The modern world has brought us a lot of great stuff. (I, for one, am a huge fan of antibiotics.) That said, we know there are things that were better in the past, ideas we can learn from or reclaim.What’s interesting is recently science and experts have validated many of the lessons ancient thinkers knew but could not prove.Here are 7 new ideas from the old world that can make your life better:
1) Community Is Vital
For 99% of human existence we lived in small tribes. We were constantly surrounded by family and friends.
Jared Diamond, author of Guns, Germs, and Steel, says it’s obvious why hunter-gatherers join modern society and not the other way around…
…but what are the advantages of the traditional world that they leave behind?
Always being surrounded by the people they love.
Via The World Until Yesterday:
And, no, Facebook is not a replacement for time with friends:
Not feeling socially connected can make you stupider and lead to an early death:
The solution? Use technology to facilitate face to face meetings with friends, not to replace them.
(For more on how to improve your social life, go here.)
We definitely need others, but what did our ancestors know about feeling better as an individual?
2) “Mens sana in corpore sano”
Look at me getting all fancy with the Latin – actually it’s a phrase we’ve all heard: “A sound mind in a healthy body.”
Originally written by the Roman poet Juvenal, it was meant to make sure we kept our priorities straight.
But in the modern world we often neglect our bodies, eating bad food and not exercising.
Science backs Juvenal up. In fact, research shows having a healthy body is an essential part of having a sound mind.
Want to get smarter? Exercise.
Via Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain:
How about happiness? Research from Duke University shows exercise is as effective as antidepressants in treating depression.
Via Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain:
What’s truly amazing is that exercise can help you totally overhaul your life.
Working out is what Charles Duhigg calls a “keystone habit.”
It’s a habit that research shows leads people to create other, often unrelated, good habits:
(For more on how to build better habits and overhaul your life go here.)
So community can surround us with friends and exercise can build a better body and mind. But what can the ancients teach us about wisdom?
3) “Gnothi seauton”
Not Latin this time, it’s Greek. This is the most famous maxim from the Oracle at Delphi in ancient Greece: “Know Thyself.”
Often espoused but rarely systematically explored, there are few things that can truly guide powerful decisions more than knowledge of who you really are.
Pete Drucker, modern business guru, knew the ancient Greeks were on to something.
Drucker said it’s only by having a clear vision of your strengths that you can make good decisions.
Via Management Challenges for the 21st Century:
When I asked Gautam Mukunda, leadership expert at Harvard Business School, the key to becoming a better leader, he didn’t hesitate:
(For more on the process of how to get to know yourself better, go here.)
But what about after the big decisions? How do we prepare better for the tough situations that inevitably follow?
4) “Premeditatio Malorum”
You can call it the “premortem.” More simply, it’s merely asking yourself the question “What’s the worst that could happen?”
The Stoic philosophers would imagine the worst before any major undertaking. Why? To prepare themselves.
Ryan Holiday, author of the excellent book The Obstacle Is the Way explains:
Today this technique not only helps CEO’s close deals, it saves lives.
Dan Coyle, the expert on expertise, says it’s an essential part of how US Special Forces prepare for every dangerous mission:
(For more on how premortems can make sure you’re prepared for anything, gohere.)
So the premortem can get you ready. But what makes sure we actually knuckle down and get the work done?
If this were Renaissance Italy, you might be an apprentice studying under a master of his craft. Robert Greene, author of Mastery, explains:
If you’re busting your hump every day to be amazing, 10 years is around 10,000 hours – the expertise number Malcolm Gladwell popularized in Outliers.
Why does it seem so hard to become a “master of your craft” today vs in 1400′s Florence? It’s all the distractions.
And our natural reaction is to think we need yet another thing to save us from the distractions. Wrong.
What we need is more like the old days — fewer things, not more.
Lifehacker extraordinaire Tim Ferris, author of The 4-Hour Workweek, has some insight on this. I gave him a call for his thoughts:
(For more on the secrets to focus and improvement go here.)
The classics can teach us a lot about getting better at work. What about at home? What do they say about family?
6) A Family Legacy
We get a kick out of Game of Thrones, where the different families are known to be one way or another: “A Lannister always pays his debts.”
With our more individualist culture, we’ve moved away from this — and certainly no one should be branded forever by their family name.
That said, research has shown that having a family story that you share with your children can be extraordinarily powerful.
Children who know the stories of those who came before them have higher self-esteem and a sense of control over their lives.
Via The Secrets of Happy Families: Improve Your Mornings, Rethink Family Dinner, Fight Smarter, Go Out and Play, and Much More:
We’ve been led to believe that kids merely need good rules. But that doesn’t jive with how the human mind works.
We don’t remember rules very well — only 14% of people can remember all Ten Commandments.
Via Think Like a Freak: The Authors of Freakonomics Offer to Retrain Your Brain:
We don’t remember rules or statistics. But we do remember stories.And what effects do stories have on us? Research shows that the list is long:
- They motivate us.
- They give life meaning.
- They relieve depression (and are more effective than medication.)
- They offer guidance for decision making.
- They increase learning in children.
(For more on how to improve your family, go here.)
So if there’s one takeaway here, what idea has stood the test of time all around the world?
7) The Golden Rule
There have been a lot of great ideas in the past few thousand years. But what does everyone around the globe, throughout time all seem to agree on?
The Golden Rule. We find it at the root of most every major religion.
Via 30 Lessons for Living: Tried and True Advice from the Wisest Americans:
And research has validated how fundamental the idea of reciprocity is to human nature.
Adam Grant has shown that nice guys do finish last… but they also finish first.
“Givers” are disproportionately represented at the bottom and at the top when you look at who succeeds in life:
(For more on how to leverage the science of karma and the Golden Rule go here.)
There are plenty of old sayings that are true and plenty that are false.
The “good old days” weren’t always good but we’ve got a lot to learn from the thousands of years of living that happened before us.
Here are a few:
- Community Is Vital
- A Sound Mind In A Healthy Body
- Know Thyself
- The Premortem
- A Family Legacy
- The Golden Rule
Many things are gone but not forgotten — but here we have some powerful lessons that are forgotten but not gone.
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This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.
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