“Well-being is realized by small steps, but it is truly no small thing.”
– Zeno, quoted in Diogenes Laertius, Lives of Eminent Philosophers
It is incredible how our minds are able to see patterns and themes among the incredible amount of sensory information we take in each day. I’m sure we have all had the experience where you learn a new word and suddenly you hear it everywhere, or you notice specific numbers that become “my numbers” because they seem to show up more often than not (I notice 541 and 387 a lot). And I’m sure we’ve all noticed the same with certain insights or subject matters.
Recently, my partner and I were discussing certain behaviors that lead to long-term growth and improvement, but have an almost imperceptible short-term gain. When I lift weights (okay, I don’t really lift weights often but bear with me) the tears in my muscle tissue are microscopic, but if I lift weights for months or years the microscopic tears build up. Diet is similar, if someone cuts out 100 calories a day (or about two Oreos) they won’t notice the change on the scale but after a year that is over 10 lbs lost (or at least 10 lbs not gained). This pattern is everywhere: compound interest, doing the dishes as you make them dirty, weeding the garden daily, practicing a foreign language, meditation… these are all small things that add up to monumental changes in the long term.
Anyway, so that discussion was on my mind when I started my Daily Stoic morning routine (buy that book!) and the above quote from Diogenes book that maybe Zeno said but maybe Zeno was quoting Socrates (sidenote: hmm, it is almost like books that are 2,000+ years old might not be the most reliable sources for objective facts). The quote and the subsequent discussion in the Daily Stoic fit nicely with my mindset and how small, incremental, daily changes are what great big results. Unfortunately, that is difficult for us humans to deal with, we want to minimize work and maximize pleasure. We want things now and get frustrated when we don’t see instantaneous results. We are natural hedonists who find a way to simultaneously make decisions that only benefit us now but mentally are always trapped in the future and past. That, I think, is why we need philosophy and meditation, in order to make the right decisions for us and society based on reality instead of dreams and carnal desires.