I’m sure you’re all more than familiar with the common clichés, “mind over matter,” and “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” But what you may not have known, is that these familiar turns of phrase are actually the paving stones of an ancient ideology: Stoicism. A disciplined system of living where you never sweat the small stuff, and keep all of your priorities in check.
Stoicism is meant to be practiced, not discussed.
Stoicism is the endurance of pain or hardship without a display of feelings and without complaint. It is a unique philosophy in the respect that it is meant to be practiced, and not just pontificated and debated upon. You must find your true passion, your true calling, and nurture it. The practice also emphasizes the importance of virtue, and a distinct separation between emotion and reaction.
Practiced by historical and modern men alike, the ideology is finding it’s way back into the mainstream.
The word Stoic is derived from the Greek term Stoa Poikile meaning literally, “the painted porch.” It is influenced by an open market in Athens where the Stoics would famously gather to discuss important matters and teach philosophy to young, eager minds.
The philosophy itself was founded as a Hellenistic (the time period between the death of Alexander the Great who was himself a Stoic, and the beginning of the Roman Empire) philosophy circa 300 B.C.E. by Zeno of Citium.
Stoicism is not the practice of avoiding issues, but rather transforming them into opportunities.
Incredibly misunderstood, the belief system has been given a negative stigma , as well as those who choose to practice it. It has been said that those who choose to lead a Stoic life choose to lead a life of avoidance and denial. A bleak existence where nothing is faced head on. Hardships are tolerated and accepted instead of challenging and overcoming the obstacles.
Perhaps for some Stoics this may be true. Acceptance is a virtue of high regard, and must be mastered to truly achieve mental strength. But the premise of stoicism is not the avoidance of obstacles; it’s the transformation of the obstacle. Turning every obstacle into a new opportunity. Instead of mindlessly running into the same dead end, creating a way around it. That is the Stoic way of thinking.
Core Values of Stoicism
As you might imagine, after centuries of discussion by the most intellectual minds throughout history, the complexity of Stoicism has developed many facets. As mentioned, many intellectuals, artists, writers and entrepreneurs live their life by these guidelines to inspire creativity and install discipline .
• This system is built for action, not debate.
• The source of our discontent is derived from our impulsive need to act on emotion rather than reason. I.e. many of us don’t think before we act.
• Stoicism reminds us how short life is, and how unpredictable it can be.
• Always be in control of yourself, unwavering in your solidarity.
• It helps us to overcome toxic emotions, training ourselves not to get upset over things which we cannot control.
• All emotions come within ourselves. No one can make you feel any emotion, no matter how strong. How you feel and how you react is all entirely mental.
Example: A stranger is rude to you during your commute. You have the choice to be upset, to feel sorry for them for being miserable, or to disregard it and feel absolutely nothing at all. Whether or not you feel justified with your reactive emotions is irrelevant. You are in charge of the reactive emotion. It is too easy to place the blame on external objects.
• Find a mentor or model- use them to inspire and encourage yourself to do better and do more.
“Without a ruler to do it against, you can’t make the crooked straight.” – Seneca
• Realize that if you fail, you will survive. You will learn, you will adjust, and you will overcome. Failure it not the enemy. It feeds fuel to the fire.
• Read books that inspire you and expand your knowledge in the areas that you want to grow in. Apply that knowledge to further yourself.
• Stop candy coating things – speak honestly and with conviction. People will respect you for your bluntness. Everyone needs a friend who will tell them the truth when they need to hear it.
• Consider what you spend the most time on. Is it beneficial to your growth? Unless your goal in life is to become a social media super star, browsing Instagram probably isn’t going to advance any opportunities for you. Pick up a book. Listen to a seminar. Do. Something. Productive.
• Fight procrastination. This one I particularly struggle with. But it’s true, get your obligations sorted out in a timely manner, leaving time for leisure and your personal goals.
• Time is your most precious resource. Don’t waste it.
• Engulf yourself in your passion and what you love. Don’t waste your time being lazy and taking it easy. Push yourself.
“You don’t love yourself enough. Or you’d love your nature too, and what it demands of you. People who love what they do wear themselves down doing it, they even forget to wash or eat.” – Seneca
Three Men famously set the standard for what it truly means to be a Stoic.
Although many powerful individuals throughout history have famously practiced and helped to shape the foundation of Stoicism, three men in particular brought Stoicism to a new platform, creating a place for it among the scholars.
The Emperor of the Roman Empire, the most powerful man in existence at the time, ordained by the Gods and with wealth beyond comprehension, preached words of humility, compassion, and restraint. Each day he would write in his journal, notes about what it truly means to be a Stoic. Although that was not his intention at the time. He was merely just trying to better himself.
“Run down the list of those who felt intense anger at something: the most famous, the most unfortunate, the most hated, the most whatever: Where is all that now? Smoke, dust, legend…or not even a legend. Think of all the examples. And how trivial the things we want so passionately are.” – Marcus Aurelius
Born as a slave, he managed to gain his freedom as a teenager. After years of enduring the horrors of slavery, he learned how to channel his emotions and overcome his circumstances by maintaining psychological control. He studied Stoicism as a slave, and went on to open his own school to pass on his teachings after having been freed from slavery.
“It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.” – Epictetus
A man of noble and wealthy upbringing, a Philosopher who was a close consultant of the emperor Claudius. Claudius exiled Seneca for eight years for supposed adultery. During his exile, he wrote to his family to comfort them, taking no pity on himself or his circumstances. He was released from exile to tutor Nero, son of Claudius who would later rise into power. Seneca stayed a loyal consultant until his suicide was ordered by Nero. Even then he took no pity on himself, just the people who would mourn over his death.
“We are more often frightened than hurt; and we suffer more from imagination than from reality.” – Seneca
How can you practice Stoicism in your everyday life? It’s quite simple, really.
Separate Yourself from Your Comforts
As Seneca suggests, we need to take the time to practice poverty to realize how little we really need.  He meant quite literally to go sleep on the streets with nothing but the clothes on your back and what little food and water you need to get by. You can practice this by actually spending a night living on the street, it would be shockingly humbling for sure. A less extreme option would be to go for a trip with a very small bag of limited items. You are not allowed to buy anything else, only bring what you actually need. By the end of the trip, you’ll probably have a few items that you didn’t even touch.
Turn The Obstacle Upside Down
Train your perception to look at things from a broader perspective. Not every occurrence is either cut and dry negative or positive. Perhaps you are faced with an issue, and it can be a bit deterring and it feels like everything is falling apart. Not too quick. Take a moment to walk away and refresh for a moment. Look at it through a new light. There is an opportunity here, you just have to find it. Use it as momentum to better yourself and your goals.
Everything is Temporary
Do not dwell. If something didn’t work out, get over it. Everything is fleeting, especially passion. Think of the things that you so passionately wanted that are bland to you now. A shirt, a new phone, a love interest. It all becomes old and dull at some point. Those things are all pointless on the grand scheme, because you yourself have such a small part in this world that we live in.
Most importantly, don’t get caught up in your passionate emotions. They eat away at your well being and distract you from your goals. Sure, someone may have done you wrong and for that they bite the big them. Maybe they’re horrible, but let them be. Someone else’ shortcomings won’t dull your shine unless you let them. So don’t sweat it.
Related Articles Recommended To Live A Stoic Life
Why Our Personal Values Matter More Than Ever Today by Heather Poole
|Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy: Stoicism
|aeon.co: Indifference is a power
|99U: The Stoic: 9 Principles to Help You Keep Calm in Chaos
|Daily Stoic: What Is Stoicism? A Definition & 3 Stoic Exercises To Get You Started