zen habits : breathe

The Socratic Method To Great Living (5 Simple Steps)

Editor’s note: This is a guest post from Alex Shalman of AlexShalman.com.

Socrates did not leave one shred of writing behind at the end of his life, yet he helped form the foundation of our western philosophy to this very day. The things he taught were so profound, close to truth, and universal, that one could live an awesome life today just by following his fundamental advice.

1. Live into your vision

“Be as you wish to seem.” ~Socrates

While not all of us have dreams (a problem to address at a different time), those of us that do would give an arm and a leg to see them through. Socrates realizes that the power to become what we want to be lies in our decision to be. Once we have a firm decision, and take action, no one is to tell us that we can’t.

My number one method for accomplishing anything is to start by writing it down. It doesn’t cost much as you can use a simple paper. Write down characteristics of the perfect you – sort of like a mission statement for your life.

  1. I am an outstanding human being in every respect
  2. I am honest, kind, loving, loyal and true – to my family, friends and everyone who knows me
  3. I am a positive, optimistic, confident, warm, friendly person who is admired and respected by everyone
  4. I am an excellent parent (in the future), a fine employer and I do my work in an upstanding fashion every time
  5. I uplift, encourage and inspire everyone I meet – everywhere I go
  6. The possibility that I have created for myself and my life is the possibility of being someone who operates with the greatest good of all in mind, and the possibility of living in the present.

~Pasted from about page.

Remember that anything is possible, and at the same time…

2. Know your limitations

“I know that I am intelligent, because I know that I know nothing.” ~Socrates

All of us have a person in our life that knows the answer for everything, regardless of the situation, their area of expertise, or if they really know what they’re talking about. For such people it is more import to force their opinion rather than to give a smart answer. I think that’s what stupidity is.

I think intelligence comes from being able to say “I don’t know, I can try to give my best guess” or “I don’t know, but I’m going to find out the exact answer.” I have a masters degree in biomedical science. The truth is I know a smaller percentage of science now then I did when I was in 5th grade. That’s because the more I learned, the more different categories and unknowns I realized there were that I could still study.

If you don’t know your limitations you can cause a lot of harm to yourself or to others. Imagine a cab driver that “knows the way” and gets you late to your important meeting. Imagine a doctor that “knows the procedure” but ends up taking someone’s life. Imagine a parent that “knows what’s best”, but ends up emotionally or mentally scarring their child by injecting them with awful philosophies.

Know your limitations, work with what you have, and then…

3. Expand your horizons

“Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel” ~Socrates

Education is a great tool to opening our eyes to the fact that we “know nothing” as Socrates would say. In a way Education increases the nothingness that surrounds us. That’s a bit scary, but really good, because at the same time education has the ability to solidify the things in our life that are real.

Education allows us to improve the foundation of our life, that is if we choose to have truth as the foundation. I’m not talking about getting some kind of degree. Everything I learned in life that I consider important did not come from my BA-psychology, or my MS-biomedical science degrees. The important stuff came from spending hours at the library studying life, and talking to people with the character traits that I respect, admire, and value.

Find the books and the people whose knowledge will make your life better, and remember that…

4. Whatever you have is enough

“He who is not contented with what he has, would not be contented with what he would like to have” ~Socrates

Don’t make a mistake of looking for satisfaction, contentment, and happiness in some far off goals. After reading the books, going to the lectures, interviewing 100s of people, and living my own life, I can safely say that happiness isn’t in obtaining things. Happiness exists in taking pleasure in what we have, regardless of the circumstances.

Education might kindle your flame, but try to analyze why you’re kindling some specific flame that has importance and value to you. Do you want to read everything you know about body building, exercise each and every day, and eat a robotic diet because you’re passionate about it, or because people used to poke fun at you when you were younger due to your small size?

Socrates doesn’t discourage goal setting, not by a long shot. What I think he’s saying, and I could be wrong here, is that we must be able to experience pleasure in whatever life is giving us, or we won’t be able to experience pleasure in the things we strive for.

I think there will be too much noise going on to enjoy our victories. Imagine that you’re on your way to receive the Nobel Prize, you have so much time to spare you don’t have to worry about anything, yet your limo is stuck in traffic and it’s making you completely miserable. Then you’re up there receiving the Nobel Prize, but you’re thinking about how your daughter is dating someone you don’t approve of. If you don’t learn to take pleasure in everything, you’ll end up being blocked from things you can be enjoying.

The key to enjoying what you have is to…

5. Define what you want

“The beginning of wisdom is the definition of terms” ~Socrates

How many people in your life do you know that wish for love, happiness, and success? I think this is a ‘no-duh’ commonality between the vast majority of the global population. I think all three of these three things are great, and I’d like for everyone who wants them to achieve them.

The only problem is… people should not only be careful of what they wish for, but know what they’re wishing for. This means to whip out a dictionary and a piece of paper and thoroughly define what each of these words means for you. If you have a misrepresentation of these words in your mind, you’re going to make some huge regrettable mistakes in life.

  1. Love. A quick search pulls up “a deep feeling of sexual desire and attraction.” Imagine a person that goes through life by internalizing this as their definition of love. They could easily end up in an abusive relationship with a person they are infatuated with, and stay with them even though they are miserable, because they want love.Even though it’s an unhealthy relationship, it fits into their definition of love, so they remain confused, and attached, because this is what feels right for them.
  2. Happiness. Some people might consider happiness as having some laughs, others might consider it as achieving some goals, while others settle for the definition of ‘nothing went wrong today.’The way I define happiness is “being the creator of your experience, choosing to take pleasure in what you have, right now, regardless of the circumstances, while being the best you that you can be.”
    As it turns out, my definition is centered around the journey, not around the accomplishment, so I can take pleasure in waking up and existing each day, instead of being miserable because I don’t have a ferrari yet.
  3. Success. A quick search shows success to mean “a state of prosperity or fame.” I can see why a lot of people would be depressed if they wanted to be successful and this was their idea of success. Perhaps it is possible for everyone in the world to be rich and famous, but in reality that isn’t the way our world is currently structured.Perhaps it would be ‘wiser’ to define success as something else. Something that doesn’t come for nothing, but is accessible to everyone regardless of any circumstances. I would define success as “constant and never ending improvement”. If you set goals for yourself, and you take time each day, to work towards your goals, then you are successful in my book.

At the end of the day, the questions we ask of ourselves determine the type of people that we will become…

“Wisdom begins in wonder.” ~Socrates

Alex Shalman does for personal development what Chuck Norris does for karate, and he’s got a very bad (to the bone) Podcast on self-improvement.



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