Stoicism is an ancient Greek philosophy that provides timeless wisdom on how to live a virtuous, meaningful life. By cultivating wisdom, courage, justice, and self-control, Stoics train themselves to face life’s challenges and remain level-headed. However, many of us engage in habits that go against Stoic teachings.
Identifying and stopping these tendencies is vital to practicing Stoicism effectively and experiencing its transformative power. This article will explore six everyday anti-Stoic habits to avoid living a more fulfilling life.
Stoicism was founded in the 3rd century BC by Zeno of Citium. It teaches that virtue is the sole good and prescribes living rationally, putting virtues into action, and focusing only on what is within one’s control. Despite its profound wisdom, many people engage in anti-Stoic habits that lead to needless suffering. These tendencies often become deeply ingrained over time if left unchecked.
However, with awareness and consistent practice, we can rid ourselves of unproductive habits and adopt a Stoic mindset. This leads to resilience and tranquility and gives us the tools to deal with whatever life throws our way. Avoiding the following anti-Stoic habits and implementing their positive counterparts is essential for those looking to apply Stoic philosophy to better their lives truly.
1. Reacting Emotionally Instead of Responding Rationally
Stoics aim to remain calm and level-headed in all situations. However, we often react based on raw emotion before responding rationally, such as yelling at someone when angry or making impulsive decisions when anxious. Instead, process your feelings, pause, and make more reasoned judgments.
Seneca stated, “Reason…commands what is best: the emotions know only what is immediate.” When a strong negative emotion arises, take a few deep breaths, walk away from the situation if necessary, and give yourself time and space. Once some initial intensity has passed, you can respond more constructively, true to your values.
2. Avoiding Discomfort and Seeking Pleasure Excessively
We naturally avoid pain and discomfort while continuously pursuing pleasures. However, this short-term thinking promotes hedonism and aversion to challenges necessary for growth. The Stoics understood discomfort is inevitable in life. Face difficulties calmly as opportunities to build character rather than avoiding them.
Don’t excessively chase after pleasures, either. Practice self-control and moderation instead. Epictetus said, “Is freedom anything else than the right to live as we wish? Nothing else. Tell yourself, then, that you wish to live in a state of self-control. If you wish this, there is no one to stop you.” Train yourself to derive joy from simple things rather than constantly needing external stimulation and satisfaction.
3. Blaming External Circumstances for Your State of Mind
When unhappy, we often blame external factors – our job, relationships, and life situation. This shifts responsibility away from ourselves. But Stoics believe our judgment, not externals themselves, determines our mindset. Take ownership of your perspective.
Instead of blaming externals, focus on your internal response. You always have a choice in how you perceive any situation. As Epictetus said, “People are disturbed not by things but by their view of things.” See challenges as opportunities to practice wisdom and discipline. Don’t justify negative mindsets based on difficult circumstances.
4. Not Taking Responsibility for Your Actions and Thoughts
Stoics live by high moral standards and take full responsibility for their conduct. However, we often justify poor decisions and blame outside forces to avoid guilt. Adopt an internal locus of control instead. Own your choices fully without making excuses or shifting responsibility.
This also applies to thought patterns. Take responsibility for unhealthy mental habits like dwelling on the past or worrying excessively about the future. You can choose to shift to better interpretations and beliefs aligned with virtue. As Marcus Aurelius stated, “If you are pained by external things, it is not they that disturb you, but your own judgment of them.”
5. Living In The Past or Future Instead of The Present
We often dwell on the past, ruminating over mistakes, or anxiously ponder the uncertain future. This distracts us from fully experiencing the present moment. Stoics focus on the here and now, as the past can’t be changed, and the future is out of your control.
Be present and engaged in whatever you do, whether completing a work task or spending time with loved ones. Let go of regrets and past errors. Don’t let future worries dominate your thinking, either. Practice mindfulness to direct your attention to the gift of the present.
6. Focusing on What You Can’t Control Instead of What You Can
Stoics differentiate between what’s within our control (our values, judgments, actions) and what isn’t (external outcomes, other people). Despite this wisdom, we often stress over uncontrollable things like our reputation, winning awards, and others’ opinions. This leads to frustration and anxiety.
Practice letting go of uncontrollable outcomes. Instead, channel your energy into what you control – your character, perspective, and conduct. Find peace of mind by focusing internally on living virtuously. As Epictetus stated, “Happiness and freedom begin with a clear understanding of one principle: Some things are within our control, and some things are not.”
Case Study: James Implements Stoic Habits and Transforms His Life
James sought Stoic wisdom because he felt stressed, anxious, and unhappy even though his life seemed to have everything expected to bring fulfillment – a successful career, financial stability, loving family.
Despite this, James chronically worried about the future, beating himself up over past mistakes. He also got easily irritated at small things like traffic jams, blaming external factors for his frustration.
After studying Stoicism, James started implementing its practices and letting go of anti-Stoic habits that had become second nature. He focused on rational thinking and self-control when strong emotions came up. Instead of avoiding pain, James leaned into challenges to build resilience.
He took full ownership of his actions and thought patterns rather than making excuses. James practiced mindfulness to live more fully in the present moment, focusing only on what he could control.
Letting go of anti-Stoic tendencies dramatically improved James’ life. He became less reactive, more confident in dealing with difficulties mindfully, and gained an internal locus of control. By aligning his daily habits with Stoic teachings, James could live more virtuously and reach a state of lasting contentment.
Avoiding everyday anti-Stoic habits and implementing their positive counterparts is essential for fully benefitting from Stoic teachings. With conscious practice over time, we can rid ourselves of unhelpful tendencies that lead to suffering. This paves the way for greater self-mastery, resilience, and alignment of our daily lives with virtue.
Stoicism’s principles may be centuries old but remain powerfully applicable today. As this article outlined, we still struggle with anti-Stoic habits like reacting emotionally, avoiding discomfort, and living unvirtuously. Identify any tendencies you relate to and take small steps daily to replace them with more rational, mindful Stoic habits. With consistency, your life is sure to improve dramatically.