Roughly about 18 months ago, I came across this guy called Ryan Holiday talking about "Stoic philosophy". He was talking about expressing negative emotion in a productive way by channeling it into something productive.
I was intrigued. So I googled it.
Stoicism. The philosophy of remaining firm when you face adversity. A few articles and videos in, I was sold. Since then, I have read books, blogs, podcasts to help me understand stoicism better.
I'm writing this blog-post to introduce you to some of the principles of stoicism. Even if you don't dive deep into the philosophy, the mindset will help you when you face hard things in life.
What exactly is Stoicism?
Stocism is a philosophy that originated in ancient Rome. Even Marcus Aurelius, who was the emperor of Rome at the kingdom's peak glory, identified himself as a stoic.
So you see, stoicism is the mindset of a KING. And each one of us should focus on making ourselves KINGs- the best version of ourselves- and stoicism can help you with that.
Stoicism really boils everything that happens into two buckets:
- Things that are in your control.
- Things that are not in your control.
And most of stoic philosophy deals with it like this:
If it is in your control, take action and change it. If it is not in your control, you cannot do anything about it, so there is no use crying about it.
As simple as that. That is the core of stoic philosophy.
Here's a quote from Marcus Aurelius that sums it up:
"If it is endurable then endure it, stop complaining."
The 4 cardinal virtues
The stoics uphold virtue as the ultimate god.
"Everyday I reduce the number of my vices", said Seneca, another important stoic figure.
To really drill the mindset down, here are the 4 cardinal virtues that every stoic must embody.
Prudence means wisdom. Most people act in a very unwise manner. They take decisions that hurt them in the long term but feel good in the moment. They don't weigh their options right. Their focus is not on getting better.
Prudence, when it comes to the self, is really lacking in today's generation. And stoicism can help with that.
Be prudent in your actions everyday. Act like a wise man and you will become wise.
Actions, not words. Or as the stoics put it, Acta non verba.
You can read all the philosophy you want, hear stories of wise kings, but as long as you do not put your thoughts into actions, you will remain the same.
Be wise. Be stoic.
Moderation. Restrain from the things you do in excess. Everything in moderation. If you are addicted to the highs, you will feel terrible in the lows.
To deal with your lows like a stoic, you need to detach yourself from the pleasure of the highs. If good things make you happy, then bad things will make you unhappy.
Most people want to enjoy the good things to the fullest while also wanting the bad things to not affect them much. That's not how things work. You need to detach yourself from the highs of the good to remain strong when something bad happens.
This doesn't mean you shouldn't enjoy, or shouldn't celebrate your successes. It means you should do everything in moderation. If something good happens, celebrate, but move on. Don't get caught up. If something bad happens, feel the sadness, then move on. This is key to not let things affect you.
This quote from Aurelius might be something you need to reflect upon:
"If you seek tranquility: do less"
Be temperant. Be stoic.
Justice is one of a king's main duties. To be just to his subjects is important for a king. This does apply in modern life too.
If you go along life without a sense of justice, you are sleepwalking. If you take decisions without any moral reflection, you are unjust to yourself. Unjust to yourself, which is the biggest foolishness of all.
Marcus Aurelius' teacher Epictetus said: "Seeking the very best in ourselves means actively caring for the welfare of other human beings."
This is primary. If you are the king, you must lift others up.
Be just to yourself and to others. Be good to the good, and bad to the bad. It is important to pay a wicked man in his own coin. Don't focus on being nice, focus on being just.
Be just. Be stoic.
A man is his courage. Not so long ago, men were known by their feats of courageousness. It is only now in the modern comfortable world that courage is devalued.
But if you think about it, it is equally as important, just that not many men are courageous enough today.
The stoics ask us to face our fears head-on. To not yield to our troubles but to face them. Active visualizations of our fears can help us face them better.
Which is why Seneca says: "The man who has anticipated the coming of troubles takes away their power when they arrive."
This exercise has really helped me. Visualize future troubles, see what might go wrong. It will help you mitigate the situation better, it will help you be more courageous under adversity.
Be courageous. Be stoic.
One of my favorite stoic quotes is-
"To be like the rock that the waves keep crashing over. It stands unmoved and the rage of the sea falls still around it."
_Emperor Marcus Aurelius
Overall, I have found the philosophy of stoicism and emotional control really helpful in the last 2 years. It's a crazy mindset shift. I am still in the process of internalizing it completely.
But looking at everything that happens to you through a stoic lens helps put things into perspective and makes you better at dealing with bad, unfortunate events like a king.
If you found this helpful, do implement it in your life. Let me know if it helps!
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