Act Accordingly – Origins in Stoicism

One of my favorite authors is Colin Wright and I thought of him instantly when I read the following quote in Marcus Aurelius’ common place book, Meditations, “Since it is possible that thou mayest depart from life this very moment, regulate every act and thought accordingly.” Back in August of last year I wrote about Colin Wright’s book Act Accordingly and the first sentence of his book which reads, “You have exactly one life in which to do everything you will ever do. Act accordingly.”  I love the fact that Wright borrowed from Aurelius, and I love the principle that Aurelius built into stoicism.

 

Act Accordingly means living in the present moment and understanding the choices and decisions that you make.  It involves self-awareness and self-understanding to know why we act the way we do and why we hold the beliefs that we do. The more we build a process of self-awareness and reflection the better we can navigate our world and achieve the results that we desire. The idea of acting accordingly means that we appreciate the life that we have and we are able to take meaningful steps to reach our goals.  When we act accordingly we pause, recognize what we desire, what is truly useful, and work to be conscious as we move through our days.

 

For Aurelius, act accordingly translated into a spiritual recognition and understanding that we will all pass away, and that our time is not just limited, but it is often unpredictably short.  His message is to be fully present in every moment, avoiding periods of time where you shuffle through life without focus and without intention.  When you recognize that any moment could be the end of your life you begin to cherish the time you have. An increased presence of mind can translate into a greater sense of fulfillment in every moment.

 

Wright’s approach to act accordingly draws from the stoic tradition that Aurelius helped build, but he includes modern frameworks that fit the life in which we live now.  He is focused beyond just the single moment, but he does not abandon the idea and importance of presence of mind.  Wright encourages his readers to build more focus on their lives and decisions, and to find a way to pull themselves out of autopilot.  What distinguishes the two writers is the way in which Wright focuses on freedom and building a life with the most abundant possibilities.  Wright explains acting accordingly as taking advantage of the time you have in your life, and consciously creating a system that allows you to have the most choices and possibilities.  For Wright, the best way to act accordingly is to be fully self-aware, understand what drives you, and to use those drives to move into situations where life can be flexible and open to greater possibilities.

 

Both authors base their thoughts of acting accordingly on the idea of self-awareness, but each shows a different way in which that self-awareness translates into the choices and decisions that we make.  Understanding that our time and our lives are limited helps us see the importance of maximizing our decisions, and helps us to understand that we must move forward in ways that best align with our self-reflections.  Focusing on acting accordingly will help you build a set of heuristics that guide your life toward goals that are responsible and meaningful.

Leadership: Act Accordingly

Fred Kiel addresses leadership throughout his book Return on Character and he constantly relates leadership and decision making back to our character development. Kiel focuses on self-awareness and the ability humans have to recognize their decision making and their environment and to grow and change within those frameworks.  Kiel writes, “We aren’t born great leaders, after all; we become great leaders by training ourselves to think and act accordingly.” In this quote he is directly explaining the importance of reflection along our journey to ensure that we are growing in the right direction to help us become great leaders.

 

Kiel’s quote reminds me of Colin Write’s book Act Accordingly and a post I wrote last September. In my post regarding acting accordingly I wrote about the importance of self-awareness and recognizing why we make the decisions we make. That careful consideration requires a dose of self-awareness to help us see not just why we make decisions by why we think the way we do about decisions and how those decisions fit into a framework that we create to explain who we are.

 

When we focus on leadership we must develop a way of thinking about our actions that is in accord with the vision we have for ourselves. If we lack self-awareness then the vision we have for ourselves will not be aligned with what we ultimately want to achieve.  This means we could be bogged down in self-interest and that we may be more focused on our own success than the success of those arounds us, diminishing the quality of our leadership.  Thinking critically of our actions as a leader will help us create habits based on integrity that can guide us and those who are around us to maximize our moral character, building it into our decision making framework.  We can continually grow into this role through practice, and our actions can actually help others learn to develop into leaders of high character as well.

High Performers

Throughout his book Considerations, author Colin Wright provides his audience with little pieces of advice from his observations about the world. His chapters are all short essays about a given subject ranging from branding, to personal development, to habits, and self awareness. What I really enjoy about each essay is that the insights and advice offered is not limited to just the topic being written about. His thesis and his interesting points can often be taken and applied to multiple areas of life.

 

In a short essay titled “Default to Action” Wright writes about how easy it is for us to hear about something interesting and plan to return to that interesting idea, but get distracted and never remember to look into it. He writes that our default when our interest is peaked should be to immediately act upon our interest and (in most cases) to dive deeper, finding more information. By acting in this way we avoid distracting cat videos and push ourselves to investigate and learn.

 

Towards the end of his essay is a brief section that I find to be an incredible idea for one to apply to life, relationships, and ones career, “One distinction between high-performers and those who tend to lurk around the middle or sub-average is that the former are willing to expend energy to pursue that which they’re not told to pursue…”

 

Recently at work I have been working to bring in more self awareness to my actions and habits with the hope of becoming better at what I do. Part of my goals is to stand out to have more opportunities in the future, and part of my goal is to simply do the best work possible.  When I look back at my performance and daily routine, I see areas where my lack of a default to action has left me in the middle or average range as an employee.

 

A way that I have found to motivate myself in changing behavior is to examine the identity that I want to have. If I see myself as a high performer and want to be a standout, it is helpful to imagine that identity and consider my decisions and actions as they apply to the identity I want. If I want to be a high-performer my identity should contain the default to action personality explained by Wright. Eliminating distractions can often be outside of my control, but acting immediately rather than procrastinating is within my control and can push me towards the identity I want. With the goal being to achieve a specific identity I am not driving towards a promotion or good evaluation, but instead I am working on character and habits, knowing that the benefits and rewards will follow.

 

Wright’s book is a philosophy book, but like the quote above, many of the examples and pieces of advice offered can be used and applied throughout life. This quote also fits in with relationships, organization and stress management, and academic pursuits. By reading Wright’s book with an open mind, the opportunities to connect new dots abound.

Successful Growth

In the book Act Accordingly author Colin Wright dives into ideas surrounding confidence and surfaces with a unique definition of success.  His views on success leave materialistic desires behind, and escape the common trap of comparing ourselves to others.  The author writes:

     “Wining is a word that has a slightly different meaning for truly confident people.  Rather than it being a declaration of their superiority over others, it’s an acknowledgement that they’ve worked hard and improved upon a skill they’ve been cultivating.  It means they’re better at something than they used to be, and the only comparison drawn is between their present self and how they were before victory.
     In this way every race is against oneself.  Every exam, challenge faced, and successful sale is an indication of personal growth, not one’s place in society.”

My first thought when I came across this section from Wright is that confident people have a different way of defining success by looking at success as personal growth.  What is fantastic about this definition is that it puts success in our own hands, and makes success something that everyone can achieve.  We do not have to decide to the best in the world at any one thing, but if we focus on continually growing, learning, and improving in everything we do, we will have success.

The entire idea of success being our own personal growth is an idea that I find incredibly calming and reassuring.  Wright’s philosophy on success takes the pressure off of monetary gains and external comparisons to those around us and instead turns success into a more personal desire.  When we compare ourselves to others we become envious and frustrated by what others have or do.  It is difficult to see the differences in our backgrounds, and how those differences lead us to unique outcomes.  Some people may be in positions where they can practice more on certain skills to achieve our goals faster than us. Some people will have more money and be able to obtain more material items than we can, but neither of these examples truly shows another person to be more successful and more valuable than us.  We can only focus on our own goals and our own growth, and as long as we improve on something daily, we will be successful.  This requires a great deal of self awareness to be able to examine the time we have, how we spend that time, and just what it is that we want to grow toward.  Knowing where we are placing our time and effort will help us shape how we grow, and where our successes will be.

Becoming Less Wrong

Continuing his focus on confidence in the book Act Accordingly, Colin Wright states, “A Confident person doesn’t fear having been wrong: she’s just happy to be more right now than she was before.” This quote shows one of Wright’s core principles expressed in his books Act Accordingly and Considerations. He is continually focusing on adopting as many new perspectives as possible, and learning from new situations and discussions.  What his quote here is saying is that those who can be adaptive become more confident because they are not forced into belief systems at the expense of learning and growing.

 

I really enjoy focusing on perspectives because we each have a unique view of the world around us based on the information we take in, our backgrounds, ambitions, expectations, and other often hidden factors.  With so many forces impacting us and changing who we are, it is not surprising that we can all interpret an event, idea, or feeling differently.  What Wright argues is that we should seek out as many varying perspectives as possible so that we can understand others and begin to see things from multiple perspectives.  When we focus on finding various perspectives we avoid believing that there is one correct answer and we become less judgmental of others.

 

Wright’s quote above speaks to me about the discussions we may have on a daily basis related to heafty topics such as politics or religion.  In these two areas in particular people tend to become very entrenched and unchanging in their ideas. This limits them to a single perspective for which they seek out confirmation and agreement rather than differing perspectives and challenges.  A person without confidence will hide behind their idea and find excuses for why other perspectives are wrong.  More confident people will allow their idea to change because they understand that as they learn more and take in more information, their perspective will shift, and they will begin to see things with a better clarity.  Adopting a single mindset and ideology and not allowing it to change means that you are shutting out other perspectives and limiting your growth.  Opening up your ideology will allow you to connect with others and see the world in a better light.

Confidence and Self Awareness

Colin Wright’s book Act Accordingly is in some ways a collection of essays and ideas written by Wright that all focus around the idea of living a full life with the limited time we have on this planet.  The fifth chapter of his book centers on confidence, and he starts the chapter with the following quote, “Confidence means knowing the value of your knowledge, while maintaining awareness of how much you have left to learn.” What I love about this quote is the focus on continued learning and an ever growing knowledge base combined with a self awareness to focus on areas where our mind can still grow.

 

Wright continues to explain that knowledge will allow us to get to where we want to go by giving us the opportunity to participate in more areas and have greater input in the world.  One way in which greater knowledge translates into a more connected and engaged life is through confidence.  When we are confident we are able to more freely participate in discussions, activities, groups, and events because we have knowledge related to what it is we are participating in. We can better connect with others and provide more value to the world.  This confidence is brought on exclusively by knowledge and familiarity in the world, but it can lead to a downfall of hubris,

 

What Wright also advocates for is a strong sense of self awareness to be able to reflect on what we know well, and what we do not know.  For me I find myself discussing various topics, and often times the discussion will move in directions I am not familiar with. I will catch myself spreading information that I never truly understood, or even making up information based on assumptions and conclusions that I have drawn from other things that I have been told.  In this situation Wright would argue that it is best to move into a purely listening mode and avoid interjections made with a lack of confidence.  By recognizing these areas I can see where I can read and study to become more well rounded in my knowledge. This also helps prepare me for future conversations, building my confidence.

A Full Life: Challenges, Failures, and Successes

Writing about facing life’s challenges and accepting failure Colin Wright in his book Act Accordingly states, “Living life to the fullest is not about winning every time and avoiding the aspects of life that prove too onerous.  Its about unabashedly facing challenges, failures, and yes, even successes with a smile, moving ever-forward toward a more ideal lifestyle and a better version of yourself.” This quote addresses progress and maximizing our life by not shying away and avoiding the difficult parts of life that we think we may not be ready for or that we may want to avoid because we know they require a lot of hard work.  Achieving goals and building connections and relationships with others lead to a more fulfilling and happy life, but often times it is a lot of work to reach our goals or put ourselves in situations where we meet new people.

 

In my life I have struggled with the idea of moving toward goals and ideas that I know will require a lot of work and effort.  It is hard to find extra time to put in the work that is required to be engaged in extra projects that help build meaning in our lives.  For me, there have been many times where I have feared the hard work required to overcome a challenge or work toward a goal, and I have instead moved in different directions. I first recognized this in college when looking at what majors I would chose, and it has continued to haunt me in smaller decisions and ideas ever since.  What Wright would suggest for me is that I do not focus so much on the outcome or how challenging it will be to reach the point I am shooting for, but understand that regardless of whether I succeed or fail, the important thing is that I am engaging.  Wright would tell me that in order to grow I need to recognize challenges and understand the difficulties associated with them, and move towards them with a strong desire to perform well. His message is a bit trite as we tell ourselves that not everyone will win every time, but actually applying that and accepting it in our own lives is important if we want to accept that we won’t always be ready to perfectly handle all of our challenges.

 

What Wright explains in his chapter about failure is that it is never permanent.  We hit roadblocks and challenges that we are not always ready for.  We should not expect that we are always going to be able to handle every situation we face, but by putting ourselves out in the world and accepting the hard work instead of running away from it, we will build more skills through experience.  These skills which may develop from failure will allow us to make better decisions in the future. It will be challenging but by not allowing ourselves to quit we can learn and move forward as a better version of ourselves.