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 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/us]

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

[Text: http://johnvespasian.blogspot.com]

[Image by Randy Son Of Robert under Creative Commons Attribution License. See the license terms under http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/us]

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
[Text: http://johnvespasian.blogspot.com] 

[Image by RonAlmog under Creative Commons Attribution License. See the license terms under http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/us]

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Personal growth starts with getting yourself unstuck

Millions of people spend their days trying to convince themselves that change is impossible. They feel trapped by their profession, job, spouse, friendships, or financial obligations, to the extent that any attempt at improving their situation seems destined to fail. Time goes by and, after a while, they give up all hope of amelioration.

Dramatic improvement remains possible every single day


There are many reasons to experience such feeling of being driven by external events. If you look around, you might find some justifications for immobility, but do not let them make you feel powerless. The truth is that, every year, thousands of people throughout the world undertake such fundamental changes. Here are some examples:
  1. Sell their house in the city, move to a village on the coast, and build up a new life there.
  2. Drop out of their current circle of friends from one day to the next and seek out people with other values or interests.
  3. Go through their kitchen, throw away all unhealthy items, and commit to purchase exclusively wholesome food in the future.
  4. Look for a job in a field unconnected to their previous experience.
  5. Buy a bicycle and ride it every day for an hour.
  6. Unplug their television set, throw it away, and never spend another minute watching TV.
  7. Learn a foreign language and find a job in another continent.
  8. Cancel their affiliation to an organization that has been part of their lives for decades and cut off links to former associates.
  9. Liquidate their assets, move to a tax heaven, and change their nationality.
  10. Throw away all tobacco and alcohol that they have at home and never purchase or consume those again.
  11. Start up their own business during evenings and weekends, while keeping their present employment.
  12. Study nutrition, learn to cook, and lose any extra weight that they have accumulated over the years.
  13. Tell your spouse that you want a divorce, move to another place, and start building a new life.
People who embrace major personal change come from all walks of life

These cases are not as rare as you may think. People who embrace major personal changes come from all walks of life. Middle-aged or old, male or female, they hesitate long until, one day, they make the decision. Their determination to take a new road frequently antagonizes family and friends, who find their old expectations undermined.

It takes enormous courage to embark on this sort of journey. More often than not, what moves individuals to alter essential elements of their existence is the realization of the limited time they have. This may happen as a result of a major illness or simply because they outgrow their previous living conditions.


Have you reviewed lately your long-term objectives


Have you redefined your long-term objectives? What aspects of your life do you wish to improve? Stepping out of our routine and taking a few days to reflect might be the initial step. Are you considering embarking on a major change or taking an unconventional path? Should that be the case, let me wish you a quick and successful transition.

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

[Text: http://johnvespasian.blogspot.com]

[Image by Alan.V under Creative Commons Attribution License. See the license terms under http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/us]

Monday, 25 August 2014

A good health is the best confidence booster

The principles of preventive medicine have remained practically the same for centuries. The idea behind those guidelines is that individuals, barring birth defects or misfortune, should stay healthy if they lead a balanced life. Sickness is an exceptional status arising from wrong behaviour or from wounds received in combat or by accident.

Some useful things I learned from Maimonides


In Antiquity, Hippocrates formulated the precepts that a man should follow in order to maintain a good condition. In the Middle Ages, Maimonides compiled and commented Hippocrates' writings, confirming their effectiveness. Here is a summary of those principles:
  1. Ensure proper rest everyday at least for eight hours.
  2. The ideal sleeping time is between sunset and dawn.
  3. A man should not eat more than he strictly needs.
  4. Foods that are difficult to digest should be avoided.
  5. The most healthy drinks are water and wine.
  6. Bowels evacuation should take place at least once a day.
  7. Fruits, legumes, and nuts should be eaten regularly.

Common remedies that work perfectly well

Beyond those basic rules, other prescriptions of Maimonides have also been confirmed by modern medicine as highly beneficial. For instance, the recommendation that a man should sleep on his side instead of lying on his back or face. In our age, a common remedy against back pain consists of sleeping on the side, with one leg stretched and the other in the foetal position.

Another guideline from the Middle Ages encourages eating small fish. During the last decades of the twentieth century, this prescription has been confirmed by marine biology studies. Apparently, in areas of the sea polluted by chemicals, large fish, due to their size, are more likely to be contaminated than small sardines or anchovies.

Discovered by practice, confirmed by analysis


Amazingly, even the contemporary exhortation against saturated fat finds some precedents in Maimonides' writings. Nine hundred years ago, although the chemistry of the different types of fat had not yet been discovered, olive oil was already being recommended as a healthy food. At the same time, man was being advised against eating old cheese.

Most of the great physicians of Antiquity and the Middle Ages spent a good part of their lives working for kings and princes. This fact explains why, in their writings, they placed so much emphasis on recommending a balanced life as the best way of preventing disease. Nowadays, when workers are wealthier than ancient monarchs, such advice remains as valuable as in the times of Maimonides.


For more information about rational living and personal development, I refer you to my books.

Consistency: The key to permanent stress relief

[Text: http://johnvespasian.blogspot.com]

[Image by Martin Pettitt under Creative Commons Attribution License. See the license terms under http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/us]

Sunday, 24 August 2014

Consistency: The key to permanent stress relief


Consistency: The key to permanent stress relief
by John Vespasian

The thesis of this book is that the dominant ideas about how to reduce stress are ineffective because they are irrational. They hardly provide any short- or long-term relief. Reason is the only workable method to relieve stress permanently, a method that requires work and dedication, but provides excellent results.

This book presents many real-life examples that will show you how to eliminate stress in tense situations, bring peace of mind to your life, make choices that enhance your self-reliance, avoid nerve-wrecking inconsistencies, and lead a good life based on reason.

The principles presented in this book are supported by extensive historical evidence, logical arguments, and workable strategies. If you are serious about reducing the stress in your life, this book is for you.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Chapter 1 - The key skill for overcoming negative stress
What to do when problems begin to accumulate
Don't let difficult people get you down
How should you deal with unfairness?
Living happily despite rejection and negative criticism
The essential element for sleeping well

Chapter 2 - No more stress from financial difficulties
Breaking out of a stressful lifestyle
Raising yourself from disaster
Don't make this major mistake if you can avoid it
What you shouldn't do if you value your time
Here is a recipe proven by experience

Chapter 3 - A structured approach for reducing stress
The characteristics of effective remedies
Facing rapid changes and excessive pressure
An unusual method that produces wonderful results
How to reduce your tension by improving your routines
The temptation to do things you don't need to

Chapter 4 -The straightforward way to eliminate conflicts
The man who painted himself into a corner
When situations get out of control
Surviving and thriving in the face of conflict
Long hours don't necessarily lead to success
The most dangerous threat you can encounter

Chapter 5 - Get rid of anger definitively
Don't let this popular nonsense mislead you
Understanding where negative emotions come from
The drop that makes the glass overflow
Eight powerful strategies for reducing anger

Chapter 6 - Learning to overcome discouragement
Don't adopt these counter-productive strategies
How to stay afloat during difficult times
Coming out a winner despite severe adversity
A great formula for leaving discouragement behind

Chapter 7 - How to become immune to sadness
A challenge that millions of people continue to face
The main reason why people feel stressed
Breaking out of pessimism once and for all
Discarding ineffective emotional reactions

Chapter 8 - The end of worry and preoccupation
Serenity amidst poverty and sickness
How to reduce your exposure to emotional fallout
Practical techniques for getting rid of worry
Learning to be optimistic

Chapter 9 - The type of lifestyle that minimizes stress
Do you want to function better?
Here is a lifestyle worth imitating
Overcoming your constraints in a clever way
Never be embarrassed to do the right thing

Chapter 10 - The escape from stressful routines
How to put your dissatisfaction to good use
Bold steps can create exciting possibilities
If you are tired of boredom, here is some advice
The adoption of effective practices

Chapter 11 - Advice for seemingly insoluble problems
When no solutions are in sight
An advantage that you can always create for yourself
Stay away from defeatism and resignation
The critical skill for surmounting daunting obstacles

Chapter 12 - Keeping a clear mind in the face of prejudice
What to do in the face of overwhelming social pressure
Stay alert and don't overlook these threats
Are you inadvertently following a terrible example?
A safe method for navigating dangerous waters

Consistency: The key to permanent stress relief
John Vespasian

Consistency: The key to permanent stress relief

Saturday, 23 August 2014

Confidence building through long-term thinking

The Latin expression "carpe diem," which can be translated as "enjoy the day," has been elevated to a main component of our culture. The most popular interpretation goes as far as recommending people to "live for the day." This advice comes often accompanied by sneering remarks about those who save for the future.

With a short-term approach, you will not go very far


The sad story of artists and athletes who make a fortune and end up bankrupt a few years later is told by newspapers with monotonous frequency. The message seems to be that there is no other way or, even worse, that human beings are unable to learn from someone else's disgrace.

Nevertheless, an objective assessment of the problem shows that the great majority of middle-class citizens in any country never go bankrupt. This is not a coincidence, but the proof that self-discipline and common sense are widespread in society.

Short-term thinking is a type of intellectual blindness


The horrid reports about financial irresponsibility that one sees on television represent conspicuous exceptions to the prudent mentality of millions of working men and women. This is not a new phenomenon and, without much effort, we can find traces of similar events in previous centuries.

The liquidity crisis that took place in London in the year 1826, almost two hundred years ago, was very similar to what we have experienced in the initial decade of the 21st century. Thousands of investors lost their fortune, including many famous personalities, such as the Scottish novelist Walter Scott.

You might know Walter Scott from his historical novels, such as "Ivanhoe" and "Rob Roy," which belonged to the the best-selling books of his time. If Scott had adopted the discipline of living within his income, which was considerable, he might have enjoyed longer and certainly healthier years.

Unfortunately, he overextended himself by investing in ruinous printing and publishing ventures, as well as by purchasing a large extension of land and building a majestic residence. When the businesses in which he had invested went bankrupt in 1826, he still had to face massive personal debts, that he was unable to reimburse.

The disadvantages of thinking only short-term


During the next years, he worked frantically, trying to write more books to pay off his debts. His health deteriorated rapidly and, finally, he died in 1832, physically and financially exhausted, when he was only 61 years old. Was it worth it that he had incurred huge personal debts in order to build a mansion? These are some lessons to be drawn from such stories:
  1. Live below your means.
  2. Save some money every month, even if it is a small sum.
  3. Take insurance to cover critical risks, such as major surgery or invalidity.
  4. Conduct your business or profession in a prudent manner.
  5. Choose slow but safe growth over wild and risky expansion.
  6. Diversify your investments amongst many different assets.
  7. Stay away from profligate individuals or businesses. Their tales seldom have a happy end.
Embrace the virtue of prudence

The virtues of prudence and foresight constitute the backbone of civilized society. Despite the negative stories presented by the media, millions of working men and women possess the habit of planning for the future. In fact, their prudent conduct and the ensuing peace of mind are what render them uniquely able to "enjoy the day."

For more information about rational living and personal development, I refer you to my books.

[Text: http://johnvespasian.blogspot.com]

[Image by Tony Fischer Photography under Creative Commons Attribution License. See the license terms under http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/us]

Friday, 22 August 2014

Growing success by using fewer parameters

Experienced managers tend to focus on a few key parameters that tell them how their business is doing. Seasoned investors proceed in a similar way. Since they know the kind of opportunities they are looking for, they are able to discard unsuitable investment proposals after checking a couple of critical figures.

You don't need all the numbers


No one can take correct decisions without knowing which elements are important. Gathering huge amounts of data will prove useless if complexity cannot be reduced to manageable levels. What you need are simple graphics or tables that show you how you are doing presently and what the trend for the future is.

When it comes to running your own life, could you reduce information to a small number of factors? Is it possible to simplify reality to such an extent? Can a few numbers suffice to express your level of happiness? Can we isolate the crucial components of our existence and make projections for the next decade? Here are some examples:

  1. The general condition of your health.
  2. Income from your main business or activity.
  3. Overall level personal freedom.
  4. How many close friends you meet regularly.
  5. The size of your bank account and other liquid assets.
  6. Level of satisfaction with your home and living environment.
  7. How you rate the non-monetary aspects of your principal occupation.
  8. Happiness derived from your spouse and other family relationships.
  9. Overall perspectives for personal growth.
 A few parameters is all you need

If routine fills most of our days, we should not allow random events to eat up the little free time we have available. Becoming conscious of the status in each area of our life and pushing for improvement requires substantial effort. Reducing situations to fundamental numbers can contribute to remind us where we stand and where we want to go.

More often than not, one or two figures should be enough to identify the issues closest to our heart. Even when we deal with immaterial elements, such as the non-monetary aspects of a business or profession, we should force ourselves to come up with a number.

Let us establish, for instance, where we are today on a scale from zero to ten and where we want to be in a year from now. In a similar way, trainers encourage overweight people to track their slimming progress by means of a simple graphic.

The ability to make correct decisions


The sheer exercise of decomposing our life into its main constituents can prove highly beneficial. Turning observations into numerals may, for example, allow latent irritation to be verbalized. The first time that someone takes the time to write all this down frequently results in a couple of surprises.

In fact, if you can figure out the way to do it, the only number that you need to watch is your overall happiness index, where it stands today and how to extend the years you have left in order to raise it to the highest level.


For more information about rational living and personal development, I refer you to my books.

[Text: http://johnvespasian.blogspot.com]

[Image by attawayjl under Creative Commons Attribution License. See the license terms under http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/us]

How to be more confident by being more rational

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