The modern understanding of the term “stoic” conjures images of someone who is strong but unemotional, dignified but dispassionate. Under this definition, the British Royal Family with their stiff upper lips might be considered to be “stoic.”
Stoicism, however, is not just about the strong and silent type. Largely misunderstood, it actually has many practical applications that can help us to view the world more clearly and be more content in our daily lives.
The four tenets of Stoicism are Courage, Self-Control, Justice, and Wisdom. These are all good in theory. A key principle of Stoicism, however, is practice. Stoicism can be viewed as a type of spiritual exercise of being fully self-aware and rational in every moment. It doesn’t happen overnight. It needs consistent good habits over time.
Here are some practices to start you on your path to Stoic success:
Let go of control
“You have power over your mind – not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.” — Marcus Aurelius
You might have heard of the Serenity Prayer: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; the courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference.” This is actually a Stoic principle. It’s about looking at your life daily and separating what is within your power to change and what is not. This will help you to stop stressing about things that are out of your control.
“I will keep constant watch over myself and – most usefully – will put each day up for review.” – Seneca
This is a Stoic practice in awareness. Stoics recommend taking stock at the end of each day. Writing down the lessons you have learned and the wisdom you have attained, as well as areas where you have been a good person and areas you know you messed up. What this does is helps you to embody being aware of your reactions, behaviors, and beliefs and live a more mindful life.
See every obstacle as an opportunity
“Man is disturbed not by things, but by the views he takes of them.” — Epictetus
There is a Stoic practice called Turning the Obstacle Upside Down. This means whenever something supposedly bad or challenging happens, look at it as an opportunity for self-improvement, learning, and growth. It means altering your perspective to look for the opportunities in the obstacles and choosing not to put them in a negative frame.
Take a step back
“We are often more frightened than hurt, and we suffer more from imagination than from reality.” — Seneca
Stoics believe in “Plato’s View,” which means taking a step back and acknowledging how small we are in terms of the universe, how trivial many things are and how interconnected human lives are. They also viewed everything as transient, meaning that nothing lasts. So, if nothing lasts, most things are trivial and we are all in this together, the most important thing is how we behave towards one another at this moment. Are you doing good for your fellow man and yourself or are you creating stories and drama out of fear?
Be protective over your time
“We’re tight-fisted with property and money, yet think too little of wasting time, the one thing about which we should all be the toughest misers.” — Seneca
Your actions and your habits determine your fulfillment, so if you squander your time procrastinating or if you give too much of your time away to others, you are not giving yourself the space to create homeostasis and abundance in your own life. It’s okay to say no. If you are a procrastinator, be sure to keep yourself in check because time is finite and is probably your most valuable asset.
Obsess about death
“Let us prepare our minds as if we’d come to the very end of life. Let us postpone nothing. Let us balance life’s books each day.” – Seneca
Okay, maybe “obsess” is a bit intense. This idea behind focusing on your mortality, however, is to remind you to live life to the fullest and not waste any moments on trivial issues that aren’t that important.
Become friends with fate
“Don’t seek for everything to happen as you wish it would, but rather wish that everything happens as it actually will — then your life will flow well.” – Epictetus
Accepting fate allows you to look at everything that happens to you as something that was sent to grow you. This may not be the easiest in difficult situations, but looking for the lesson may help you to at least feel some good can come out of something bad.
Beat your own drum
“I have often wondered how it is that every man loves himself more than all the rest of men, but yet sets less value on his own opinions of himself than on the opinions of others.” — Marcus Aurelius
It’s been said over and over that the most important love affair you’ll ever have is with yourself. This goes a step further. If you really, truly develop self-love, you also need to back yourself and stop being so concerned about the opinions of other people.
Overall, Stoicism is about developing healthy habits that cut out a lot of our suffering by making us view reality without fantasy or created emotional attachments. You can allow your upper lip to tremble, but only once you’ve eliminated all the clutter and taken an honest, self-aware look at the problem.
Image: Bust of Marcus Aurelius (Wikimedia Commons)