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    It’s Important to Have Reminders

    Daily Stoic Emails

    It seems crazy now, but amongst the Stoics in the ancient world there was once intense disagreement over whether philosophers should have “precepts” or sayings to remind them of their teachings. Stoics like Aristo, who lived around the time of Zeno, believed that this was cheating. A wise man, properly trained, should just know what to do in any and every situation. 

    Later Stoics, like Seneca, thought this was ridiculous, which is why his letters to Lucilius are filled with all sorts of quotes and aphorisms and rules. Marcus Aurelius, who admittedly was a fan of Aristo, seemed to follow a path similar to Seneca’s, laying down “epithets for the self” and all sorts of other precepts for living. 

    In a way, this debate continues today. Some people sneer at self-help and motivational sayings and even the medallions we sell here at Daily Stoic. Why do I need a coin to remind me of that. Isn’t all this stuff obvious? But if you walk into the locker room of any professional sports franchise or elite D-1 level program, you’ll see the walls are tattooed with precepts and reminders (The Pittsburgh Pirates even have “It’s not things that upset us, it’s our judgement about things” in their clubhouse in Florida. Iowa Football has “Ego is the Enemy” in their weightroom.”)

    For our Saturday podcast, we asked 2x NBA champion and 6x All-Star (and fan of Stoicism) Pau Gasol about the role these precepts play in sports:

    Athletes appreciate pointers and directions. Quotes kind of hit home, as far as there’s a message, like “Pound the rock.” As far as resilience, you just keep pounding the rock. That was a big one for the Spurs. Just keep pounding the rock. If you hit it a thousand times or two thousand times, you might not see a crack, but it’s that next hit, that next pound where the rock will crack. You just got to keep at it, keep at it, keep at it. So pound the rock. It’s something that a lot of other coaches have acquired and then shared in their locker rooms.

    On the Lakers, we used to have this quote in our weight room from Rudyard Kipling, “The strength of the pack is the wolf. And the wolf is the strength of the pack.” The strength of our best wolf, or our best individual, relies on the team, and the strength of the team relies on our best individual. So that’s something that really kind of resonates and brought everyone together. Understanding the importance of everyone’s job, everyone’s contribution, everyone’s role regardless. Because even if you have the best player, in this case like Kobe Bryant, but the rest of the pack does not do their job and does not fulfill their role, that wolf is weaker. We don’t accomplish team success.

    Reminders matter. They aren’t cheating. They make you better. Mantras keep you centered. They give you something to rest on—a kind of backstop to prevent backsliding. So whatever form these things take for you—a coin or a print or a tattoo or just a watchword you like to chant to yourself—go for it.

    P.S. This was originally sent on May 5, 2020. Sign up today for the Daily Stoic’s email and get our popular free 7-day course on Stoicism.