Sunday, 31 August 2014

The art of happiness and psychological strength

I have been often accused of being too optimistic. People frequently tell me that I see things in a too positive way, and that I fail to realize how serious some problems are. I am also often told that my theories are unworkable, that there is no way anyone can maintain his mental balance when everything turns against him. Yet, I must smile when I receive this kind of criticism, since I know very well that I am being misunderstood.

Indeed, rational optimism is counter-intuitive. Our natural reaction to problems is to feel stressed, and focus exclusively on our most pressing concerns. It is part of human nature that, when someone is facing severe difficulties, he blows his problems out of proportion, and becomes blind to opportunity.

I know that this happens all the time because it used to happen to me. It takes substantial effort to train yourself to maintain an objective look of reality, and not fall prey to the temptation of focusing exclusively on the problem of the hour. It is only by the increasing your knowledge that you can learn to react adequately to difficulties, lower your stress, and increase your effectiveness.

An interesting intellectual problem

Paradoxically, the strengthening of human serenity is an intellectual problem that has more to do with accounting that with psychology. The fact that people tend to overlook that there is plenty of light in the darkness has more to do with their failure to perform correct calculations than with any psychological impairment.

Yes, I believe that there is plenty of light in the darkness, even in the most profound discouragement and despondency. However, you will only be able to see the light if you maintain an objective view of the situation.

This is why I am fond of comparing psychological processes with accounting problems. If people learned to put their emotions aside, and view their problems in a businesslike manner, they would be able to see, not only their liabilities, but also their assets. If a correct accounting of the facts was done, the mental resiliency of most people would be incomparably higher. Nonetheless, I am aware that this is very difficult to do.

The accounting approach to solving problems, all kind of problems, only began in the 15th century. It started as part of the Renaissance culture, in particular as expressed in the works of Luca Bartolomeo Pacioli (1445-1518).

Pacioli was born on Borgo San Sepolcro, which was just a mid-sized village at that time, although it has in the meantime grown to become a substantial town. Borgo San Sepolcro, or San Sepolcro for short, is located 60 km north of Perugia, a large city south of Venice, in Italy.

With time, Pacioli grew to become one the most-in-demand teachers of his time, partly because of his own talent, and partly because of his friendship with Piero della Francesca (1420-1492). It was Della Francesca who had helped established the new fashion of painting portraits and landscapes by using a consistent perspective.

Not only did Della Francesca produce amazing paintings, but he also wrote two treatises on the subject. In his books “Perspective in Painting” and “The Five Regular Bodies,” he defended the theory that beauty andharmony primary depend on the adoption of a consistent perspective, from the point of view of the artist and the viewer.

Taking old ideas and expanding their scope

Della Francesca was a great theorist in the field of art, and but it was Pacioli who took these ideas and began to apply them to other areas of human knowledge. Piero della Francesca was 25 years older than Pacioli, but both lived in San Sepolcro at the same point in time, and became close friends.

It was also Della Francesca who introduced the young Pacioli to the Count of Urbino, who then granted Pacioli access to his library. As the legend goes, the Count of Urbino had accumulated six hundred volumes on different subjects, mostly copies of ancient Roman and Greek works, but I must hasten to add that Urbino's library did not primarily consist of printed books. Most volumes in his collection were texts copied by hand on parchment, and then bounded in leather.

Pacioli's access to Urbino's library had the effect of awakening his intellectual ambitions, and enabled him to conceive wide-ranging abstractions. Pacioli did not just want to learn mathematics, but was also interested in philosophy. He wanted to find the principles that govern everything in the universe. In this sense, he went much farther than Della Francesca, who was mainly interested in painting.

Initially, Pacioli set out to be a merchant. He received basic bookkeeping instruction in San Sepolcro, and then found a job as private tutor through the intervention of Della Francesca. The job involved moving from San Sepolcro to Venice, to the prestigious island of the Giudeca, where Pacioli became the tutor of the two sons of merchant Antonio Rompiasi.

The job provided Pacioli not only with a source of income, but also with the opportunity to meet all sorts of learned people in Venice, as well as to continue to read extensively, and expand his knowledge of mathematics, geometry, and business practices.

By the time the sons of Antonio Rompiasi entered adulthood, Pacioli had become a well-rounded intellectual, widely read in accounting and mathematics. In fact, he had by then acquired a small-celebrity status in Venice, and this procured him letters of introduction to look for a teaching position in Rome.

Opening new possibilities

Whether Pacioli arrived in Rome, he was 23 years old. He was introduced to several cardinals, and eventually also to the Pope. Nevertheless, he was not offered the teaching position he was looking for, since he was neither a Catholic priest nor a member of a Catholic order.

The advice he received from the cardinals and the Pope was that he should join a Catholic order, so that he could devote his life to teaching and learning. Pacioli reflected on the matter for a month, and agreed to join the Franciscan order. For that purpose, he spent a year and a half studying theology in Rome, and then became a Franciscan monk shortly after his 25th birthday.

This step opened him a wide array of possibilities, professional and intellectual. It allowed him sufficient time to read and write, and enabled him to find teaching positions all around Italy. Franciscan monks were supposed to be poor, and have no personal possessions, but this did not prevent the Franciscan Order from owning a network of houses all around the country, and exerting a strong influence on the appointment of professors in Italian universities.

It was thanks to his status of Franciscan monk that Pacioli then managed, during the next 40 years, to occupy a succession of teaching positions in Florence, Venice, Perugia, Croatia, Naples, Urbino, Milan, and Bologna.

The travelling involved in his teaching activities enabled Pacioli to meet practically all intellectuals of the Italian Renaissance. Amongst others, he met Leonardo da Vinci in Florence, in the period from 1497 to 1498. Pacioli and Leonardo then became such close friends, that Leonardo later provided the drawings to illustrate one of Pacioli's publications.

All that has remained from Pacioli are his writings, from which two books are particularly important, from the point of view of accounting, and from the point of view of philosophy. First, he wrote a “Handbook of Arithmetic, Geometry, Proportion, and Proportionality,” which was published in 1493, and a decade later, “On the Divine Proportion,” which was published in 1503.

The work of a man of genius

The Handbook was the first treatise ever published on algebra, geometry, and bookkeeping for financial purposes. As far as we know, Pacioli was not an innovator in what he wrote, but he was a great compiler and generaliser.

He took the mathematical knowledge of his time, organized it, and drew conclusions for its application in other areas. Making such a compilation was the work of a man of genius. The effort to understand a field of knowledge in depth, and condense its general principles is a major intellectual undertaking. It requires patience, reflection, and long-term intellectual ambition, a combination of qualities that no mathematician in Europe had displayed before Pacioli.

Pacioli's Handbook of Arithmetic, Geometry, Proportion, and Proportionality contains a chapter exclusively dedicated to bookkeeping. This chapter is titled “Particularis de computis et scripturis,” which means, “On the particulars of financial calculation and accounting.”

In this chapter, Pacioli presents in an organised way the bookkeeping practices that Venetian merchants were using in their businesses. Of course, Pacioli had learned those practices during the period when he had been working as a private tutor of the sons of Antonio Rompiasi, a leading Venetian merchant.

For the first time in history, Pacioli put on paper a method that allowed to record mathematically all transactions involving goods or services. Pacioli explained in great detail the process used by Venetian merchants to keep track of large numbers of purchases, items in storage, and sales to customers located not only in Venice, but also in Germany, France, Belgium, and the Middle East; sales made not only in Venetian currency, but also in other currencies.

Pacioli's explanations were so clear and comprehensive that his work became the most widely used accounting textbook in Europe for the next three hundred years, which is a remarkable feat. The way in which Pacioli presents accounting problems is also rather philosophical. He says that, if you follow the process he describes to establish a balance sheet, you will never lose track of the situation of your business.

Never lose track of the big picture

“A conscientious businessman,” he writes, “records his transactions every day, regularly calculates his profits and losses, and never loses track of his overall financial position, since this is the only way to prevent serious mistakes.”

Pacioli's work presents the complete accounting cycle, starting with the daily records, and ending with the annual accounts. On the one hand, he describes the techniques for keeping track of profits and losses, indicating how to record sales and inventory movements, and write off damaged items. On the other hand, he explains how to consolidate the transactions performed over a period of time into a balance sheet that shows the assets and liabilities, and provides an overview of a merchant's financial situation.

The balance sheet structure described by Pacioli in 1493 is still used in the 21st century. The distinction between the different types of assets, such as buildings, cash, receivables, and inventory has remained the same, and Pacioli's recommendation to split liabilities into short-term and long-term debts still constitutes the way accountants work in our days.

His recommendation to draw a profit-and-loss calculation together with a balance sheet every quarter, and also at the end of each calendar year, is exactly the way companies continue to operate all around the world five centuries after Pacioli published his Handbook.

Pacioli later expanded his theories in his work “On the Divine Proportion,” where he propounds the existence of a divine, natural proportion in all aspects of life. In a way, Pacioli was now trying to apply his concepts of profit-and-loss, assets, and liabilities to all areas of human activity.

The same equilibrium that can be expected in a balance sheet, the same matching of assets and liabilities, should now apply to medicine, law, grammar, architecture, painting, sculpture, music, and literature.

Every area of human action should be governed by the search of harmonious proportions, thus preventing the use of excessive resources to attain a goal, and ensuring a fair allocation of efforts amongst desirable objectives.

By following this reasoning, physicians must assess the favourable and unfavourable aspects of their patients' situation before making a diagnosis and prescribing a treatment. Similarly, lawyers must review the advantages and disadvantages of their clients' legal position before advising them how to proceed.

Universal balance and proportion

Pacioli developed the idea of universal balance and proportion in a series of lectures he gave during the last ten years of his life. His work “On the Divine Proportion” had mostly dealt with painting and architecture, but during his teaching activity in the early 16th century, he proposed the application of the same principle to medicine, law, grammar, sculpture, music, and literature.

And this leads me to the areas of psychology and philosophy. If Pacioli propounded that all human actions should be guided by a sense of proportion, by a fair balance between assets and liabilities, it is because he understood that you cannot achieve good results if you lose the overview of your situation.

In his handbook published in 1493, he described how Venetian merchants recorded in simple terms extremely complex transactions involving barters, loans, purchases, investments, transportation, and insurance, and in ways that allow them to keep track of those transactions without losing visibility of their overall financial position. Conversely, when people become extremely pessimistic about their future and the future of the world, they tend to focus on just a few elements, and forget about the bigpicture.

Two decades before Pacioli, Piero della Francesca had already arrived at the conclusion that only paintings that have the right proportions can be regarded as beautiful and harmonious. Leonardo da Vinci, who had learned the principles of proportionality from Pacioli in 1497, incorporated those in his masterpiece “The Last Supper.” Proportion andbalance constitute two essential requirements for success.

How to remain optimistic

Also in the area of psychology, you need to keep track on a regular basis of your assets and liabilities, since keeping those in mind is essential for remaining optimistic. When people focus on isolated elements and forget about the whole picture, they tend to lose track of their assets and liabilities, and drive their emotions to extremes. In the same way as merchants calculate their profits, losses, assets, and liabilities, well-balanced individuals need to keep an overview of their strengths and weaknesses, short- and long-term goals.

Even in the darkest situations, when everything seems to be falling apart, well-balanced individuals can still keep the big picture in mind. Merchants know that, from time to time, they are going to incur some losses, but that those do not represent the end of the world. Part of their inventory may be lost in a shipwreck, or maybe has to be written off because it has gone out of fashion. That's too bad, but it's no reason to despair. Overall, the accounts can still be satisfactorily balanced.

Such disruptions in the conduct of business must be regarded as normal, in the sense that, they can be expected to happen from time to time. Such problems won't make an experienced merchant panic because he knows that, as long as he keeps the overview, he can still repair his balance sheet.

Never lose your nerve in difficult situations

In the same way, well-balanced individuals do not despair when they are going through difficult periods in their health, relationships, of personal finances. Their ability to see that there is still plenty of light in the darkness entails a form of psychological accounting. As long as they are able to keep the big picture in mind, they are highly unlikely to lose their nerve.

Undoubtedly, Pacioli was a pioneer in his attempt to seek balance and proportion in all human activities. He did not write about psychology, since this was not yet an established area of knowledge in the Renaissance, but he recommended using double-entry bookkeeping for all kinds of transactions.

Thus every product sale must have an impact on the inventory, which is decreased, and the income, which is increased; and every investment must have an impact on the assets, on the one hand, and the debts or capital, on the other.

Similarly, in the area of human emotions, people should strive to look for balance and proportion, so that they never lose track of their assets and liabilities, problems and opportunities, misfortunes and lucky streaks.

Choose a consistent perspective

Pacioli defended the view that the universe has a propensity towards balance and proportionality. A harmonious painting must offer a consistent perspective and a well-composed structure. This is why Leonardo's work “The Last Supper” is so impressive, since all figures are perfectly proportioned. This is the type of proportion that we should be seeking in our careers, relationships, health, and emotions.

The ability to search for balance and proportion is essential for maintaining a good emotional balance, especially in critical situations. The lessons to be learned from Pacioli are not only financial, but also philosophical and psychological. The search for a balanced perspective should be taught in schools and universities. It is a piece of knowledge that explains why so many people become extremely emotional, make terrible decisions, and engage in counter-productive actions.

It is only by maintaining an overview of our assets and liabilities that we can ensure our emotional stability. Those who can preserve the ability to look at the big picture can be assured that, even in the darkest moments, they are always going to be able to see plenty of light.

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

[Text: copyright John Vespasian, 2014]

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

The 10 Principles of Rational Living

Friday, 29 August 2014

How to relieve anxiety in times of adversity

The main difference between individuals who become desperate and those still keep trying despite countless disappointments is that the latter are able to imagine a positive outcome at the end of their story. When you see people turn completely pessimistic, abandon their dreams, and conclude that there is no future for them, you are witnessing people who cannot conceive of a solution to their problems.

Yet, it is easy to fall into this kind of situation if you don't keep a rational perspective of life. Unless you make the effort to maintain a healthy optimism, there is no way that you can solve your problems. Unfortunately, it happens all too often that people who are severely sick, or who are experiencing financial difficulties, lose their self-confidence, and suffer a nervous breakdown. In this way, they are closing the door to the opportunities for improvement. They are depriving themselves of any possibility of emerging as winners on the other side of the tunnel.

The main difficulty in remaining optimistic in times of adversity is that you cannot get yourself to believe that things are going to turn out right unless you make the effort to compare your situation with a similar one that has also turned out right, so that you can draw the conclusion that you still have a chance. Unless you can see that someone else has overcome similar problems, it is extremely difficult to convince yourself that you can still win. 

The crucial ability that you are going to need 

The ability to imagine a positive outcome is crucial for maintaining an optimistic attitude, which is one of the key factors for overcoming severe problems. If you allow yourself to fall into a spiral of negative thoughts, you will find it much more difficult to solve your problems. Thus it is imperative that you make the effort to maintain a balanced view of the events. You have to force yourself to look at the situation in an objective manner, so that you can increase your chances of solving your problems.

Whenever I have to speak about how to acquire this crucial ability, I always tell the story of Joseph Abbeel. It is a fascinating story from the 19th century, showing how a man can survive, and still have a good life despite massive problems, terrible reversals, and endless calamities. When people get depressed by looking at their own situation, I always ask them to compare their chances with those of Joseph Abbeel.

Abbeel lived in the period between 1786 to 1866. As far as we can conclude from existing records, he had a quick mind despite his meagre education. His mental agility is shown by the fact that, although he had only learned the basics of Latin and French at school (together with his Flemish mother tongue), he later picked up German, Polish, and Russian during his travels. He was also unique in that he wrote his memoirs in 1817, giving posterity a fascinating insight into that period of European history.

When Abbeel turned 20 years old, he was forced to leave his job at this father's beer brewery, and enlist in the French army. At the time, the French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte was engaged in wars all around Europe, and often resorted to recruiting foreign soldiers for his military campaigns.

Amongst other military campaigns, Abbeel was sent to fight in Austria and Germany several times, and had to serve as a soldier in the French army for ten years, without actually accumulating any money. When Napoleon lost his empire, thousands of soldiers remained unpaid. Abbeel not only did not draw any financial benefits from the war, but had to suffer all kinds of injuries during his ten years as a solider. 

The worst experience of his life 

The worst part of Abbeel's experience was his participation in the Napoleonic invasion of Russia in 1812, which turned out to be a complete disaster, resulting in the death of 76% of all the soldiers that had accompanied Napoleon.

In addition, Abbeel was taken prisoner after the war, while he was retreating through Germany. The Russians forced him, together with another 6000 prisoners, to walk back from Hamburg to Moscow, and then from Moscow to Kazan, where he was imprisoned in horrible conditions for almost three years. From the 6000 war prisoners that were taken to Kazan, only 170 survived.

To give you an idea of the extreme situations that Abbeel had to face, I have extracted these facts from the memoirs he wrote in 1817:
  • His horse was shot down.
  • Abbeel was then shot in the arm.
  • Then he became deadly sick with typhus.
  • He fell into a sort of comma, and the military surgeon declared him dead, giving orders for his burial. Fortunately, Abbeel woke up by the time he was going to be buried alive.
  • He went repeatedly through near-starvation conditions, sometimes having to go without food for two weeks.
  • He took part in battles were so many people died, and where the reigning chaos made it impossible to move for days, so that Abbeel had to spent several nights sleeping amongst the corpses of fellow soldiers.
  • When Napoleon ordered the retreat from Moscow, Abbeel had to walk two hundred kilometres on land covered by half a meter of snow.
The difference between many of those who died and Abbeel is that he never gave up. When he was taken prisoner by the Russians, he escaped three times. When he was starving, he still found ways to procure food, whether it was by eating horse meat or horse blood, or by mixing flour with water to make dough, which he ate uncooked. 

He never gave up his will to survive 

Abbeel never gave up his will to survive even in the most terrible circumstances. If you take into account the number of soldiers that were taken prisoners, Abbeel's chances of survival were only 2.8%, which is an extremely low figure, much lower than the survival chances of most people who are diagnosed with cancer nowadays.

After Abbeel was eventually released from his imprisonment in 1815, he had to return to Belgium by walking all the way through Russia, Lithuania, Poland, and Germany, with no money in his pockets. Upon his arrival in Belgium, he did not despair, and refrained from complaining about his penuries. He was then 29 years old, and had no savings, and no profession. He had just wasted ten years of his life by fighting wars for which he did not care at all.

Abbeel managed to survive against incredible odds in terrible situations. There are no many situations in life where someone's chances of survival are only 2.8%. Frankly, I don't know personally anybody in such a situation. Even the impoverished people often reported by newspapers and television are seldom in situations as terrible as that of Joseph Abbeel. 

The reason why Abbeel managed to survive is because he was a always able to picture a positive outcome to his story. He never gave up, and he never despaired. When he wrote his memoirs in 1817, he recalled many critical situations with humour and satire. His memoirs do not tell the story of a bitter man wronged by the world, but the story of a man who has learned from experience that you can still survive when everything turns against you, provided that you continue to look for opportunities, and make the best of what is available. 

It is possible to rebuild your life from scratch 

After Abbeel returned to Belgium, he managed to rebuild his life. He did not go back to his original profession of beer brewer, but found a clerical job in Kaster, a small municipality. Ten years later, he became a house-master in a primary school, and during his last years, he worked as a municipal tax collector. Abbeel died at the ripe age of 80 years, decades later than the great majority of soldiers that had taken part in the Napoleonic wars.

Is your situation as hopeless as that of Joseph Abbeel? Are you facing threats that are so severe that make it impossible to imagine a positive outcome? Are you assailed by problems so terrible that prevent you from conceiving the idea of winning?

I very much doubt it. I have already seen too many individuals give up their dreams for no good reason. I have already seen too many people fall prey to the negative messages of the media, their family, and their friends. Do not fall into this trap.

You have to make the effort to remain objective and rational despite your problems. You have to force you to figure out a way in which you can still come out a winner. You have to compare your chances of solving your problems with the 2.8% survival chances of Joseph Abbeel.

It is only by imagining a positive outcome of your situation that you can start to turn things round, but beware that nobody can conduct this thinking process for you. You have to stay awake and alert, thinking about your options. You have to keep looking for new ideas and new knowledge, so that you never fall prey to despair.

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

[Text: copyright John Vespasian, 2014]

[Image: picture taken by John Vespasian, 2014]

The 10 Principles of Rational Living

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Thoughts on achieving success despite other people's mistakes

When someone is looking look for a job, he sends his resume around, replies to advertisements, and finally, he gets invited to interviews. Being the employment market what it is, candidates are rejected in nine out of ten cases. A week after the interview, they receive a phone call informing them that another applicant has been chosen to fill the open position.

How to deal effectively with other people's errors

Sometimes, there is a good reason why another person has been selected for that post, but a certain element of randomness influences a large proportion of hiring processes. On many occasions, the choice cannot be rationally justified and one should not waste time trying to figure out mysterious reasons that do not exist.

An element of arbitrariness is not foreign to those cases, as it happens in countless human activities. Why did you buy this make of car and not that one? Would you repeat that purchase today? How did you come to choose your family doctor? Do you remember how you met each of your best friends?

Don't waste your time trying to find logical explanations for stupid mistakes

What is surprising is people's reaction to failure and rejection. Chances are that the candidate who has not been selected for a particular job will get to hear from his family and friends that he should improve his attitude, manners, clothing, hairdo, and who knows how many other aspects.

Salesmen who go through a difficult period also get served a menu of motivational speeches and meetings to discuss their attitude. In other professions, such as sports, acting, or management, the story runs a parallel course. The problem, you will be told, is in how you see the world.

The role that enthusiasm plays in success is massively overrated

Well, luckily, this is not true. Enthusiasm and attitude play a certain role in performance, but their importance should not be overemphasized. If you pause to think for a second, you will realize that the professionals whom you most trust don't seem to be excessively driven or enthusiastic.

What you expect primarily from your doctor, lawyer, plumber, or car mechanic is not that they are greatly inspiring, but that they do a good job and deliver competent service. Action is what we want to see. Service is what we want to receive. Predictable, rational action is one million times more valuable than attitude and motivation.

Action is the essential factor that gets things done, sold, and delivered. The candidate who has not been selected for the job should not spend too much time wallowing in self-recrimination about what he could have done better. If he can draw some useful lesson for the future, so much the better, but in most cases, a failed interview was just a sale that didn't close.

Only productive, rational effort can bring you closer to prosperity and happiness

Don't devote your worthy hours to speculate about undefined psychological factors, arbitrary theories, and nonsensical advice. Professional salesmen know that, given enough time and effort, they will find more customers. Watching, hoping, and talking seldom help. Only productive effort can bring you closer to success.

Athletes are motivated when they compete, but in the end, it is their past training what usually determines who will win the race. Instead of speculative advice, choose the wisdom of rational action. Let others wonder if the world should be this or that way. Move on, redouble your attempts to reach the place you want to be, and let your actions speak for themselves.

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


[Image by Randy Son Of Robert under Creative Commons Attribution License. See the license terms under]

How to build self-esteem in the face of obstacles

Rationality is the way to happiness
by John Vespasian

In a world where philosophy is often reduced to catch-phrases and empty theories, this is a passionate defence of logic and consistency as the keys to happiness. Personal effectiveness, the basis of well-being and success, results from rational goals, workable plans and relentless action. 

In the areas of career, health, relationships and investments, this essay shows how to let go of wasteful propositions, pursue compatible goals, cultivate perseverance and resilience, minimize problems and maximize opportunities. Inspired by the teachings of Aristotle, Maimonides, Erasmus, Montaigne, Epictetus and Spinoza, the book encourages readers to embrace rationality and adopt a self-reliant, entrepreneurial attitude.

Table of Contents

1. The untold key to success and happiness
Ten positive trends rarely reported by the media
The way to independent thinking
Trust only your own statistics
Achieving happiness through rationality
Wake up to a sharp vision of reality
Important lessons from history
In search of principles that make sense

2. Fundamental skills that everybody should master
Relentless initiative creates opportunities
An active mind looks for alternatives
Cultivate perseverance and resilience
Avoid waste and embrace frugality
Shun overcommitment and worry

3. The easy way to prosperity
Select a career where you can make a good living
Principles of accelerated learning
Using Ancient Mongol tactics to find employment
Discard the myth of career planning
Growth sectors in the 21st century
Those who can sell are always received well

4. Philosophical ideas to make the best of your life
Take the perspective of a lifetime
Focus on practical solutions
Self-confidence arises from preparedness
Pursue compatible goals
Concentrate your resources on essential tasks

5. Get out of losing situations
Immobility is the enemy of achievement
Train yourself to face nonsense calmly
Throw away unworkable plans
Read the writing on the wall
Take simple measures to protect yourself
You have more options than you think

6. Avoiding major mistakes
Preserve your independent thinking
Don't make the same mistake as Confucius
Entrepreneurship is the opposite of resignation
Abandon perfectionism right now
Waiting for the world to change is a waste of time

7. How to find love without making a mess of sex
Rational values are the basis of great relationships
Overcoming the main obstacle to meeting new people
The high cost of short-term romantic involvement
The entrepreneurial factor in love and friendship
What is the crucial success element in dating?
Break free from artificial social constraints

8. Saving and investing to secure your future
Take control of your financial life
Principles of rational investment
Techniques for reducing risk
How to develop self-confidence as an investor
Saving regularly brings peace of mind
The advantage of turbulent times

9. Principles of optimal health
The teachings of Maimonides
Living in accordance with nature
How psychology can improve your health
Modern theories about prolonging life
How some people live to become 100 years old
The low-cost approach to good nutrition
Effective methods for minimizing stress
Sleeping well by natural means

10. Seeking personal growth one day at a time
Embrace rational principles
The link between personal effectiveness and happiness
Become an entrepreneur in your everyday life
Do not be discouraged by your limited resources
Clear thinking gives you the ultimate advantage
It is on slow days when you make big breaks

11. Conclusion
The human need for logic and consistency
Achieving happiness in a chaotic world
Philosophy summarized in a single sentence
It takes a while, but it can be done

Rationality is the way to happiness
by John Vespasian

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Education is the key to success. Zero-cost education is even better

Many universities and colleges offer courses to improve your learning effectiveness. In those sessions, usually spread across several weeks, you will be taught to define your goals, to get organized, to be disciplined in your studies, to take notes, underline the main ideas, and review constantly what you have learned.

Why people fail to complete crucial tasks

Judging by the results, one might wonder if those courses work that well. The number of drop-outs from colleges and universities is still substantial. Wasted resources and wasted time. What a pity, people lament, but can the situation be improved? If we take a look at adult vocational training, the situation is somewhat better, but still far from ideal.

Indeed, there is plenty of room for improvement, but this is the kind of problem that cannot be solved by preaching. If conditions are going to ameliorate, this will happen only as a result of personal example. With good reason, people tend to believe more what they experience themselves than what they are told.

Effective learning can take place at minimum cost

Let me tell you a story that illustrates how effective learning can take place at minimum cost. Moses Maimonides was born in the year 1135 C.E in Cordoba, in the south of Spain. His father was a rabbi and possessed at home a few dozen books about Jewish law, medicine, and Greek philosophy.

During his infancy, Moses Maimonides, together with his older brother David, received many hours of instruction from his father, although that cannot be compared to the thousands of lessons that contemporary children receive at school. What is amazing is that, with very limited resources, Maimonides absorbed knowledge like a sponge.

His brother David began a jewellery business and Maimonides also took some part in it, at the same time that he devoted a share of his time to writing a General Commentary on Jewish law. His writings were based on the books that he had read, to which he added his own reflections.

The jewellery business had its ups and downs, but Maimonides continued researching and writing during his twenties and early thirties until he finished his commentary, which today, nine hundred years later, is still considered one of the major scholarly works on Jewish law.

What to do when you are stranded in a foreign land with no money

The family moved to Egypt in search of a better life, but a catastrophe was soon to wipe out their resources. Maimonides' brother, David, died in a shipwreck, taking down with him all the family fortune. Stranded in Egypt with no money, Maimonides opted for trying to make a living as a physician, using the medical knowledge that he had acquired in Spain.

As of 1165 C.E., during his thirties and forties, Maimonides practised medicine in Alexandria, the main port in the north of Egypt. His success was so astounding that, although Maimonides was a Jew, Sultan Saladin appointed him physician to the court. That entailed regular obligations and, every morning, Maimonides went to the royal palace to give medical consultations to the royal family and court officials.

In addition, every afternoon, he ran his private medical consultation at home, both for the Jewish and Islamic community. As though this was not enough work, every evening, he tried to devote some time to read philosophy and to continue writing.

By the time he was 50 years old, Maimonides had completed his second major work, the "Guide for the Perplexed," an extraordinary intellectual attempt to reconcile religion with Aristotelian logic. The book had a major impact in later Western thinkers and, nowadays, in the 21st century, it is still in print.

The inexpensive short cut to extraordinary knowledge

This was just the end of the second period of his writings, since later on, he began to produce texts about medicine, including a commentary on the aphorisms of the Greek physician Hippocrates. How did Moses Maimonides managed to accumulate such an extensive knowledge in different areas? Here is the explanation that I can put forward:
  1. Enormous curiosity to learn things that he considered interesting.
  2. Getting hold of a few good books in the areas of knowledge that he liked.
  3. Reading those books many times, year after year, making his own notes.
  4. Taking every opportunity to learn from experts and ask questions, driven by his curiosity.
  5. Concentrating on different fields of knowledge one after the other. In the case of Maimonides, he focused his research and writings, sequentially, on the areas of law, for about twelve years, then on philosophy, for about another twelve years, and finally, on medicine.
  6. Learning from mistakes and making corrections as he went along.
You may argue that such rules of learning were good for someone living nine centuries ago, but that they have become obsolete in our time. Modern schools and universities, such as those in the fields of law and medicine, impose strict requirements on which subjects are to be covered by students.

The rules of learning and self-development have not changed

Although the environment and demands have changed, I submit that the principles of accelerated learning have remained the same. Curiosity, personal motivation, and a few good books is all it takes to get started. For those who possess the knowledge, passing formal exams has never been a problem. Other elements, such as working experience, can be picked up as you go along.

Does this method really work?

The ultimate proof of the learning method was provided by Maimonides himself. He got married when he was 50 years old and, soon after, he had a son, whom he named Abraham. The kid read at home the same books that Maimonides had read and, already as an infant, he began to assist his father during his medical consultations.

When Maimonides died in 1204, he was 69 years old. By that time, his son Abraham, who had just turned 19, had already acquired such a reputation as physician that he was also appointed to a position in the royal court. Apparently, the system of learning had worked its wonders once again, but the story does not stop here.

During the following decades, Maimonides' grandson and the son thereof also learned the same profession at a young age and, later on, practised medicine very successfully. During the 13th and 14th centuries, they belonged to the most famous physicians of Egypt.

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

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