I have recently read about stoicism a lot and I can say it is a wonderful approach to life. The books I have read on this are Meditations by Marcus Aurelius, The Daily Stoic by Ryan Holiday and A Guide to The Good Life by William Irvine. Here is my summary of learning and you can consider these 9 keys as an introduction to stoicism.
Your interpretation of events — You will not be surprised with this one. As Shakespeare said “There is nothing good or bad thinking makes it so.” What this means is everything in life happens and it is your interpretation of events that is the key to staying relaxed. It is the meaning you give to events that make all the difference. For example I am overweight by 10 pounds and I can stress about it all I want but it is a fact. All I can do is continuing exercising daily and doing even more to reduce further. Basic point is to reevaluate what meaning you are giving to everything.
Deprive yourself — This is one of the basic tenets of stoicism. For example you have a great job which pays well. Imagine the job is gone and just reflect on that thought for a moment. If we are honest when we think in this way it really gives a new perspective and also we appreciate what we have more. Similarly along these lines think of how you would feel if those close to you are not there. Again you will feel totally grateful to have them with you.
No Worry– Worry is a form of negative visualization. Instead of worrying just ponder the worst possible outcome for any situation that you are worrying about. Once you know that write it down and then accept it occurring. Some people call it preparing for the maximum possible event. Then work towards not making it happen. This is a much more positive way of viewing worry.
Think of it happening to someone else — Let’s say you got a bad business deal and made a mistake. If you lost money the normal tendency is to keep blaming yourself for everything. Instead imagine the same thing happened to your best friend. Obviously you would advise your best friend that this is not the end of the world and there will be better opportunities which will come your way. When you detach yourself from the uncomfortable situation and think of it happening to someone else you become calmer and more rationale.
Take every task as the last time you are doing it — Imagine every task as if it is the last time you are doing it and then perform it with utmost enthusiasm. My take would be take every task as the first time you are doing it and see how you feel. If you feel you have reached a plateau in your work just think you just got your job and imagine going for the first day to your work. Just making your work fun through your thinking can help elevate your happiness levels.
Think of each day as if it is your last — This is basically connecting to your mortality and this is a basic tenet of stoicism. We all know we have a limited time while we are here so understanding that you will not be there forever gives you more impetus to do more things in your life. I also read in a wonderful book “The Power of Meaning” by Emily Esfahani Smith where she says psychologists talk about the death bed test. This is where you think back from your deathbed and define how you want your life to look from that vantage point. This is a good method to find meaning. Read this quote multiple times it is wonderful from Steve Jobs “Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure — these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. 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. No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet, death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it, and that is how it should be, because death is very likely the single best invention of life. It’s life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new.”
Control what you can and leave what you cannot — This is where the serenity prayer helps in calming us here it is “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, Courage to change the things I can and wisdom to know the difference.”There is no point in worrying about things you can control as you can do something about it. There is no point in worrying about things outside your control since you cannot do anything about it anyway. Of course this is easier said than done but awareness that we have control over our thoughts does help in reducing anxiety and stress.
Dealing with people — This quote from Marcus Aurelius addresses on how to deal with people every day “When you wake up in the morning, tell yourself: The people I deal with today will be meddling, ungrateful, arrogant, dishonest, jealous, and surly. They are like this because they can’t tell good from evil. But I have seen the beauty of good, and the ugliness of evil, and have recognized that the wrongdoer has a nature related to my own — not of the same blood or birth, but the same mind, and possessing a share of the divine. And so none of them can hurt me.”
Journal-ling for self-reflection — This is an age old practice advised by all ancient thinkers. Benjamin Franklin was famous for reflecting on every day how his day went and where he can improve. It is a great way to get to know yourself. I have maintained this for the last 7 years and it is wonderful to look back what you have written some years back. Write once a week on what went well, what can be improved and what has to happen the following week.
There you have it the 9 keys to practicing stoicism. Even if we adopt some of these practices we will be calmer and enjoy our life journey more.
The views expressed here are my own and do not represent my organization.