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How To Concentrate Like a Roman

Daily Stoic Emails

There is so much on our plate. We have emails to respond to. Calls to make. There is that meeting in a couple hours. The folks we met with yesterday are waiting on an answer or a decision we promised we’d make. Twitter beckons. So do our hopes and dreams.

And yet as many directions as we find ourselves pulled in, it’s safe to assume that Marcus Aurelius was under even more tension. Make no mistake: The ancient world was not some quiet, peaceful place. It too was filled with crises and distractions, gossip, and ambitious goal-setting. All the temptations we face today have their analogs in the past—plus things were scarier, deadlier, and more precarious.

So we should listen to the command that Marcus gave himself after one of those trying days, when he was struggling to stay focused. “Concentrate every minute like a Roman— like a man—” he wrote, “on doing what’s in front of you with precise and genuine seriousness, tenderly, willingly, with justice.”

And he wasn’t just chiding himself to do some impossible thing. There was a method to this concentration, he said. What was it? Do everything as if it were the last thing you were doing in your life. (That’s the power of Memento Mori). The key, Marcus said, was to not let your emotions override your mind and to give yourself a strong purpose (aimlessness is an enabler of distraction).

You can do that. You have the power to concentrate like a Roman. You can know how to do this thing in front of you. You can treat it right. And most important, you should. Because it may well be the last thing you do in your life.

P.S. This was originally sent on November 21, 2019. Sign up today for the Daily Stoic’s email and get our popular free 7-day course on Stoicism.