|The Death of Socrates by Jacques Louis David, 1787 (public domain - Wikimedia Commons)|
“The chief proof of man’s real greatness lies in his perception of his own smallness.”
— Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, 1890
What’s the greatest piece of advice ever given for goal setting?
Give it some thought before answering.
It’s something that was agreed on by all the Ancient Greek philosophers. They believed that in any situation you face — a crisis, a challenge, an opportunity — it is essential to know yourself.
I’ll grant you, it’s not easy to know yourself with so many distractions these days.
We’re too busy running from appointment to appointment, taking nine Zoom calls a day, getting message notifications on 17 different apps, drowning in data, being distracted by our social feeds…
We’re constantly running from ourselves. But why? Why does this epidemic of digital distraction constantly threaten our mental health?
Because, like other viral entities, it finds the path of least resistance.
It’s easier to do mind-numbing and mind-soothing things. Maybe you’re playing Wordle, or binging Ozark, The Sopranos, or Bridgerton; perhaps you’re doomscrolling through Twitter and Facebook, or envy-scrolling through Instagram…
The soporific salve of such pastimes (it seems laughable to call them “activities”) helps us pass the time, but to what end? Do we find ourselves enriched and informed afterward? More likely than not, we find ourselves angry, depressed, or envious—emotions that have been thrust upon us when we let our guard down.
And yet, we continue to run from ourselves…
But another ancient sage had the secret to success.
Master This and You’ve Got It Made
One of the Seven Sages of the Ancient World was Thales of Miletus, a pre-Socratic mathematician and philosopher. And his advice stands the test of time.
People used to approach him and ask him questions — as you do when you find a sage.
They wondered what the most difficult thing in life was. He told them:
“The most difficult thing in life is to know yourself.”
What about the most satisfying thing in the world? True success.
When people skip over the hardest thing—knowing yourself—is it any wonder so many people find success so elusive?
When we take the time to reflect, we can better understand our blind spots, our weaknesses, our strengths. We can get to know ourselves better.
Here’s an exercise to try the next time you have some time to yourself. Review these questions:
What’s holding me back?
How can I be more helpful to my colleagues?
What perspective(s) am I missing?
What do I tend to neglect or shy away from?
What’s working well right now? How can I do more of that?
Meanwhile, when you have 15 minutes today, stop scrolling and put down that phone.
As yourself what Socrates or Thales might think of our current distracted lives.
Then get to the hard work of truly getting to know you.
Thanks, and I’ll see you on the internet.
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