A while back we started a series on schools of philosophy and we began with the Praxium or the Jedi School. Today we ponder the Stoic School.
For the past several years now I have been studying The Stoics. I first became interested from listening to podcasts by Tim Ferriss and reading biographies of George Washington, Theodore Roosevelt, Frederick the Great and Michel de Montaigne. There are several places here at the Mastermind Century Group where we cover stoic concepts—please just click here for more—but I wanted to share and maybe even discuss what I have tried to distill to the stoic path.
I am a simple man—so please understand—I am trying to be as simple as possible. There are really 7 basic steps along the Stoic Path and it all starts with the most complicated step—becoming self aware.
1: Become Self Aware: Today we might call this emotional intelligence or “soft-skills.” For some of us emotional intelligence is second nature—for some (like me) we may tend to be more emotional idiots—but we can get better at it with practice.
“But what does Socrates say? ‘Just as one person delights in improving his farm, and another his horse, so I delight in attending to my own improvement day by day.’ ” Epictetus Discourses, 3.5.14
The stoics gave a two-fold prescription for practicing self-awareness, and surprisingly, it involved first being suspicious about our own perceptions and opinions of events until we test them, and secondly, taking an opposite approach with evaluating the behavior of others—being sympathetic before being suspicious.
“First off, don’t let the force of the impression carry you away. Say to it, ‘hold up a bit and let me see who you are and where you are from—let me put you to the test’ . . .” — Epictetus, Discourses, 2.18.24
Overcome Negative Emotions
2: We must use reasoning to overcome negative emotions: Something may happen today that upsets us. Someone might be rude, our beautiful Subaru STi might get hit, an subordinate might mess something up despite our very careful instructions. Our instinct may be to lose our temper and get angry. It’s pretty standard really—but we don’t want to be standard.
“Keep this thought handy when you feel a fit of rage coming on—it isn’t manly to be enraged. Rather, gentleness and civility are more human, and therefore manlier. A real man doesn’t give way to anger and discontent, and such a person has strength, courage, and endurance—unlike the angry and complaining. The nearer a man comes to a calm mind, the closer he is to strength.” – Marcus Aurelius
“We are more often frightened than hurt; and we suffer more in imagination than in reality.” – Seneca
Enjoy Things—but don’t cling….
3: Enjoy things—but don’t cling to them: As we enjoy things—money, position, titles, even family—we should contemplate their loss as well.
“The Stoics believed in social reform, but they also believed in personal transformation. More precisely, they thought the first step in transforming a society into one in which people live a good life is to teach people how to make their happiness depend as little as possible on their external circumstances. The Stoics would add that if we fail to transform ourselves, then no matter how much we transform the society in which we live, we are unlikely to have a good life” – William B. Irvine, A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy, p. 221.
“Curb your desire—don’t set your heart on so many things and you will get what you need.” – Epictetus
Avoid Corrupt People
4: Form and maintain relationships but avoid people whose values are corrupt
“What does not corrupt a man himself cannot corrupt his life, nor do him any damage either outwardly or inwardly.” – Marcus Aurelius
“if we seek social status, we give other people power over us: We have to do things calculated to make them admire us, and we have to refrain from doing things that will trigger their disfavor.”
― William B. Irvine, A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy
People will upset You
5: People will upset you—if you let them
“It’s time you realized that you have something in you more powerful and miraculous than the things that affect you and make you dance like a puppet.” – Marcus Aurelius
6: Two principles lead to unhappiness—instability and our tendency to worry about things beyond our control
True happiness is to enjoy the present, without anxious dependence upon the future, not to amuse ourselves with either hopes or fears but to rest satisfied with what we have, which is sufficient, for he that is so wants nothing. – Seneca
“Don’t seek for everything to happen as you wish it would, but rather wish that everything happens as it actually will—then your life will flow well.” – Epictetus
“No person has the power to have everything they want, but it is in their power not to want what they don’t have, and to cheerfully put to good use what they do have.” – Seneca
Be a bit Fatalistic
7: We should be fatalistic to the external world. What has happened in the past and what is happening right now are beyond our control—why get upset?
“He who fears death will never do anything worth of a man who is alive.” – Seneca
“Life is very short and anxious for those who forget the past, neglect the present, and fear the future.” – Seneca
“Make sure you’re not made ‘Emperor,’ avoid that imperial stain. It can happen to you, so keep yourself simple, good, pure, saintly, plain, a friend of justice, god- fearing, gracious, affectionate, and strong for your proper work. Fight to remain the person that philosophy wished to make you. Revere the gods, and look after each other. Life is short— the fruit of this life is a good character and acts for the common good.” — Marcus Aurelius