There are things within your control, and things which are not. This simple idea is the core tenant of stoicism: a movement that gained traction back in ancient times with the likes of philosophers Seneca and Epictetus, and, most famously, Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius. Rooted in personal ethics and self-governance, stoicism is more than a way of thinking; it’s a way of life.
The simple sentiment above is the foundation for stoicism because it forces us to look at our lives and identify what we can control versus what we can’t control, and to accept this. At its heart, stoicism encourages followers to make the most of the things they can control and to accept what they can’t control by controlling how they react instead. In this way, the stoic is always in control of their life.
While people embrace stoicism for its moral and ethical principles, they find that it’s also a freeing concept. Taking stock of your life is empowering and making the decision to no longer worry about what you can’t control—and instead, focusing on how you can react to these things—leads to newfound happiness for many.
Curious about stoicism? At the end of this article, we’ll provide some recommended reading from the great stoics. First, let’s get familiar with some stoic principles, to give you a primer for this centuries-old way of life.
Emotions come from within
Stoicism urges us to understand that emotions come from within, which means you can achieve mastery of them. This doesn’t mean you should become an unfeeling, callous person! Instead, take stock of your emotions within context and understand why you’re feeling them. The stoic doesn’t let emotions make decisions for them—rather, they make logical decisions based on how they feel about them.
Find a mentor to keep you virtuous
Every famous stoic cites influences in their life: people who they’ve modeled themselves after and who helped shape their approach to moral and ethical self-governance. You don’t need to find a mentor you speak with every day—rather, find someone you respect to measure yourself against. Remember that no person is infallible, but a virtuous mentor can help you make better decisions about who you are and how you choose to lead your life.
Accept failure and move past it
You are going to fail. Every day. All the time. The stoics recognize failure as part of the learning process and don’t see it as a reason to feel bad or to become dissuaded from your path. Instead, they embrace failure and use it as a springboard for achievement. When you fail, you know what not to do, and if you don’t do it again, you will find success. Don’t let failure drag you down—use it as motivation to find the right path forward.
Continue the pursuit of knowledge
In the same vein as accepting failure, stoics believe in the constant strive for knowledge. If you’re not moving forward, you’re standing still. If you’re not learning, you’re losing. Stoicism is rooted in the continuous pursuit of knowledge and understanding, and recognizes that knowledge and intelligence are different. You can know a tremendous amount, but not be smart. Likewise, you can know little, but be smart about the knowledge you possess. Regardless, the stoic will always seek out and embrace knowledge, and you should too!
Be honest, even brutally honest
Honesty is paramount to stoics—not only because it falls within a personal code of ethics, but because transparency is the path to better decision-making. Stoics treasure honesty and practice it always, even when it might not be convenient. Telling a difficult truth will have better outcomes than a simple lie, and will bring the truthteller mental clarity. The more lies you tell, the more burdens you bear. Stoicism is all about unburdening yourself, starting with lies.
Reflect on how you spend your time
For stoics, time is precious and every day matters. One of the mantras of modern-day stoics is “go to bed a better, more knowledgeable person than when you woke up this morning.” To achieve this, you need to spend your time wisely. It’s easier than ever to while away your time scrolling through social media. Instead, stoicism encourages you to take stock of this time and ask yourself, “how is it improving who you are?” Ask yourself how the time you spend each day contributes to your overall betterment.
Seize the day
The final tenant of stoicism is the simplest one and the culmination of all other tenants. Seizing the day simply means waking up with stoic principles in-mind and practicing them mindfully throughout the day. Be present and attentive, and strive to be the person you want to be in all that you do. When you seize each day, you’ll find yourself leading the type of life you want to live.
Interested in learning more about stoicism? Here are a few recommended readings that can unlock more insights about the stoic’s way of life:
- Stoicism and the Art of Happiness by Donald Robertson
- A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy by William Irvine
- The Inner Citadel: The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius by Pierre Hadot
- The Daily Stoic by Ryan Holiday and Steve Hanselman
- The Stoics: A Guide for the Perplexed by Andrew Holowchak