Lesson 31

Lesson 31: BHFM and The Stoic Advisor

Weekly Habits for Success - Daily Task to The Habits for Success


“I can lay down for mankind a rule, in short compass, for our duties in human relationships: all that you behold, that which comprises both god and man, is one – we are the parts of one great body. Nature produced us related to one another, since she created us from the same source and to the same end. She engendered in us mutual affection, and made us prone to friendships.” —Seneca

You know Seneca is one of our favorite philosophers. We quote him very frequently! But did you know that Seneca was more than just a philosopher? He was a playwright, an advisor to the emperor, and managed his family’s estate.

Yet, with all that he had going on, he still found the time to write 124 letters to Lucilius.

That amounts to nearly 500 pages of prose… just to one man. Why? Because “no one can live happily who has regard to himself alone and transforms everything into a question of his own utility; you must live for your neighbor, if you would live for yourself.”

Seneca understood that life without relationships was empty and hollow. One must focus on more than just oneself if one is to be fulfilled. It is imperative to have a healthy and balanced life and that includes having good relationships with quality people.

You can find many examples of this in the lives of the Stoics. Commodus, the son of Marcus Aurelius, had all the advantages, yet, he chose poorly and spiraled out of control. Nero, Caligula, Tiberius, Domitan - all of them had one main thing in common. As explained by the great ancient Roman historian Cassius Dio illustrates it in highlighting the key contrast between Commodus and Marcus.

“[Commodus was] the slave of his companions, and it was through them that he at first, out of ignorance, missed the better life and then was led on into lustful and cruel habits, which soon became second nature. And this, I think, Marcus clearly perceived beforehand. Commodus was nineteen years old when his father died, leaving him many guardians, among whom were numbered the best men of the senate. But their suggestions and counsels Commodus rejected.”

Commodus “was not naturally wicked,” Dio explains, “but, on the contrary, as guileless as any man that ever lived.”

Commodus thought he was divinely chosen and rejected relationships that could help him stay on track and succeed, relationships that could have helped keep his worst impulses in check.

Marcus wrote many times that we are social beings, and we are made for each other, “We are all a part of the same hive”.

Marcus also warned of false friends, people who only use you for what they can get from you.

But that aside, we are made to have relationships and friendships. Good relationships make us happy and more productive human beings. To this end, Cicero asked some two thousand years ago, “Who is there who would wish to be surrounded by all the riches in the world and enjoy every abundance in life and yet not love or be loved by anyone?”

So, this month, we want your new habit to be that you tend to at least one relationship each day. Do this both personally and professionally. When was the last time you reached out to an old friend? Pick up the phone and give them a call to catch up. When was the last time you went on a date with your spouse or significant other? When was the last time you went on a date with your kids or grandkids?

My wife’s sister made it a point to go out on a date with one of my four children once a month. So my kids knew every four months that they were going to have a date night and a sleep over at “Auntie’s house”. They all looked forward to it. Because of her efforts to be a great aunt to my kids, they are still very close with her to this day.

When was the last time you took a client out to lunch? Why aren’t you inviting your clients to do breakfast and lunch with you multiple times per week?  Imagine the relationships you could forge with them if you took them out to eat regularly. You don’t have to talk business- talk about whatever they want to discuss, whether it be their favorite college football team or their grandkids. Take them out and build relationships with them. Not only are they more likely to stay with you when times are tough, but they’re more likely to refer their friends and family to you as well.

You are the average of the people that you spend the most time with. So spend your time with good people. Whether you like it or not, you become your friends. Success can often be dependent on who you know more so than what you know.

Seneca has an essay, On Benefits, which is all about mutual reciprocity, and of course, in his letters to Lucilius, we can see clearly how therapeutic and deep their relationship was. He says at one point that “no one can live happily who has regard to himself alone and transforms everything into a question of his own utility; you must live for your neighbor if you would live for yourself.” Epictetus and Musonius Rufus both have entire lectures on love and friendship.

More recently, scientists have begun to probe the importance of friendship to human health and the health of society itself.

  • In a 2010 study, researchers examined 148 previous studies on social links and mortality, which together included more than 300,000 participants, and found the effect of social ties on life span is twice as strong as that of exercising, and equivalent to that of quitting smoking.
  • Research published in 2011 in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin shows that humans have a fundamental need to belong to “form and maintain positive, stable interpersonal relationships.”
  • There’s also compelling science about the basis of friend formation. There are neurological similarities that bring two people together to form a friendship. That is to say, there's a scientific rationale behind why certain people become friends. That remains true even if you don’t see them routinely.
  • A 2011 study published to The Journal of Psychology found that “engaging in routine and strategic behaviors to maintain friendships explains how perceived autonomy support in friendships is associated with happiness.”

We all need good people in our lives. We all need to be good people for others. It’s a give and take, and it usually starts with you giving.

As the English poet John Donne would remind you, “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the Continent, a part of the main.” Marcus Aurelius would say, “We’re all bees of the same hive.”

So be the one to reach out. Be the one to work towards maintaining and fostering the relationship. Reach out to old friends. Reach out to your clients and engage with them socially. Reach out to other advisors at the BHFM training and speak with them regularly.

You will be grateful that you did, and so will they!

NEW TASK: Reach out to at least two old friends this month and rekindle those relationships.

NEW TASK: Begin a system of going to breakfast and lunches with your clients several times per week. Set up a rotation and keep it going.

New Habit: Find ways to foster relationships with those that are most important to you. Develop the habit of giving genuine compliments, smile at them often, and offer your assistance whenever possible.