5 Things You Must Stop Doing (Stoicism)

5 Things You Must Stop Doing (Stoicism)

Practicing mindful self-control to overcome insatiable desires, trivial complaints, corrosive emotions, fear of mortality, and meaningless distractions enables greater self-sufficiency and emotional adaptability when facing life’s curveballs. The ancient insights contained herein serve as guiding principles for protecting inner peace and maintaining moral clarity to engage meaningfully with each moment by nature. Whether struggling with anger issues, hedonic addiction, depression, grief, or wasting precious time on digital devices, implementing the following advice aligns us with the liberating dimensions of Stoicism’s virtue ethics.

1. Stop Living for Pleasure and Material Goods

The Stoics taught that constantly chasing after bodily pleasures like food, drink, sex, and luxury possessions leads to addiction, dissatisfaction, and an anxious attachment to transient things. As the Stoic teacher Musonius Rufus said, “That man is richest whose pleasures are cheapest.” Wealth and decadent gratification cannot bring lasting contentment or protect us when we inevitably lose what we value most.

The solution is to stop continually desiring and consuming more sensory pleasures or possessions that distract us from cultivating wisdom. Instead, try to feel gratified with simple things by adopting a mindset of self-control and moderation. Train yourself to focus on creating inner virtues and exercising reason rather than pursuing endless external pleasures that never permanently satisfy the soul. Limiting vain desires leads to freedom from the fear of losing comfort and self-reliance.

2. Cease Complaining About Things Outside Your Control

“It’s not what happens to you but how you react to it that matters.” Epictetus, the eminent Stoic philosopher, taught that we all face adversity, but complaining about external events accomplishes nothing and breeds further discontent. Understanding the distinction between what we can and cannot control is critical. We shouldn’t waste energy agonizing over things we cannot influence, like weather, aging, sickness, or what others do. This is easier said than done, but next time you catch yourself complaining silently, question whether this concern is genuinely in your power to change right now. If not, redirect focus to responding virtuously despite difficulties rather than adding your frustrations to the problem.

Practicing mindful acceptance when inconvenienced instead of expecting the world to be perfectly convenient is critical to remaining flexible and at peace. For example, getting stuck in traffic or someone cutting in line can ruin your day if you feel offended by such slights. But how much does raging help anyway? Often, the Stoic approach of pausing and then calmly deciding the right action despite provocation works far better than venting emotions. Release attachments to expecting justice and train yourself to adapt to life’s curveballs emotionally.

3. End Destructive Self-Pity and Anger

Epictetus also warned his students how emotions like anger or chronic self-pity act like temporary madness, clouding our ability to reason clearly and act virtuously. He would say, “It is not events that disturb people but their judgments about them.” When we wrongly convince ourselves that things “shouldn’t be this way” and grow resentful or bitter, our mindset breeds further suffering instead of solving problems wisely.

The solution lies in recognizing these corrosive thought patterns for what they are – unhelpful judgments feeding our distress. Instead, practice mindfulness, patience, and emotional self-regulation tactics to prevent anger and self-pity from hijacking your faculties. Try reframing struggles as opportunities to learn and demonstrate resilience. Remind yourself of what is in your control, like utilizing rational problem-solving techniques rather than blaming external factors you cannot change. Redirecting your emotional judgments aligned with Stoic principles will enable wise action even amid adversity.

4. Stop Fearing Death and Loss

Death awaits us all eventually as an inescapable law of nature. Throughout life, we will experience loss of possessions, attachments, reputation, and loved ones. But resistance to accept impermanence leads only to anxiety and despair at what we cannot ultimately control. Stoics practiced negative visualization – regularly picturing losing what they valued most, including their lives. This dissolved fearful attachments to transient things and people since nothing lasts forever.

Using sober reasoning to confront life’s fragility breeds gratitude and presence when living each moment rather than constantly dreading mortality. Seneca encouraged his friend Lucilius to overcome anxiety around dying by internalizing its inevitability, saying, “Rehearse death. To say this is to tell a person to rehearse his freedom. A person who has learned how to die has unlearned how to be enslaved.” This is tremendously empowering because if you stop fearing death itself, you cannot be threatened or coerced by anything less severe. Accepting all external events as transient manifestations of nature’s energy, which comes and goes eternally, can give you stability when facing significant life changes. Use the promise of death to fully engage life’s purpose without unnecessary fear of things you cannot keep forever.

5. Don’t Waste Time and Energy on Distractions

Seneca frequently warned against preoccupation with diversions and trivialities that squander our most precious resource – time. We obsess about plans and possessions awaiting us when achieving tranquility requires non-attachment to things we don’t yet have. We numb ourselves to entertaining digital distraction and gossip only to look back full of regret at times frittered away on useless busyness.

Practice mindful presence, focusing energy on worthwhile action aligned with developing excellence and serving society. Train yourself to detect and disengage from activities like games, superficial conversations, or scrolling, which, though fun momentarily, distract us from meaningful work. Structure days to focus on learning skills, creative contributions, volunteer work, or developing self-discipline. The late Stoic emperor Marcus Aurelius journaled, “At every moment, keep a sturdy mind on the task at hand using your peripheral vision to scan for warnings. You must not give focus to all these petty distractions swarming around you.” Follow his advice to safeguard attention and avoid behaviors hijacking you off course into wasting energy on fruitless diversions that don’t serve your life’s purpose.

Case Study: Applying Stoic Principles to Jerry’s Struggles

Jerry is a 42-year-old middle manager who has struggled with stress, anger issues, and excessive drinking after his wife left him two years ago. He indulges nightly in fancy restaurant meals, overspends on luxury items to fill the void, and copes by endlessly scrolling news feeds for hours or binge-watching shows.

Jerry fails to regulate his emotions, exploding in rage while driving when traffic slows him down. He constantly complains about the injustice of his wife leaving and bad luck losing an expected promotion at work. Jerry fears growing older alone and dying without finding love again or leaving a meaningful legacy.

Applying Stoic teachings on stopping detrimental behaviors could vastly improve Jerry’s state of mind. Practicing self-control over desires and eliminating time-wasting distractions would enable him to develop resilience against misfortunes he cannot control.

Jerry should cease constantly chasing pleasures through alcohol, rich foods, or retail therapy, which provide only temporary mood boosts followed by emptiness. Redirecting energy to community service, learning new skills, and tolerating aloneness by finding meaning in his work are Stoic-aligned strategies.

Letting go of resentments about his wife’s exit and past promotion denial frees Jerry from emotionally draining anger. Reframing the situation as a chance for growth while focusing on being his best version follows Stoic principles about not wasting energy on what’s beyond one’s influence.

I visualize inevitably growing older and dying places Jerry’s longing for an ex who moved on in perspective. The path forward involves gratefully embracing each day by stopping the avoidance tactics of digital addiction and idle diversion. Living purposefully despite uncertainty and pain leads to self-sufficient tranquility.

If Jerry followed Stoic wisdom on ceasing behaviors fueling emotional turmoil, he could discover new freedom and direction. Overcoming fearful attachments opens possibilities for purpose even amid life’s curves.

Key Takeaways

  • Cease chasing fleeting pleasures and possessions to focus on cultivating inner virtues and self-sufficiency instead
  • Stop wasting energy complaining of things outside your influence; redirect efforts towards graceful acceptance
  • End destructive thought patterns like resentment or self-pity; reframe struggles as opportunities for growth
  • Overcome anxiety around impermanence; use mortality as motivation for presence
  • Eliminate meaningless distractions that divert focus from impactful self-development


The ancient wisdom of Stoic philosophy offers liberating advice on overcoming behaviors and thought patterns that breed anguish. We gain emotional resilience by relinquishing attachment to external pleasures, trivial complaints, and time-wasting habits. Practicing mindful control of our judgments protects inner peace against volatile external events. And accepting the inevitability of loss and death itself allows us to engage each fleeting moment meaningfully. Implementing the five suggested tactics for stopping detrimental actions can thus develop profound mental clarity, purpose, and poise, as taught by the Stoic sages. We still face trials in life, but our responses determine whether we continue struggling or discover tranquility and freedom.