Practice Objectivity

I discovered Ryan Holiday a number of years ago, when I came across a post of his: “Read to Lead: How to Digest Books Above Your ‘Level.'” It was one of those I liked so much, I printed it and passed it along to some of my kids. I have since started following Holiday on one platform or another, and bought his book The Obstacle is the Way for Luke. Last week, I started reading this manual on meeting challenges as the Stoic philosophers (specifically, Marcus Aurelius) did. I just finished chapter five, “Practice Objectivity,” and have to say that it, by itself, is worth the price of admission. Here are some excerpts:

The phrase “This happened and it is bad” is actually two impressions. The first—”This happened”—is objective. The second—”it is bad”—is subjective. …

In our own lives, how many problems seem to come from applying judgments to things we don’t control, as though there were a way they were supposed to be? How often do we see what we think is there or should be there, instead of what actually is there? …

Perceptions are the problem. They give us the “information” that we don’t need, exactly at the moment when it would be far better to focus on what is immediately in front of us: the thrust of a sword, a crucial business negotiation, an opportunity, a flash of insight or anything else, for that matter.

Everything about our animistic brains tries to compress the space between impression and perception. Think, perceive, act—with milliseconds between them.

A deer’s brain tells it to run because things are bad. It runs. Sometimes, right into traffic.

We can question that impulse. We can disagree with it. We can override the switch, examine the threat before we act. …

Objectivity means removing “you”—the subjective part—from the equation. Just think, what happens when we give others advice? Their problems are crystal clear to us, the solutions obvious. Something that’s present when we deal with our own obstacles is always missing when we hear other people’s problems: the baggage. With other people we can be objective.

We take the situation at face value and immediately set about helping our friend to solve it. Selfishly—and stupidly— we save the pity and the sense of persecution and the complaints for our own lives.

Take your situation and pretend it is not happeing to you. Pretend it is not important, that it doesn’t matter. How much easier would it be for you to know what to do? How much more quickly and dispassionately could you size up the scenario and its options?

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