“How Long Is It Going to Be Before I Demand the Best For Myself?”

This quote from Epictetus forces us to be honest with ourselves. We question whether we are doing the best for ourselves at this time. If not, why? Are we waiting for the “perfect time” to be a better person or take action? It’s so easy to make excuses for a number of things, but is putting this off making you any better?

The Stoics often speak on the theme of perfectionism and how we can never expect perfection in life. Instead, we must be resilient to the obstacles in our path and continue our journey with persistence. How often do we find ourselves saying things like “Oh, I’ll do [   ] 3 years from now,” “Right now I am just too busy for [   ]” You fill in the blank. We all say these sort of phrases but, will there ever be the perfect time to do anything, or is it really just procrastination? (Feel free to answer but it is a rhetorical question). So now back to Epictetus’s question, “How long is it going to be before I demand the best for myself?”

New Year’s resolutions are a perfect example of the idea that Epictetus is trying to get across. Every year we wait for a new start of the year to get healthy, read more, get a degree, etc. Why do we wait for this time when we can start right now?

The reality is, there will never be a more perfect time than now. We do not know what will become of our lives in the future and the new challenges it will pose. Rather, let’s make the decision to demand the best for ourselves while we can, in this very moment. What better time?!

For myself, there are definitely goals that I have set and not accomplished. Perhaps I am making excuses and procrastinating on these feats. Let’s see…

For example, it has been a year since I first began looking for an investment property. The potentially procrastinating side of me says, “There are no homes I am interesting in purchasing, maybe it is just not a good time in the market for me to buy.” Though I am always looking every day, I am WAITING for the right property to appear. Furthermore, I have not made offers on any properties and, at times, I find myself reasoning about the inflated nature of the current real estate market does not allow for me to make a BIG investment mistake. Will there ever be the perfect time to buy in the market? Will there ever be the perfect house? The answer is no, Alex. It is okay to be cautious, just make sure you are not making excuses for yourself.

In conclusion, what I am trying to present here is that we all have goals we are putting off for the “right time,” but understand that we can only have influence over what is happening right now in this moment, not later. Whether it is a specific action-goal or simply being a better parent, being a healthier person, being a better teacher, etc. Ask yourself this question, “How long is it going to be before I demand the best for myself?” And answer, “No longer.”

Staying Present

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Staying present is a difficult discipline for even the most disciplined. Many encourage a daily practice of mindful meditation to keep us grounded in the present moment. Still, how often do we find ourselves in some other mindless dimension throughout all other parts of the day? It is easy to do! I was doing it right before I started writing this post, which in turn, prompted me to become present in the writing of this post. (Ha.)

We can find ourselves thinking about the strangest things in the strangest moments. For example, I was washing my hands at the sink the other day and questioned, “Why don’t we have upper and lower case numbers? Would we have use for upper and lower case numbers even if we did?” Thought provoking stuff, right? I mean, what exactly in that moment would have prompted such a thought…. Absolutely nothing. This is a prime example of the wondering of the mind. I doubt so many of us are very in touch with the actual action of washing our hands. Do we consider the feel of the water on our skin? The rubbing of our hands together? Unless the water is scorching hot or freezing cold, this is generally a mindless task.

Although I am by no means an expert, probably not even an intermediate-level present-stayer, there are certain practices I try to do throughout the day to remind me of the present moment. One of these practices is the simple, attention to one’s own breath. For me, I enjoy this practice because it is a short and easy way task, listening to a few deep breaths lasting for maybe less than a minute. Here, I am only listening to my breath, not the office chatter around me or thinking about what I am going to eat for dinner tonight. I am only with myself. Next, at work I keep a coin in my pocket, feeling for it when I find myself getting anxious about a task or worrying about something else that I anticipate will soon be asked of me. I then reach into my pocket to find my solace and stops with its touch. Finally, writing. Writing in my journal or writing this very post about a specific thought or idea forces me to focus on just that task at hand. The moment. I encourage the practice of journaling for this very reason.

Find whatever works for you to remind yourself of NOW. After all, as Marcus Aurelius has said, “The present moment is the only thing of which anyone can be deprived, at least if this is the only thing he has and he cannot lose what he has not got.”