Every habit and faculty is preserved and increased by the corresponding actions; as the habit of walking, by walking; of running, by running. If you would be a reader, read; if a writer, write. But if you do not read for a month together, but do something else, you will see what will be the consequence. So after sitting still for ten days, get up and attempt to take a long walk, and you will find how your legs are weakened. Upon the whole, then, whatever you would make habitual, practice it; and if you would not make a thing habitual, do not practice it, but habituate yourself to something else.
About 108 AD, the following quote from Epictetus was written down. How true it still is.
I find that the answers I’m seeking for struggles with problems, people and purpose tend to come to me when I slow down. When, to the world, it appears I am being unproductive. Once I work through the inherited ‘work guilt’ and cultural inertia, I find answers. They weren’t in a book, podcast or conversation with a friend. They were in me. The only me there ever was or will be. How often do I consult yourself? Do I even know myself? If the latter question is ‘no’ then I need to start there. Otherwise, I run the risk of living other people’s lives and expectations for me. There is no clearer path to resentment.
The wisdom of Epictetus above is a clear path to success, however I may define it. What it is not, is a program to know what success is. Habits can lead to good or evil. Habits can lead to wealth or poverty, to strength or weakness. If I am to use this method, I must first clearly understand what success is for me. If I fail to put first things first, then the result will likely be a disaster of lost time and energy that I will never get back.
When I know where I want to go, and I am sure that I understand what it means to be there, then I can apply the wisdom of Epictetus. Then, I practice the habits that will clear a path from where I am to where I wish to be. Habits that will increase my self-discipline while simultaneously decreasing the amount of time and energy it takes to realize success. This is the deliberate, strategic, and slow process for forging a better me. I have given present self over to a greater version of me. I serve a higher purpose than the passions and temptations of the day. I scorn the distractions unworthy of my time and attention.
Do I fall? For sure. Everyday. Over time, however, the ruts that I have built into the path that lead to success are so deep that they pull me back to the right path.
Am I working for my definition of success or someone else’s?
Do I know myself? If not, how can I trust myself?
What are my current habits? Are they leading me to success today? Tomorrow? The next day?
Epictetus closes with this line that I would recommend heeding:
For do but take away the fear of death, and let there be as many thunders and lightnings as you please, you will find that to the reason all is serenity and calm; but if you are once defeated, and say, you will get the victory another time, and then the same thing over again; assure yourself that you will at last be reduced to so weak and wretched a condition, you will not so much as know when you do wrong; but you will even begin to make defenses for your behavior…