Last week I came across a quote from Stoic philosopher Epictetus that reads, “How long are you going to wait till you demand the best for yourself?”. Upon finding this, I was hit with a sense of unease for a couple of days. I realized that over the past few months, I have become self-complacent. All my time and attention was placed on gathering information about self-improvement from so many different sources including Stoic philosophy, however I wasn’t applying it to myself at all. After speaking with a couple of friends, it’s apparent that I’m not alone when it comes to this. So, I thought that I’d make a post on how we can stop holding ourselves back, and start to demand the best for ourselves.
After discovering Epictetus’ quote, I decided to look more into his work, eventually finding that the quote was part of a longer passage.
“How long are you going to wait before you demand the best for yourself and in no instance bypass the discriminations of reason? You have been given the principles that you ought to endorse, and you have endorsed them.
What kind of teacher, then, are you still waiting for in order to refer your self-improvement to him? You are no longer a boy, but a full-grown man. If you are careless and lazy now and keep putting things off and always deferring the day after which you will attend to yourself, you will not notice that you are making no progress, but you will live and die as someone quite ordinary.
From now on, then, resolve to live as a grown-up who is making progress, and make whatever you think best a law that you never set aside. And whenever you encounter anything that is difficult or pleasurable, or highly or lowly regarded, remember that the contest is now: you are at the Olympic Games, you cannot wait any longer, and that your progress is wrecked or preserved by a single day and a single event.
That is how Socrates fulfilled himself by attending to nothing except reason in everything he encountered. And you, although you are not yet a Socrates, should live as someone who at least wants to be a Socrates.”
What’s holding us back?
So I asked myself, what are we waiting for? As Epictetus said, we already have all the tools at our disposal. Why are we not at work trying to build the house? What’s holding us back? In all honesty, I believe that the answer to this question is simple. It’s us. We are our own worst enemy.
In my case, my unwillingness to pull the trigger comes back to my need for perfection. I’ve always been someone who would never start something unless I knew that I could be the best at it.
If there was even the slightest chance of failure, then what was the point of even trying? Why put myself through all that effort to then face the horrible feelings associated with failure. To feel not good enough.
The “perfect model”
When I first started down this path of self-improvement, I never thought that my perfectionist tendencies would creep into the mix. However, here it is again, rearing its ugly head. I’m starting to see that, in my head, I’ve created this perfect model of how I need to act. This include qualities such as:
- Never getting upset at others
- Total control over my own emotions
- Laser focus on my tasks and priorities
However, this is extremely unrealistic. If we strive to be ‘perfect’ telling ourselves that, for example, we can NEVER have bad reactions to life events, then we’re setting ourselves up for a massive disappointment. I have come to accept that I will never be perfect. I have unreasonable reactions to normal situations. Sometimes I’m all talk and no action and that’s perfectly okay because I’m human.
0.1% better each day
So, instead of focusing on the ‘perfect’ version of ourselves that doesn’t exist, why don’t we focus on making real progress on the version that does. Right now, I’m aiming to be 0 .1% better each day. 0.1% better with my emotional reactions. With how I treat others around me. With how I treat myself. If you don’t believe this small percentage makes a difference, then check out this math equation below!.
1365 = 1
1.1365 = 37.8
To demand the best for yourself, you can try aiming for 0.1% progress, every day for a year. Although it doesn’t seem like much, it will have long-lasting effects and I’m sure you won’t be able to recognize yourself by the end of it.