Stoicism is an ancient Greek philosophy that emphasizes the development of self-control and resilience in the face of adversity. The Stoics believed that by understanding the nature of the world and our place in it, we could learn to accept what we can’t change and focus on what we can control, leading to a peaceful and fulfilled life. The philosophy has recently seen a resurgence of interest, with many people finding its teachings relevant and practical in our modern, fast-paced world.
Questions to ask yourself daily to improve your life
Question 1: “What is the worst that can happen?”
Stoicism teaches that to be prepared for the worst and find peace of mind; it’s important to face and accept the worst-case scenario. By considering the worst that can happen, we can prepare for it and take steps to mitigate the potential damage. This can be difficult, as we often have a natural inclination to avoid thinking about negative outcomes. However, facing and accepting the worst, we can reduce uncertainty’s power and find a sense of control in a potentially chaotic situation.
For example, imagine you are about to give an important presentation at work. Your mind may be filled with thoughts of failure: What if I freeze up? What if I forget my points? What if they don’t like my ideas? By asking yourself, “What is the worst that can happen?” you can begin to face those fears and accept them. The worst that can happen is that you may not do as well as you hoped, but you can remind yourself that you can learn from the experience and improve for the next time. By doing this, you can shift your perspective from anxiety to preparation and be calmer and more focused on your delivery. The more you face fears, the more rational you can be about their probabilities and magnitude of effects.
The Stoic concept of the “dichotomy of control” refers to the idea that there are certain things in life that we can control and certain things that we can’t. According to Stoicism, we should focus our energy on what we can control and accept what we can’t. This helps us to avoid wasting energy on things that are out of our control and instead direct our energy towards things that will make a difference.
One example of how asking this question can lead to greater acceptance, and reduced stress is in the context of a relationship. We may not be able to control how our partner behaves, but we can control how we react and respond to them. By focusing on what we can control, such as our actions and emotions, we can let go of trying to control the other person and find peace in the situation. Knowing what we can and can’t control is powerful so that we can focus our efforts and energy on the right things.
For Stoics, virtue is the highest goal, leading to a fulfilled and meaningful life. Virtue, for the Stoics, is not just about adhering to moral codes or ethical rules; rather, it’s about living in alignment with one’s values and striving to be the best version of oneself.
For example, imagine you are in a situation where you are facing a difficult decision, such as whether to speak up against something that is morally wrong at work or to stay silent. By asking yourself, “What’s the most virtuous action in this situation?” you can reflect on what action aligns with the virtue of courage and justice. Doing the right thing, even if it may be uncomfortable or difficult, would be the most virtuous action. Right action is a mentally healthy approach to every situation.
Question 5: “What are my priorities?”
For Stoics, wisdom is found in knowing what matters and that focusing on what’s important leads to a good life. It’s important to distinguish what is truly important in our lives and what’s not; by doing so, we can direct our time and energy toward what truly matters and make progress in the most important areas.
For example, if you’re working on a project and are struggling to focus and make progress, you might ask yourself this question; it can help you focus on what’s important in that project and identify what you need to do to move forward. This can lead to greater focus and increased productivity. By regularly asking ourselves what our priorities are, we can ensure that we are dedicating our time and energy to what truly matters and that we are progressing toward the things that are important to us. Don’t major in minors in your life; keep your eyes on the prize of your top priorities.
Question 6: “What is the role of emotions in this situation?”
For Stoics, emotions are natural reactions to events and circumstances rather than indicators of truth or moral judgment. They acknowledge that emotions are a natural part of the human experience and that it’s impossible to avoid them altogether. However, they believe that it’s important to recognize that emotions are not always rational or helpful and that our goal should be to develop emotional intelligence and control so that we can healthily manage our emotions.
For example, if you’re feeling stressed about an upcoming meeting, asking yourself this question can help you reflect on why you’re feeling stressed. It might help you to realize that you’re worried about the potential outcome of the meeting and that your stress is not necessarily an indicator of the true nature of the situation, but rather, it’s a reaction to your thoughts and expectations. This understanding can help to bring a more balanced perspective and to take action to better prepare for the meeting, which can reduce the stress and lead to a better outcome. Emotions are signals; learn to understand what they’re trying to tell you, many are based on misconceptions, but some are real and meant to keep you mentally or physically safe.
Question 7: “Am I living according to my values?”
For Stoics, living in alignment with one’s values leads to a fulfilling and meaningful life. They believe that by identifying our values and striving to live by them, we can lead a true life with a sense of purpose and fulfillment.
For example, suppose you value environmental sustainability. In that case, you can ask yourself if you are doing everything possible to reduce your carbon footprint, recycle and consume sustainably, and invest in a greener lifestyle. By asking this question and reflecting on your actions, you can make changes and improvements and live a life that aligns with your values, which can bring a sense of fulfillment and satisfaction. It’s mentally healthy to align your actions with your values.
Question 8: “What can I learn from this?”
For Stoics, wisdom and self-improvement are highly valued, and learning from experiences is a key to growth. They believe that by learning from our good and bad experiences, we can gain a deeper understanding of ourselves and the world around us, leading to personal development and wisdom.
For example, suppose you argue with a friend. In that case, you might ask yourself, “What can I learn from this?” and realize that in this particular situation, you need to improve your communication skills or that you have an unprocessed feeling creating the conflict. By reflecting on the experience in this way, you can gain insight into your behavior and make changes that can lead to greater understanding, personal development, and improved relationships. Even negative events can be positive when you learn a new lesson.
Question 9: “How can I help others?”
For Stoics, service to others is a fundamental aspect of a virtuous life. They believe that by focusing on others, we can lead a more meaningful and fulfilling life. In addition, they believe that the pursuit of wisdom and virtue should focus on the well-being of others and oneself.
As an example, if you’re feeling low and unmotivated, you might ask yourself, “How can I help others?” and realize that you can volunteer your time at a local charity, donate to a cause you care about, or call a friend who might be going through a tough time. By taking actions that help others, we can boost our mood and increase our sense of purpose and fulfillment, leading to a more fulfilling life. Service to others can give you more benefits mentally than those you are helping.
Question 10: “What is the role of fate in this situation?”
The Stoic acceptance of fate is an important aspect of their philosophy. They believe that some events are beyond our control and that it’s important to accept that fact and let go of our attempts to control them. They believe that accepting fate leads to a more peaceful and contented life.
For example, if you have been passed over for a promotion, you may ask yourself, “What is the role of fate in this situation?” and realize that the decision was ultimately out of your control. Instead of dwelling on disappointment, you can accept the outcome and focus on things you can control, such as developing new skills, networking, and looking for new opportunities. Accept situations for how they are and focus on what you can control in the future.
For Stoics, practicing gratitude is an important aspect of their philosophy, as it helps them to focus on the positive aspects of their lives and cultivate contentment. They believe that by actively expressing gratitude for the things we have, we can lead a more fulfilled and meaningful life.
For example, if you’re feeling down, you can ask yourself, “What am I grateful for?” and realize that you have a loving family, a roof over your head and a job, and good friends. This can help you shift your focus from what’s lacking in your life to what you already have, increasing your sense of contentment and well-being.
The Stoic philosophy offers powerful tools for living a more fulfilling and meaningful life. The twelve questions presented in this article can guide introspection and self-improvement. By regularly reflecting on these questions and applying the principles of Stoicism to our lives, we can gain a deeper understanding of ourselves and the world around us, increase our wisdom, and lead a more virtuous and contented life. Remember, the power of Stoicism lies in daily practice, so try to incorporate these questions into your daily routine, and you will see the positive effects in your life.