Would you “swallow a toad” every morning?

This bit advice is going to seem counter-intuitive but it’s one of my favorite reminders to mull over in the morning before one goes out to face the day ahead—it’s a way to prepare, philosophically, for what the world has in store us.

The wisdom comes from the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius who writes in his Meditations (a book of stoic philosophy) the following:

“When you wake up in the morning, tell yourself: The people I deal with today will be meddling, ungrateful, arrogant, dishonest, jealous and surly.”

Now I realize that might sound like a depressing thought, but ask yourself: Would you rather be pleasantly surprised during the course of the day or unexpectedly disappointed? You can be certain as clockwork nearly everyday you’re going to interact with someone who seems like they’re being a jerk (as we all have been ourselves in the past). The question is: Are you going to be ready for it?

It calls to mind a joke from the writer Nicolas Chamfort, who remarked that if you “swallow a toad every morning” you’ll be fortified against anything else disgusting that might happen in the course of the rest of the day. Might it not be better to understand up front that other people often behave in selfish or ignorant ways (the toad) right when you wake up, than it is to dribble it out through the day?

And this idea is just as relevant today as it has always been. In my research on Stoicism, I interviewed Professor Massimo Pigliucci (you can read the full interview over at the Daily Stoic) who does a similar exercise. As he told me, each morning he does “premeditatio malorum,”—essentially he visualizes some of the bad things that might happen that day.

“This can be as simple as getting irritated on the subway by inconsiderate fellow riders to my own death (I suggest people don’t start with the latter, and don’t do it often, as it can be disturbing). The point is to get acquainted with those “dispreferred indifferents,” as the Stoics called them (indifferent to one’s virtue and moral character), so that one is better prepared if and when they actually happen”

The point? People might suck today. Things are not going to go according to our expectations. It’s not going to feel great when that happens. But it will feel worse if it is also a surprise. Better to know that going in and to take your medicine up front, in the morning, than it is to dribble it out through the day.



Source: Ryan Holiday on Quora

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