7 Truths I Have Learned for Stoicism
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Read time: 7.5 minutes.
Last week, I talked about if money could buy you happiness and five things that money could impact your satisfaction.
This week, I have a confession: I love to complain. No, I don’t mean the occasional grumble about lousy weather or kids being too loud in the park. As a professional complainer, I put my heart and soul into each complaint, generously sharing them with whoever might listen. Sometimes I even like to complain when there’s nothing wrong with me. That’s why I’m so thankful that stoicism has become an essential part of my life—it allows me to take joy in complaining!
Okay, that’s not true. Let me try to explain.
It’s Not What Happens to You but How You React to It
Stoicism is based on the idea that we can control ourselves, not external events. In other words, if someone cuts you off in traffic or doesn’t invite you to her birthday party, you can choose how you react to those things instead of just getting mad about them. The philosophy of stoicism was developed by many ancient Greeks (and some Romans!). While it sounds boring on paper, it is surprisingly helpful when dealing with modern problems. Examples can be, getting angry at your phone for not working correctly, feeling anxious about family members who refuse medical advice, or being angry with people who do not answer a sales proposal or a business email and ignore you. So if you’re ready for some no-nonsense life advice from 2000 years ago (it’s better than what I’ve been giving out for free), read on!
Let’s look at two possible definitions of the word “stoic” that I think to capture the spirit of stoicism:
- Holding your emotions in check, especially in difficult situations.
- Relating to or exhibiting steadfast courage or endurance; robust or unyielding.
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- Our Life Is What Our Thoughts Make Of It
- What Happens in Your Life Is Your Responsibility Alone
- We Should Never Be Afraid of Failure
- We Suffer More Often in Our Imagination Than in Reality
- Use Logic Instead of Emotion When You Make Decisions
- Your Feeling of Happiness Depends on Your Thoughts
- Final Thoughts
Our Life Is What Our Thoughts Make Of It
You’ve probably read a few articles about happiness online, and you’re not a few times happier. So, what’s the catch?
Reading is not the same as doing. You wouldn’t expect to read some martial arts books and then be like Bruce Lee, would you? All behaviour and changes must be trained and persistent in time.
Your Thoughts Are What Make Your Life either Pleasant or Painful
You can control your thoughts and change them if they do not produce the desired results. If a negative thought is true, it will bring about negative consequences; if it is false, it has no power over us. Therefore, to feel happy, we must guard our minds carefully and not allow any wrong ideas to enter our souls. The only way this can be done effectively is through philosophy—stoicism in particular—because stoics know that their emotions (feelings) cannot control their actions. Instead of allowing themselves to be controlled by their emotions as most people do, stoics take responsibility for how they act by controlling their actions!
What Happens in Your Life Is Your Responsibility Alone
If your control focus is external by blaming all that happens in your life as the fault of others and life events, you are distressed by anything external, and the pain is not due to the thing itself but to your estimate of it. You have the power to revoke it at any moment by thinking that as a stoic. You can use some of the following thoughts:
- The universe is rational.
- “Fight or flight mode” can be rationally controlled.
- Pain is inevitable, and suffering is optional.
- Everything happens for a reason.
- Everything happens for the best.
- There are no coincidences. There are universal connections.
- You always own the option of having no opinion.
Ultimately, it would be best if you never got worked up or troubled your soul about things you can’t control. These things are not asking to be judged by you.
Learning to distinguish between what is and isn’t under your control is essential. How much of what goes on in your life is up to you versus being out of your hands thoroughly. The more we understand this distinction and apply it consistently in our lives, the less stressed, less anxious and unhappy we become and feel due to events outside of our control (which are often totally out of our hands)—working out a list of the things you can control is how to start becoming aware of this distinction. This was precise what philosopher Epictetus meant when he said;
“I am an agent who makes choices… I have freedom over my actions”.
We Should Never Be Afraid of Failure
This quote reminds us that we should never be afraid to make mistakes. Fail to put it short and sweet.
“A gem cannot be polished without friction, nor a man perfected without trials.” -Lucius Annaeus Seneca (5 BC – 65 AD), Roman Statesmen
Stoics believe life is all about learning and the best way to learn is through trial and error. It means the only way to figure out what works for you and doesn’t is by trying things out and seeing how they go. Taking risks can be scary, but they will make your life full of adventure if you let them!
The next time you fail at something or let someone down, remember Seneca’s quote instead of beating yourself up about it or getting discouraged because things didn’t work in your favour this time. Don’t be afraid of friction (failure)—embrace it! Remember that failing is part of your growth and success (how you define it).
We Suffer More Often in Our Imagination Than in Reality
We suffer more often in our imagination than in reality. We can experience pain and suffering, but our minds can make us feel many things that aren’t real. Fears, beliefs, worries and anxieties come from our minds, even if they seem to come from outside ourselves. When something painful has happened to you—like a breakup, a loss of a business, or a loved one—it’s important to remember that what you’re feeling is not necessarily accurate. The mind is powerful enough to make you suffer, even if nothing is causing it. This is why one of the maxims of stoicism is that pain is inevitable while suffering is optional.
Stoicism teaches us how to control our thoughts by training ourselves not to dwell on negative emotions or situations for too long. Instead, we should focus more on appreciating what we have rather than worrying about what we don’t have yet (or may never get).
Use Logic Instead of Emotion When You Make Decisions
From the stoic perspective, emotions are a distraction. I know this by experience. In my 20 years of corporate career, others always judged me, even dared to say pass on from promotions, by being “in-the-box” of being too emotional, thinking with my heart instead of my head, and using my gut feeling to make decisions. So they said to me.
So, rather than focusing on our feelings and their consequences, we should use logic to make decisions that will lead to good results. Still, combining gut feeling with fact-based decision-making resulted in the best decisions of my life so far. So maybe stoicism needs to equate emotions in the decision-making process.
Your Feeling of Happiness Depends on Your Thoughts
The stoics believed and still do that the goal of life was eudaimonia—literally translated as “blessed happiness.” The key to achieving this is through action. You can’t expect things to fall into place if you don’t do something. If your goal is happiness, then it’s up to you to work hard every day to achieve it.
“Guard accordingly and take care that you entertain no notions unsuitable to virtue and reasonable nature.” -Epictetus, The Discourses
The happiness of your life depends upon the quality of your thoughts. Therefore, guard accordingly, and ensure that you entertain no notions unsuitable to virtue and reasonable nature. The quality of your thoughts determines whether you will feel happy or unhappy.
Stoicism challenges us to use logic instead of emotion when we encounter problems—to solve them instead of just getting mad about them.
Stoicism can be a practical philosophy for modern life, although it is 2000 years old. I’m trying it, and I think you should too. If you’re ready, apply these lessons to your life and start by not letting yourself worry about things that are out of your control. Famous stoics include Marcus Aurelius, the Roman emperor, Seneca and Epictetus, a formerly enslaved person who triumphed to become an influential lecturer and friend of the emperor Hadrian and a famous playwright and political adviser, respectively. Today Stoicism fans include Arnold Schwarzenegger, LL Cool J, Elizabeth Holmes, Cory Booker, Brie Larson, and T-Pain.
Review the suggested techniques and find ways to use them in your daily routine. I suggest starting by picking one or two of the maxims that speak most strongly to you and trying them out in whatever situation comes up first—like when your boss asks why you didn’t finish last week’s report on time or when someone cuts in front of you in your favourite coffee shop.
Did you know about stoicism, and how old was it? Are you ready to improve your life by avoiding anxiety and stress using stoicism?
Let me know your thoughts!
About The Author
Casimiro da Silva Santos or Cas is a dad, a coach, a business leader, and a speaker. He has more than 20 years of management and leadership experience in the corporate world, and he is a certified leadership, career, executive and team coach by the International Coaching Federation (ICF). He is the founder of Bring The Best, an organisation combining career, executives and team coaching with consulting for organisational and business excellence, including turnarounds and growth. He is an Executive Contributor of Brainz Magazine.
The views and opinions expressed in this newsletter/blog are those of the author and are not intended to malign any religion, ethnic group, club, organisation, company, individual or anyone or anything.