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How to Apply Ancient Principles for Personal Growth in the Modern World

How to overcome Evolutionary Psychology

For a long time on Earth, not a lot happened. All of human life was like the British Countryside, which is, don't get me wrong, beautiful. 

In many ways, it is the life we are equipped to handle.

For centuries we pottered about, survived, and in certain climates thrived, but it was much of the same—business as usual. Early homo sapiens got going around 300,000 years ago. 

Looking at human history and how our environments and ways of interacting have changed in the last 50-100 years, it's a stark contrast to the rest of time.

For context, if human history was a 1,000 book, the last 100 years equate to a third of a single page.

That's a lot of history behind us before we suddenly disrupted the status quo. But, unfortunately, this history still lingers in how we are wired often without realising it.

In the previous blog, we explored the effect on our health, both mental and physical. Having more of an appreciation for how our past can influence us helps us to mitigate harmful consequences.

We can leverage ancient wisdom

We may even need to leverage them to enjoy our ride through life best.

For example, we must have strategies to cope with current news and social media.

Previously this used to be known as gossip or storytelling, helping the tribe to act more effectively. It was a way of sharing and enforcing social norms that kept people in check, playing into people's desire to be held in regard of the tribe. After all, this was in their best interest for survival.

From stories evolved, the printing press into broadcast journalism. While there were still some bad actors, for the most part, the purpose was to inform facts. Granted, there were biases, but this is nothing compared to what we see today.

The 24-hour news cycle stirs drama like a real-life soap opera, serving daily fear porn. Go on any news site now and I'm sure you'll find an array of shocking horrors and tragedies.

Sadly, it appeals to our nature, our instinctive desires to seek out gossip which once would keep us a safe and fulfilled member of the tribe.

Studies are underway as we speak about the effects on news on stress and mental health. And while many of us enjoy staying connected on social media, excessive use can fuel feelings of addiction, anxiety, depression and isolation.

Instead, now it serves to corrupt our view of the world, causing us to treate it with trepidation and cynicism despite the fact by so many metrics, we are in the most prosperous time in human history. 

Each year that drifts by, we write an ever more exciting cliff-hanging word in the book of human history.

But if you look at the news and my words about our evolutionary hardwiring needing to be updated, you'd think we're in a sticky situation.

In the last 100 years, we have witnessed unprecedented advancements in various fields, such as technology, healthcare, agriculture, transportation, and communication, transforming our lives for the better.

So don't panic other than tomorrow. Today is still the best day to be alive.

Do we need to reinvent the wheel, or can we learn from our ancestors?

If we are equipped to deal with the modern day and the speed we have turned into this new chapter of human existence, then we need to develop some strategies either way.

Luckily there is plenty of ancient wisdom out there we can learn from. So you can stop thinking about how you'd reinvent that wheel now. 

Often the ideas you see in self-improvement have their origins here. They are repackaged to fit the time and the example, and marketed better.

So how can we use ancient wisdom to protect against feelings of being overwhelmed by the modern day, for example, the bombardment of social media and the 24-hour news cycle?

How can the Stoics help us deal with modern life?

The Stoics introduced a simple but powerful concept. The idea is to focus only on what you can control and let go of what you cannot.

Epictetus, born nearly 2,000 years ago, taught this concept as part of his philosophy of Stoicism, which emphasised the importance of cultivating an inner state of tranquillity and contentment regardless of external circumstances.

Epictetus taught that there are two categories of things in life: things that are up to us (under our control) and things that are not up to us (beyond our control).

He argued that we should only concern ourselves with things within our control and not waste energy or become disturbed by things outside our control. According to Epictetus, the only things truly under our control are our thoughts, emotions, beliefs, and actions.

Take any recent sad or terrifying news story and ask yourself what you can control.

Epictetus said, "There is only one way to happiness and that is to cease worrying about things beyond the power of our will."

He also emphasised the importance of self-examination and self-awareness, encouraging individuals to constantly reflect on their thoughts and beliefs to determine whether they are within their control.

Using the dichotomy of control practically

Use Epictetus' "dichotomy of control". Mentally categorise things as within or beyond your control to understand and manage your reactions to external events. Rather than constantly striving to change the world's order, be content with its ebbs and flows and try to find that beauty.

And remember to accept that it is not the things themselves in this world but how we choose to think about them and respond to them. 

With this front of mind, you can bypass your default monkey operating system. Acting in your daily life under your own will. The rider, not the elephant.

So, as you go about your day, take a moment to pause and reflect on your own experiences, thoughts, and actions. Are you being mindful of the information you consume and the impact it has on your mental well-being? Are you applying ancient wisdom in your modern life? I challenge you to take action and make conscious choices that align with your values and lead to a more fulfilling and intentional life. Your future self will thank you!

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