At 17, Marcus Aurelius was adopted.
It made him heir to the throne of Rome.
Born into a wealthy family, Aurelius was primarilyraised in the household of his grandfather.
Both his parents passed away relatively earlyin his life.
From the start, his defining characteristicwas his pursuit of knowledge.
He was drawn to philosophy, and he was particularlyinterested in Stoicism — a subset based on the notion that behaviors, not thoughtsor words, should define virtue.
According to legend, the old Emperor Hadriantook notice of him after a brush with death, and impressed with a young Aurelius, Hadrianadopted him into his line of succession.
Aurelius upheld his duty to the state forover 20 years, through the death of Hadrian and throughout the rule of Antoninus Pius, until the day he became the Emperor of Rome.
There’s much uncertainty regarding the detailsof Marcus Aurelius’ story.
It’s almost 2, 000 years old, and most sourcesare questionable at best.
The clearest image of the man is painted througha series of notes he wrote to himself, known by the name of Meditations.
Meditations is one the most influential worksof Stoicism.
There isn’t much left to be said about itthat hasn’t been said before.
It’s a timeless manual for living a balancedlife.
More than a philosophy, however, it also givesus insight into the clarity with which Marcus Aurelius thought.
He very much saw the world as it was ratherthan as he hoped it would be.
That may not sound like an accomplishment, but it’s rarer than most of us would like to think.
The application of this kind of awarenesspays dividends in every aspect of life, and we can dissect Aurelius’ story to breakdown how it can be deliberately nurtured.
First, the hurdle.
Every day, we’re loaded with external stimuli, and if we were to absorb each one of these stimuli, we wouldn’t be able to functionproperly.
It would overwhelm our brain, and we wouldcease to operate in a way that would allow us to attend to our daily responsibilities.
As a result, the brain has efficiency filters.
It’s good at figuring out what informationwe need and when.
It knows that if you’re in a busy restaurant, for example, the sound of the person you’re talking to is more important than the backgroundnoise, so it adjusts.
This mechanism, however, unfortunately alsocomes with an unintended side-effect.
The byproduct is that, sometimes, attentionisn’t fully deployed to certain areas of importance unless we’re active in directingit there.
With efficiency, there’s compromise.
Michael Kane is a cognitive psychologist atThe University of North Carolina who studies the interaction between memory and attention.
In one of his experiments, he sampled studentsfor their thoughts at eight random times in a day for a week.
Out of 124 participants, he found that, onaverage, people were thinking about something entirely different to what they were doingabout 30% of the time.
This is a conservative number compared tothe results turned up by similar work, and it shows how easy it is to neglect relevantinformation and fall into the trap of our brain’s default setting.
There are three ways to fight this.
Train Yourself to Fight the Autonomous LoopThroughout Meditations, Aurelius is active in pointing out the value of looking beyondwhat we intuitively see on the surface in daily life to better understand the world.
In his own words:“Nothing has such power to broaden the mind as the ability to investigate systematicallyand truly all that comes under thy observation in life.
” Although attention doesn’t automaticallylend itself to each relevant piece of information, we can train our brain to be more proactive.
By keeping this fact at the top of our mind, we can paint a more representative picture of the world.
That’s where awareness and clear thinkingbegin.
Set a few times in your day to really lookand to listen.
Be deliberate in seeking to bypass the compromisemade by the autonomous brain.
There’s a lot out there, and a lot of itmatters.
Harness Objectivity Through Another Pair ofEyes One of the cornerstones of awareness is objectivity.
It’s a kind of neutrality that aims to seethe world as it is and not through personal judgment and bias.
It’s not easy to cultivate.
By design, our senses absorb information inrelation to where we are, what we’re doing, and how we feel.
The world bombards us with stimuli, and thesestimuli follow a different neural pathway in each of us.
We all make sense of them differently.
We predominantly go through life understandingthe world and influencing our behavior like we’re at the center of reality, and thateverything around us derives its importance according to how it fits into our narrative.
It warps our perception of our surroundingsand how they unfold.
In cosmology, the Copernican Principle statesthat Earth has no privileged position in the universe.
In spite of its importance to us, on a granderscale, it’s very unimportant.
The same reasoning applies to people.
Despite the intensity with which we feel andsense, much of what happens in the broader world isn’t just about us.
There’s a larger picture, and there’smore going on.
The sooner we can put aside our personal biases, the sooner we can understand reality for what it is rather than how we feel about it.
It’s a crucial distinction.
Throughout his work, one thing that standsout about Aurelius is his profound ability to step away and out of his own mind and seethe world and himself without emotional attachment.
It helps explain the depth of his insights.
He was able to expand his circle of awarenessby tuning himself out and by aspiring to see things from a pair of eyes with more thanjust a singular perspective.
It’s a very practical tactic, and most ofus don’t use it enough.
Step outside your own shoes, conceptualizeyour observations as if you’re in the body of someone else around you, and try to harnessobjectivity through a different host of eyes.
Routinely Seek out Ways to Declutter the MindOne of the distinguishing aspects of Meditations is that Aurelius didn’t write it for anyoneother than himself.
By all accounts, it appears to be a very personaljournal.
There isn’t much coherence or structureto how it’s presented.
This tells us that his purpose for writingwasn’t necessarily to share his wisdom, but it was likely to practice clearing outand organizing his own mind.
There’s a lot of sense in doing that, anda look into the work of Dr.
Pennebaker explains why.
Pennebaker is a pioneer in writing therapyand a professor of Psychology at the University of Texas at Austin.
American Psychological Association has recognizedhis work on the benefits of journaling as some of the most important in the field.
In 1994, Pennebaker and his team split peoplewho had been out of a job for eight months into three groups.
The first was asked to write about their layoffand how they felt about it, the second was invited to write but about nothing in particular, and the final group was given no writing instructions.
The participants that recorded their layoffexperiences were notably more likely to find new jobs in the aftermath of the study.
By writing, they were able to formally declutterthe stress and the noise in their minds and become more aligned with what they were feeling.
It gave them the push they needed to graspwhere they were and where they needed to go.
Similar studies by Pennebaker have shown thebenefits of journaling range from helping people better manage trauma to a bolsteredimmune system.
By journaling, Aurelius was able to extractthe information restlessly roaming around in his mind and organize it into concreteprinciples he could strive towards.
For others, this same effect is reached throughmeditation, nature walks, or even certain types of exercise.
The human mind is extremely noisy, but bycreating a routine that allows us to clear it up, we can make it less so.
By building a habit that focuses on orderingour thoughts, we can declutter the complexity that comes with living in an increasinglybusy and crowded world.
Awareness is defined as a state of being conscious.
Conscious of relevant knowledge, consciousof surroundings, and conscious of personal feelings and thoughts.
It’s a state of mind that aims to understandreality as close to the truth as possible.
Marcus Aurelius is known today as what theGreek philosopher Plato characterized as a Philosopher King.
A political leader who actively aspired towisdom and was primarily driven towards knowledge.
A leader who relentlessly asked what it meansto live well.
More than his virtues and desires, however, what drove Aurelius to successfully lead one of the most powerful empires in history washis ability to leverage the clarity of his mind.
The scope of your awareness defines the outerlimit of what you can accomplish.
The more you know, the more accurately youcan understand your surroundings.
The better you are at organizing your thoughts, the more possibilities lie ahead of you.
The ability to think clearly is a keystoneadvantage, and it can be acquired like any other skill.