4 Pieces of Socratic Advice to Live an Examined Life

and supercharge your road to mindfulness

The Temple of Apollo in Delphi

Regular self-examination is one of the elements of success. 

Successful businesses and entrepreneurs spend time and money improving and analyzing their operations and strategy, but, of course, taking an analytic approach to life is easier said than done.

Instead of asking ourselves questions, we often run from examination. We instinctively run away from the undesirable and lose purpose.

We get annoyed by unchangeable events or worry about things we know are not worth it, worrying about future events that we cannot predict will even happen, or saying or doing things we shouldn’t.

In the end, we worry about the score without playing the game.

Einstein reportedly defined insanity as “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results,” and many of us might recognize some of this going on in our lives.

Maybe, this problem is connected to not examining ourselves and not knowing where we are heading.

Back in Ancient Greece, Socrates, one of the wisest men of Athens, questioned himself and others about the importance of self-actualization and self-examination as a method for living a fulfilling life.

Socrates challenged others to explore their inner self, discovering that, sometimes, we know less than we think. Today, his words are still valid and represent a sound advice on how to start the path for self-actualization.

4 Pieces of Socratic Advice to Live an Examined Life

1. Know yourself

Inscribed in the entrance of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi, the city that housed the famous oracle, were the words “Know yourself,written there to defy our idea of self-knowledge. We assume we know ourselves because we know the tags we use to describe what we do or our affiliations.

Even so, more often than not, examining and understanding where our beliefs come from is not a small feat.

Many of the truths we believe are not ours but part of the beliefs and assumptions we take for granted. They are ingrained in our culture, inherited from ideas born in past generations and past times, some of them are connected with ideas of what it means to be human or ideas about the nature of the world we live in.

If you challenge these assumptions and start looking for the reasons behind them, you will gain a clearer view of who you really are. But, it might be difficult to examine that which we cannot even see, so the first step must be in seeing more clearly.

Our beliefs and assumptions become evident in our behaviors, and though we also are frequently oblivious to them, with some effort and practice, we can perhaps start to be aware of them.

2. Turn Auto-Pilot Off

We live on auto-pilot most of the time, remembering our past and trying to predict the future. Rather than being present, we often prefer wandering through life and expect things to go all right; it’s like having a boat and expecting the current to steer you to port.

To be present in a moment is to give it attention. Given that we are not used to doing this is may not be easy to start with. Our minds may resist it as too must effort with questionable results.

Yet, we must consider the cost of an unexamined life when weighing up the effort. Socrates once said: "The unexamined life is not worth living,” and his words still ring after two millennia. Not being present, or attentive, to our life leads to a bleak existence of fear for the future and regret for the past.

None of us will willingly sign up to that, but if we are not present and attentive, we cannot be sure that that is not what is going to happen. The challenge here is taking notice of your behavior and being fully aware to spot the hurtful patterns you might be cycling through.

If we are to examine our lives, we must be present for it. We should be willing to try something different, to start this process of exploring our lives.

3. Leave Your Assumptions Behind

No two leaves are alike. When we assume two different things will be the same, we are stepping out of ourselves and relying on the past. We all carry our preconceptions with us, but when we start to reflect on them and challenge the truths we can’t prove, we start seeing the patterns in our behavior and can act upon them, gaining self-awareness.

Socrates’ method was similar, and his most known quote “The only thing I know, is that I know nothing” is an example of the subjective nature of knowledge. On close examination he found all without fail had assumptions they could not justify, beliefs they could not account for, behaviors that were not in accord with their stated positions, and the logic of their arguments broke down often under the smallest of challenges.

The Greek philosopher questioned others’ so-called wisdom and found that more often than not people were not in accord with themselves and could not justify their beliefs. Instead of being dragged to false knowledge and unsubstantial assumptions, Socrates preferred to assume his ignorance and face the unknown.

The Socratic approach calls for flexibility and openness to change our point of view because many of the things we believe might prove false. We should let go of our assumptions and see the world with new eyes every day.

4. Spot The Hurtful Patterns

Our beliefs are often an armor and letting go means exposing ourselves, and that hurts. We are so used to the certainty that the anxiety of not knowing what is next can be a heavy burden. By exercising our capacity of insight, we can educate our minds to see the costs of living an unexamined life and learn about us like never after.

Like the writer, Marianne Wilson once said: “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful without measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.”

The writer is right. The fear of our potential is often greater than our sense of inadequacy, and we keep on doing the same thing over and over again. The unknown might be scary, and we often look for comfort in what we know and reject what we don’t. But when we start the process, and our behavior becomes clear to ourselves, our life gains color, and we start making the most of it.

When we see who we are, what we believe, and how we react, we face the challenge of knowing ourselves and start to cultivate a spirit of inquiry that calls for a willingness to question what we think we know.

A Quick Conclusion

We might not see ourselves as philosophers, but most of the Greek ones didn’t either. What is important is that you regain your sense of self and engage in the exploration of these questions that encompass our lives.

Discussing the concepts and practicing them is the key to step out of the circle of futility and enjoy the present without fear or regret, turning obstacles into opportunities. 

If you are willing to examine your life, if you recognize the futility of doing the same thing over and over and if you are prepared to face the truth of your own inner light, join me in this journey of discovery. 

Mindfulness, Decision Making, Inspiration, Ancient Wisdom

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