Advice on Self-Discipline from the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius

If you want to build self-discipline, you’d do well to listen to the words of Marcus Aurelius.

Emperor of Rome from 161 to 180, Aurelius is also considered to be one of the most important figures related to Stoicism – a school of philosophy that, among other things, focuses on the development of self-control.

In this week’s video, we’ll focus on a specific passage from his book Meditations, which deals with the issue of self-discipline. For Aurelius, discipline should stem from the fact that our nature as human beings is to work at something we truly care about.

Here’s the full passage, if you’d like to read it or print it out:

“At dawn, when you have trouble getting out of bed, tell yourself: ‘I have to go to work—as a human being. What do I have to complain of, if I’m going to do what I was born for—the things I was brought into the world to do? Or is this what I was created for? To huddle under the blankets and stay warm?

‘—But it’s nicer here…’

So you were born to feel ‘nice’? Instead of doings things and experiencing them? Don’t you see the plants, the birds, the ants and spiders and bees going about their individual tasks, putting the world in order, as best they can? And you’re not willing to do your job as a human being? Why aren’t you running to do what your nature demands?

‘—But we have to sleep sometime…’

Agreed. But nature set a limit on that—as it did on eating and drinking. And you’re over the limit. You’ve had more than enough of that. But not of working. There you’re still below your quota. You don’t love yourself enough. Or you’d love your nature too, and what it demands of you. People who love what they do wear themselves down doing it, they even forget to wash or eat.

Do you have less respect for your own nature than the engraver does for engraving, the dancer for dance, the miser for money or the social climber for status? When they’re really possessed by what they do, they’d rather stop eating and sleeping than give up practicing their arts.”

We’ll dig much deeper into self-discipline in the coming weeks, but for now, ask yourself – why are you doing what you’re doing? What do your goals drive you to do?

If you can consider these goals to be your nature, then you can focus on them and override your immediate desires to remain comfortable or lazy.

If you’re unable to see the video above, you can view it on YouTube.

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10 Steps to Earning Awesome Grades - Thomas Frank

If you enjoyed this video, you’ll find more tips on increasing your motivation and beating procrastination in my free 100+ page book called 10 Steps to Earning Awesome Grades (While Studying Less).

The book covers topics like:

  • Defeating procrastination
  • Getting more out of your classes
  • Taking great notes
  • Reading your textbooks more efficiently

…and several more. It also has a lot of recommendations for tools and other resources that can make your studying easier.

If you’d like a free copy of the book, let me know where I should send it:

I’ll also keep you updated about new posts and videos that come out on this blog (they’ll be just as good as this one or better) 🙂

Video Notes

Advice on Self-Discipline from the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius

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