This post covers the third and final week of the Daily Stoic New Year New You Challenge. Click below for the first two weeks!
Day 15: Cut Out One Recurring Expense
Of all the things that are, some are good, others bad, and yet others indifferent. The good are virtues and all that share in them; the bad are the vices and all that indulge them; the indifferent lie in between virtue and vice and include wealth, health, life, death, pleasure, and pain. — Epictetus, Discourses, 2.19.12b-13
Your challenge today is to delete a recurring expense.
Identify one of your recurring expenses. Look at your purchases, your memberships and magazine subscriptions and subscription boxes and streaming accounts, and see which ones you can prune. Of course, you should cut the dead weight: the streaming service you signed up for with a free trial but never bothered to cancel; the membership in a gym you visit once a month, the magazine you subscribe to but haven’t read in ten months.
But also, turn a discerning eye to the things you enjoy. Sure, you like Netflix, but if you’re always complaining that you don’t have time to read because of all the Great British Baking Show seasons you have left to watch, maybe you should question your priorities. Use this challenge as an opportunity to cut out not just the services that you don’t use, but the ones that waste your time as well.
The reason we included this challenge has to do with something called the snowball effect. The idea is that a snowball grows as it rolls downhill, gathering momentum and accelerating to faster and faster speeds. By slow and steady accumulation, something with small beginnings can grow to become a gigantic unstoppable force.
To be clear, the snowball effect can be a positive thing and occur in any part of your life, whether you save more and more dollars and cents toward that round-the-world vacation you’ve always wanted to go on, write 300 words every day until you’ve written a novel in a year, or do one more pushup each week until you’ve reached 100 at a time.
But when it comes to money, more often than not the snowball effect is working against you. If you spend more than you need to on entertainment or inessentials, that extra money that could have helped you achieve your new goals will snowball, until one day that dream of the New You on a vacation around the world is shattered into a million pieces at the bottom of the hill and you see only the empty space where your savings could have been.
I actually did this challenge myself about a month ago when I took stock of my recurring expenses. One of the things I was able to cancel was Audible, the audio book subscription service. At that time I had a number of books that I was able to exchange for new ones at no extra cost, so I effectively got four new books at once meaning I have no need to keep the subscription active while I listen to them. I expect I’ll reactivate it at some point as it’s a service I like a lot, however I’ll do the same thing again – build up an excess of books and then cancel for another while to save money.
Day 16: Today, Say Thank You (Yes) to Everything
“Don’t hope that events will turn out the way you want, welcome events in whichever way they happen: this is the path to peace.” —Epictetus, Enchiridion, 8
“Accept the present—all of it. Convince yourself that everything is the gift of the gods.” — Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 10.1
For today’s challenge, we ask you to follow another route. Do not spend time complaining about the bad things that happen to you today, or even feeling bad about them. Instead, look at them and say “Yes, thank you.”
Marcus Aurelius called this the “art of acquiescence.”
Epictetus said, “The proper work of the mind is the exercise of choice, refusal, yearning, repulsion, preparation, purpose, and assent. What then can pollute and clog the mind’s proper functioning? Nothing but its own corrupt decisions.”
Too many people go through life kicking and screaming, raging against the obstacles they face. But when things don’t go our way, we can choose what we think—we can refuse the temptation to sink into sadness and instead prepare for our next move, for our response to these tests, without which we would never have cause to progress.
To everything that happens, we can say, “Yes, thank you.”
I needed this today after dropping a knife and taking a noticeable chip out of my relatively new wooden floor.
Yes, thank you.
Day 17: Get Roasted—Learn How To Take an Insult
“Remember that it is we who torment, we who make difficulties for ourselves—that is, our opinions do. What, for instance, does it mean to be insulted? Stand by a rock and insult it, and what have you accomplished? If someone responds to insult like a rock, what has the abuser gained with his invective?” —Epictetus, Discourses I, 25.28–29
Today’s challenge is designed to thicken your skin and help you take back control of your self-worth, your self-perception, and your ego from the world. Today, your job is to get roasted—to deliberately take an insult and choose not to care about it.
Just imagine, if you embrace this challenge fully, instead of contorting yourself in accordance with public opinion on a daily, hourly, tweet-by-tweet basis, you could be confident in who you are and how you live your life at every turn. That’s what we’re seeking to instill today. The humility and levity you suffer the slings and arrows of criticism, then come out the other side—realizing that no one can make you feel inferior without your consent.
To be sure, there are all sorts of ways you can “get roasted” if you don’t know where to start today. You just have to figure out a level that makes you just uncomfortable enough to put a pit in your stomach or quicken your pulse, but not so bad that it makes you want to change your name and go into witness protection. We’ve come up with some suggestions here:
- Upload a picture of yourself to R/RoastMe. Let the mob lob their meanest insults at you.
- Upload an embarrassing photo from your most awkward childhood phase on social media.
- Post about an embarrassing recent failure.
- Poke fun at an insecurity of yours when you’re with friends.
- If you’re a more private person, sit down with a notecard and roast yourself. Act as if you have been assigned the job of riffing for 2-3 minutes on all that is ridiculous about yourself. What flaws would you point out?
- Ask 2-3 close friends for a list of ridiculous or funny things you’ve done over the years—failures, gaffes, awkward encounters.
- Look back at old photos of yourself on your phone and see how easy it is to find things to make fun of yourself for (then realize that you could flash forward a few years and repeat the same exercise about today).
This challenge reminded me of the above Tim Ferriss video in which he describes how Cato the Younger would often wear a tunic of an unpopular colour to invite ridicule and ultimately train himself only to be ashamed of those things worth being ashamed of. Tim also talks about how he emulates that practice by randomly wearing cowboy hats and colourful trousers. I don’t own a cowboy hat but I definitely think wearing an otherwise out-of-place item of clothing would help immunise against judgemental opinions and criticism, and is something I intend to try.
Day 18: Plan Your Perfect Day, then Make It Happen
You could leave life right now. Let that determine what you do and say and think.” — Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 2.11
This is your challenge today: We want you to sit down and make a deliberate plan for a perfect day. But not some idealized, Disney-fied perfect day where all the lights are green and your favorite song has just started every time you change the station on the radio and the sun is perfectly warm. We’re talking about the ideal day in a perfect life. The life you think you are currently paying dues for. Schedule the day out as if you were writing a diary of what you just did. Plan it.
Sit down and brainstorm all the things that would go into the perfect day. Take the time to describe a day where you discard other people’s ideas of what you should be doing and instead focus on what’s best for you and your happiness. If you had all the money or opportunities in the world, no preconceived notions, how would you spend your time? What would that day really look like?
We’re not talking about the hypothetical “If you were scheduled for the electric chair tomorrow, what would you do today?” Or pretending you suddenly have no responsibilities, and get to live like you’re on vacation. We’re talking about putting some bones on that vague notion you have about the future, or about what you believe would make you happy, fulfilled, balanced. It’s that life, and those dreams, you entertained in your youth, when it still felt okay to think crazy thoughts and aspire to crazy futures. Not the “I want to play quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys” dreams, but the ‘I’m good at something and have potential and know what makes me feel complete and content” dreams. And it’s the kind of day we’re talking about where you fulfill your duties and accomplish your tasks, make progress on a new skill, see everything you want to see, and go to sleep rejuvenated for having done so.
But again, you have to actually do this. Block out a half-hour or an hour. Grab a sheet of paper and list out everything that you would potentially include in this day.
After jotting this down I was surprised at how simple my ideal day actually is. There’s no excuse not to make it happen more often!
Day 19: Pick Five Important Books to Re-Read This Year
“Throw away your books; stop letting yourself be distracted…Stop allowing your mind to be a slave, to be jerked about by selfish impulses.” —Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 2.2
“I tell you that it is the sign of an overnice appetite to toy with many dishes; for when they are manifold and varied, they cloy but do not nourish. So you should always read standard authors; and when you crave a change, fall back upon those whom you read before.” — Seneca, Letters From A Stoic, 2.4
Your challenge today is to pick five books to re-read this year.
We want you to linger among a limited number of your favorite writers and thinkers, and re-absorb their works. Look for the lessons that you missed before, or that you weren’t ready to learn just yet.
First, make a list of your all-time favorite books. The ones from middle school that sparked your love for reading. The one from college that helped you decide what you wanted to do post-graduation. The one that introduced you to Stoicism. Any and all of the important books that impacted your life. Get them all listed. Then, pick five to re-read this year. Commit to digging one out of storage tonight and reading the first twenty pages before bed.
Even if you’re not a huge reader, even if you’ve only read ten or twenty books by choice in your life. Pull from them, re-read them to figure out what about them resonated with you. What pulled you through to the final page? What did you learn from them that you carry with you still? And where might you find that again in the future?
For today’s challenge I’ve picked five books that had a big impact on me:
- Meditations by Marcus Aurelius
- Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
- Anything You Want by Derek Sivers
- Man’s Search For Meaning – Viktor Frankl
- Siddhartha – Hermann Hesse
Day 20: Start (and Fund) an Emergency Reserve
“It is precisely in times of immunity from care that the soul should toughen itself beforehand for occasions of greater stress, and it is while Fortune is kind that it should fortify itself against her violence.” —Seneca, Letters From A Stoic, 18.5
Your challenge today is to create an emergency fund, to save for a rainy day, to prepare for and anticipate the unexpected.
We want the new you, the one that you’ve been building for the past three weeks, to be able to withstand and endure the unexpected. Here’s how you set up an emergency fund:
- Determine How Big You Want Your Rainy Day Fund To Be. The general rule is to have three to six months of basic living expenses—utility bills, rent, car/home payments, gas, groceries, etc.—in an emergency fund. If that is realistic for you, here is an easy way to calculate what you should set aside. For some, that just isn’t feasible. For others, that’s not nearly big enough. Maybe you want to have the kind of fund that lets you take big risks as far as making your dream day a reality goes. Maybe you want to be majorly insulated from even a huge market crash, or a fundamental shift in the market in which your business operates. Whatever it is, the good news, says Paul Golden, the managing director for the National Endowment for Financial Education, is that starting with a small goal, of even just $500, “improves people’s psychological well-being and shows you have the ability to set (and meet) an achievable goal.” Set an easy goal for the next couple of months, then see if you can keep moving that bar higher.
- Decide Where To Put It. You’re simply setting aside a portion of your monthly income. That could be in a checking account, a savings account, a safe in your closet, or a shoebox under your bed. Consumer banking expert Spencer Tierney recommends putting your emergency fund in a high-yield savings account because it is federally insured… The money earns interest, and you can access your cash quickly when needed, whether through withdrawal or funds transfer.” If you have more than just your expenses covered, then be smart about how it is invested, so there is a return on your savings. Compounding interest is one of the most powerful forces on Earth—it is wonderful to have it working as a counterbalance to Murphy’s Law.
- Determine A Monthly Deposit Plan—Make It Automatic. OK, you know the exact amount of money that you will set aside each month, and you know where that money is going. Now, you need to make sure it’s actually getting there. Treat each new deposit to your emergency fund like a recurring bill, due on the first of every month. A great way to set this up is with an automatic recurring deposit. You can set this up with your bank, or your employer may even be able to do it on their end. You wouldn’t miss a credit card payment—don’t miss a payment to yourself. Another great option is something like Acorns, which automatically rounds up your credit card purchases to the nearest dollar and invests the change (This link will start you off with $5 free dollars). The more you automate, the more you’ll save and the more prepared you’ll be.
I like how prudent this challenge is, it’s a sensible exercise that everyone should really be thinking about. The combination of reducing unnecessary expenses from day 15 and putting some money aside sensibly works well. It will take a little research (moneysavingexpert.com is a good place to start) and a little effort to set up, but the peace of mind will be worth it.
Day 21: Be Someone’s Hero: Do a Good Deed
“We Stoics … take pleasure in bestowing benefits, even though they cost us labor, provided that they lighten the labors of others.” —Seneca, On Benefits, IV.13
“Seeking the very best in ourselves means actively caring for the welfare of other human beings.” —Epictetus, The Art Of Living, p.150
Most of us can spend our lives not being actively malicious; but when’s the last time you did something actively selfless, something which cost you time and resources and whose rewards accrued to everyone but you? That’s why today’s last challenge is this: Do a good deed.
The shape and form of this good deed are up to you: Whether it’s giving time or money to someone in need, forming a connection with another human being when they are truly in need of one, or just holding a door open for the person behind you. Regardless of the scope of your good deed, or its duration: Go out of your way to do something to make the world a bit brighter for someone.
Because the new you isn’t just out for self-improvement, you’re out to improve this crazy difficult uncertain world we are stepping into in 2020. After all, part of the reason we seek virtuousness is that by embodying it, we become able to improve the lives of those around us—a wholly Stoic path to take.
There are countless things you can do:
- Go for a walk and pick up all the trash you see.
- Anonymously cover the check of the young family dining near you at dinner.
- Donate half of first paycheck of the year to a charity (or better, related to what we talked about in Day 20, automate this giving).
- Fill a trash bag with warm clothes and give them to a homeless person, or bring them something to eat.
- Stop by and help someone new who is struggling in your office, let them know they’ll get the hang of it and that they can come to you with questions.
- Go to the local nursing and retirement home and spend a couple hours with the residents
- Fund a few teacher’s projects on DonorsChoose.
- Tip a barista or waitress way more than your bill dictates.
- Send flowers and a nice message to a coach who believed in you.
- Donate blood at the local Red Cross.
I’d been meaning to make a donation to a certain charity for a while so this was the perfect opportunity to follow through with it, and a nice end to the 21 day challenge.