Sunday, 20 April 2014

The three elements of unshakable self-confidence. The three essential ingredients of personal development. The three pillars of personal growth

Newspapers and other media often paint a dark picture of contemporary education. Studies that compare the knowledge of mathematics of children in different countries add little to the discussion, since many question if teaching algebra to seven-year-old kids makes any sense at all.

The three elements of unshakable self-confidence

The modern school curriculum contains a wide range of subjects and attempts to develop children's talents in all directions. From music to History, from drawing to sports, everything is there to fascinate and entertain the minds of the young.

Since the variety of subjects that are addressed in today's classrooms is mind-boggling, how does one explain that many youths experience boredom at school? Does the number of subjects correspond to a real learning need or is it rather a fashion? Do we really want such complexity? What are the essential elements of a good education?

History gives perspective and, in this particular case, it teaches us a precious lesson. You might be surprised to learn that, for almost two thousand years, since the times of Aristotle until the Renaissance, a good education consisted only of three subjects.

In ancient times and during the Middle Ages, there was no radio, no television, and no internet. Books were expensive and difficult to reproduce. The thoughts of the past were carefully compiled and copied by hand. Education represented a considerable investment and was held in high regard.

The three essential ingredients of personal development

Pupils traveled hundreds of kilometres in order to enroll in schools that featured famous speakers. The subjects that students were taught equipped them with the most crucial skills that a man needs in life, whatever his later choice of profession. If you mastered those three subjects, chances were that you would do well in life:

1.- LEARN TO THINK LOGICALLY. Even during periods of intense religiosity, such as medieval times, the study of Aristotle's essays on logic was considered indispensable. The mark of an educated man was his ability to think consistently, find patterns, and draw conclusions from events. Even though this subject has disappeared from the school curriculum in many countries, anyone can afford to buy a copy of Aristotle's works. When it comes to learning logic, the only barriers to acquiring knowledge are self-inflicted.

2.- DEVELOP YOUR LANGUAGE SKILLS. Communicating your thoughts orally and in writing is the basis of most commercial activities. Without proper syntax, men cannot make themselves understood. Language allows individuals to formulate complex connections between facts. Creativity without grammar frequently turns out to be meaningless. The simple practice of reading good authors will boost your ability to communicate in any field. Access to public libraries is free in most countries. Are you using that possibility to your full advantage?

3.- MAINTAIN HIGH ETHICAL STANDARDS. The science of human choices played a central role in education since the times of the Ancient Greeks. Aristotle himself recognized the importance of learning moral values as milestones in the path to individual happiness. Another benefit of studying ethics is learning from other people's mistakes. Making your own errors will teach you unforgettable lessons, but learning from publications and good speakers is less expensive. In our days, books are cheap and internet access is widespread. If you want to learn, you will find many doors open.

The three pillars of personal growth

Do not pay attention to those who criticize schools and teachers. Complaining is not going to solve any problem. Realize that you are responsible for your own education, self-confidence, and personal development. Identify which knowledge you are missing and go for it. The world is full of opportunities for those who want to learn. Make sure that you have the three basic ingredients well covered, move on, and pursue your growth.

For more information about rational living and personal development, I refer you to my book The 10 Principles of Rational Living


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Saturday, 19 April 2014

Long-term thinking requires sustained effort. The most scarce resource is invisible. A strong sense of direction wins over random noise. Steady progress, even if slow, is a major achievement in itself

You cannot drive a car without traffic signs, a map, or at the very least, knowing where you want to go. A sense of direction allows man to make decisions, assess costs, and trade off alternatives. Most people are aware of the importance of setting goals in life, but in order to avoid losing motivation, it is crucial to keep your objectives visible to yourself. There are four reasons for that:

Long-term thinking requires sustained effort

Without reflection and concentration, human life tends to decay into a succession of events without order nor enjoyment. Using your days wisely and making the best of your life is impossible without long-term thinking. Keeping your major objectives in front of your eyes enables you to steer out of time-wasters.

The most scarce resource is invisible

Time continues to flow whether we have a great life or not. In the end, our days will be gone anyway. The question is how to live them in the best possible way. Happiness is never automatic. It requires thinking, goals, action, and progress. Keeping your dreams visible makes you aware of the passage of time and prompts you to move in your chosen direction.

A strong sense of direction wins over random noise

Daily events are meaningless without perspective. In addition, the random noise of nihilism and nonsense tends to discourage clear thinking. Maintaining a list of your goals in a visible place helps you ignore the noise of the world. Knowing where you are going is a fundamental element of self-confidence. It allows you to discard what cannot work and persist in what will. Only by ignoring noise can we put our energies to good use.

Steady progress, even if slow, is a major achievement in itself

The term success is frequently attributed only to spectacular victories. On the other hand, one should never forget that, behind every major achievement, there are years of preparation and relentless action. Place your long-term goals where you can see them everyday. That is the best manner to remind yourself that something needs to be done right now in order to keep advancing towards your objectives.

You cannot reach your destination without a plan, a list of actions, and the will to correct mistakes as they happen. Long-term goals allow man to evaluate alternatives, discard wasteful undertakings, and learn from experience. Setting goals in life is essential, but without constant action, little will be achieved. Keeping objectives present in our mind is what enables us to align present reality with future achievement.

For more information about rational living and personal development, I refer you to my book The 10 Principles of Rational Living


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Friday, 18 April 2014

How rational living promotes self-confidence and peace of mind. The antidote to stress, discouragement, and despondency. Consistent purposeful action

Self-confidence is the most admired character trait that actors play in movies. For most people, it dwarfs any other psychological or physical attribute in terms of desirability. What is the key to attaining self-assurance? Does it come from internal sources or from external validation?

Rational living promotes self-confidence and peace of mind

Most advice given on the subject consists of isolated prescriptions without logic or context. Telling people to repeat in their head that they are capable and positive does not help much. Focusing on external aspects, such as clothing, might lead individuals to think that they lack fundamental value.

For two thousand years, the writings of philosophers have linked personal happiness to a feeling of certainty. The serenity that comes from trusting the future cannot be replaced by artificial beliefs.

Self-reliance is the consequence of following the essential principles of reality, namely:

  1. What happens in the world is determined by the law of cause and effect.
  2. Human beings possess the unique characteristic of being able to set their own goals.
  3. Consistent purposeful action is the decisive factor that shapes the future of an individual.
  4. Ambitious long-term goals can be achieved by means of relentless activity in the chosen field.
  5. Progress is a natural process driven by persistence, mistakes, learning, and refocusing.

The antidote to stress, discouragement, and despondency

Despite the impression that one might gain from watching films, self-assurance is not a supernatural quality that chance bestows on certain people. It is not an innate talent or physical capacity that only a few inherit, but the result of continuous personal growth. It takes substantial effort to develop and maintain self-reliance.

Lack of trust in the future is originated by the conviction that nothing can be done to improve one's situation. The size of problems and obstacles is exaggerated. Opportunities are overlooked. Alternatives are not explored. The impact of external forces is magnified beyond measurement.

Consistent purposeful action

The opposite process takes place when we acquire a healthy, rational view of the world. We become conscious of the fact that, primarily, our actions will define how our life turns out. We learn to deal with the undesirable aspects of reality by taking appropriate steps. We focus on steadfast activity rather than on elements that we cannot control.

Uninterrupted focus on one area allows accelerated learning. Incessant alertness permits to discover opportunities that remain invisible to most. Self-reliance is the result of implementing rational thinking through long-term undertakings. If you pursue worthy goals through consistent action, self-confidence is your natural due. Claim it.

For more information about rational living and personal development, I refer you to my book The 10 Principles of Rational Living


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Thursday, 17 April 2014

The man who put labels on bricks. I bent over and looked closer at the bricks, wondering what was so special about them. To me, they appeared to be normal red bricks. What's the point of setting labels on bricks?

I had not seen the man on my way up to the mountain. Otherwise I would have remembered. He had set up a wooden table next to the path that led to the Inca ruins, offering his merchandise to the tourists.

I stood still in front of the table and inspected the products with curiosity. The table was covered with red bricks. Old bricks, as far as I could tell.

I bent over and looked closer at the bricks, wondering what was so special about them. To me, they appeared to be normal red bricks, such as those that you would find on any construction site. I contemplated the man behind the table for a moment, trying to assess his age.

The brick salesman was in his late thirties or early forties and had an intelligent look about him. Nevertheless, it was obvious that the poor man had lost his mind. As I walked away, I shook my head, feeling sorry for him.

What could possibly have happened to him? How come that he had lost his capacity for reasoning? After walking a few steps, I decided to inquire about the cause of his lunacy. I returned to his table, only to see that he was putting labels on the bricks.

He would pick up a brick, examine it carefully, remove a sticker from a plastic sheet that he had laid on the table, and then he would place the sticker on the brick. Each sticker had a hand-written name on it.

While the man continued to place labels on the bricks, I picked one of them and read the word on its label. "Kon" it read. What on earth is Kon, I asked myself. I put the brick back on the table and picked up another one. This time, I found the word "Apu" written on it. Apu? What was that supposed to mean?

The man placed the labels calmly on the last bricks and turned to me. "Which one do you like best?" he asked. I hesitated before replying, since I did not want to hurt his feelings. Most likely, it was not his fault if he had lost his mind. "Kon is a good choice," he went on, "but if you allow me, I think that Apu would be the most suitable for you."

My reaction came instantly, as I was suspecting him of a hidden attack against my honour. "Why do you say so? What does Apu mean?" The man smiled at my incomprehension. "Kon is the Inca God of the Wind, the God who brings good weather," he explained. "And Apu is the God of the Mountains, the God who exercises his power through kindness and understanding."

I could not help feeling flattered by the man's words. I have always liked to portray myself as a kind person and I believe that once I even heard someone actually called me so. "But what's the point of setting labels on red bricks?" I countered, puzzled. I did my best to formulate my question in a way that did not sound insulting.

The man seemed not to remark the absurdity of the situation and replied in a matter-of-fact tone. ''The brick it's just a symbol," he indicated patiently. "Like bricks, human beings are all essentially the same, but like Gods, each individual is different. Each man's uniqueness lies in his calling."

I won't tell you how much I paid for the brick, but I think that the price was worth the story. Even years later, I still keep the red brick on my living room table. Every visitor that has come to my home has picked up the brick, read the label, and asked me what Apu means. "Apu," I always begin, "let me tell you about Apu."

For more information about rational living and personal development, I refer you to my book The 10 Principles of Rational Living 


[Image by Gusjer under Creative Commons Attribution License. See the license terms under]

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Hippocrates identified the basic rules. Allow nature to exert its curative powers. Holistic medicine is based on ancient precepts. Millions of people still make the same mistakes

Medicine and other sciences have advanced immensely since Antiquity. Unfortunately, many of their fundamental principles have barely spread beyond the circle of professionals and specialists. Even in the 21st century, important segments of the population still know less about their own health than about sports or entertainment celebrities.

Hippocrates identified the basic rules

Hippocrates (460-370 BC), the most famous physician of Ancient Greece, already identified basic rules for protecting our health. However, although many generations have passed, his major discovery, the idea that sickness rarely happens by chance, is still ignored by millions of people.

Centuries ago, the belief that illness was a matter of bad luck was widespread in society. In our days, even though such conception has become less prevalent, it still plays a key role in determining how we live, how we see ourselves, and how we make important decisions. 

Allow nature to exert its curative powers

According to Hippocrates, medical practitioners should above all allow nature to exert its curative powers on patients. Artificial remedies should be avoided because they interfere with the self-healing capacities of our body. Treatments should be mild and gentle, aiming at helping patients recover their energies and strengthen their natural defences.

Illness, better than cured, should be prevented whenever possible. Hippocrates named the three essential risks that are, in most cases, responsible for our physical decay: our food, our environment, and our personal habits. The conclusion that follows is that each individual is primarily responsible for his own health, barring irresistible accident or catastrophe.

Holistic medicine is based on ancient precepts

Modern holistic medicine has adopted many of Hippocrates' precepts, emphasizing a balanced diet, adequate rest, mild exercise, and peace of mind. Does it not stand to reason that it is immeasurably less expensive to avoid sickness than to cure it? Why do millions of individuals destroy their health thought self-defeating behaviour?

No one possesses perfect knowledge of the impact of each of his actions on his own health, but we do know enough to be able to prevent a large number of self-inflicted diseases. How many people are actually unaware of the perverse effects of smoking? What percentage of heavy drinkers can claim to ignore the dire consequences of excessive alcohol intake?

The answers to those questions point out to individual responsibility. In ancient times, patients used to blame sickness on supernatural forces. Nowadays, victims of their own faulty behaviour frequently blame third parties for illness or injury. In some cases, this is done with the aim of seeking a financial reward or other type of compensation.

Millions of people still make the same mistakes

During the last fifty years, massive efforts have been devoted to raising public awareness of fundamental health issues. The results, however, are all but encouraging. Advertising campaigns aiming at making individuals more responsible for their own health have still to provide evidence of long-term success.

If we look around, we still see millions of people making the same mistakes that citizens of Ancient Greece made in Hippocrates' time. We remain passive in the face of environmental threats to our health, we eat the wrong food or too much of it, and we lead unsustainable lifestyles that end up damaging our body.

What is the reason of the failure of most attempts to increase personal responsibility in health matters? Are people impervious to rational arguments? Is the message not sufficiently powerful or interesting? Shouldn't the importance of a good health not be self-evident to an adult audience?

The root of the problem might lie more in the theory than in its implementation. The whole discussion about responsibility might be missing an essential factor whose role in health protection is little understood, namely, entrepreneurship. Individuals who possess personal initiative want to take their destiny into their own hands, not only financially, but also in the area of physical and mental well-being.

Entrepreneurship helps prevent sickness

Entrepreneurship helps prevent sickness because it trains the mind to compare current actions with future consequences. Medical doctors advise patients to behave and eat rationally. Similarly, businessmen assess markets, identify what consumers want to buy, and design their products accordingly.

They know that going against the facts of reality will fail to produce profits or, even worse, might push them into bankruptcy. Mistakes teach entrepreneurs what doesn't work. Errors force them to correct a misguided course. Their efforts are channelled productively into worthy pursuits.

Better health starts with a better lifestyle

Business is at the same time self-regulating and self-encouraging. In the market, virtuous behaviour tends to occur naturally because it furthers businessmen's own interests. There is no reason that would prevent a similar process from taking place in the field of preventive medicine.

If we want to improve our health, entrepreneurship is a workable, although far from self-evident solution. Few people change their lifestyle before they internalize the necessity to do it.

Smokers who quit their noxious habit have often been shaken by the realization that they are shortening their days. Their transformation frequently takes place after witnessing a fellow smoker die of lung cancer.

Rote learning rarely instils personal responsibility, neither in the field of preventive medicine nor in other areas. Entrepreneurship is a much better approach to encouraging individuals to take command of their health.

Principles that should be engraved in our souls

Hippocrates' principles should not be engraved in stone, but in our souls. They should not be presented as dead words, but as promises of a better future.

The essential characteristic of entrepreneurship, the need of constant focused action, promotes rapid learning to an extent that no education system can equal. Telling someone a hundred times a day that he should behave responsibly will simply put him to sleep.

In contrast, showing him the advantages of entrepreneurial action might whet his curiosity and prompt him to action. What man learns through example and experience is rarely forgotten. Hippocrates, who also made a point of practising his own theories and preaching by example, lived to be 90 years old.

For more information about rational living and personal development, I refer you to my book The 10 Principles of Rational Living 

[Image by David Berkowitz under Creative Commons Attribution License. See the license terms under]