“Occupy thyself with few things, says the philosopher, if thou wouldst be tranquil,” wrote Marcus Aurelius in his common place book which was published after his death in the volume Meditations. In a short section he writes about doing a few things well and being focused and content with those things so that your mind can be at ease with your effort and action. Aurelius continues,
“But consider if it would not be better to say, Do what is necessary, and whatever the reason of the animal which is naturally social requires, and as it requires. For this brings not only the tranquility which comes from doing well, but also that which comes from doing few things.”
The first quote from the emperor addresses the idea of developing skills focusing on a few areas. When we are pulled in too many directions trying to accomplish too many disparate things, we are unable to focus and do well with any individual thing. The second part of Aurelius’ quote speaks to the idea of being socially responsible and doing that which is required of one (through relationships, work, or societal obligation) with a singular focus. Guiding all of our focus in a single direction helps us perform our best with the task at hand, and knowing that we did the best we possibly could with any objective helps us find a sense of tranquility about ourselves.
It can be difficult in a world of Facebook where we see our friends doing so many cool, interesting, and charitable things, to feel content with our own lives and actions. To find the peace of mind and satisfaction with the daily habits and decisions we make in our own life, we can employ the ideas of Marcus Aurelius and ensure that things that we do are done with the greatest focus and effort. Knowing that we have focused to do our best with any activity can give us the reassurance that we need in a social media filled world. Additionally, by considering the tasks in front of us and putting all of our mental capacity toward that one task, we can fully apply ourselves in a way that helps us avoid doubts and questions about why we are doing the work on which we must focus. Whether your task is writing an essay, mowing a lawn, or scrubbing a bathroom, completing the task in a deliberate and quick fashion (meaning your are avoiding multitasking with things that hinder your performance) can bring a sense of pride and peace in what you do.