Be Smarter Than the Others: Stoicism

Be Smarter Than the Others: Stoicism

Coping with adversity requires wisdom and resilience. Stoicism, the ancient Greek and Roman philosophy focused on overcoming destructive emotions and exhibiting self-control amid chaos, offers timeless insights on developing unshakable tranquility in the face of difficulty – an invaluable advantage in modern life’s complex, rapidly changing pressures. By studying profoundly pragmatic Stoic techniques and maxims, we gain an edge, achieving the foresight and mental toughness to thrive while others crumble.

Internalizing the potent lessons distilled over centuries by Marcus Aurelius, Seneca, Epictetus, and other critical Stoic figures equips us to anticipate and endure troubles with almost sage-like composure. In our hyper-connected yet often scattered era, their practical guidance cuts through noise and distraction to foster the clarity and capability we need to survive and surface stronger. Stand sturdier than those knocked down by navigating adversity with Stoic fortitude.

What is Stoicism?

Stoicism originated in ancient Greece and Rome as a philosophical school founded by Zeno of Citium. At its core, Stoicism emphasizes living by nature, exhibiting self-mastery, overcoming destructive emotions, and enduring hardship through mental resilience. Prominent Stoic philosophers like Seneca, Epictetus, Musonius Rufus, and Marcus Aurelius developed practices to strengthen oneself against adversity.

Stoicism teaches that while we cannot always control external events, we have complete command over our perceptions and reactions. We can cultivate inner calm and wisdom by taking an objective view of our circumstances, exerting self-discipline, practicing virtue, and being adaptable rather than rigidly attached to things beyond our control.

Fundamental Principles of the Stoic Philosophy

Several vital ideas characterize the Stoic worldview. The dichotomy of control holds that we should accept powerlessness over externals like health, wealth, and reputation, focusing instead on what is up to us – our values, principles, and elf-mastery. Negative visualization prepares us for loss by contemplating worst-case scenarios, allowing us to appreciate what we have. Adopting a cosmic perspective helps us realize our transient, insignificant place in the universe. Voluntary discomfort inures us of inevitable hardship.

As Marcus Aurelius wrote in Meditations, “Begin each day by telling yourself: Today I shall be meeting with interference, ingratitude, insolence, disloyalty, ill-will, and selfishness…” Premeditating adversity fosters stoic calm when events don’t go our way.

Practicing Voluntary Discomfort to Build Resilience

A vital Stoic discipline involves purposefully enduring hardship to strengthen resilience. Musonius Rufus advised rigorous training – going barefoot in winter, exposing oneself to high heat, skipping meals, wearing rough clothing – to “prepare for difficulties.” Withstanding voluntary discomfort, we simulate adversity on our terms, bolstering fortitude.

Moderns can apply this by occasionally fasting, living simply, enduring temperature extremes, holding difficult yoga poses longer, and even taking cold showers. Unpleasant yet harmless experiences train self-control and self-efficacy, teaching us we can withstand more than we believe. Conquering minor pains makes significant troubles seem surmountable. Practicing voluntary discomfort builds confidence and an adaptable, resilient mindset.

Managing Expectations Through Negative Visualization

Epictetus’ negative visualization involves imagining painful scenarios to overcome emotional attachments. For example, seriously contemplating losing a limb would prepare us to accept that outcome should it happen, allowing us to be grateful for each healthy day. Vividly envisioning the failure of relationships, the death of loved ones, financial ruin, and public shame helps us feel gratitude for what we have and realize nothing lasts forever.

Occasionally, take time to vividly imagine your worst fears – ill health, destroyed property, professional embarrassment, death of family and friends. This neutralizes anxiety about these scenarios occurring by confronting how much can be endured. Negative visualization provides perspective on how little we ultimately require, keeping expectations realistic.

Understanding the Dichotomy of Control

A driving theme across Stoic texts is the dichotomy of control – separating what is up to us versus what is not. As Epictetus wrote, “The chief task in life is simply this: to identify and separate matters so that I can say clearly to myself which are externals not under my control, and which have to do with the choices I control.”

We control our inner domain, our judgments, values, desires, and opinions. Externals like health, wealth, and reputation – are not entirely ours to command. We maintain serenity despite adversity by focusing only on what we can directly influence. Attach yourself to pursuing virtue, wisdom, and self-mastery – not to transitory things that fate may give or take away on a whim.

Adopting a Cosmic Perspective

Viewing events from the stoic cosmic perspective helps us realize the insignificance of most worldly concerns. As Marcus Aurelius wrote, “Run down the list of those who felt intense anger at something: the most famous, the most unfortunate, the most hated, the most whatever: Where is all that now? Smoke, dust, legend…or not even a legend”.

Externals that once seemed monumentally important fade into obscurity as mere specks in the sweeping vista of time and space. Adopting this zoomed-out view lets us appraise situations rationally without overreacting to temporary, trivial troubles. Things seldom merit the emotional turmoil we imagine them to in the heat of the moment.

Writing as Marcus Aurelius Did – The Philosopher King

Each night during military campaigns, Marcus Aurelius would write himself notes to capture lessons as they arose – thoughts which later became his Meditations. He advised himself: “Perfection of character is this: to live each day as if it were your last, without frenzy, apathy, or pretense.”

Follow the emperor’s example by keeping a regular evening journal focused on applying philosophical principles through adversity. Each day, reflect on challenges faced, judgments made, and virtues practiced. Note where you excelled in self-control and where you have room for improvement. Document instances that challenged your equanimity – did you overreact or underreact? Analyze them logically after the fact.

Writing grants clarity. Articulating impressions makes them concrete, helping reconcile emotions into reason. As Aurelius wrote, “By a tranquil and well-reasoned elevation of soul, despise the things you cannot acquire.” Structure thoughts into language, revisiting with philosophical scrutiny. This builds self-awareness and mastery over knee-jerk reactions, ingraining stoic composure through all fortunes, fair and foul. Come what may, you’ll stand firm on the wisdom of ancient days enshrined nightly in your journal’s pages.

Case Study: Amanda’s Journey

Meet Amanda, a 330-year-old corporate manager who has decided to start an evening journal to take a more Stoic approach during stressful times at work. After a tense day of deadlines, conflicts with an employee, and harsh feedback from a superior, Amanda journals to process events logically rather than ruminating emotionally.

Documenting work challenges helps Amanda notice unhealthy patterns – taking criticisms too personally and overreacting to others’ anger. Revisiting upsetting incidents the following day, Amanda assesses her reactions more rationally. She considers better responses aligned with Stoic wisdom, justice, courage, and moderation ideals.

Over time, conscious reflection makes Amanda more self-aware, helping ingrain think-before-reacting composure. By committing her experiences to writing, Amanda gains command of her inner domain. Once-destabilizing workplace adversity now serves to strengthen her character.

Whatever professional trials cross Amanda’s path, her trusty journal provides understanding and resilience to call on. Amanda stands firmly rooted in the cumulative insights accrued through daily writing entries – a true philosopher queen ruling steady emotions from lessons indelibly etched in pages past.

Key Takeaways

  • Accept that many things are outside your control – focus instead on mastering your perceptions and reactions.
  • Mentally prepare for adversity through negative visualization – imagine worst-case outcomes to appreciate what you have.
  • Build resilience through voluntary hardship – endure small discomforts to bolster fortitude against larger troubles.
  • Examine your impressions objectively – external things are transient and cannot disturb your inner calm.
  • Understand the universe’s expansive order – events are causally connected; shift perspective to the cosmic scale.
  • Practice self-discipline and virtue ethics – handle hindrances with wisdom, justice, courage, and moderation.


The ancient Stoics offer profound, practical wisdom for overcoming obstacles with levelheadedness and flexibility. We can foster an imperturbable composure by taking stock of what is in our power, rehearsing adversity, strengthening resilience to hardship, and examining life from a zoomed-out perspective; applying Stoic practices trains us to navigate setbacks with almost Socratic grace. Events will not always accommodate us – by adjusting ourselves to events, we become the masters of circumstance rather than its victims. Equipped with these psychological skills, we are prepared to endure negation and flourish.