In 161 AD, 40-year-old Marcus Aurelius became the most powerful man on earth as the Roman Emperor.
Historians refer to Aurelius as the last of the “Five Good Emperors.” These were emperors that ruled the Roman Empire with wisdom, justice and integrity.
In his formative years, he developed his ideas on virtue, good character, self-control and philosophy. Aurelius credits his paternal grandfather for influencing his outlook on life.
Historians note that Aurelius had never published his writings for public reading. Thankfully, 10 years worth of his writing, wisdom and lessons are available to us today.
Here are some handpicked quotes from Meditations by Marcus Aurelius on motivation, habits and life.
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Marcus Aurelius Quotes
Do your job as a human being
Aurelius shares some insights on how to motivate yourself to get out of bed in the morning…
At dawn, when you have trouble getting out of bed, tell yourself: “I have to go to work — as a human being. What do I have to complain of, if I’m going to do what I was born for — the things I was brought into the world to do? Or is this what I was created for? To huddle under the blankets and stay warm?”
Don’t you see the plants, the birds, the ants and spiders and bees going about their individual tasks, putting the world in order, as best they can? And you’re not willing to do your job as a human being? Why aren’t you running to do what your nature demands?
He revisits this subject in another meditation:
When you have trouble getting out of bed in the morning, remember that your defining characteristic— what defines a human being — is to work with others.
None of them can hurt me
Marcus Aurelius offers a simple recipe on how to deal with criticism and negative people…
When you wake up in the morning, tell yourself: The people I deal with today will be meddling, ungrateful, arrogant, dishonest, jealous, and surly. They are like this because they can’t tell good from evil. But I have seen the beauty of good, and the ugliness of evil, and have recognized that the wrongdoer has a nature related to my own — not of the same blood or birth, but of the same mind, and possessing a share of the divine. And so none of them can hurt me.
He revisits this subject in another meditation:
You have power over your mind — not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.
Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth.
You don’t have to turn this into something. It doesn’t have to upset you. Things can’t shape our decisions by themselves.
I have often wondered how it is that every man loves himself more than all the rest of men, but yet sets less value on his own opinion of himself than on the opinion of others.
Attitude of Gratitude
Aurelius’ recipe for happiness and fulfilment is to be grateful…
All you need are these: certainty of judgment in the present moment; action for the common good in the present moment; and an attitude of gratitude in the present moment for anything that comes your way.
In another meditation, he suggests that we are responsible for our happiness:
Choose not to be harmed — and you won’t feel harmed. Don’t feel harmed — and you haven’t been.
You have the power to revoke
Aurelius shares some hard-earned wisdom on how to deal with setbacks and failures…
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.”
Concentrate every minute like a Roman
Here is his Marcus Aurelius’ productivity hack from over 2000 years ago.
Concentrate every minute like a Roman – like a man – on doing what’s in front of you with precise and genuine seriousness, tenderly, willingly, with justice. And on freeing yourself from all other distractions. Yes, you can – if you do everything as if it were the last thing you were doing in your life, and stop being aimless, stop letting your emotions override what your mind tells you, stop being hypocritical, self-centered, irritable.
Rid yourself of useless things that disturb you
This is his recipe on how to find peace of mind even when things around you are chaotic…
‘You can rid yourself of many useless things among those that disturb you, for they lie entirely in your imagination; and you will then gain for yourself ample space by comprehending the whole universe in your mind, and by contemplating the eternity of time, and observing the rapid change of every part of everything, how short is the time from birth to dissolution, and the illimitable time before birth as well as the equally boundless time after dissolution’
In another meditation, he expands on this idea:
Think of yourself as dead. You have lived your life. Now, take what’s left and live it properly. What doesn’t transmit light creates its own darkness.
Work intelligently with what is given
Marcus Aurelius shares some rules for being an exception leader…
What can even the most vicious person do if you keep treating him with kindness and gently set him straight — if you get the chance — correcting him cheerfully at the exact moment that he’s trying to do you harm,”
It is the responsibility of leadership to work intelligently with what is given, and not waste time fantasizing about a world of flawless people and perfect choices.
Aurelius also notes his grandfather’s dedication to integrity regardless of what others thought of him.
His restrictions on acclamations — and all attempts to flatter him… And his attitude to men: no demagoguery, no currying favor, no pandering. Always sober, always steady, and never vulgar or a prey to fads.
Meditations By Marcus Aurelius
These are a few of the words of wisdom on habits, motivation and life, written by Roman Emperor, Marcus Aurelius.
Even though, much of his writing is generally unstructured and based on Stoic Philosophy—there are a lot of valuable self-improvement ideas and life lessons you can learn from his popular book, Meditations.
Why waste time trying to figure out what works and what doesn’t?
After all, a smart man learns from his mistakes, but the wise man learns from the mistakes of others.
1. Historical facts about Marcus Aurelius are from the biography, Warrior, Philosopher, Emperor by Frank McLynn.
2.Historian, Edward Gibbon notes that Aurelius was the last emperor to reign over the golden age of Imperial peace and justice, known as the Pax Romana.