
You become what you think about most often.
Whether you think mostly negative thoughts or positive thoughts will determine your default response to any situation. The more you practice negative thinking, the more likely you are to see the world as negative. The same is true if you choose to practice nothing. The second point I take from what Epictetus wrote is If you yourself don't choose what thoughts and images you expose yourself to, someone else will, and their motives may not be the highest. In short that means - Don’t let the insignificant control your vision. The insignificant could be what you read in the papers or online, or hear in gossip, or watch on YouTube, or get caught up in – things like unnecessary drama which is a sure fire killer of productivity and effectiveness – Be wary of the opinions of others that have no worth as there will be an endless succession of them lining up to give you their opinion, even if it’s not been asked for. Stop giving power to those that continually try to predetermine your reality – TAKE THAT POWER BACK. If you think like everyone else, you’ll eventually become like everyone else. If you do the same things your peers do, you will have the same things your peers have. To have different, is to do different. To do different is to think different. And to think different is to believe different. This is all of your choosing, so choose carefully and intentionally. Ignore the trivial many to focus on the essential few. Attention equals focus, and focus requires energy. Be selective. Say no. Take control of your life and maintain your uniqueness. I believe that your uniqueness, especially if you are an artist or a creative is your most valuable asset. Do not let it get watered down, hijacked or diverted by any of the things I have talked about here.
The soul becomes dyed with the color of its thoughts. Marcus Aurelius
The stoic principles that I have shared with you today are not just interesting ideas to consider and then forget - they are meant to be practiced every day of one’s life. If embraced, stoicism can offer an immediate, useful and practical way to find peace and improve your strengths of character. Virtue, not virtue signalling I hasten to add, but VIRTUE or ETHICS if you prefer - behavior showing high moral standards, is the primary concern of the Stoic. More important even than wealth or health, excellence of character is the highest good. If you’ve listened already to the last two shows you will be across this because what we are talking about here is your Values.
Your call to action this week is to take one or two of the principles I have talked about today and apply them to your life in whatever way you find most effective. Take action. That is stoic philosophy. The 5 vital lessons were:
1/ CONSCIOUSLY TRY NOT TO COMPLAIN ABOUT WHAT YOU LACK.
2/ WE DON’T CONTROL EVENTS, BUT WE CAN CONTROL HOW WE REACT TO THEM.
3/ YOU MUST DISRUPT YOURSELF.
4/ BEING PARANOID AND FEARFUL WILL DESTROY YOU.
5/ YOU BECOME WHAT YOU GIVE YOUR ATTENTION TO.
Although this has become the 1st episode of season 6 it was meant to be the final episode of season 5. As it didn’t seem appropriate to do this at the end of the last show I would now like to give a big thank you to all of season five’s sponsors: to Connie, who sponsored today’s show, and to Jacqueline Hower for bringing us part 1 and Lorna Hamilton for bringing us part 2 of 10 WAYS TO MOTIVATE AND INSPIRE OTHERS. Also the YouTube channel Geekified who sponsored episode 78 HARNESSING THE LABOR ILLUSION, Kelly stark for episode 77 PRIDE AND ARROGANCE, Christina Littleson’s ARTS ON AIR show on Pulse 98.4fm for sponsoring part 1 and the anonymous contributor who sponsored in the name of all Outlander fans part 2 of HOW TO WIN FRIENDS AND INFLUENCE PEOPLE. Big thanks too, to 6 feet from the spotlight who backed episode 74 WHY WE MUSTY GET COMFORTABLE BEING UNCOMFORTABLE, Loni Shaw for episode 73 SWOT ANALYSIS, Nicole from the Bronx who backed episode 72 WHAT ARE SMART GOALS?, and finally my good friend Petra who brought us the UPDATE EPISODE number 69, EPISODE 70 LEARNING TO ADAPT, and EPISODE 71 MISSION CREEP.
If you’d like to sponsor a future show please get in touch via the sponsorship page on the official website filmproproductivity.com
Don’t forget that you can access all of the other shows on the Indie Film Hustle podcast Network via ifhpodcastnetwork.com and there are some terrific shows there to absorb. I’m still listening to the bulletproof screenwriting podcast when I walk the dog and it’s absolutely incredible.
Thank you for joining me here today and investing in yourself once again. If you enjoy the show and would like to help it to reach a wider audience and keep on going I would be very grateful if you would take the time to leave a review on whatever app you use to listen to your podcasts on. It really makes a difference to podcast listener numbers and bumps this show up in the rankings at the same time.
Today I covered 5 Stoic Principles, but there are many more. If it interested you then do a little bit of research. I recommend a book called the daily stoic as a quick dipper.
I’m not sure as I record this what the next show will be but this season which will go out every two weeks for the first 24 weeks of the year will likely include a couple of interviews plus episodes on Creativity on demand, rediscovering your passion, victim mentality (which I delved into a little today of course), self sabotage and the fear of success, taking breaks and holidays, technology addiction, and much more. There’s plenty of room for suggestions from you too as the year progresses, so if you have an idea for a show or would like a question answered in a mail bag episode please drop me a line via the website’s contact page at film pro productivity.com.
I will end today with some more words from Marcus Aurelius
You have power over your mind - not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.
Now take control of your own destiny, keep on shootin’ and join me next time on FILM PRO PRODUCTIVITY AND SUCCESS!
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