“You have power over your mind — not external events. Realize this and you will have strength.”
Marcus Aurelius ruled over the Roman empire from 161 to 180 AD, being one of the most powerful people of his time. Ruling the empire with reason, logic, and Stoic philosophy, he became one of the most respected Roman emperors of all time.
We’re fortunate that Marcus Aurelius captured his wisdom in Meditations, a book that was never intended to be published. Instead, Meditations is a collection of his personal writing, providing an unfiltered look into his thoughts, habits, and wisdom.
Marcus Aurelius’ wisdom continues to influence people worldwide to this day. In this article, we’ll look at nine of his most valuable quotes to change the way you think about life.
Focus On What You Can Control
Marcus Aurelius said, “You have power over your mind — not external events. Realize this and you will have strength.”
Most people focus on external events over which they have hardly any control. They’re obsessed with politics, the economy, the weather, and the opinions of random strangers on the internet.
They waste so much time and headspace arguing about things outside their direct control. It’s a complete distraction. A waste of time and energy.
Those who make a real change in this world focus as much as possible on what’s within their control. They focus on improving their thoughts, actions, and habits.
When you focus on what’s within your control, you gain power. You improve. You get better. When you focus on events outside your control, you lose power. You get bitter. You won’t move forward.
For example, if you’re broke, don’t blame the economy, your boss, or the president. Instead, to change your financial situation, focus your resources on what’s within your direct control:
Learning new valuable skills
Spending more time looking for a better job
Starting a side-hustle
Controlling your spending habits
Don’t get me wrong. The economy might suck. Your boss might suck. Politicians might suck. But it’s a waste of resources to obsess over these things. Do not use this as an excuse to stay stuck in mediocrity.
If you want to make a change, it’s more productive to dedicate your time, energy, and headspace to what’s within your direct control.
Fix Your Own Flaws First
“Be tolerant with others and strict with yourself,” said Marcus Aurelius. Yet, most people do the reverse. They are strict with others and tolerant with themselves. They judge others, even though their own life is a complete mess.
I mean, Will Smith slaps Chris Rock at the Oscars, and everyone has an opinion about it. But I dare to say that 95% of those who’ve publicly criticized Will Smith spent more time thinking about his flaws than they ever did thinking about theirflaws.
“It’s silly to try to escape other people’s faults. They are inescapable. Just try to escape your own.” — Marcus Aurelius
I’m not saying what Will Smith did was right. I’m saying people should spend more time reflecting on their own behavior than other people’s behavior.
Focus on getting your own life in order. Live to high standards yourself. Lead by example. Practice good habits that inspire others. That’s better than judging the flaws of others.
Do Not Fear Death — Fear Not Having Lived
As Marcus Aurelius said, “It is not death that a man should fear, but he should fear never beginning to live.”
As far as I know, we only have one life. There’s no practice run. There’s no second chance. This is the only run we have on this beautiful blue rock floating through an infinite universe.
“Don’t behave as if you are destined to live forever. Death hangs over you. While you live, while it is in your power, be good. Now.” — Marcus Aurelius
Life’s too short to waste it in a dusty, grey cubicle working for someone who doesn’t really care about you. Life is too short to stare at screens for 10+ hours per day. And life is too short to spend your days grumpy, upset, and depressed.
You don’t know how long you have left in life, so make the most of it while you still can. Do epic stuff. Explore the world. Build cool things. Start a business. Meet awesome people. Spread positivity. Pursue your goals. Have a lot of sex. Be in nature. Make an impact on people. Live fully.
I learned this lesson the hard way when a doctor told me right in my face I had cancer. That’s when I realized you truly don’t know how long you have in this life. That’s when I woke up and started living life to the fullest. As Martin Luther King once said, “It does not matter how long you live, but how well you do it.”
Focus On What’s Important
Marcus Aurelius said, “You’re better off not giving the small things more time than they deserve.” However, most people major in minor things. They let trivial stuff distract them from what’s truly important.
Let’s face it, what’s truly important in life?
Your health & safety.
Your loved ones.
Then why obsess over the small stuff? Why get upset by a rainy day, a random stranger on the internet, or someone who cuts you off in traffic?
Become unfuckwithable when it comes to the small stuff. Become bulletproof to it. As Johann Wolfgang von Goethe said, “Things which matter most must never be at the mercy of things which matter least.”
Upgrade Your Self-Talk
Your self-talk is incredibly important. As Marcus Aurelius said, “Such as your habitual thoughts are, such will be the character of your mind; for the soul is dyed by the thoughts.”
Your thoughts influence your actions, and your actions define who you are. Therefore, if you want to change yourself, start by changing your thoughts. You can’t upgrade yourself if you don’t upgrade your self-talk.
“The happiness of your life depends upon the quality of your thoughts.” — Marcus Aurelius.
Practicing regular meditation is one of the most effective ways to upgrade your self-talk. Meditation helps you become aware of your thoughts, so you develop the ‘mental muscles’ to override negative thoughts and change them for positive, empowering thoughts instead.