Marcus Aurelius: How To Build Self Discipline (Stoicism)

Marcus Aurelius: How To Build Self Discipline (Stoicism)

The ancient philosophy of Stoicism offers profound insights into building self-discipline that remain highly relevant today. One of the most influential Stoic thinkers was the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius. During his reign in the 2nd century AD, Marcus Aurelius kept a journal called Meditations, which outlined his philosophical ideas and provided practical guidance for cultivating self-control. Marcus Aurelius believed self-discipline was crucial for overcoming destructive emotions and living a virtuous life guided by wisdom. This article will explore Marcus Aurelius and Stoicism’s key concepts and exercises around developing strong self-discipline.

By following these teachings, anyone today can learn to master their impulses, focus their efforts, direct their judgments, and live with purpose. Marcus Aurelius’ wisdom provides a framework for self-improvement that emphasizes self-mastery, reason, mindfulness, and kindness. By putting these principles into consistent practice, we can overcome internal chaos and strengthen our discipline to live more meaningful lives.

The ancient philosophy of Stoicism has enjoyed a revival in recent years, with many looking to it as a guide for living a good life. One of the most well-known Stoic philosophers was Marcus Aurelius, who served as Roman Emperor in the 2nd century AD. He provided timeless wisdom on topics like self-discipline that remain applicable today. In this article, we’ll explore Marcus Aurelius’ teachings on building self-discipline through the lens of Stoic philosophy.

Marcus Aurelius and Stoicism

Marcus Aurelius was one of the most prominent Stoic philosophers of his time. The Stoics believed in living according to reason and virtue rather than giving in to destructive emotions and passions. Self-discipline was seen as essential to living a virtuous life. Marcus Aurelius embodied these Stoic principles as emperor, striving to rule justly and fairly despite the pressures of his position. His journal “Meditations” explains how he practiced Stoic self-discipline daily.

The Importance of Self-Discipline

The Stoics saw self-discipline as crucial for several reasons. First, it enables us to control our impulses and desires rather than being controlled by them. Marcus Aurelius advised examining one’s judgments and not automatically acting on initial impressions. With self-discipline, we can pause and consider the proper action rather than reacting rashly.

Second, self-discipline allows us to focus on what is truly important and within our control. By not wasting time and energy on pointless anxieties, we can direct them to meaningful pursuits. Marcus Aurelius frequently reminded himself that his true purpose was to live justly and do his duty.

Practicing Self-Control

How can we build Marcus Aurelius-style self-discipline? One essential practice is exercising self-control through activities like:

  • Meditation and reflection
  • Delaying gratification
  • Moderate eating and rest
  • Resisting idle distractions

By repeatedly exerting control over small habitual acts, we strengthen our self-discipline muscle and ability to overcome more significant challenges. Marcus Aurelius would reflect each night on whether he restrained himself from impulses and unnecessary actions that day.

Focusing on the Present

DStoics saw dwelling on the past or future as a roadblock to self-discipline. Marcus Aurelius advised living in the present moment: “Confine yourself to the present.” When our minds wander, we become distracted from acting virtuously. By continually returning his focus to the present, Marcus Aurelius remained disciplined in his actions.

Examining Your Judgments

Marcus Aurelius stressed not taking our initial impressions and judgments of things as absolute truth. Instead, we should examine them and determine if they are rational before acting. Critically evaluating whether our judgments about events and people are accurate allows self-discipline to triumph over hasty emotion.

Accepting Your Fate

An essential component of self-discipline for Stoics like Marcus Aurelius was accepting one’s fate: “Fate leads the willing and drags along the unwilling.” By not constantly fighting against unavoidable realities, we conserve willpower to change what is within our power. Complaining about inconveniences or misfortunes was considered undisciplined and pointless by the Stoics.

Conquering Desires and Passions

Marcus Aurelius warned against being ruled by desire: “The best revenge is not to be like your enemy.” Instead of lashing out, we can practice self-discipline by pausing and examining the desire or passion. Asking ourselves, “Is this rational and virtuous?” allows reason to overcome destructive emotions and impulses. With consistent effort, we can conquer our base urges.

Living Virtuously

The ultimate goal of Stoic self-discipline was to live a life of virtue through aligned thoughts and actions. Marcus Aurelius wrote: “Waste no more time arguing what a good man should be. Be one.” By focusing each day on practicing wisdom, justice, courage, and moderation, our self-discipline is strengthened, and virtuous habits are formed over time.

Exercising Reason and Logic

Marcus Aurelius emphasized utilizing reason and logic to evaluate our impressions and correct ourselves. Emotions and desires can distort our thinking and disrupt self-discipline. We can identify flaws and exercise reason over passion by objectively analyzing a situation and our judgments. This prevents rash words or actions we may later regret due to a lack of self-control.

Showing Kindness to Others

An essential part of Marcus Aurelius’ discipline and self-control was showing kindness to others: “You don’t have to turn this into something. It doesn’t have to upset you.” By pausing before reacting angrily to someone who wrongs us, we can break the cycle and instead respond with patience and understanding. This requires self-discipline to override our base impulses.

Marcus Aurelius’ teachings provide a valuable framework for developing the self-discipline essential to living virtuously. By practicing self-control, focusing on the present moment, evaluating judgments rationally, and showing kindness to others, we can overcome destructive impulses and strengthen our discipline muscles. While the path requires effort and vigilance, Marcus Aurelius argues it ultimately leads to a life of wisdom, purpose, and tranquility.

Applying Marcus Aurelius’ Teachings: Brett’s Journey to Self-Discipline

Brett is a 27-year-old office worker who struggles with self-discipline. He frequently oversleeps, misses deadlines, loses focus during work, and gives in to distractions like social media and TV. Brett’s lack of self-control causes him stress and prevents him from advancing in his career.

After learning about Stoic philosophy and Marcus Aurelius, Brett decides to practice some principles to improve his self-discipline. He starts a morning routine of meditation to practice mindfulness and self-control. At work, Brett sets reminders to stay focused on immediate tasks instead of dwelling on past mistakes or future worries.

When Brett has an urge to slack off during work and browse sports websites, he pauses and asks himself if this aligns with his goal of being more disciplined. By exerting willpower to overcome the distraction, Brett reinforces his self-control muscle. In the evenings, Brett reflects on his self-discipline daily, noting instances where he gave in to impulses versus exerted self-mastery.

Over time, Brett finds these practices help increase his discipline. He no longer hits the snooze button but wakes up promptly. His work productivity improves as he meets deadlines and focuses during work hours. Instead of rushing home to watch TV, Brett goes to the gym three times a week, demonstrating the ability to prioritize goals over comfort.

After six months, Brett’s self-discipline has strengthened significantly. His boss comments that Brett seems more organized, diligent, and ready to take on more responsibility. Brett credits adopting Marcus Aurelius’ teachings for giving him the framework to gain control over his habits and impulses. Though maintaining discipline requires continued effort, Brett is motivated by a growing sense of purpose and accomplishment.

This case illustrates how Marcus Aurelius’ principles can be applied by anyone today seeking to master self-discipline. By practicing self-awareness, self-control, and rational thinking daily, we can overcome destructive behaviors and live more purposeful, virtuous lives. Brett exemplifies how discipline leads to achievement and provides a template for others to follow.

Key Takeaways

  • Marcus Aurelius was a prominent Stoic philosopher who emphasized self-mastery and discipline.
  • Stoics saw self-control as essential for directing one’s energy appropriately and overcoming destructive impulses.
  • Practicing mindfulness, delaying gratification, and resisting distractions can help strengthen discipline.
  • Judgments should be carefully examined before acting to prevent rash decisions.
  • Accepting fate rather than fighting against unavoidable realities preserves willpower.
  • Desires and passions must be conquered through reason and virtue.
  • Daily, focus on living wisely, justly, courageously, and moderately.
  • Utilize logic and rational thinking to override disruptive emotions.
  • Demonstrate patience and kindness even when provoked.


Marcus Aurelius provided invaluable wisdom on cultivating self-discipline that remains applicable today. His teachings emphasize self-mastery, practicing virtue through aligned thoughts and actions, overcoming base urges through reason, and maintaining control over one’s judgments and impulses. Following Marcus Aurelius’ principles, we can live purposeful lives guided by wisdom rather than destructive passions. With commitment and vigilance, his timeless methods can help anyone foster strong self-discipline.