Genuine Progress Is Becoming a Better Friend to Ourselves

THERE’S AN INTRINSIC joy I find when doing the things which matter to me. I know if I can simplify my life and routinely do the things that give me energy, I’m making progress.

Every day presents this opportunity, however slight.

“God had infinite time to give us,” says Ralph Waldo Emerson in The Heart of Emerson’s Journals.

“But how did He give it? In one immense tract of a lazy millennium? No, but He cut it up into a neat succession of new mornings, and, with each, therefore, a new idea, new inventions, and new applications.”

It’s early in the morning as I write this.

Water’s boiling on the stove and will soon pour over dry beans which will bloom and release a delightful aroma.

I’ve opened the window to let the faint morning light slowly fill my home.

Yes, I have the days when I want to sleep in.

But more often than not, I’m up early for moments like this.

“The magic words for me are ‘more often than not,’” says author Ryan Holiday on a recent episode of the Modern Wisdom Podcast.

“More often than not, are you doing it? You know what to come back to… There’s a rhythm. Sometimes you fall off the rhythm, but you know how to come back to it.”

He’s referring to whatever it is which contributes to your growth as a unique human being. Ryan Holiday has become one of my most meaningful influences during this integral chapter of my life.

He’s a writer whose work explores Stoicism, an ancient philosophy I’ve been interested in over the years, but which is now deeply and practically changing the way I live.

Holiday’s recent book, Discipline Is Destiny: The Power of Self Control, the second of the Stoic Virtues series, has gripped my soul from start to finish.

What I find so wonderfully applicable about Stoicism is its allegiance to finding harmony between yourself, others, and the universe at large.

Stoicism; discipline — life — isn’t about flogging ourselves when we think we’ve messed up. That does not establish harmony.

It’s about being stronger with ourselves — kinder to ourselves, a friend to ourselves and a damn good one — through the inevitable difficulties which arise.

“What progress, you ask, have I made?” writes the philosopher Seneca in Letters From a Stoic. “I have begun to be a friend to myself.”

The point of discipline is not punishment. Rather, it’s honoring this life, this chance, we’ve been given.

Life is hard. We’re all dealing with something, even those who seem to have it all. To make it worse, we’re often hardest on ourselves when we think we should be happy, but aren’t.

“I think we’re often quick to dismiss the adversity of our lives,” says Holiday on Modern Wisdom.

“We all wake up every day in a world that we don’t control, that’s utterly indifferent to us, our happiness, our fulfillment, and the challenge is, do you have what it takes to keep going through that? To not despair. To not become cynical. To keep believing. To keep trying. To keep pushing. To keep using the experiences that you have to get better.”

This is the essence of Discipline Is Destiny, and of Stoicism. With all we can’t control in life, we can still, no matter what, do our best. Our best.

We may wake up on another fresh morning, and instead of despairing about what we must attack today, we might instead express gratitude that the sun chose to rise again.

What would a friend say? You’ll never get this stuff done? Or, don’t worry compadre, it’ll work out.

That acknowledgment, I believe, is progress.

Genuine progress is full of stumbling, setbacks and difficult days. The universe smiles upon those days, even when we don’t.

Amidst the tumult, look up and smile back.

Personal development is nothing new.

In our modern day, however, there’s so much exterior information telling us what to do and how to live, that it’s challenging to understand our own desires and inclinations honestly.

Perhaps we are trying our hardest. We’re working on ourselves, our work, our relationships, our goals.

And that’s a lot to work on.

We think once we get to that endpoint on the horizon we’ll have more time, more money, and then we’ll deserve to be happy. But that’s not how it works.

The Greek philosopher Aristotle argues in his Nicomachean Ethics that the actions we take must have some final purpose, an end. If they didn’t, then why would we be doing them?

He considered happiness to be the ultimate end, the “highest good.” We seek happiness not to attain something beyond it, but, simply, to be happy.

While there are potentially an infinite number of routes to happiness, it seems that happiness is the peak we’re climbing to reach. How many of us truly make it?

Happiness can’t just be the peak reached from a lifetime of climbing.

It’s an integral component of a meaningful climb.

It’s the fucking mountain.

Each day is the beginning of the climb and the end — the dawn of something new and beautiful, the dusk of struggle.

Until we see this, we’ll always be searching for the next thing to make us happy, scanning the horizon, instead of realizing that happiness is the lens through which we view all that we do.

“It’s a beautiful irony,” writes Holiday. “You’re never content with your progress and yet, you’re always content … because you’re making progress.”

Isn’t this how a friend would see you? Psyched that you’re making progress at all, and inspired to see how far you can go?

We can, we must, find joy throughout the vicissitudes of existence, by truly being a friend to ourselves.

If you can be kinder to yourself — a valuable friend — through the inevitable difficulties of life, how can you lose?

If you can be a friend to yourself while pursuing what matters, you can only go up.

A friend doesn’t lament you about how you’re not meeting your goals.

They might remind you of them if they’re important. They’d encourage you to get back up if you’ve stumbled.

Trust me man, you’re doing all that you can! You’re doing great. That’s what I’d say to a friend.

A friend wants to hear your thoughts, your laughs, your tears, so you may unburden your heart and soul of the dead weight.

A friend is there to catch you, no matter how low you fall. A friend wants to enjoy your company while on this earth.

A friend defends you yet is true, because they want the best for you.

A friend wants to have a good time. A friend — a true friend — loves you unconditionally, endlessly, eternally.

Becoming a better friend to ourselves is the most important progress we can make. We will stumble on this journey, but all that matters is that we continue.

Why are we here if not to savor the daily struggle, the daily fruits, of what it means to be human?

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