Stoicism is a very old philosophy, created in the time of the ancient Greeks (around 300 BC). But it became very popular in the Roman empire in all levels of society, from slaves to emperors. Some of the most famous Stoics are Cato, Seneca and Marcus Aurelius.
The basic idea
The basic idea of Stoicism is that you take the obstacles in your life and turn them into your advantage and the notion that you should control the things that you can control and accept the things that are outside of your control. This is similar to the concept of the circle of influence and the circle of concern, mentioned in 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.
It all boils down to being in control of things instead of letting things control you.
Stoicism in everyday life
If you hate your job, you can either complain about it, or you could take action to improve your job or find another one. You can let the situation control you, or you take control of the situation and change it to your advantage.
Some things are out of our control. We can get sick, get fired, dumped by our partner, hit by a car, and so on… But even then, we can control how we respond to these situations. Do we feel sorry for ourselves or will we try to make the best of the situation? Becoming sick can give us the opportunity to make other choices in our lives, choose a healthier way of living, spend more time with family and friends, help others who are going through the same thing and give them moral support.
Our emotions can be very powerful. They can control us, even paralyze us. Training yourself to be in control of your emotions (and not let them control you), is an important part of Stoicism.
Seneca, a wealthy man, would live on water and bread and wear the most simple clothes one day a week. This way, he trained himself not to fear poverty.
In modern day Stoicism, there are new ways to train yourself to overcome your fears. One fear most of us have is the fear to be judged by others. One exercise is to draw a big black triangle on your forehead and wear it all day, at work, on the train, going to the supermarket.
One exercise is to draw a big black triangle on your forehead and wear it all day, at work, on the train, going to the supermarket. Don’t explain yourself and don’t let anyone convince you to remove it. Another exercise is to go to your local coffee shop and when there is a line, just go lie down on the floor for 15 seconds. Don’t explain yourself, just do it and go on with your day like nothing happened.
These exercises teach you to be more resistant to peer pressure and other people’s opinions. By putting yourself in an awkward situation, you will be more resilient on other situations and can use this to your advantage.
Stoicism is a practice
Stoicism is not a philosophy that you can read once, understand and then implement to your life. It requires daily practice.
A Stoic practice can be a daily (morning) ritual where you engage in self-reflection. Ask yourself a few questions:
- What do I fear the most?
- What do I desire the most?
- What do I lack the most?
Then ask yourself: What can I do about it?
Plan some small exercises throughout the day to practice your fear. Plan the action you will take to meet your desire.
It will be a small step and you will not solve all your problems in one day, but with a daily stoic practice, you can make yourself more resilient and happier.
More on Stoicism
To learn more about Stoicism, you can read these books:
Also, check out the Daily Stoic website.