posted on: February 14, 2020
author: Anthony Pellegrino
If you’re anything like us here at PerformanceXtra, then you do a lot of contemplation on self-improvement.
As athletes, we’re always working to be better than we were the day before. To be better, faster, stronger.
Every day, we work towards actualizing our ideal self.
However, before we can mold ourselves into our ideal selves, we first must recognize that self.
Easier said than done, though, right?
What does it mean to recognize your ideal self? That seems easy on paper, but how does that work in practice?
As always, the ancient philosophy of Stoicism has got us covered.
These ancient philosophers developed a technique to accomplish this goal of idealized self-realization: Contemplation of the Sage.
Back in those days, people gathered in public spaces and discussed philosophical issues and shared ideas. Socrates became famous for wandering the streets and interrogating street-goers about their beliefs. The Stoics would gather in the agoras (the public marketplaces) and discuss their ideas with one another and with curious spectators.
In fact, that’s where the name Stoic comes from. Large columns would often surround these marketplaces, and they were referred to as stoas. It was along these stoas that our favorite group of ancient philosophers would philosophize.
As we’ve written about before in our on-going series about Stoicism in sport, the Stoic philosophy was chiefly concerned with the suffering we feel in our daily lives; in managing and navigating our emotions, and living a virtuous life that was in accordance with nature.
They taught that through following these philosophical principles, you could live your best life and free yourself from unnecessary pain and anguish.
Paradoxically, those who strive the hardest to reach their heights are often those who suffer the most. Self-development implicitly carries with it expectations for yourself in the form of goals, aspirations, benchmarks, etc.
Human beings are very poor at truly gauging how realistic their expectations are. We underestimate the effort we believe is necessary, underestimate the potential for problems to arise, while simultaneously overestimating our abilities and what we could accomplish.
As a result, we may find that we fall short of our goals. We might miss the mark by a bit, run into an unexpected problem, realize we bit off more than we could chew, etc. This is especially true for those of us who are highly ambitious. By our very nature, we set big goals and can be very harsh with ourselves when we fall short.
This is ultimately the root of all suffering: expectation.
Nevertheless, that doesn’t mean we should abandon our ambitions, and it certainly doesn’t mean we should set smaller goals for ourselves.
It just means we need to take everything into perspective before and after our goal-setting and achieving.
That’s where the Contemplation of the Sage comes in.
The technique goes something like this:
When you wake in the morning, meditate and visualize what you want to achieve, both in that day and in the future.
Visualize and map the actions you will take to achieve those goals. But do so with a really important caveat in mind, a favorite amongst all Stoic philosophers:
Life doesn’t match up to our expectations, especially when those expectations are ambitious. The Stoics understood this more than anybody, and would remind themselves every day:
Do your best every day, work towards your goals, and achieve them fate permitting.
Then you go about your day and do as you’ve visualized. Do the training you’ve mapped for yourself, and work towards your goals.
Yet, when the day is up, that is when the real fun begins.
Before you go to sleep, you must meditate again. But this time, think about someone that you wish to emulate. For the ancient Stoics, this person was their sage, other famous thinkers that represented Stoic virtue. Thinkers such as Socrates, Zeno, Seneca, Marcus Aurelius, etc.
Meditate on how you acted throughout the day, how you worked towards your goals. Then compare yourself to the sage of your choice.
“What would Zeno do?”
“How would Seneca have acted given my circumstances?”
If done every day, this simple Stoic exercise can transform your motivation, your goal-setting, and your work ethic.
It will also keep things in perspective emphasized in the phrase fate permitting.
The Stoics say that it’s okay to forgive yourself when you fall short. It’s okay to be gentle with yourself when your expectations don’t quite match reality.
Every day you show up, every day you contemplate your own personal sage and work towards your goals you are already successful in actualizing your ideal self.
It may be developing slower than you’d like, but it’s developing nonetheless.
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Anthony Pellegrino is a freelance journalist, writer, and content marketing strategist. He is currently studying to get his B.A. in Philosophy at Fort Hays State University. He works as contributor to Pulse Magazine and as a freelance content creator for several marketing agencies and brands. His writing is focused on philosophy of mind, metaphysics, politics, everyday life, and content marketing.
Learn more about the author: http://tonyp.press