by Darpan Sachdeva
Stoicism was one of the four principal schools of philosophy in ancient Athens, alongside Plato’s Academy, Aristotle’s Lyceum, and Epicurus’ Garden, where it flourished for some 250 years. It proved especially popular among the Romans, attracting admirers as diverse as the statesman Seneca, the ex-slave Epictetus, and the Emperor Marcus Aurelius. It’s no surprise considering Stoicism’s emphasis on self-mastery. Success and leadership flows from the reflection in the mirror. The key is found in responding, as opposed to reacting, to external circumstances.
Stoicism is a practical philosophy that aims to help us live well.As Stoics, we learn to focus on what is in our power. We ask ourselves, “What can we do to create a good life, no matter the circumstances we find ourselves in? Responding requires being mindful, aware and in control, rather than under the control, of your emotions and thought process. We can choose to perceive events in a productive way, or a destructive way. Stoics chose to see the glass always half-full. They find the silver lining in every cloud.
These 21 lessons from Stoicism will no doubt bring positive change to lead a better and fulfilled happy life:
1. Think about thinking
“If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.” – Marcus Aurelius.
Only an attentive mind can filter and revoke unhealthy thoughts, and subsequently, unhealthy behaviors. Stoicism taught a clear distinction between your thoughts and behavior. It’s that old adage, think before you act. The mindless person acts viscerally and regretfully. The next time you’re confronted with a frustrating conversation or your schedule is suddenly derailed, pause for a moment to create a break to process what happened, then ask yourself: What’s the best way I can respond?
2. Change What You Can—Forget the Rest
“The chief task in life is simply this: to identify and separate matters so that I can say clearly to myself which are externals not under my control, and which have to do with the choices I actually control.” -Epictetus
The single most important practice in Stoic philosophy is differentiating between what we can change and what we can’t. What we have influence over and what we do not.
3. Start Living —New day, new beginnings
“Begin at once to live, and count each separate day as a separate life.” – Seneca.
Stoics saw each day brimming with opportunities. Remember, it only takes a single event, a single conversation, to completely change the trajectory of your life.
An awful day doesn’t have to become an awful week. Failing to meet a deadline can spread to a rejected business proposal if the fire of frustration isn’t put out. The Stoics built walls of mental compartmentalization when necessary. Little pieces of the big picture connect and affect one another. When a cancer of anger and negativity is identified, it needs to be cut out before it spreads.
A new day, a clean slate. Put a stop to the domino effect before your little errors turn into a major crises.
4. Purposed action
“If a person doesn’t know to which port they sail, no wind is favorable.” – Seneca.
The Stoic wakes up and knows exactly what they want from their day — a clear destination and clear goals. Starting your day with writing down daily goals creates a psychological pre-commitment and self-expectation that increases the likelihood of achievement. Psychologist Dr. Gail Matthews‘ study took 267 participants and found those writing goals with specific weekly strategies had a 76 percent success rate compared with 43 percent for those who merely stated their goals.
Every action must connect with a destination. Otherwise, you can sail all day, and end up right where you started.
5. Pause And Be Grateful
“In all things we should try to make ourselves be as grateful as possible.”-Seneca wrote to his friend Lucilius
— Think of all the things you can be grateful for today. That you are alive, that you live in a time primarily of peace, that you have enough health, leisure and access to an internet connection to read this article.
6. There’s a season
“No great thing is created suddenly, any more than a bunch of grapes or a fig. If you tell me that you desire a fig, I answer you that there must be time. Let it first blossom, then bear fruit, then ripen.” – Epictetus.
Ambitious people live ten years in the future. Patience isn’t our greatest virtue. Stoicism stressed living in accordance to our inner flow, and also to the external flow of life. Patience is not the enemy of productivity. Constantly trying to find shortcuts will send you round in circles. Quality often gets sacrificed on the altar of rapid development. Excitement can cause ignorance toward necessary procedures.
Giving something an extra day can make a great deal of difference.
7. Don’t Burn The Candle On Both Ends
Seneca wrote in his essay On Tranquility of Mind that “the mind must be given relaxation—it will rise improved and sharper after a good break.” The mind is a muscle, and like the rest, it can be strained, overworked, even injured. Our physical health is also worn down by overcommitment, a lack of rest, and bad habits. Remember: Life is a long haul. Are you going to be able to handle the difficult moments if you’ve burned the candle at both ends?
8. Always Love
“Hecato says,‘I can teach you a love potion made without any drugs, herbs, or special spell—if you would be loved, love.’” -Seneca quoting another Stoic
The Beatles put it pretty well a few centuries later, “In the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.” Not just in politics, not just in tolerance, but in our personal lives. There is almost no situation in which hatred helps. Yet almost every situation is made better by love.
9. Remember That You Can’t Be Broken
“You can bind up my leg, but not even Zeus has the power to break my freedom of choice.” -Epictetus
Someone can throw you in chains, but they don’t have the power to change who you are. Even under the worst torture and cruelties that humans can inflict on one another, our power over our own mind and our power to make our own decisions can’t be broken.
10. You’re already there
“True happiness is to enjoy the present, without anxious dependence upon the future, not to amuse ourselves with either hopes or fears but to rest satisfied with what we have, which is sufficient. – Seneca.
We all believe achievement and success brings happiness but, surprisingly, the equation can be flipped — happiness brings success and achievement. Modern science has recently clued into what the Stoics knew for centuries.
Harvard psychologist Shawn Achor shared his research during a Ted Talk. Professionals from various careers who took part in a gratitude practice at the start of their day performed at a much better level than those who didn’t. Achor showed that starting with a positive mindset releases dopamine, which increases overall performance and happiness levels.
Increase your performance with positivity at the starting blocks rather than at the finish line.
11. Be Kind
“For what can even the most malicious person do if you keep showing kindness and, if given the chance, you gently point out where they went wrong—right as they are trying to harm you?” – Marcus Aurelius
Most rudeness, meanness, and cruelty are a mask for deep-seated weakness. Kindness in these situations is only possible for people of great strength. You have that strength. Use it.
12. Make peace with death
“Rehearse death. To say this is to tell a person to rehearse his freedom. A person who has learned how to die has unlearned how to be a slave.” – Seneca.
It’s not something we like to talk about, but death is the one certainty in life. Confronting that reality is liberating. Whether we realize it or not, death anxiety is at the root of all our fears. Our fight/flight mechanism works to preserve life, to flee from death. But it often gets triggered long before death enters into the picture, crippling us from stepping outside our comfort zone to pursue passions and new creations. Confronting and coming to peace with death diminishes that slavery to fear. Stoics stared death in the face and accepted it as a natural part of life. Becoming friends with the ‘monster’ defeats it.
Steve Jobs said it beautifully, “Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.”
13. Become Good Now
“Don’t behave as if you are destined to live forever. What’s fated hangs over you. As long as you live and while you can, become good now.” -Marcus Aurelius
14.Focus Inward—Don’t Judge Others
“Let philosophy scrape off your own faults, rather than be a way to rail against the faults of others,” – Seneca.
The proper direction of philosophy is focused inward—to make ourselves better and to leave other people to that task for themselves and their own journey. Leave other people to their faults.
15. Don’t Be Ashamed To Ask For Help
“Don’t be ashamed of needing help. You have a duty to fulfill just like a soldier on the wall of battle. So what if you are injured and can’t climb up without another soldier’s help?” –Marcus Aurelius
16. Do Your Job
In his Meditations, Marcus Aurelius asks himself: “What is your vocation?” He then answers: “To be a good person.” The Stoics believed, above all else, that our job on this earth is to be a good human being. It is a basic duty, yet we are experts at coming up with excuses for avoiding it.
17. Trust Yourself
In Seneca’s essay on tranquility, he uses the Greek wordeuthymia, which he defines as “believing in yourself and trusting that you are on the right path, and not being in doubt by following the myriad footpaths of those wandering in every direction.” Know where you are going. Trust yourself and don’t be distracted by others.
18. Review Your Day
In a letter to his older brother Novatus, Seneca describes a beneficial exercise he borrowed from another prominent philosopher. At the end of each day he would ask himself variations of the following questions: What bad habit did I curb today? How am I better? Were my actions just? How can I improve?Take the time today and review your day.
19. Kill Your Ego & Self-Delusion
“It is impossible for a person to begin to learn what he thinks he already knows.” – Epictetus
Self-deception, delusions of grandeur—these aren’t just annoying personality traits. Ego is more than just off-putting and obnoxious. Instead, it’s the sworn enemy of our ability to learn and grow.
20. Persist & Resist
“If anyone would take two words to heart and take pains to govern and watch over themselves by them, they will live an impeccable and immensely tranquil life. The two words are: persist and resist.” -Epictetus
Persist in your efforts—despite any obstacles you might face—and resist naysayers, discouragement and distractions.
21. Accept The Haters As They Are
The Stoic does two things when encountering hatred or ill opinion in others. They ask: Is this opinion inside my control? If there is a chance for influence or change, they take it. But if there isn’t, they accept this person as they are. Our job is tough enough already. We don’t have time to think about what other people are thinking, even if it’s about us.
Darpan Sachdeva is the CEO and Founder of Nobel thoughts.com. With a long time passion for Entrepreneurship, Self development & Success, Darpan started his website with the intention of educating and inspiring like minded people all over the world to always strive for success no matter what their circumstances.To keep going and never get disheartened and learn from every adversity.