Stoicism offers timeless wisdom for gaining resilience in the face of adversity. The Greco-Roman philosopher Epictetus taught impactful principles, so external events need not affect inner tranquility. By training faculty of judgment, one can develop emotional invulnerability when facing unpredictable misfortunes. This article summarizes seven key Stoic disciplines for cultivating imperturbability so that nothing disturbs your equanimity.
An essential premise is differentiating control over thoughts versus lack of control over external happenings. As Epictetus said, “Some things are up to us, and some things are not up to us.” Inner serenity relies on focusing only on what is controllable through wisdom and willpower. Outcomes often cannot be controlled, but anyone can control their perspective and response.
Core teachings involve realizing virtue alone constitutes the good life rather than chasing fleeting preferences. Judgments assign meaning to impartial events. By enduring hardship, fragilities dissolve to reveal one’s detached nature. Aligning with universal laws allows reality to unfold without inner resistance.
Differentiate Between What You Can and Cannot Control.
The primary distinction in Stoic ethics is between those things within our power and those not within our control. What is ultimately within our ability boils down to our judgments, values, and willingness. Essentially, this means our thoughts and intentional choices. These internals are up to us and can be aligned with wisdom and virtue no matter the external circumstances. In contrast, things not up to us include health, wealth, reputation, and status – essentially, whatever happens to us rather than what we think and do.
By fixing this differentiation firmly in mind, Stoics redirect their efforts away from attempting to control uncontrollable externals and towards managing their faculties of judgment instead. As Epictetus put it, “Some things are up to us, and some things are not to us.” What is up to us should become the sole focus of our goals and aspirations to achieve serenity.
Pursue Inner Tranquility Above All Else
If we consider externals to be utterly beyond our control and that moral purpose is entirely within our sphere of power, inner tranquility is the highest good to pursue. Wisdom and virtue may lead towards preferred indifference, like health or status, but the outcome should not determine internal peace.
The Stoic path leads to freedom from emotional suffering because it places the highest value upon the human faculty of judgment rather than chasing transitory, unstable, and ultimately unnecessary things. The Stoic secures an inner citadel of peace by refusing to put well-being contingent upon externals.
Some recommended steps to cultivate inner tranquility include negative visualization, meditating upon death, training attention towards morality above all else, and taking external setbacks as opportunities to strengthen virtues.
Accept That External Things are Ultimately Indifferent
External things like wealth and status are “preferred indifferent” in Stoic ethics, meaning they are not intrinsically good or bad. Having wealth provides benefits and conveniences. However, wealth has no moral quality, meaning virtue can exist equally in a poor person. Other externals like reputation, pleasure, health, and even life contain no positive or negative ethical properties. They are indifferent “extras”.
This principle allows the Stoic to prevent great disturbance over the loss or lack of something ultimately inessential to human excellence. Virtue alone determines complete worth and contentment.
To aid in reducing attachment or aversion to indifference, Epictetus also advised regularly reflecting deeply that these extras can be taken away at any moment. The student can consciously undermine typical dependencies by frequently preparing for this possibility.
Focus Your Efforts on Your Attitudes and Choices
While fate may determine what happens to us, our essential freedom lies in choosing how to respond. Even when facing events beyond our control, our power of judgment and choice of perspective remains sovereign. This translates to maintaining self-discipline regardless of external disorder and directing all efforts toward perfecting our attitudes, decisions, and moral purpose.
Outcomes often cannot be controlled, but our application of wisdom, justice, courage, and moderation – the four Stoic virtues – will always remain possible. By focusing within, exterior chaos need not penetrate more deeply than the flesh into the seat of reason itself. In this way, the actual citadel remains untouched.
As Epictetus would say, how can someone injure you if you never consider yourself wounded in the first place? All personal power resides in judgment, not dependency on externals going our way.
Train to Have No Cravings for What is Not Yours
Behind excessive desires for health, wealth, and status lies an illusion that possessing such things means securing what is good. However, Epictetus taught that none of these indifferent can provide lasting fulfillment or contentment. While preferred, they remain unnecessary extras about living virtuously. Their absence or loss need not negatively impact us.
This principle entails closely analyzing fears and passions to expose faulty value judgments about needing what we do not need. Events merely trigger unhealthy habits already rooted within us – the desire to possess what we have labeled vital to happiness.
Training desires lead to eliminating demands from the universe that it does not necessarily grant. “Do not seek for everything to happen as you wish it would, but rather wish that everything happens as it actually will, and your life will flow smoothly.”
Only Value Your Judgments and Willingness
Good and evil exist only in our reasoning about events, unlike those. Pain or injury contain no inherent negativity, but thinking them horrible makes them so. An indifferent thing does not determine happiness; our preferences cause suffering or joy.
True freedom, therefore, consists not in avoiding a particular fate but in maintaining moral purpose and willingness to act virtuously in any future. Any outcome may be utilized for good by the resourceful mind. Episodes do not contain ethical property except for what interpretation we project onto them.
Make things go however, you would have them; choose the outcome. Will what needs to be willed, and then what proceeds from that point forward will be what has to happen.”
Practice Misfortune to Build Emotional Resilience
One practical way to internalize the disciplines outlined is to voluntarily undergo discomforts to evaluate and expose the weaknesses still subconsciously lying in your value system. Purposefully training under poverty, social exclusion, hunger, or other extremes has the benefit of dismantling illusion.
When we emerge on the other side after choosing hardship in pursuit of self-knowledge rather than comfort, we find ourselves self-sufficient and able to withstand whatever fate decides we must bear. There, we develop an unconditional stability that is not contingent on fate, but on our relationship to it.
By living consistently with these principles, the Stoic student can align with the law of nature and rise above the capricious winds of circumstance and external chaos. By refusing to chain well-being to what is ultimately indifferent, one enters the inner citadel – the impregnable refuge where personal sovereignty of judgment reigns.
Meet Owen: A Case Study in Practical Stoicism
Owen is a 32-year-old accountant who became interested in implementing Stoic principles after a challenging year that caused him significant stress and dissatisfaction. Specifically, in the last 12 months, Owen dealt with two major external events beyond his control:
Downsizing at the accounting firm resulting in restructuring and uncertainty about job stability
Unexpected declining health of a close family member requiring frequent medical treatments
These unforeseen circumstances took a significant toll on Owen’s quality of life. He experienced constant anxiety worrying about the future, difficulty sleeping, lack of energy and motivation, strain in his relationships, and frequent restless thoughts about the situation. He often felt life was unfair and would obsess over “why me?” thinking.
After hitting a low point, Owen decided to educate himself on Stoic philosophy to regain agency over his inner peace. What drew him was the principle of differentiating between what is and is not within one’s control. He recognized that while he couldn’t control external event outcomes directly, he could hold his judgments and perspectives about them.
Owen began practicing techniques like negative visualization and misfortune training to reduce attachment to having circumstances go his way. He focused on self-mastery, directing energy towards virtue and wisdom rather than emotional reactions. Using each setback as training fuel, Owen emerged more emotionally resilient, finally realizing external security could never guarantee inner tranquility.
The changes have led Owen to a path of sustainability. While challenges have continued, non-resistance and non-attachment have allowed him to tap into an inner citadel beyond circumstance. By training faculty of judgment, the external world disturbs him far less, enabling Owen to stay even-keeled and focused on the right action.
- Separate what’s in your control (thoughts, values) from what isn’t (externals like status)
- Make inner tranquility, not chasing extras, your highest aim
- Remember, wealth and reputation have no moral quality
- Outcomes can’t be controlled; controlling your response is true power
- Examine, then train desires to avoid demanding life for what it may not grant
- Good and evil come from our judgments about things only
- Seek and endure hardship to reveal and overcome fragilities within
The Stoic mindset redirects attention inwards by dividing experience into spheres of personal agency versus areas not dependent on the will. Serenity emerges from mastering self-judgment, realizing virtue alone constitutes the good life rather than chasing fleeting preferences. Through negative visualization, voluntary discomfort, and recognizing the impartiality of fate, non-resistance to reality unfolds. Equanimity amid extremes becomes possible once clinging to comforts and egocentric perspectives dissolve. Such training unveils one’s ultimate nature: an imperturbable witness detached from externals happening around it. Aligning judgments with universal laws allows events to occur as nature intended without inner disturbance.