In each and every day of your life, you will face challenges of varying complexity and significance.
Some challenges will be so small and so easily overcome that you’ll barely consider them to be a challenge at all. But, every so often, you must face a challenge in your life that may be so significant that it feels as though you will never overcome it–and if you do, it may feel as though your life will never be the same because of it.
For instance, the most difficult challenge you might face one day is accidentally knocking over a beverage, and the next day you might be coming face to face with your own mortality in your doctor’s office while he or she explains your new diagnosis. The size and scope of the challenges you face may change from day to day, but the mindset that you utilize when you face these challenges should remain the same.
This mindset that I’m referring to is Amor Fati, translated from Latin to mean, “love of fate” or “love of one’s fate.”
Amor Fati in History
Amor Fati is a concept that has been attributed to many philosophers over the years, and the Stoics of ancient Greece and Rome were some of the earliest proponents of the principle. The Roman Emporer and Stoic philosopher Marcus Aurelius never explicitly used the term amor fati in his writings due to writing in Greek rather than Latin, but in his Meditations, he wrote:
Accept the things to which fate binds you, and love the people with whom fate brings you together, but do so with all your heart.
Epictetus, another Stoic philosopher, said something similar in his Enchiridion:
Don’t seek to have events happen as you wish, but wish them to happen as they do happen, and all will be well with you.
The point of Amor Fati is, as the Stoics wrote, to not only accept whatever happens to you but to accept it with enthusiasm rather than wishing for anything else to have happened. Many centuries later, in the late 1800s, the German philosopher Friederich Nietzsche adopted Amor Fati as a pillar of his own philosophy:
My formula for greatness in a human being is amor fati: that one wants nothing to be different, not forward, not backward, not in all eternity. Not merely bear what is necessary, still less conceal it… but love it.
Several decades after Nietzsche, the Austrian psychologist Viktor Frankl wrote of his experiences while interned in Nazi concentration camps in his book, Man’s Search for Meaning. After his wife, his parents, and his brother had been murdered by the Nazis, after witnessing the deaths of countless people in the camps, and after experiencing immense pain and suffering of his own, Frankl came to a realization:
When a man finds that it is his destiny to suffer, he will have to accept his suffering as his task; his single and unique task. He will have to acknowledge the fact that even in suffering he is unique and alone in the universe. No one can relieve him of his suffering or suffer in his place. His unique opportunity lies in the way in which he bears his burden.
Loving one’s fate means loving both the good and the bad that life brings and refusing to dwell on what might have been. When faced with the absolute worst that humanity had to offer, Frankl discovered this ancient wisdom that opened his eyes to the beauty of the human condition and allowed him to persevere through the torture that he faced at the hands of the Nazis.
Amor Fati is just as relevant to modern life as it was millennia ago.
Loving One’s Fate in the Face of Physical Extremes
In 2014, I attempted to break the world record for the most pull-ups in 24 hours as part of my Twelve Labors Project . As the clock counted down and the pull-up count went up, my body began to break down due to the physical stress of the challenge. My hands began tearing from gripping the bar for so long. Volunteers flushed out and re-packed my wounds with chalk before every set, for hours. As day turned to dusk, my kidneys began to fail–giving my urine the appearance of barrel aged whiskey. As light became dark, so too did my mind, releasing familiar demons from their prisons: Doubt, Fear, Regret, Uncertainty.
At 2,200 pull-ups, tendons ruptured and muscles tore throughout my biceps and forearms. I continued for 1,000 more reps because people promised donations to the cause (Wounded Vets) if I hit certain benchmarks towards the record. Furthermore, I kept on because my pride, ego and fear wouldn’t let me quit. Learning the difference between unbridled pride and resolute purpose amidst a crucible was an hard truth and invaluable lesson learned and never forgotten. After 17 hours and 3,202 pull-ups, I could no longer grip the bar…I had failed and was hospitalized for days in the aftermath.
During my recovery, Amor Fati helped me to refocus and eventually get back to training after I was released. Sure, I could’ve remained a victim of despair–especially being no stranger to the dark, cold corners of the mind–but instead, I learned through my failure rather than dwelling on an outcome that could no longer be altered. Only one thing left to do–prepare for my second attempt.
In my second attempt to break the world record for the most pull-ups in 24 hours, I overcame the challenge with 5,804 pull-ups while wearing a 30 lb. pack.
Amor Fati should be the response to every situation that will, and must, occur. By choosing to view a situation positively and deciding to be better because of it, it’s possible to save yourself from potentially worse situations. Being mired down in negativity and blind to the possibility of change can lead to “repeat offenses,” of doing the same thing over and over in a vicious cycle of ignorance and the suffering it induces.
Then in 2018, I began training Colin O’Brady in preparation for his completely unassisted solo trek across Antarctica. I developed a training regiment for Colin that incorporated Amor Fati into his routine because I knew that in order for him to survive the harsh and unforgiving conditions of Antarctica, he would need to be able to focus on the present moment without perseverating on any mistakes or unfavorable events that might occur during his trek. His training needed to be both physically and mentally effective, and he needed to be able to drop into a flow state at will.
I designed his routine around that concept, providing opportunities for him to embrace his fate in the moment using Amor Fati as a shortcut to mindfulness. Colin had undergone mindfulness training previously, so I knew he could do it, but the biggest obstacle to achieving mindfulness would be the harsh Antarctic conditions. So, I used various training stimuli to put his body under stress and then had him control his breathing while completing complex tasks that would challenge his critical thinking and fine motor skills.
One of these tasks included having Colin hold a plank position for a full minute while keeping his hands submerged in ice then having him tie a series of knots after the minute was up. Another task was a high intensity weightlifting circuit that ended with him holding a wall sit with a weight plate on his lap and his feet in ice buckets; Colin had to hold the position until he completed a Lego set placed on top of the weight plate in a certain time. In Antarctica, there would be no time to dwell on past mistakes or anticipate the future–the present moment would be the only thing that mattered.
In the end, I believe this training paid off for Colin. Right at the beginning of his trek, before he could even take his first step, he bent down to cinch a strap on the sled that he was preparing to haul across the frozen continent–and the strap broke. How did he respond to what some might perceive as a bad omen? With laughter.
That response was Amor Fati in action; it’s how he trained to respond to such events. Colin embraced his fate with humor and an open heart, and continued on his journey, crossing Antarctica alone and unassisted in 54 days.
The Practical Applications of Amor Fati
Most people aren’t going to be faced with overcoming the kinds of extreme physical challenges experienced by Viktor Frank, Colin O’Brady, or myself, and so you might wonder how Amor Fati could be of any use to you in your day-to-day life.
Amor Fati is useful in any situation, not just when experiencing physical extremes.
Relationships are the bedrock of society and everybody has them. They’re one of the reasons why humanity has come as far as we have–when faced with hardship, social bonds grow stronger and people come together to put the needs of their community above the desires of any individual member. These interpersonal relationships that we experience are something that, for many, are taken for granted because they are perceived to be just another part of the average human experience; it’s nothing novel and nothing out of the ordinary.
However, when these relationships end–especially when they end abruptly and without warning–we often feel some of the worst emotional distress that we will ever experience in our lives. That deep feeling of anguish that accompanies the loss of a loved one, that arrives after the end of such a seemingly average part of the human experience–that, too, is average. It’s something that every single human will experience, and yet it’s so profoundly felt that it can bring us to our knees and cause everything in our lives to grind to a halt.
During an event such as this, when the common response is to grieve in excess and dwell on the negative feelings of loss and anguish, Amor Fati provides an option for a different response.
Rather than dwelling on the pain that’s felt at the sudden loss of a loved one, Amor Fati teaches us to accept it with enthusiasm. In the case of death, the prevailing notion is that it’s the ultimate evil: the worst thing that could ever possibly happen to a person and that it should be avoided at all costs–anything associated with death is bad. Amor Fati would disagree.
Death is a natural part of life–you can’t have one without the other. To love one’s fate means to love everything that happens to you and to make the best out of any situation. When a loved one is gone, rather than dwelling on the grief you’ll experience (which is a natural reaction and shouldn’t be suppressed), you should instead celebrate the life that was, for a time, intertwined with your own. There is no possibility of going backward in time to correct the mistakes you made with that person, but you can accept that those mistakes were a part of the experience you shared with them and it’s one of the many things that made your relationship so rich, meaningful, and unique.
Amor Fati teaches us to look back for the purposes of looking ahead. Those mistakes that you made in the previous relationship can teach you lessons that you can apply to other relationships in your life in order to improve them or avoid the pitfalls you once fell into. In this way, you can live in a state of constant improvement by not getting bogged down by the negative feelings that come with regret and instead, use those feelings in a more positive manner.
Amor Fati can be applied to health and fitness goals, too.
When attempting to overcome the challenges that come with health and fitness goals, it’s important to remember not to dwell on failures or shortcomings but instead to use them as opportunities for learning and growth. For example, if your goal is to develop healthier eating habits and one day you overindulge, eating a large portion of unhealthy food, there’s no need to beat yourself up about it. Instead, look back at that moment and examine it while considering why it was that you overindulged. When you understand the reason, you can then look forward to the next time that moment is about to occur and use the lesson you learned to avoid it and meet your health goal.
The principle of loving one’s fate can be applied to any and every moment of life. No matter what the obstacle is that you’re facing, Amor Fati will give you the option to view it with joy. As Robert Greene, author of 48 Laws of Power and Mastery puts it:
Accept the fact that all events occur for a reason, and that it is within your capacity to see this reason as positive.
For many, an obstacle or a challenge is often viewed negatively as something to be avoided rather than something to be celebrated. This perception is based on the fear of failure, but with the proper mindset, this view can be changed into something much more positive. Rather than viewing an obstacle as something that might trip you up and bring you down, you can view it as something to be overcome and which will lift you up. It’s not failure that you should focus on, but the opportunity for success.
If an obstacle is placed before you, rather thank thinking to yourself, “Oh no, what can I do?” you can ask yourself, “What will I do? How will I use this opportunity to grow?”
Embrace What Fate Has In Store for You
In life, we’re faced with many unexpected challenges and often forced to endure adversity.
It’s important to remember that while certain things are outside of our control, all things have a cause. There is a reason things happen and it’s up to you to decide whether or not to view this as a positive. Amor Fati teaches us to put our energy and effort into what will be most impactful in our lives so that we don’t waste our time worrying about things that we don’t have the power to change. When faced with adversity, the goal isn’t to just passively accept it nor is it to simply think positively about it.
The goal, rather, is to welcome it cheerfully–to say, “This is meant to be, and I happily choose to be better for it!”
Amor Fati should be the response to every situation that will, and must, occur. By choosing to view a situation positively and deciding to be better because of it, it’s possible to save yourself from other, possibly worse situations. Being mired down in negativity and blind to the possibility of change can lead to “repeat offenses,” of doing the same thing over and over in a vicious cycle of ignorance and the suffering it induces.
Embrace what fate has in store for you and don’t waste your time wishing it would be any different–it won’t be, no matter how much you wish for it. Instead, wish for it to be exactly as it is and strive to make the best out of any situation with a cheerful heart and an open mind.
Then, as Epictetus has said, all will be well with you.