Training the Coward Inside

Recently I’ve been reading a lot about stoic philosophy and applications of stoicism. Ryan Holiday has some great books that are good primers on the philosophy and great springboards for applied stoicism.

Today I read You Must Train the Coward Inside You to my boys. (It’s a short read if you are interested.) Here are two of my favorite quotes:

Everyone has a breaking point. For most people, that point is very low, which is why many people never push themselves past their comfort zone.… And the dirty little secret is that everyone has a coward inside them, and if you really want to be tough, and I mean that both physically and mentally, you have to push that coward to the breaking point and then push past it every day. You have to embrace suffering.

That’s what Stoicism was built for. It teaches us to—as they say in the military—“embrace the suck” and find security and peace even in the midst of warfare and crisis.

While we all hope life will be smooth and easy we all know that’s rarely the case. All worthwhile pursuits involve training the coward inside us to “embrace suffering” and push past our “breaking point”.


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The Things We Actually Have Control Of

As I write this I’m listening to three student jazz groups playing. (I have one child in each group so I sit in between the three rehearsal rooms so I can catch snatches of each group as they play.)

Last week these groups held auditions. One of the students who auditioned got his placement today and wasn’t willing to accept it. He is the oldest bass player that tried out but was placed in the lowest of the three groups. I understand where he’s coming from. It’s embarrassing and discouraging when something like this happens. He spent the two hours of rehearsal time sitting in the hallway refusing to participate.

We all go through these kinds of situations. I think the key to getting through is to spend our time and energy focused not on the larger situation but on the things we can control.

So what exactly is in our control?

  • Our emotions
  • Our judgements
  • Our creativity
  • Our attitude
  • Our perspective
  • Our desires
  • Our decisions
  • Our determination

Pretty much everything else is outside of our control. But look at all we do have control over! This list encompasses so much. If we all learned to control even a sliver of this we would be unshakable.

I hope the young man decides that he is going to go forward and grasp this opportunity. This could be an important turning point for him. We rarely have control of the auditions in life but we do have control of our actions after. Taking control of those things we can control makes all the difference.


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What Stands in the Way Becomes the Way

It’s the nature of being human that we will have bad days. And sometimes bad weeks. Or bad months. Maybe even bad years.

The list of things that can go wrong or happen to us seems endless. (Not trying to be a downer here, but it’s true!) There is real pain and suffering in the world and it happens to me and you.

The good news is that we are never alone and that we always have a choice.

Go to friends, family, or professionals when you need help. You are not alone! Just knowing that can makes a world of difference.

As Marcus Aurelius said, “Our actions may be impeded but there can be no impeding our intentions or dispositions. Because we can accommodate and adapt. The mind adapts and converts to its own purposes the obstacle to our acting. The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.”

Whatever is standing in your way, use it to help you move forward.


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