Friday, 30 October 2015

The teachings of the past should never be forgotten

The great period of Ancient Roman prosperity lasted only two centuries, until the death of Marcus Aurelius in 180 C.E. Nevertheless, the physical and intellectual assets accumulated during those years have allowed Roman civilization to exert its influence until our day. 

Repeating old mistakes
The teachings of the past should never be forgotten, since the principles of how to achieve happiness and success are immutable. We don't need to waste resources making mistakes that can easily be avoided if we pay attention to History.

From the best times of Ancient Rome, we can learn important lessons about how to lead a rational life. Although technology and social context have evolved, we should still pay attention to recommendations of wise individuals who have learned from their errors, frequently after paying a heavy price. The following principles summarize essential elements of how to lead a rational life and enhance our chances of attaining happiness.

A solution to many problems

First, you should aim at becoming an entrepreneur, irrespective of your social origin, since individual initiative has repeatedly proven to be the ideal tool to create wealth, independence, and psychological well-being. 

During the golden age of Ancient Rome, the number of self-employed people grew faster than in any previous time in History, as large parcels of uncultivated land were put to agricultural use for the first time. In the 21st century, the same phenomenon is taking place on the internet, which has become the great liberator of entrepreneurial energies without distinction of sex, race, age, or personal history.

Focus on workable projects

Second, remember that there are more good ideas around that there is capital to fund them. Although the economy of Ancient Rome experienced sustained growth in the second century C.E., writings from that period show that it was not easy to obtain a loan. Contemporary financial institutions are thousands of times more efficient than the modest mortgage markets of Ancient Rome, but the number of individuals looking to borrow money has also grown exponentially. 

At any given time, there are always many more people in the world willing to borrow money than there are funds available. Do not waste your energy on projects that have no real chance of obtaining financial backing. Focus only on workable ventures.

Look for a practical approach

Third, bear in mind that, in Ancient Rome, individuals with vision faced similar obstacles as nowadays. How do you fund trade expeditions? Which goods should you import and export? Entrepreneurial men in ancient times quickly realized that the traditional Roman approach to business finance, a mortgage on a piece of land, was inadequate to conduct commercial enterprises. 

Through trial and error, they created different types of partnership contracts that have evolved through the centuries into our modern venture capital funds. Do not give up when traditional methods prove unsuitable to carry out your ideas. Seek further until you find a practicable approach.

Embrace salesmanship

Fourth, become conscious of the fact that salesmanship opens the door to tolerance and friendship. Ancient Romans learned the hard way that a commercial attitude was the only way to maintain a high standard of living. The first and the second century C.E. led to massive wealth creation due to an expansion of tolerance and entrepreneurship across Europe and the Middle East. 

Conflicts, although frequent, were limited in range. In the present context, when millions of individuals across the world are devoting their creativity to international commercial ventures, rationality is respected as the cardinal virtue of those who achieve business success. Effective salesmanship is nothing but logic applied to commerce.

Learn the lessons

As in Ancient Rome, logic and consistency remain today the pillars of personal growth. If you doubt that rationality is the best way to conduct your life, read History and study the dire consequences of prejudice and abuse. The events of past centuries prescribe that each of us should become entrepreneurial instead of expecting free help to come to us.

Instead of repeating old mistakes, let us learn the lessons of ancient wisdom and keep away deceitful theories that contradict the facts of History. We need to develop enough resiliency to avoid being overwhelmed by other people's opinion or lack of it. Studying Ancient Rome is a very effective method of reinforcing the idea that we should not waste our time trying to establish paradise on earth.

Discarding new ideas that do not work, and favouring proven systems is a sign of wisdom. The same logic applies to walking away from situations where people tell us that rationality doesn't count. Let us avoid repeating the faults of the past. It is much better to do what is right, even if it happens to be unpopular.


Image by Breibeest under Creative Commons Attribution License. See the license terms under

For more information about rational living, I refer you to my books

Rationality is the Way to Happiness

Saturday, 24 October 2015

Make your reflexes faster, profit from the changing wind

Accepting that your days are limited is a precondition for making the best use of your time. With happiness as a long-term goal, personal growth becomes a short-term objective. With longevity as a desirable aim, good nutrition becomes a crucial element of the good life. The trend is given by Nature, but each individual must define his own strategy.

Needless pressure

Gaining understanding of the fact that each passing day is irrecoverable exerts enormous pressure on the insecure. They wonder incessantly if they are doing the right thing or enough of it. They speculate about a myriad of other activities that they could be carrying out instead. They terrorize themselves with statistics of who is doing what, how fast, and how well.

Should we let anxiety drive our lives? In the pursuit of our goals, how can we strike the optimal balance between peace of mind and personal growth? An hour always has sixty minutes and every new day offers us another twenty-four hours. Exaggerated time-consciousness and focus on achievement may lead men to a psychological misery not better than the destitution of the idler.

Stop from time to time 

Personal growth requires balance as much as it demands passion. The path to happiness should be first drawn with charcoals and then brought to life with oil colours. We learn as we walk. Mistakes are inescapable as we sometimes take the wrong turn of the road. Nobody possesses the ability to make all the correct choices.

No man can at the same time concentrate all resources on his future and enjoy the hours of the present. Each individual is born and raised in different circumstances. Genetic, family, and personal qualities vary heavily from one person to the next, even within the same family. The philosophical approach to happiness should not deviate from the hard rules of reality.

Imagine a young man who, growing in the most favourable environment, identifies his lifetime ambitions when he is fifteen years old. He may well spend the rest of his life pursuing his goals, but there is no guarantee that he will achieve them. Anyone entering a professional field has to learn the trade and assimilate its written and unwritten rules.

Sooner or later, lack of knowledge, bad luck or misunderstandings will slow down his professional progress or bring it to a complete standstill. Any biography that you may read will provide evidence of the universality of this principle. Trains stop from time to time, careers stall, and fortunes are sometimes lost.

Occasionally, evil forces may play a role in the demise of a great ambition, but those cases are more rare than popular accounts tend to portray. More often than not, discouragement is the visceral response to failure. Summer grows the seeds nourished by spring rain and winter kills the trees weakened by autumn storms. However, when it comes to human beings, our mental versatility allows us to develop extreme resiliency and surmount all disappointments.

A formula that works

What is the best approach to adapt the rhythm of our personal growth to our own conditions and situations? Can we define a formula that applies to all men, all countries, and all historical periods? Experience has taught me that best strategy is to identify your target, start moving immediately towards it, and correct mistakes along the way.

Relentless action will take you farther on any road you choose, but the crucial aspect in the happiness quest might not be motivation but efficiency. Everybody can raise his motivation level, at least for a while, by attending rallies and listening to speeches. You can chant and dance around, you can dream and speak your heart out, but very little will be achieved.

Other people may support your endeavours or oppose your initiatives, but in the long-term, their actions play only a minor role, like the noise of a train running on its track. Indeed, the sound accompanies the train, but what moves the wagons is the engine, not the noise.

Discard motivation and let action drive you to a better life. What you do counts more than what you dream about. Gaining efficiency and speed on your path to happiness are desirable effects connected to the choice and extent of your actions. If you wish, spend some time cultivating your motivation, but do not let it develop into a game of its own. Talking is not tantamount to doing.

The crucial element

Fast and cheap mistakes are the cardinal accelerator of human success. Inexpensive errors are the sweetest way to happiness, in particular when those errors are rapidly admitted and corrected. Learn a lesson from each of them and avoid repeating the cause and effect. This factor alone can compound the positive effects of your work and lead you to levels of achievement that you previously thought beyond your reach.

The experience acquired in a few years of continuous action will teach you more than several decades of exquisite motivational talks. Reality is too complex to be reduced to pure theory. This is why personal growth can be achieved only through experience.

Knowledge is spread in the market like minerals are contained in sea water. If you wish to become a great surfer, you will have to taste the water hundreds of times. Your reflexes will become faster as you learn how to profit from the changing wind. In your search of happiness, let practice take precedence over speculation. From mistakes, you gain insight and a sharper vision, while empty talk will just eat up your limited time. Choose the way of action.


Image by Alaskan Dude under Creative Commons Attribution License. See the license terms under

For more information about rational living, I refer you to my books

 John Vespasian's books

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

The dire consequences of financial short-sightedness


Today I was quoted by Aaron Crowe in his article about serious financial mistakes you should avoid.

This was my contribution to Aaron's article:

Among the worst financial mistakes to make in life, focusing exclusively on the present is the worst, says John Vespasian, author of seven books about rational living.

"If you fail to think long-term, you will render yourself blind to the best opportunities," Vespasian says. "You will waste your money on foolish purchases. You will destroy your motivation to learn complex subjects. And you will surround yourself with the kind of people who are also incapable of thinking long-term."

"People who focus exclusively on the short term tend to make incredibly stupid financial decisions," he says. "In doing so, they subject themselves to high stress and anxiety that could have been easily avoided. A man who lacks a long-term perspective in his life will never be able to save money consistently, nor to spend it wisely."

"Our society places a disproportionate emphasis on purchases that delivery little or zero long-term value. Few people take the trouble to acquire the discipline to think in terms of a lifetime. If you can see yourself living to become 100 years old, and realize what that means in terms of financial foresight, you will avoid foolish financial mistakes."

Text by John Vespasian

Image: Photograph taken by John Vespasian, 2013.

For more information about rational living, I refer you to my books

Sunday, 18 October 2015

Perfectionism is a dangerous obsession. Avoid it at all costs

The belief that you should do something flawlessly or not at all is erroneous, unrealistic, and counter-productive. Despite the fact that television and magazines are full of recommendations to be positive, have confidence, and hope for better times, perfectionism and the resulting discouragement are rampant in contemporary society, possibly more than in any previous era of humanity. 

The mirage of perfection

Perfectionism is a dangerous fantasy to be avoided at all costs. Already in the year 326 BC, Aristotle observed that a balanced life perspective is a prerequisite for attaining happiness. Unfortunately, the  philosopher's voice has been long forgotten. As a result, millions of men and women are suffering from anxiety and depression.

In order to overcome adversity, man needs a rational response. Expecting flawless performance every time leads to obsessive behaviour, excessive preoccupation, and nihilism. None of those approaches work. None of them has ever improved anything.

Obsessive behaviour and excessive preoccupation will narrow your ambitions to the minimum and push you to waste hours on meaningless details. Nihilism, on the other hand, will deprive your life of direction, replacing ambition with neglect, and drive with dereliction. Under this philosophy, your vision will be reduced to perceiving, from everything, the worst. Convictions will turn into derision. Purpose will be wiped out by random decisions.

The rational approach

The rational approach to dealing with personal difficulties begins with discarding perfectionism. Errors are normal events in human action and you are unique in your genetic characteristics and personal circumstances. When things don't work out as expected, do not compare yourself with other people or with unrealistic standards of achievement. Such irrational comparisons bring nothing but misery.

Let go of chimerical expectations and make the best of your situation. Look for practical solutions. Assess different alternatives. Make a workable plan and implement it. In any case, you should abandon perfectionism right now, since its drawbacks dwarf its negligible advantages.

The wise alternative

Focused long-term action enables man to surmount major obstacles. Do no waste time with lamentations and wishful thinking. Keep on advancing on your chosen path and do not look back on past mistakes, except for drawing lessons for the future.

If you look around, you will find plenty of examples of people who have succeeded despite overwhelming burdens. Throw away expectations of immediate and flawless achievement. Maintain your serenity and trust the principle of cause and effect. Although life offers no guarantee of success, intelligent persistence has repeatedly proven to work. Can you extract some gain from each mistake? Time will wash away embarrassment and pain, but the teachings will remain.

The opposite of perfectionism is tolerance, the virtue of eliminating irrational demands and accepting a blemished reality. Tolerance brings openness and flexibility. Instead of expecting perfection, a wise man takes continuous steps to improve his results. When he is sailing, he watches the weather without getting angry at the changing wind because he knows that he can correct the course of his ship as often as he needs.

A good mental exercise against perfectionism is to imagine what you will do if your current projects fail catastrophically. How would you feel if, after working on a major sale for three months, the transaction fails to take place at the last minute due to a factor that you had not foreseen?

The rational response

The irrational response would be to fall into depression and self-recrimination. A more realistic and practical approach would lead to accept that your expectations may have been exaggerated in the first place. What will be the lesson for the future? A deal should be considered closed only when a contract has been signed.

Don't stop pushing before you cross the end-line, but at the same time, strive to maintain your serenity. Do not rely on half-cooked plans and always have a back-up solution. Do things fast and check them long. Take reasonable precautions, but leave perfectionism to the obsessed.

Preventive action helps minimize preoccupation and might save you a fortune down the road. Spread your bets, whether private or professional, and never place all your hopes on a single event that might or might not happen.

Do work in an organized and persistent manner, but at a certain point, stop worrying about results. Sometimes, things just don't work. Pushing beyond reasonable limits only makes bad situations worse.

What to do next

All resources are limited, including your emotional resources. Set clear priorities and do not overextend yourself. Write down your plans, as well as your alternatives in case of failure. Buy insurance against major risks instead of trusting your luck. A flawless world does not exist. Sooner or later, bad things happen.

Learn to judge events and people sensibly, and do not overreact to problems. The search for perfection is a delusion that wastes energy and obscures facts. Most things do not matter much in the long term. Rationality, although seldom easy, is the only practical response to adversity.

Abandon unrealistic expectations, and adopt a tolerant view of people and events. Strive to see things as they are, unpolluted by false ideals, and your self-confidence will increase. Perfectionism does not work because it ignores the crucial role that patience and persistence play in achievement.

All learning begins with openness and curiosity. Rigid expectations of impossible success prevent self-knowledge, and lead to anxiety. Focus on your strengths, not on what other people are doing. Define what is important for you without using statistics as guidance. Your values will tell you where to concentrate your resources.

Mistakes come in all sorts and colours. Learn to view them as stepping-stones leading you to a higher plateau. Accept errors and use them to your advantage. If you go with the flow, there is no limit how far you can row. Abandon perfectionism right now.


Image by SearchNetMedia under Creative Commons Attribution License. See the license terms under

For more information about rational living, I refer you to my books

Rationality is the Way to Happiness

Thursday, 15 October 2015

Why you should think long-term in a short-term world

The great advantage of Aristotelian philosophy is its universality. Nevertheless, for everyday decisions, who has the time to check the validity of long chains of reasoning? The fact is that modern life requires instantaneous choices, professional and private. If we do not possess an effective way to deal with complexity, we run the risk of letting random events determine our priorities.

Excellent results

Is there a way to simplify the thinking process without making it lose its accuracy? Can we summarize philosophy in a brief practical guideline that can be applied in all cases? Whatever your personal situation and constraints, I believe that, in life, one can achieve excellent results by means of a simple rule.

The principle can be stated in just one sentence: what you need to do is to develop a clear objective for the remaining decades of your life and then make all choices, substantial or minor, in accordance with that goal. If you manage to get that right, chances are that your years will become an outstanding success.

The perfect formula

The formula is difficult to apply, but its results can be spectacular. Few people make the effort to establish a definite direction for their life. As a result, they lack the capacity to move consistently towards a specific goal. In the short term, randomness can be pleasurable, but very soon, problems begin to appear:

  1. Money is wasted in useless purchases.
  2. The motivation to develop specialized skills is missing.
  3. Entertainment becomes an end it itself and turns quickly into boredom.
  4. Projects that require long-term efforts are abandoned or not undertaken at all.
  5. Erratic behaviour leads to loss of credibility.
  6. Maintenance tasks are neglected or ignored.
  7. In the absence of a proper perspective, excessive risks are taken.
  8. Contradictory desires lead to paralysis.
  9. Past decisions cannot be explained or justified.
  10. In the absence of strong convictions, one cannot connect deeply with other human beings.

Making better decisions

In contrast to animals, human beings cannot let their instincts guide their actions. While dogs and cats perceive a narrow part of reality, our brains are aware of hundreds of interconnected details, past or present, that are relevant in each situation. We do not have the choice of ignoring our rational nature.

The refusal to think long-term is man's attempt to become less than human. Leading an effective life begins with the selection of rational goals that comprise the whole lifetime of an individual. A vision that reaches into the next decades is the most reliable tool for making optimal choices in the present.


Image by kevindooley under Creative Commons Attribution License. See the license terms under

For more information about rational living, I refer you to my books 

When everything fails, try this

Saturday, 10 October 2015

The untold key to building satisfactory relationships

Every few years, investigative reporters uncover scandals of some religious or social movement which, under the pretence of improving the world, serves only to enrich its leaders. This sort of exploitative phenomena are not new. Abundant examples of similar cases can be found in sources from previous centuries.

A large problem

Why do these abusive situations repeat themselves so frequently? What allows those harmful schemes to attract thousands of victims in different countries and historical periods? The response lies before our eyes: individuals feel alone and want to belong to a closely-knit group, even if that entails paying the highest price.

Men and women wish to be part of a community. We all desire to feel needed and appreciated. In a harsh city environment, a polite sentence or gesture may constitute a shocking act of generosity. Even self-serving, abject flattery can work once in a while in situations that have become so dehumanized that people are starving to hear a few nice words.

Isolation creates psychological vulnerability, which, on many occasions, turns into long-term dependence and subservience. Sociologists have come up with sophisticated theories to explain why people fall prey to heartless manipulators, but do we need a long chain of reasoning when direct observation can provide the answer?

The fundamental cause of such pernicious relationships is a false theory of friendship. It is a fact that, from infancy to retirement, men get together, talk, and cooperate. Although we see friendships begin everyday and fail every hour, in advantageous or disruptive conditions, we seldom take the time to reflect how the process works.

The wrong response

When it comes to making friends, commonplace advice has become integrated in the dominant culture to such an extent that it reigns uncontested. Traditional guidelines have been recycled and rehashed without much regard to veracity or scientific proof. Here are some bromides that are often served as entrée, main course, and dessert:
  1. Smile to random strangers.
  2. Do not express unpopular ideas.
  3. Avoid making controversial statements.
  4. Listen to others and never contest their views openly.
  5. Do not attract undue attention.
  6. Show interest in whatever stories people choose to tell you.
  7. Be flexible and avoid making clear-cut statements.
  8. Do not antagonize others by bringing up sensitive subjects.
  9. Cultivate small talk and avoid criticizing people.
  10. Do not embarrass others by pointing out obvious contradictions.
The list could be extended to comprise a hundred commandments. The issue is to determine whether those recommendations lead to friendship or to something else. What are the results of following such advice?

A flawed philosophy

Exhortations to avoid personal conflict may be meant to protect your career, but they possess a fatal weakness. Their effectiveness in hiding your true opinions becomes, at the same time, the poison that prevents you from developing any kind of deep, satisfying, involved personal relation.

Rational people do not choose their friends amongst those who avoid firm commitments, appear self-effacing, and sugar-coat their remarks. Playing down your personal views in order to please strangers will certainly minimize the amount of conflict in your life, but it will also render you invisible to potential friends, that is, those who share your values and convictions.

Being yourself is the untold key to building satisfactory relationships. If you choose to dissimulate your interests and beliefs for the sake of conformity, you might be accepted by a certain community, but only as an empty human shell. Is it worth it to give up your personality in order to enter a space where you essentially don't belong?

The rational approach

From time to time, when a situation so requires, it may be advisable for you to refrain speaking out your mind. Those cases tend to be exceptional in modern society. As a general rule, a man is better off by letting his philosophy inspire his words and gestures so that others can see him the way he is. In practical terms, this is what an open attitude entails:
  • Reserve your acts of kindness for people you like.
  • Do discuss about ideas, principles, and ethics.
  • If you believe that you are objectively right, take a clear position.
  • Remain open to examine evidence that contradicts your views.
  • When you make a mistake, apologize, and learn for the future.
  • Be polite, but if someone tries to force something upon you, just say no.
  • By pointing out contradictions to people who are willing to listen, you might prevent a catastrophe from occurring.
  • Seek truth and steer clear of insincere people. Liars are the sort of persons that you don't want to have in your life.
  • Choose deep, involved conversations over nonsensical, time-wasting trite.
A realistic theory of friendship begins with a commonality of interests and values. A life filled with empty social engagements is tantamount to an endless nightmare from which you never wake up. Seek out people who appreciate profound discussions and share your rational beliefs.

Offer consistency between form and substance and fly high the flag of your convictions. Be yourself and you will not fail to attract your perfect social match. True friendship is what binds those who share the same road and move forward in the same direction.


Image: Photograph taken by John Vespasian, 2015.

For more information about rational living, I refer you to my books

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Turnaround: Moving from hesitation to determination

When I was a kid, I never really got to believe what I was told about success. Life seemed to have many more tracks that the one that was being officially preached. There were too many interesting destinations and I saw no justification why only one of them should be correct. In fact, I reasoned, how could anyone dare to formulate a model lifestyle that all people were supposed to follow at all times?

In search of wisdom

The tenets of the success philosophy were simple and have changed little ever since: failure is scary, so work hard and don't fall behind; keep it safe and don't take risks; don't be different and stay with the group; it is better to be warm with the majority than being left alone in the cold; and above all, you should avoid fundamental doubts and never question what everybody else is taking for granted.

Reality, however, soon proved my doubts justified. For starters, I never met anyone who could be considered really successful according to the demanding standards that had been preached to me. Secondly, whenever I met people who called themselves successful, I found them so lacking in wisdom that I felt pity for them.

At that point, I began to realize that the kind of people that fascinated me never felt into the standard success category. The artists I liked were usually struggling or just getting by. The philosophers that I appreciated were far from being famous and wealthy. The movies I loved had no violence, no stars, and no special effects. What was that supposed to mean?

The original question

The years passed and, reluctantly, I embraced part of the official philosophy of success, although my conversion was uncertain and superficial. It did not take long before the old doubts came back to visit me, in the beginning every week, then every day, and finally, every night.

Whenever I made a pause and took the trouble to look around, the original questions returned to hunt me more strongly than ever. Human life seemed to be made more of dishevelled threads than of steel frames. The people I liked best had managed to strike a balance between their ultimate purpose and their immediate attachments.

In my eyes, determination without benevolence turns a person into a jerk rather than a success. Motivation without consideration makes people reckless and empty. Ambition without resilience results in anxiety. Engagement without perspective leads to intolerance. Definitely, I told myself, this is not the way to happiness.

Then one day I happened to read a biography of Charles Darwin (1809-1882), the English naturalist that formulated the theory of evolution through slow variation and adaptation of animal species. Since its inception, Darwin's theory has opened more wide-ranging discussions in society than any other idea in history.

Before reading about Darwin's life, I had assumed that he had come up with the theory of evolution at some point during his scientific expedition to the Galapagos, that he had quickly published his results, and that he had enjoyed for many years the prestige and wealth arising from the subsequent controversies.

The decisive step

I was as wrong as you can be. Darwin's life story was much less glorious than I had expected, since it shows a man who had only moved towards success with utmost shyness and insecurity. In Darwin's actions, I found more hesitation than determination; in his doubts, I saw the reflection of my fundamental questions; in the middle decades of his life, I saw more risk aversion than entrepreneurship.

If failure is the equivalent of immobility, I concluded, then a good part of Darwin's life consisted of failure. Believe it or not, the man who is reputed to be one of the greatest scientists in history, procrastinated for fourteen years before publishing his theory. It is believed that Darwin's hesitation came out of his fear of criticism, although other factors may have also played a role.

Whatever the reason, the fact is that Charles Darwin might have died before taking the step to make his theory public. Apparently, by the time he turned 35, he had already put his thoughts in writing, but he only took the initiative to make his conclusions public when he was 49 years old, that is, fourteen years later. I suggest that you stop here for a second and ponder what you are planning to do with the next fourteen years of your life.

What is even more amazing is that Darwin was only prompted to publish his theory out of the fear of seeing another scientist come out first with a book on the subject. Only when Darwin received a letter from Alfred Russell Wallace in 1858 did he realize that, for him, it was going to be now or never.

Wallace had come up with the same theory while doing research in the Malay Archipelago and, in his letter, he had presented a summary to Darwin. After fourteen years of paralysing doubts, Darwin swiftly made up his mind, prepared his notes for publication, and took the decisive step. All his fame and success come from that critical step, for which it took him fourteen years to gather enough courage.

Harbinger of success

Darwin's story made me wonder if failure and hesitation, instead of being the inhibitors of human success, should not be rather viewed as the harbingers, almost the prerequisites of any substantial achievement. Maybe, I thought, although failure is disruptive and scary, we can only appreciate its meaning when we place it in a long-term context.

Failure changes our way of thinking and our future actions, often turning us into wiser and more successful human beings. Indeed, failure is frightening, but only to a certain point. That's the point at which each of us is given one more chance to turn our lives around.


Image by Martin Pettitt under Creative Commons Attribution License. See the license terms under

For more information about rational living, I refer you to my books

The Philosophy of Builders

Friday, 2 October 2015

The low-cost approach to personal development

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.

Learn fast and inexpensively

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.

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.

With very limited resources

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.

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.

Using time wisely

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.

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.

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.

A method that works

The ultimate proof of the self-study 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.


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For more information about rational living, I refer you to my books

The 10 Principles of Rational Living