Conquer a Rotten Day Like Marcus Aurelius: Let Go of the Bad to Make Way for Good

A bust of Marcus Aurelius.

Marcus Aurelius was Roman emperor from A.D. 161 to A.D.180 and a stoic philosopher. (Image: via Wikipedia)

There’s much to learn from one of the most respected Roman emperors, Marcus Aurelius. As a great leader and stoic philosopher, he drew inspiration from stoicism and believed in accepting reality, especially the chaotic part of it. 

Your days aren’t always filled with sugar, spice, and everything excellent. Some days, even the mere act of getting out of bed feels unbearable.

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When the alarm goes off, your mind quickly fills up with thoughts of troubles, difficulties, and every little worry, which ends up as mental baggage you carry throughout the day. Yet, no matter how much you fixate on what can or is going wrong, it won’t improve things. 

As a great leader and stoic philosopher, Marcus Aurelius drew inspiration from stoicism and believed in accepting reality, especially the chaotic part of it. (Image: via Wikipedia)

Acceptance: Freeing yourself from the bad

Whether you like it or not, challenges are a part of everyday life. For example, today, you might be nervous about an important meeting or in a bad mood because your refrigerator is broken. Traffic is still terrible, and you’re worried about the feedback on a major project, and so on. 

When these things happen, your emotions get the best of you, and you unintentionally make yourself more worked up.

Take a page from Marcus Aurelius’ philosophy and make the mindset adjustment of not resisting reality and instead accepting what’s in front of you. Aurelius advises in his book Meditations:

“You always have the option of having no opinion. There is never any need to get worked up or to trouble your soul about things you can’t control. These things are not asking to be judged by you. Leave them alone.”

The more you struggle against things out of your control, the more you suffer. What you can control, however, is how you respond to it. 

“If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.” — Marcus Aurelius

At the end of a frustrating day where nothing seems to go right, Aurelius reminds us:

“Even if not a single thing goes well today, that should not deter one from displaying honorable and good character.”

Dealing with disagreeable people

Having a bad day because of unpleasant encounters with other people? If you follow Marcus Aurelius’s teachings, he would say:

“When you wake up in the morning, tell yourself: The people I deal with today will be meddling, ungrateful, arrogant, dishonest, jealous, and surly.” 

Yes, there’s no ancient secret in turning around other people’s poor behavior. The truth is that others, like yourself, can sometimes act poorly. But you do not need to hold on to the anger, hatred, or irritation you might feel. 

“Art thou angry with him whose arm-pits stink? Art thou angry with him whose mouth smells foul? What good will this anger do thee?”— Marcus Aurelius

When your bad day revolves around being angry at other people, this mindset becomes your burden. Think of it this way: You want a wonderful day with no obstructions, yet ironically, your mind is full of them. So to you, Aurelius would say:

“We were born to work together like feet, hands, and eyes, like the two rows of teeth, upper and lower. So to obstruct each other is unnatural. To feel anger at someone, to turn your back on him: these are obstructions.”

‘Last Words of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius’ by Eugene Delacroix (1844).
‘Last Words of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius’ by Eugene Delacroix (1844). (Image: via Public Domain)

Your character is your strength

Marcus Aurelius and stoicism are trying to say that the key lies within yourself. Instead of paying attention to the outside, you must look within. Focus on yourself, and build your character. 

The famous Emperor would advise:

“You have power over your mind — not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.”

Expounding on the thought of focusing on yourself, Aurelius says:

“Don’t waste the rest of your time here worrying about other people — unless it affects the common good. It will keep you from doing anything useful. You’ll be too preoccupied with what so-and-so is doing, and why, and what they’re saying, and what they’re thinking, and what they’re up to, and all the other things that throw you off and keep you from focusing on your mind.”

When you let go of the anger and bad parts of your day, you make room for the good you can do. Remember that you are the one in control and not the disruptions.

Aurelius advocated concentrating on your efforts and freeing yourself from distractions; after all, he believed that:

“To live happily is an inward power of the soul.”

Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations is a series of the Roman Emperor’s writings and reflections as a guide for himself. Now, it is one of the most regarded and influential books on Stoic philosophy, providing wisdom and insight to all who read it. 

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