What can a 2,000-year-old philosophy do to help us thrive in the 21st century? Stoicism is a very practical way of thinking with a number of techniques that can not only help us cope, but help us thrive and grow. Let’s see if we can learn how to live like a Stoic in 4 steps.
Surprisingly the Stoic approach to daily life is a great way to more contentment, happiness and some may say a more purposeful life. Stoicism is largely absent from any religious belief or practice (Though a belief in God(s) existed in Greece and Rome).
Lets dive straight into some practical tips and habits on how to live like a Stoic.
What we control
Focus on what we can control, our feelings, thoughts, speech and actions. Focus less on the externals, those things we can’t control. Be about action, not reaction. When presented with a situation do what is right, do what a superhero would do. Be virtuous in what we say and what we do. Don’t blame others for our feelings, others will behave as they will, we can choose our own behaviours and response. This is a great point to state that Stoicism isn’t about being some Vulcan immune from feelings, Stoicism is very much about being aware of our feelings and emotions in a way in which we can act not react. A reaction often results in regret!
In short, the Stoics were promoting what we now refer to as Mindfulness and awareness in order to act not react. This understanding of what is in and what is outside of our control helps with what Stoics refer to as Practical Wisdom.
Some day to examples of focusing on what we control can be as simple as not letting bad traffic ruining our day, it was our choice to set off at peak rush hour. What we can control is our experience of the traffic, is it a great opportunity to listen to our favourite music, a podcast or notice the new shops around us.
In Stoicism, the term Amor Fati embraces the idea of loving our fate. Events happen both good and not so good, it’s our perception or mindset that makes the difference. This isn’t a ‘grin and bare it’ or ‘smile till you are happy’ concept. It’s more along with the idea of ‘it is what it is, what can I do about it’. The ‘what can I do about it’ isn’t a question it is a prompt for action. Tired that the car is dirty, clean it! Dogs got into the bins bags again, get a steel bin! Partner left you, enjoy the freedom to choose your own movies for a while!
Choose and be your Philosophy
Choose your values and philosophy before they choose you. We go through life with values whether we actively chose them or not. Better to know and have chosen your values. Stoics would add it is more important to live and act according to your values rather than preach them. To live like a Stoic, choose to live like a Stoic. Understand the key mindsets and work on them.
A practical example would be to not negatively judge others for gossip/trash talking someone when you yourself do the same. Part of the challenge here is to have the awareness of when you aren’t living to your values.
In living your values, choose the high road, play above the line. Ask yourself what would Superman do? Stoics would refer to this as being virtuous.
Remember you are mortal
It’s easy to take things seriously, the Stoics referred to Memento mori (remember that you too will die) as a freeing concept, death was inevitable and not to be feared. Rather death is a reason to live fully, for life will end.
Stoics had a rather sobering meditation on death and decay. We can take a lighter yet just as powerful reflection on the inevitable and unpredictable death of ourselves and others to prioritise our life and energy.
Working hard for that new car instead of throwing ball with the kids? Have a passion for cooking but eating frozen meals? If you reflect on a loved one who has passed, it is what time and experiences they shared with us that brings us a smile.
It is not that we have so little time but that we lose so much. … The life we receive is not short but we make it so; we are not ill provided but use what we have wastefullySeneca
To live like a Stoic daily reflection is hugely beneficial to growing and being aware of our mindset. Meditations by Marcus Aurelius are the most famous regular reflections of a Stoic. Meditations was written by Marcus to himself and not for publication, his reflections are a great insight into the Stoic way of thinking as Marcus navigates what life throws his way.
Begin at once to live, and count each separate day as a separate life.Seneca
Reflection need only take 5 minutes, you can either write down your reflection (recommended) or simply work through your reflection in your mind. Reflection can be done at the start and end of the day.
At the start of the day set your intention, what do you want to achieve, what bad habit do you want to be aware of. How do you feel today, energy, mood, any anxiety, any event or person you want to prioritise today
If a man knows not to which port he sails, no wind is favorableSeneca
If you do the morning reflection the first question here is ‘how did I do?’
- did I fulfil what I set out to do?
- did I prioritise the event or person I planned?
Other questions to reflect on are
- what bad habits did I avoid today?
- what did I learn or how did I grow?
Be kind on yourself, reflection should bring about awareness, not guilt! Reflection is also a good opportunity to pick up anything you are worried or anxious about, or any storytelling happening in your mind. Becoming aware that something is nibbling away at your thoughts is a great outcome by itself.
Live like a Stoic in 4 steps
- Understand control, what it and what isn’t within your control. Work on what is in your control such as your reaction, perception and action
- Choose and life your philosophy. You have a set of values and mindset whether you know it or not. Spend time to choose your values and life within those values
- Remember, you too, will die. We live as if we are immortal, wasting time on things outside our control. Embrace your mortality as something to bring energy and focus to your life
- Daily reflection. Bring some awareness and conscious awareness to our day. Auto-pilot is a dangerous mindset for mortals. Be kind with your reflection, progress not perfection
Want to know more?
Keen on another element of Stoic practice? Wim Hof embraces some key techniques, read more in my article ‘How to live like Wim Hof‘