STOICISM for STUDENTS
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STOICISM for STUDENTS


In this day and age, we’re often seeking
the quick fix. The silver bullet, the magic pill. How to instantly improve your grades, how
to get a 6 pack in 6 weeks, or how to never feel tired again. The specific tactics are important – what
techniques do you use to study, how do you optimize for restful sleep, how can you increase
efficiency to make time for other areas outside your professional life. These are all topics I’ve covered in previous
videos. But in order to get the most out of any technique,
the proper mindset and foundational principles must come first. Dr. Jubbal, MedSchoolInsiders.com. In recent years, the philosophy of Stoicism
has experienced a resurgence in popularity, furthered by Ryan Holiday and Tim Ferriss,
amongst others. When I first came across Stoicism a few years
ago, it really resonated, as the principles were similar to the ones I used to overcome
some of my own challenging obstacles. And I fully believe that embracing some Stoic
fundamentals would radically benefit just about every student – whether premed, med
student, or something else entirely. Stoicism was started in the third century
B.C. in Athens. Although it’s over 2,000 years old, it’s
remarkably applicable to our modern lives. According to its teachings, we should accept
the moment as it presents itself, and act and think in a way that does not allow oneself
to be controlled by the desire for pleasure or the fear of pain. Let’s visit an ancient Chinese proverb to
illustrate one of these foundational principles. Once upon a time there was a Chinese farmer
whose horse ran away. The neighbors came and said, “We are so
sorry to hear your horse has run away. This is most unfortunate.” The farmer replied, “Who knows what is good
or bad?” The next day the horse came back bringing
seven wild horses with it. Everyone now said, “Oh, isn’t that lucky. You now have eight horses!” The farmer again said, “Who knows what is
good or bad?” The following day his son was taming one of
the horses. While riding it, he was thrown off and broke
his leg. The neighbors then said, “What terrible
luck,” and again the farmer responded, “Who knows what is good or bad?” The next day the army comes through their
village and is conscripting able-bodied young men to go and fight in war, but the son is
spared because of his broken leg. Is it good? Or is it bad? The happenings in life are deeply interconnected
with immense complexity, and it’s impossible to know whether anything that happens is good
or bad, because you never know what will be the consequence of the misfortune; or, you
never know what will be the consequences of good fortune. Now think to yourself, how many times have
you cast judgement on an event or person in your life as being good or bad? Don’t worry, we all have, it’s human nature. But as Shakespeare said, “Nothing is either
good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” We will all face struggles and obstacles in our life, regardless of whether we’re rich
or poor, black or white. No one gets through life without experiencing
suffering. But that isn’t necessarily because of the
events that happen within your life, but rather your perception, understanding, and beliefs
around those events. In his widely acclaimed book, The Obstacle
is the Way, author Ryan Holiday lays out the foundational
principles with bountiful examples of Stoic philosophy in practice. I highly recommend reading the entire book
– you can find a link down in the description below. Here’s how you can apply stoic philosophy
to your own life as a student. It’s far too easy and far too common for us to blame others for our problems. I didn’t get an A because the teacher is
unfair. I’m out of shape because I have bad genetics. I’m poor because Trump is President. The problem is two-fold:
1) First, we fail to take responsibility for the happenings in our lives. Fault isn’t the same as responsibility,
but one leaves you as a victim to life, and the other empowers you to do something about
it. It’s not your fault someone ran a red light
and t-boned you, but it’s your responsibility to deal with the aftermath. 2) Second, we assign judgement on the events
in our life as good or bad, as if we had a crystal ball and knew that the outcome is
going to be worse. In reality, we have no idea what the long
term implications are. As some of you know, I have Crohn’s disease,
which is a form of inflammatory bowel disease. Up until I was 18 years old, I was perfectly
healthy. And then, s*** hit the fan, no pun intended. I had a terrible flare, lost 30 pounds in
a week, was hospitalized, and diagnosed with a life changing autoimmune disease a few months
into my college career. Was it fair? Hell no. Was I happy about it? I mean obviously not. And just as I was beginning to get on my feet
and gain some of that weight back, two months later my family life imploded, parents divorced,
and I moved into a one bedroom apartment with my mom and brother. This was, to this day, by far the most challenging
time of my life. The lowest of lows. Now I’m not perfect, and I had my moments
of anger and doubt. In fact, I went through all 5 Kübler Ross
stages of grief. But what I realized is that I had the power
to control my perception of events. I could focus on the negative side effects
of all the medications I was on, or how it was totally unfair for my family to implode
at the same time I was getting a grip on my health. But where would that get me? Who would win? Instead, I focused on the positive:
The struggles opened up vulnerabilities and I grew closer to my mom and brother. By handling the disease, including multiple
trips to the hospital on a regular basis, I became the most efficient person I know. The timing of this event reinvigorated my
passion to pursue medicine, and I had a drive that would stop at nothing Who know what is good or bad? If I didn’t get Crohn’s, maybe I wouldn’t
have been so successful when applying to medical school, or honed my study and efficiency strategies. Maybe I wouldn’t have started Med School
Insiders. Here’s the lesson I learned the hard way. Great times are great softeners. But obstacles can be used to one’s advantage. As Andy Grove said, “Bad companies are destroyed
by crisis. Good companies survive them. Great companies are improved by them.” Now great individuals, like great companies, find
a way to transform weakness into strength. We decide what we make of each and every situation. One thing that you will always, no matter
what, without exception, always be in control of, is your perception. But we’re human, and the negative self-victimizing
thoughts are prone to come up. And when they do, simply say “No, thank you. I can’t afford to think like that right
now. I’ve got a situation to handle.” An interesting phenomenon occurs when we give
others advice. Their problems are clear as day, and the solutions
obvious. However, when we deal with our own problems,
our perception is clouded by our baggage. Here’s another way to think about it: does
getting upset provide you with more options? More often than not, the answer is no. If an emotion can’t change the situation
you’re dealing with, it’s likely unhelpful or even destructive. If you’re upset and need a moment, by all
means, that’s completely fine. Real strength isn’t denying one’s emotions
– it lies in controlling them rather than letting them control you. Our perceptions determine, to an incredibly
large degree, what we are and are not capable of. As Henry Ford said, “Whether you think you
can or you think you can’t, you’re right.” I often hear students complain that they can’t overcome their procrastination. Or they aren’t disciplined enough. They don’t like A, B, and C about themselves. As Viktor Frankl said, “Man does not simply
exist but always decides what his existence will be, what he will become the next moment. By the same token, every human being has the
freedom to change at any instant.” Being a pre-med or medical student isn’t
supposed to be easy. Yet when a student fails to achieve their
goals or perform in the way they want, they’re quick to complain that they don’t have what
it takes or that their grades won’t budge no matter what they do. But every time, they haven’t given it their
all. If you haven’t given it a proper effort,
which includes intelligent experimentation with different study strategies and testing
techniques, then how can you expect your results to be any different? When you’re about to face something incredibly
difficult, don’t focus on that lofty goal. Instead, break it down into pieces. What do you need to do right now, in this
instance? Do that, and do it well. The top students don’t simply aim at getting
into a great medical school and attack that goal relentlessly. That’s a sure fire way to burn out and end
up miserable. Instead, they think about what they can do
today, one task at a time. When students perform suboptimally in a class
or on the MCAT, it’s more common to see them wallow in their misery. The one guaranteed way to lose is to not learn
from your failures. People take failure the wrong way. It’s an opportunity for growth. This is why stories of great success are often
preceded by epic failures–because those people weren’t ashamed to fail, but driven and
spurred on by it. So lets say you graduated with a low GPA and an MCAT
that wasn’t much better. Or you’re an older non-traditional applicant
with a different set of issues. Or perhaps you’re in an international applicant. Regardless of the obstacle you face, it’s
in your hands to use it to your advantage. What additional opportunities are offered
to you compared to others? How can you craft a narrative that spins the
negative into something positive? How can you come out ahead in the process,
even when everyone else expects you to fail? It’s in your hands to choose how you perceive
any situation. But without the proper action, you won’t
change your position. A perception grounded in strength and rationality
opens up the possibility to act with targeted effectiveness. If you’re not feeling motivated, go ahead
and get started anyway. Action isn’t just the effective of motivation,
but also the cause of it. As Ryan Holiday writes, “If persistence is attempting to solve some difficult problem
with dogged determination and hammering until the break occurs, then plenty of people can
be said to be persistent. But perseverance is something larger. It’s the long game. It’s about what happens not just in round
one but in round two and every round after—and then the fight after that and the fight after
that, until the end.” When you’re feeling lost, remember to keep
your frame big – bigger than yourself. By constantly focusing on yourself, you simply
make things more difficult. I did this. I tried so hard. I deserve better. It’s only natural to
then take losses personally. There’s no use in pretending that what you’re
experiencing is something special or unfair. It simply is what it is. After watching this video, some of you may
feel motivated to do things differently. But here’s the sad reality: motivation doesn’t
last. It’s the systems that count, and the most
fundamental system is your own philosophy and mindset – your personal operating system.
One of my favorite reminders is memento mori, meaning reflecting on my own mortality. The point isn’t to be pessimistic, but rather
the opposite. Death doesn’t make life pointless, but rather
purposeful. How can I use my time in the best way possible? How can I be intentional with my work, impact
the world positively to the greatest degree? How can I strengthen relationships that matter
to me and create lasting memories? We know that we’re not immortal, and yet we spend
our time as if we’ll live forever. Instead of denying or fearing our own mortality,
we can embrace it. If you enjoyed this video, you’ll love my
weekly newsletter. It gets sent out once a week and is super
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School Insiders newsletter subscribers. Check it out at medschoolinsiders.com/newsletter. If you ever change your mind, it’s one-click
to unsubscribe, and I promise I’ll never spam you. Thank you all so much for watching. I had so much fun making this video and I
love hearing your suggestions for video topics. Let me know down in the comments what other
ideas you have. Remember there are new videos every Saturday morning, so make
sure you’re subscribed. If you want to chat with me in real time,
hit the notification bell because I’m in the comments for the first hour after a video
uploads. Thanks for watching, and I will see you guys in that next one.

About James Carlton

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