Stoicism is a philosophy that has gained traction and momentum in the self-help sphere in recent years, but it has a long history.
Many more people view it as a way to better manage their negative emotions and cultivate peace and happiness.
But is that what Stoicism is about? Is that something that Stoicism can help you with? Well, let’s explore that.
The Common Misconception Of Stoicism
A major difference exists between lower case “s” stoicism and upper case “S” Stoicism in modern culture and understanding.
In modern culture, many of us view a stoic as impassive, unemotional, and essentially a gray rock. Because of that, many people view Stoicism as a tool to find your way to not caring, to not have emotions instead of having painful ones so that they cease to disrupt your peace, happiness, and life.
This couldn’t be further from the reality of Stoicism.
Stoicism is about many things, but it is not meant to be a tool to make yourself into an unemotional rock. Instead, Stoicism is about approaching life with logic and rationality instead of being at the whims of your emotions, which will often get you into trouble.
Yes, you can and will feel emotions. You’re a human being. You’re supposed to feel emotions, depression notwithstanding.
But what you don’t want to do is allow your emotions to control your actions because that often leads to terrible outcomes.
Consider the following example:
Someone calls me an idiot in front of other people. That would make me angry, and that would be reasonable. This person disrespected me, so I have the right to be angry.
But what comes next?
Well, there are two paths forward.
The first path is to give in to my anger and defensiveness, and engage, which will escalate the situation. Maybe I step forward and punch him in the face. And then what? What’s the worst-case scenario? The worst-case scenario is that I hit him hard enough to knock him down, he bounces his head off the wall or ground, and he dies. Then, I go to jail for manslaughter for 20 years, traumatizing many people involved, and destroying the peace and lives of at least two people.
Or, I can take the second path. I can listen to this person talk utter nonsense and know that this person doesn’t know me and that there is no reason for me to care about their opinion. Anyone that would listen to this person without questioning it probably isn’t worth associating with. Yes, I may be angry, but my actions are the only things I truly have control over. I use logic and rationality to let this person do what he will do, and then we get on with our lives intact. And I hope this man can create peace within himself because I know how terrible it is to live angry and aggressive.
Stoicism, regarding emotions, is not about becoming emotionless. It is about exerting control over your emotions so that they stop causing you to make bad decisions. Here are some stoic practices that can help you do that.
5 Stoic Practices You May Wish To Adopt As Part Of Your Lifestyle And Mindset
1. Consider past and present actions through Virtue.
“Virtue is the sole Good.”
It is a sentence that encapsulates the moral compass of Stoicism.
Virtue is defined by four things you may recognize from other philosophies and religions—Wisdom, Justice, Courage, and Moderation.
By considering your past actions through Virtue, you can get an idea of how they might have changed your life’s trajectory or the situation’s outcome.
The same practice is worthwhile for present actions. Is it Wise? Is it Just? Is it Courageous? Is it Moderate? And if the answer is no, look for an action that would be. Then, consider what may have happened instead. This exercise should help you better understand the power and peace of Virtue, even when it’s unpleasant.
Stoics strive to act according to Virtue because the philosophy teaches us that everything in life can be taken from us except our character. You can lose your career, loved ones, health, wealth, and everything you’ve worked for. But, presumably, you cannot lose your character and your choice of actions.
Although it should be said that this is a somewhat dated idea. Most people understand that mental illness and other mental health issues can cause us to act in ways that are entirely out of character.
Still, no one is perfect, and no one ever gets it perfectly right. You won’t either. All you can do is strive to live up to that standard.
So, what does it mean to act with Virtue? Well, here’s a cliff-notes version, but bear in mind that building one’s understanding of these concepts can be a lifelong endeavor with the many circumstances one experiences.
Wisdom: To understand what we should choose. To differentiate between good and evil. To identify what is in our control and what is not.
Justice: To act in a right and fair way to our society, our fellow man, and ourselves.
Courage: To be fearless in the face of adversity and meaningful conflict. To be fearless about losing public opinion, poverty, disease, death, and negative life circumstances to take Virtuous actions.
Moderation: To act with discipline, self-control, and restraint. To regulate one’s emotions when one’s emotions run high.
Simple enough, right?
Easy? Not by a long shot.
It isn’t easy to act following these concepts, particularly when it won’t go well for you. It’s difficult to be courageous and act justly in a situation that will probably harm you. Sometimes it’s wiser not to take a direction in the moment; you need to be able to reconcile that.
Beyond the already stated reasons and the quest to be Good, striving for Virtuous action is also for your peace.
Consider how much chaos, pain, and suffering a single lie in your life created. Did it destroy a friendship? A relationship? Cost you a job? Caused other people to look at you negatively? How did you feel about yourself? Good? Happy? Peaceful?
But what if you acted with Virtue? What if you were Courageous and Just by speaking the truth? Yes, it probably would’ve caused some problems. But how much of the bigger issue could you have avoided?
2. Embrace discomfort to build your tolerance to the uncomfortable.
“Take cold showers.”
This one piece of advice is something that you will find all over the internet in Stoicism-related content.
And the obvious question is, “Why?”
It’s simple—this advice is commonly given regarding the Stoic practice of embracing discomfort because everyone needs showers. Hence, it’s easy to incorporate into your life.
In a wider sense, the idea is to put yourself into uncomfortable positions so you can regularly train and practice your self-control to be ready when the real problems arise.
You can think of it in the context of an athlete. A marathon runner doesn’t just up and run a marathon. They train and condition, then they run the marathon.
Similarly, by regularly embracing your discomfort, you are training and conditioning yourself for when that marathon comes running at you.
There are plenty of ways to embrace discomfort. You can take cold showers, only drink water, sleep on the floor, or deprive yourself of any creature comforts.
And you don’t need to do this for the rest of your life or forever. Start small. Go for a week, then thirty days, or maybe longer if you feel inclined. But do it regularly.
3. Contemplate your mortality regularly.
That’s Latin for: Remember, you will die.
Consider your death regularly. Consider the deaths of your friends, family, and any other loved ones you might have.
This does not have to be depressing. Instead, consider it an inspiring reminder that you have a life that you can do something with if you get up and start doing it!
Stop procrastinating. Stop putting off the things you want to do, passions you want to pursue, and loves you want to give. Memento Mori.
Every day you can hear people decry how much they have to do and how little time they have to do it. Every day people regret the opportunities they didn’t take, the things they didn’t do, the relationships they didn’t appreciate, and far more.
The truth is that you have time. We all have time but waste so much of it through unfocused effort and distractions.
Remember, you will die.
It may be right now as you read these words or 100 years into the future. Either way, you will die—so stop wasting your life and time.
Instead, do what needs to be done. Pursue your passions. Do your best with what is in front of you right now. There may be no tomorrow for you or the people you love.
You only have one life. You can’t wait. You must start doing the right thing today, pursuing what you want, and loving and appreciating what you have. Tomorrow it might be dust in the wind.
4. Embrace and love your fate, for good or ill.
That’s another Latin phrase. It means: Love your fate.
What difficult situation are you currently putting off? What pain are you experiencing? Is it a health problem? Mental illness? A trauma? The loss of a loved one? Substance abuse? Did a relationship end? Maybe you lost a job? Maybe your current job is destroying your health, and you need a new one?
Whatever the circumstances, allow yourself to feel sad and heartbroken, or whatever it is that you feel.
But if you strive to embrace Stoicism or our practices, you must not let that stop you from moving forward. You cannot just lay in the suffering and wallow. Memento Mori—you don’t have time for that.
You need to start addressing the issue. And if you don’t know where to start or how to do that, hop on over to Google and type in, “how can I deal with ‘x problem'” and start researching. You have a world of information at your fingertips. Put it to work!
Amor Fati is a phrase that is often misunderstood. I feel that the reason this phrase is so misunderstood is due to how we, as a society, view love.
Love heals. Love tears down walls. Love is beautiful. Love is warm, sunshiny, and fulfilling. Love is everything you should want out of the human experience. And that’s what we focus on.
But is that all there is to love? If it were, Amor Fati would be simple.
Love runs far deeper than the bright and shiny. Love is standing by your partner when they’re diagnosed with cancer. Love is the pain and suffering of losing someone you’re close to. Love is trying to put a hand out for someone who may slap it away. Love is striving to be kind to unkind people. Love is trying to do the right thing when everyone around you is not.
Love is so beautiful and so deeply painful at times.
Amor Fati—love your fate.
Your fate is what you experience in life, not what you are condemned to by destiny. You will experience suffering, hardship, and pain. It will come for you sooner or later. There’s no avoiding it.
So, what do you do? Do you run from it? Hide from it? You can try, but it will catch up to you sooner or later. And the longer you run from it, the longer it takes to confront, accept, and overcome it.
Instead, Stoics strive to greet their fate with a warm smile and open arms. Yes, this terrible thing happened to me! Yes, this isn’t fair or right! Yes, I may be the survivor of the evil of humans to other humans!
But this fate is mine and mine alone. I am the one that must welcome it with open arms so that I may begin healing and not let this destroy me.
5. Create a journaling habit.
Journaling is a hot-button topic in the mental health and self-help spheres. And even though it is trendy and almost cliché at this point, there’s a reason for it.
Journaling is a powerful tool not only for your mental and emotional health but also in Stoic practice. Journaling is a time when you sit down to consider your actions, thoughts, and feelings for the day. Journaling is a time of reflection when you can meaningfully consider whether you lived up to the example you’re striving for.
The main benefit of journaling comes from making it a regular habit. You won’t see the benefits of long-term planning and consideration if you only do it occasionally.
And though you will find many suggestions on how to journal—like typing or recording your thoughts—I suggest handwriting your journal instead. Handwriting is a systematic action that engages different parts of your brain. The steady, slower action of handwriting gives you more time to consider your thoughts and feelings as you write.
In addition, writing by hand forces you to consider how to express yourself because you can’t just easily go back and correct it with a few keystrokes. You should also regularly review your journal to gauge your progress which is much harder to do with a recording.
Write about what you did that day. What could you have done better? Did you make bad decisions? Why did you make bad decisions? Did you accomplish your goals? Why didn’t you accomplish them? What can you do to meet your expectations next time?
This time of reflection is also important when trying to implement more of a philosophy into your regular life. Life is difficult, and making the right decisions in the moment is often hard. Reflecting after the fact can help you see things in a new light.
Journaling may also give you the additional space you need to consider the problems that are coming in the future and to look for the right solutions to those things.
The thing about Stoicism…
You may notice something about these practices. All of them are long-term projects. That’s because adopting a different way of life, a different way of thinking, requires extended effort and focus.
It takes time to unmake bad habits. It takes time to create good habits. It takes time to create the life you want, rebuild damage done to your life, to correct the wrong things you’re doing with the right things.
But the great benefit of doing these things, of striving to live in accordance with Virtue, is the space that comes for incidental happiness.
How can anyone be happy when they’re angry all the time? How can anyone be happy while living in fear of their bad decisions? How can anyone be happy when they must live with the guilt of watching someone suffer and doing nothing when they have the power to change it?
Stoicism can lead you to greater peace, but it won’t necessarily lead to happiness all the time. Still, happiness is a wonderful byproduct of Stoicism for many. Life is much easier and more fulfilling when you try to live according to Virtue.
And you may be saying to yourself, “Well, I read about the Stoics, and they did all kinds of bad things! They failed at being Stoic all the time!”
Yes, they did. And in several places in their writings, they lament their flaws and failures as human beings because that’s all they are. We are all just men, women, or people who don’t fit that traditional paradigm, trying our best with what life throws at us.
No one ever gets it perfect. The stories where people are perfect are fiction. There is no perfect. You will never be perfect. No leader or thinker will ever be perfect. It’s impossible and unreasonable to think otherwise. And if you do, well, I have some magic beans you might be interested in.
Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good. Instead, be the best imperfect person you can be.
And if Stoicism doesn’t resonate with you, there are plenty of other options out there. So keep exploring until something does.