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When I recently had a fender bender at work, I sighed and asked my colleague (who had rear-ended me as we all rushed home from work) if he was okay.
Instead of shouting and raging at the situation, I remained calm and resolved a way forward without blaming my colleague.
He had clearly been in the wrong, but I chose not to sling mud or become negative and take it out on my boyfriend when I got home.
Telling my partner about what happened, he asked me why I was so calm, and I could see he was getting worked up (and he hadn’t even been there).
The root of my calmness and happier outlook on life was planted years ago when I learned how to practice stoicism.
Far from being a “grin and bear it” philosophy, stoicism is a way to live with integrity, fortitude, and peace. Here’s how.
What Is Stoicism?
Stoicism is a philosophy or way of life that began in Athens, Greece, in 300 B.C. The basic tenets of stoicism revolve around the idea that you have the power to react to life or act on it. Stoics believed that by not reacting to events, you could become stronger in your character and avoid living a life that’s out of your control.
At the same time, the stoics believed there are some things in life that you can control and some things you can’t control.
By knowing which are in your power, you stop wasting energy on things that are not within your control, thereby reducing negativity and wasteful living.
According to modern day stoics like Ryan Holiday,
“[Stoicism] is not a set of ethics or principles. It is a collection of spiritual exercises designed to help people through the difficulty of life by managing emotion; specifically, non-helpful emotion.”
While it’s not a case of everything being moonshine and roses, you learn to accept tragedy as the flipside of the coin that happiness lives on.
Being stoic is about accepting you can’t have one (for example, happiness) without the other (tragedy), but you can control how you react to the things that are tragic and unhappy in life.
To live well, you have to be a good, righteous, and virtuous person. This is what the stoic aims to achieve by controlling themselves.
Famous Ancient Stoics include Seneca, Epictetus, and Marcus Aurelius, and their teachings have influenced modern day stoics.
Living humble, being modest in their speech, and not giving in to bragging and excesses is how stoics structure their lives.
To be a stoic means to develop self-awareness, live with discipline, and see life through the eyes of peace, composure, and rational thought.
The essence of stoicism is to evaluate life, focus on inner strength, and develop the skills to face life’s challenges with dignity and honor.
Benefits of Practicing Stoicism
Why would people practice stoicism today when it was first theorized thousands of years ago? Simply put, stoicism is a way of living that applies to today’s world and has many benefits like:
Cultivate Resilience and Strength
Being a stoic means you are less negatively affected by stresses and the demands of hard work as pushing yourself is a virtue.
While you still feel stressors as they cross your path, a stoic knows their own reactions and can manage these to limit the contamination of unhelpful emotions in their life due to stressors.
A stoic won’t take out their frustration with a difficult day by shouting at their wife or children as they know they are stressed about work, and they’ll choose to release that negative energy with a long walk before going home. They own what they can manage.
Being Rational and Cool Headed
It happens all too often that people argue and get into heated fights, but a stoic knows that losing control is unlikely to result in a good outcome. Instead, the stoic remains rational and level-headed in their way of handling situations.
Stoics avoid conflict because they don’t get emotionally unsettled, meaning they can calmly reason their way through a difficult conversation. By diffusing anger and rage, the stoic helps limit the destructive effects of emotions on challenging events.
Instead of arguing with their boss, they will calmly discuss their concerns, encourage communication, and lead the way to solutions by being rational.
Calm Mental Outlook
When you are already on fire about something, it takes only a small spark to stir chaos. However, the stoic works hard to develop a calm mental outlook before disaster strikes.
Therefore, instead of having a situation control you, the stoic controls themselves so they don’t fall at the mercy of the situation.
By ignoring wasteful and meaningless arguments, the stoic remains focused on what matters. Being calm and collected helps to achieve inner peace.
Stoics don’t waste energy on things that are trivial. They will sigh and move on, instead of swearing or being upset for the rest of the day.
One of the ideal benefits of stoicism is that you can be flexible and ready to embrace change without living in fear and holding back from your true potential.
Fear of new things makes us negative, but by embracing change, the stoic modulates fear into healthy changes.
Creating a mindset of seeing change as good, stoics manage to live life with a completely different view on life. Change becomes opportunity, and chance becomes abundance to the stoic.
Imagine seeing life as a series of opportunities that unfold each day, and all you need to do is embrace them and walk ahead with a virtuous lens on life.
Morality, Virtue, and Discipline
Stoics are leaders because they focus on leading themselves firstly. The Ancient Stoics insisted on cultivating a life of moral righteousness and virtues so you would live by walking a path that leads to abundance.
Corruption, shame, and sins are what leads to failures, negativity, and self-inflicted trauma.
By living with virtue, morality, and a disciplined approach to life, the stoic can thrive, no matter the situation they find themselves in.
A Better Understanding of Yourself and Others
Understanding leads to empathy and better insight into the lives and actions of others. But understanding begins with yourself. If you can’t understand yourself, you are unlikely to understand others.
So, perhaps the most valuable benefit of stoicism is that you focus on knowing yourself, understanding your mind, and valuing your heart. For stoics, intrinsic motivation is the driving force in all they do.
A stoic won’t do something merely because they get paid for it. Instead, they will do it because they believe it adds meaning and value to their lives, which is intrinsic motivation (the heart of stoicism).
Empathy and Relationships
Our world lacks empathy, and while social media promotes that we respect each other’s diverse viewpoints, stoicism focuses on your own ability to feel and empathize with others.
The stoic father won’t just lose it because they catch their son smoking. Instead, they will ask questions, gain insight, and learn why their son smokes, and handle the situation with better empathy and understanding.
This ability to walk in someone else’s shoes makes stoics calm, rational, empathic, and communicative. Their relationships thrive because they listen and really see those around them.
9 Ways for How to Practice Stoicism in Your Life
If stoicism sounds like a way of living that could help you make sense of life and create a happier and more balanced life, then I’d like to share the best ways to introduce stoicism into your life today.
1. Can I Control This?
“Man is disturbed not by things, but by the views he takes of them.” ~ Epictetus
Life is often a struggle to control what happens to us, but the reality is that most of life we can’t actually control. This endless struggle leads to stress and negativity.
The stoics realized that by firstly deciding what is in their power to control and what isn’t that they could live with clarity and a better sense of control.
Uncertainty is part of life, and stoics embrace that uncertainty instead of fearing it. It doesn’t mean that stoics have a “don’t give a damn” attitude.
Instead, stoics accept what they can’t control, face what they can control, and seek the wisdom to know which is which, just like the Serenity Prayer.
Ultimately, you can only control yourself. Your thoughts, feelings, and actions are in your power to control.
How to: Start making a list of things you can control each day.
2. Embrace Disaster
The Ancient Stoics would meditate on death, illness, and injury, seeing these in full detail until they were no longer afraid of these. This gave them a certain fearlessness in life.
By not wasting energy, worrying, or becoming anxious about these things, the stoics could avoid suffering before something bad even happened.
Just think of how many times you lost sleep about a job interview, perhaps even causing it to go badly, when it wasn’t in your control. A stoic avoids this wasteful stress by accepting that the worst could happen, and they know worrying about it won’t stop it.
What the stoics knew was that being stressed, worried, and anxious could cause you to lose focus and act irrationally. You cause your own suffering.
Instead, focus on living in the direction that is most right, and life will continue. Doing your best is always good enough (even if you fail).
How to: What do you fear? Think about it, accept it, and let it go.
3. Practice Moderation
Wasting is not useful to the stoic mindset. Living in moderation with no unnecessary excesses and vices is typical of stoic virtue.
Stoics don’t believe in spending money to “buy” happiness. Instead, they believe that living moderately leads to deeper insight and spiritual development.
Stoics, like Ryan Holiday, embrace frugal living and try to live closer to nature. Many choose vegetarianism and avoid alcohol because meat and alcohol can lead to excesses and tempt people to chase cravings.
Practicing moderation leads to temperance.
How to: Include a frugal day each week when you cut back on excesses.
4. Practice Empathy
When you have empathy, you can see someone else’s life from their perspective. Stoics realize that we don’t always know why someone acts the way they do, and we jump to conclusions about the person’s character based on their actions.
Instead of just reading someone at face value, the stoic believes in trying to walk a mile in the other person’s shoes, see life from that person’s perspective, and acknowledge their lived experiences. With this comes understanding and empathy.
Instead of judging people, you judge their world, which informs their decisions. Stoics have greater emotional intelligence and are less judgmental because of practicing empathy.
With empathy, the stoic can accept the other person’s actions without needing to feel angry or offended or even agree or disagree with them. After all, we all walk through fire at times and make mistakes.
How to: When you feel negative about someone, mentally place yourself in their shoes and try to see life and their decisions from their perspective. Would you live differently if you were them?
5. Like Yourself for Yourself & Be Who You Are
“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
We have a primal need to be liked. This desire to be approved of causes us to act out of character, feel stressed, and lose our real happiness to try and gain validation from others. Other people don’t make you happy. You make yourself happy.
Knowing that you have nothing to prove to others, you only prove your own efforts to yourself, and you can focus on living free of expectations are what make stoics truly liberated.
So stop investing your time and energy in others so you can be popular and rather live according to your own judgments.
How to: Practice self-love, kindness, and compassion to like you for you. List your virtues and focus on your strengths. You are worthy.
6. Look at the Bigger Picture
Our view on life and everything around us is often obscured by our narrow perspective. We only see what’s right here, losing sight of what is actually going on. The stoics called it Plato’s view, and they would try to see things from an external perspective.
Like an out-of-body experience, the stoic tries to see everything from a neutral viewpoint, thereby removing judgment and simply gathers information of events, people, situations, and more.
When you see yourself as part of larger societies, countries, the world, and the solar system, you realize you are quite small—less than a grain of sand. Far from feeling insignificant, this helped stoics to become grounded and rebalanced.
While small, you matter, but no disaster (no matter how big) is as bad as you imagine. Your obligation is only to do good, and problems will gain perspective.
How to: Spend three minutes each day looking back on the day from an eagle’s perspective. What changes when you float above everything that happened?
7. Look Inward and Become Self-Aware
Because we can only control ourselves, we need to know ourselves, which is why introspection and self-reflection are vital to the stoic.
Studying, writing, and reading widely contribute to a greater awareness and personal insight.
By writing down our thoughts and feelings, we can really see ourselves, know our inner workings, and identify our weaknesses. Personal growth is not something that happens on its own, it takes dedication and training.
Start writing today, you may be amazed at what really goes on in your mind.
How to: Start journaling. Use prompts and try free writing; let your thoughts empty onto paper and learn who you are.
8. Practice Amor Fati and Detachment
“Don’t seek to have events happen as you wish, but wish them to happen as they do happen, and all will be well with you.” ~ Epictetus
Stop fighting fate. Since not everything is in our power to control, embracing that the good and the bad are two sides of the same coin lets us live with greater peace about the past and hope for the future.
Amor fati, or love of fate, means you focus on your efforts, letting go of any expectation of the results. Whatever happens, happens. You live with gratitude and acceptance—no matter the outcomes of your efforts.
How to: Use your journal to write five things to be grateful for each day. Then write five things that didn’t go as planned. Could you change anything? This is fate, and you can embrace it.
9. Goodness as a Virtue
“Integrity is doing the right thing, even when no one is watching.” ~ Paraphrasing Charles Marshall in Shattering the Glass Slipper
Following a stoic lifestyle means you try to live virtuously. Through living a just and kind life, you experience happiness as a reward. Try becoming more aware of how kindness impacts the world around you and also your mind.
Kind thoughts, acts of kindness, and self-kindness are all part of living a good life that is focused on leaving the world better than we found it.
How to: Make a kindness jar with kindness activities written on slips of paper. Remove a piece of paper each day and make that kindness act a reality. After all, Seneca said, “Wherever there is a human being, there is an opportunity for a kindness.”
Final Thoughts about How to Practice Stoicism
“It is in no man's power to have whatever he wants, but he has it in his power not to wish for what he hasn't got, and cheerfully make the most of the things that do come his way.” ~ Seneca
You can start practicing stoicism, learning to identify what’s in your control, what’s in your partial control, and what’s out of your control.
This helps you better manage your emotions and lead a happier and fulfilling life since you no longer waste time and energy on negativity and unnecessary reactions.
To become a stoic, learn to embrace disaster (or the worst-case scenarios), practice moderation and empathy, look inward to cultivate self-awareness, and remember to take Plato’s view so you can see the bigger picture (or bird’s eye view of life).
And if you're looking for more articles about personal growth, be sure to check out these blog posts:
- 7 Steps to Live a More Purposeful Life
- 15 Simple Ways to Feel More Empowered in Life
- 8 Intentional Living Strategies to Follow Your Values