Stoic Letter 4: On guarding your mind

pok pok
6 min readDec 5, 2020

In the first letter, I talked about useless information. But what does that mean? To me, anything that doesn’t have a positive impact on my life is useless. That’s why I love reading books instead of scrolling through social media. Most stuff on social media is like sugar. It might give you a quick high, but it doesn’t have a positive impact on your life overall. But that’s not the only type of useless information. It’s everywhere.

For example, I love watching the NBA. But I avoid consuming all kinds of information around the league. Who cares what some ESPN analyst wrote about how LeBron James played last night? Consuming that information is not a good use of time. I’d rather watch the actual game, or go on a walk, read a book, have a conversation with a friend, etc. Everyone has an opinion about everything. But instead of listening to everyone, we need to listen more to ourselves.

We can learn more about that from the legendary stock trader, Jesse Livermore. He was successful on Wall Street in the two decades before the Great Depression — and he made a lot of big trades that put him on the radar of anyone who was interested in the market. But at some point, he retreated from the Street. He just didn’t want to have anything to do with people who asked him for stock tips or influenced his thinking. He wanted to rely on his own judgment. He once said: “I never wanted to be part of a group of stock market traders, especially those traders who gathered in the brokerage office. My main reason was that I needed continuity of thought. I needed to be able to have more than 15 minutes of uninterrupted thought.”

I can’t stress how important this is for your quality of thinking. One of the best things I’ve done for my career is to retreat from the publishing world. I prefer not to mingle with other writers. It’s nothing personal. Being part of a group influences your thinking. Eventually, every member of the group will have the same types of thoughts and opinions. Rely on your own observation and judgment. Don’t allow another person to form an opinion for you.

There’s another reason why I guard my mind. When you consume information, it will impact your mood — whether you like it or not. No one has enough mental power to resist outside influence. We can only limit it. There’s this concept called Affect Heuristic. It basically says that if you’re in a fearful mindset, you’ll make fearful decisions. You can replace “fearful” with any type of emotion. Let’s say social media makes you feel unworthy. Do you really want to go through your day making decisions feeling that way? Of course not. So get rid of information that makes you feel bad, anxious, weak, jealous, or simply has no use.

I used to be friends with this guy who was a huge Boston Celtics fan. The guy listened to all the podcasts, watched all the talk shows, pre-game shows, half-time reports, and post-game analysis. He knew everything about all the players on the Celtics roster. On top of that, he also knew everything about their personal lives and history. “You see that guy?! His sister is a chiropractor.” Wait, what? I can’t think of a single reason why you need to know that. His favorite team won’t play any better if he knows everything about them. Isn’t it better to spend all of those hours we dedicate to pointless consumption on improving our relationships? Instead of sitting on the couch with your eyes glued to your phone, have a conversation with your partner, or call your friend. Anything that’s actually useful or good!

Ultimately, this all comes down to using our time in the best way possible. We all know that our time and energy is limited. So we need to be selective about how we spend it. Next time you’re about to consume something, ask yourself, “Is this worth spending my time on?” The goal is to be more conscious about the information you allow in your brain. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a news article or a tweet; only consume things that have a positive impact on your life. All the best.