The Stoics Teachings and Practises

Focus On Things You Can Control, Ignore The Rest

Well Being, Peace And Happiness Through The Pursuit Of Excellence


The Stoics Teachings and Practises. Image of Epictetus and a quote: "...some things are within your control and some are not"

Who Are The Stoics And What Do They Have To Offer?

[1] Who Are The Stoics?

Approximately 2,500 years ago the Greek philosopher Socrates taught moral philosophy. He is generally regarded as one of the founding fathers of western moral philosophy.

He wrote no books and our knowledge and understanding of his teachings are derived from the oral tradition handed down to his students  - notably Plato -  who composed writings of his teachings after his death. 

Plato taught Aristotle who argued that happiness came from living a life of virtue, and he listed a number of these virtues for example: courage, temperance, wisdom and modesty, etc.

Post Plato, Greek philosophers argued extensively about what constituted virtue and how it was applied in practise and this to a split into four schools of thought which dominated philosophical discussion for over 500 years. The four schools were: Cynics, Skeptics, Epicureans,  and lastly and the point of our focus here, the Stoics.


The 3 Major Stoics

Unsurprisingly very little of what was  written c2,000 years ago survives today. However there are 3 Stoics whose work has survived to a reasonable extent and the lives of these men and their teachings form the foundation of our present understanding of the meaning and practise of these core Stoic teachings.

  1. Seneca - the "Letters of Seneca the Younger"  - he was a wealthy Roman Senator who wrote a number of essays and public letters.
  2. Epictetus - the "Discourses of Epictetus" - he was a former slave turned Stoic teacher, and some of his teachings were recorded by his student, Arrian.
  3. Marcus Aurelius - the "Meditations by Marcus Aurelius" - he was well-regarded Roman emperor who recorded a daily diary/journal which he used as a Stoic exercise to remind himself of his Stoic principles.

In subsequent articles we will look more deeply at each of these.






[2] The Stoics Philosophy - What Do They Have To Offer?



    Well being, peace and happiness through the pursuit of excellence


Stoicism is a philosophy of life with the goal of spiritual well-being.

In practical terms this means adopting practises of thought and behaviour that ease your sufferings and enable you to become the best  you can be.


Understanding The Fuller Meaning Of Key, Root Greek Words

As a quick "technical note" here, to get a clear understanding of the intended meaning behind some of the key words and phrases used  in the teachings of the Stoics [and any other teachings such as the Christian New Testament] where the original written language was obviously Greek, it is particularly helpful to take a close look at the literal meaning of the original Greek root words.

In common with the the other schools of philosophy in ancient Greece, the stoics had one common goal called "eudaimonia" which in Greek literally means having a good spirit”, and also be translated as "well-being" or “thriving”.

The Stoics focused on the pursuit of "virtue" as the necessary and sufficient means to experiencing well being, peace and happiness.

The Greek word for "virtue" is "arete", which means “excellence”.


3 Good Reasons For The Pursuit Of Excellence [Virtue]

The Stoics concentrated on the the pursuit of excellence for three reasons:

  1. Being an "excellent person" enables you to exercise the wisdom and skill needed to maximise the benefit that you and others derive from the opportunities and "luck" you get in life.
  2. Being an "excellent person" is completely under your control. You can change your thoughts, habits and behaviours, with practise, and become a better and more effective person.
  3. Being an "excellent person" is always the most resourceful way to behave and ultimately the exercising of virtue/excellence is its own reward. In short, it is the best and most fulfilling way to live.


The foundation of the Stoic beliefs

  • Rationality: We have the ability to reason and we can use reason to understand the world, to meet the challenges we face, and to make our lives better.
  • Virtue/Excellence: Stoics believed in rationality as the vehicle to excellence, and therefore, happiness.
  • Non-emotionalism: Stoics saw emotions as potential distractions from the pursuit of goals and that decisions should be based as much as possible on facts.

The purpose of Stoic beliefs

Stoic beliefs are practised-based and their strength lies in the regular and consistent application of these beliefs in daily life, and they offer a way to:

  • Think about how to live and whether what you want will actually help or hinder your happiness.
  • Understand what goals to set and pursue in order to help you live your best life.




    “If one does not know to which port one is sailing, no wind is favorable.” [Seneca]










Interest In The Stoics

Certainly, many of history’s great minds not only understood Stoicism for what it truly is, they sought it out: George Washington, Walt Whitman, Frederick the Great, Eugène Delacroix, Adam Smith, Immanuel Kant, Thomas Jefferson, Matthew Arnold, Ambrose Bierce, Theodore Roosevelt, William Alexander Percy, Ralph Waldo Emerson. Each read, studied, quoted, or admired the Stoics.


Growing Modern Interest In The Stoics

Over the past 10 years the Stoics have experienced a minor renaissance partly due to popular writers, bloggers, podcasters and thought-leaders such as Ryan Holiday, William Irvine, Shane Parrish,  Tim Ferriss and academics such as Massimo Pigliucci who is featured on this site and offers extensive resources and materials.

There are also a number of popular websites on the Stoics, each offering a wide range of practical material:

The Stoic Fellowship

The Daily Stoic

Modern Stoicism

In common with mindfulness, the Stoics teachings and practises have started to enter the mainstream and feature in the worlds of business, finance and technology and is increasingly quoted in business articles, journals and book.






Highlights of Stoic Teachings and Insights

1. Focus on things you can control, ignore the rest.

The Stoics referred to this as "the dichotomy of control".

Focus on things you can control, ignore the rest.

Modern psychologists refer to an “internal locus of control” and an “external locus of control.”

What this basically means is that if you have internal locus of control you will most likely believe that you are responsible for most of what happens in your life.

The consequence of this is that your response to events determines the outcomes you experience.

You focus on what you could do better or what you can influence in pursuing your goals.

Whereas, if you have an external locus of control you will tend to blame others for your problems, find excuses to not pursue your goals, and generally live a frustrated and unfulfilled life.

Evidence show that if you have an internal locus of control there is greater likelihood of you being happier, less anxious,able to make better decisions and accomplish more of your goals.

This idea has been around for millennia in various formats. In modern times it is best known as Reinhold Neibuhr’s “Prayer of Serenity”:

"God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference."




    “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 actually control. Where then do I look for good and evil? Not to uncontrollable externals, but within myself to the choices that are my own…” [Epictetus]











2. Accept pain and don’t chase pleasure

The Stoics grasped the paradox of acceptance, that accepting pain rather than struggling against it often makes it more bearable. 

The practice of deep acceptance is also a mindfulness technique and one that I have used many times. 

Marcus Aurelius quote.

The Stoics recognised that people have a tendency to overestimate the benefits of something that makes them feels good in the short-term and underestimate the costs of it in the long-term.

Chasing things like status and wealth and excitement can backfire terribly.

The Stoics also correctly noted that many of the good things in life are painful and require some degree of sacrifice. Therefore, they framed virtue/excellence in terms of deferred gratification, that is to say, resisting short-term pleasures for some longer-term and greater gain.

When facing extreme hardship to which there seemed no end the Stoics understood that balancing realism and optimism in a dire situation is a key to survival and success.








3. A good life is a virtuous life.

A life well lived is a virtuous life. The Stoics focused on 4 qualities:

Wisdom

Courage

Temperance

Justice

By learning to cultivate what we would now call a mindful approach to the events of life the Stoics believed that in the space between stimulus and response is a gap, and it allows you to step back from your initial emotional response and make a conscious choice.

The greater your wisdom the more resourceful is that choice.






4. Memento Mori - Remember That You Must Die

The Stoics saw great value in the  practice they called "Memento Mori" which translates as “Remember that you will die.

Marcus Aurelius quote.

This practise aligns with the Buddhist and Christian teachings on impermanece and is a very healthy and focusing reminder of your mortality.

Shantideva the 8th century Indian Buddhist sage commenting on impermanence, and the innate reality that this too shall pass, said:

"The moment we are born, we have no freedom to remain for a single second.

We are running towards death, like a galloping horse.

We call ourselves ‘living beings’ but we are ear-marked for death. This is sad indeed. That is the reality."

I hadn't considered this for sometime when I rediscovered it sitting in a bar in Singapore a while ago with a bunch of expat friends enjoying some beers and a chat. The conversation took an interesting turn when one of them suddenly asked the group:

"If you knew you were going to die tonight and you were given a few minutes to reflect before that happened, what would you say was the meaning of your life?"

On hearing that question I suddenly had a moment of clarity and I realised that for me the answer to the 'what is my life purpose question' was (and remains):

"What difference will you make?
What impact will you leave in the lives of others?"





How To Practise The Stoics Teachings?


Free download PDF, compiled by Massimo Pigliucci and Greg Lopez:

24 Stoic Spiritual Exercises


Compiled by Shane Parrish of Farnham Street:

The Stoic Reading List [Aurelius, Seneca, Epictetus and More]





How Do The Stoics Align With The Themes Of This Site?

The purpose of this site is to show you how to cope in tough times, and to provide you with the tools to do this successfully.

The teachings, quotations, reflections and observations of the Stoics are especially relevant as at time of writing in early 2021 the world slowly emerges from post Covid-19 lockdown and starts to come to terms with the societal, economic and financial consequences.

The Stoics provide us with a number of helpful practices which can help you to improve the quality of your thinking skills, and this in turn will help you achieve better responses, and thus better outcomes, to the events in your life.


[1] Key themes that align with the objectives of this site:

Stoicism - key point summary.
  • Focus on things you can control, ignore the rest.
  • A strong mental model of time and a present moment focus.
  • Accept what is [however painful] and don't distract yourself chasing short-term pleasure.
  • Have a clear value system and walk the talk.
  • Don't be ruled by your emotions.
  • The importance and power of framing.
  • Be rational and exercise good thinking skills.
  • Recognise that you live in an inter-connected universe so act in alignment with the common good and in harmony with the natural world.
  • Live to be the best version of you - pursue excellence in living virtuously  [wisdom, courage, moderation, justice, truth etc].
  • Regularly focusing on your death to remind you to live each day as if it was your last.



[2] Areas where the stoics fall short and things they don't do:

Mindfulness

[3] Pulling it all together

The Stoics offer us some powerful beliefs and practises. Whilst much of this has stood the test of time and is still relevant now nevertheless we have to accept that it is a reflection of an ancient Greek world view.

When weighing and consider new beliefs I always like to remind myself:

1. No belief tradition of any persuasion has a monopoly on the truth.

2. To consider the advice of the Buddha on how to handle beliefs:
 


    A belief, is presented as a guidance whereas as, conventionally, a belief is regarded as an immutable certainty.

    A belief should be tested against personal experience.

    Beliefs, are there to serve a purpose and to be released when that purpose is served.







Further Resources

Here are a number of touch points with other key articles on this site:










Return to: Home Page






English Chinese (Traditional) Russian French German Italian Spanish Vietnamese


LATEST ARTICLES

  1. Situational Communication - Different Strokes For Different Folks

    Situational communication is about taking account of 3 often ignored factors about the other person. You are a situational communicator when you recognise that effective communication is not an event…

    Read More

  2. How To Influence Without Authority - 6 Key Tips

    The secret to how to influence without authority is that you get what you really want by giving other people what they really want. We live in an interconnected world and knowing how to influence with…

    Read More

  3. Change Questions To Change Your Outcomes

    Asking The Right Questions Is Critical For A Successful Change. Every time we initiate a significant change - whether in our personal life or in an organisation - we will most likely over-estimate our…

    Read More

  4. Group Culture - The Invisible Software That Rules Your Life

    Group culture is: "How we do things round here". We like to see ourselves as free agents making our own choices and living authentically but the reality is that The Matrix has many layers and we are u…

    Read More

  5. Why Getting From A to B Is Not Aways A Straight Line

    In circumstances of significant change, the progress from A to B will not be in a straight line. We run our lives largely on auto-pilot. In most circumstances your experience of getting from A to B is…

    Read More

  6. The Art Of Persuasion Planning For Success - Here's How To Do It!

    To be successful in the art of persuasion you must ensure that certain things happen. To be successful in the art of persuasion you must establish a framework of what has to happen to get you to that…

    Read More

  7. The Art Of Persuasion Advanced Communication Skills - Gaining Buyin

    Create The Environment Where They Want To Buyin to Your Proposal In order to build the win-win you have to uncover what it is that the other person really wants or needs, and to do that you have to as…

    Read More

  8. The Art Of Persuasion The One Fundamental Principle - Create A Win-Win

    The art of persuasion is based on the simple idea that you get what you want by enabling the other party to get what they want. Being a nice friendly person with good inter-personal skills may be a go…

    Read More

  9. Communication Persuasion And Change - Key Skills To Survive & Succeed

    It's not the strongest that survive, nor the most intelligent, but those who are most responsive to change, the most persuasive, and the best communicators. We are living in an age of unprecedented ch…

    Read More

  10. The Eisenhower Box - What Is Important Is Seldom Urgent

    What Is Important Is Seldom Urgent And What Is Urgent Is Seldom Important. The Eisenhower Box is a time management and decision-making model devised by President Dwight Eisenhower to help him prioriti…

    Read More

  11. Zen Enlightenment [Satori] - The Stink Of Zen

    Lost In Our Delusions About Enlightenment. There is something in human nature - a desire to glamorise, sanctify, objectify and idolise – that elevates people who have offered deep insights to the huma…

    Read More

  12. 5 Zen Mindsets For Mastery - In Any Area Of Your Life

    The Wisdom Of A Person Who Masters In Any Art Is Reflected In Their Every Attitude. The state and quality of your mind has a very large bearing on the quality of your performance in any area of life t…

    Read More

  13. Dealing With The Toxicity Of Online Dating - 6 Key Tips From A Clinical Psychologist

    Toxicity Is The Price Tag Of Accessibility. In the early days of online dating, users were vetted and had to go through a registration process and agree to comply with a code of conduct designed to en…

    Read More

  14. Why Understanding Ergodicity Is Critical To Your Long Term Survival

    How Not To Be Fooled By Randomness. Ergodicity is an ugly word from the world of mathematics. It is an umbrella term for two sets of conditions of probability and outcome. These two conditions form th…

    Read More

  15. Dealing With Imposter Syndrome - Ego Is The Enemy

    How You Frame A Situation Has A Profound Impact On How You Respond To It Emotionally. Imposter syndrome is a psycho-emotional experience of a fear of being found out as incompetent despite ongoing evi…

    Read More

  16. The Challenges Of The Road Less Traveled

    Issues You'll Face When Playing The Long Game. The challenges of the road less traveled is loosely based around the phrase popularised by M.Scott Peck with his book "The Road Less Traveled". This arti…

    Read More

  17. How To Benefit From the Unseen Margins - 5 Key Tips For Success

    These Unseen Margins Can Have A Very Dramatic Impact On Your Life. To understand how to benefit from the unseen margins we need to start by understanding what they are and where we find them. In this…

    Read More

  18. The Art Of Thinking Clearly - How To Do More Than Just Survive And Reproduce

    3 Key Tips The art of thinking clearly starts with the sobering realisation that our brains are designed to achieve two things: Survival and Reproduction! 98% of our thinking is unconscious, automatic…

    Read More

  19. Algorithms to Live By - 5 Useful Rules Of Thumb

    5 Useful Heuristics From Algorithms To Live By The thesis of the book "Algorithms to Live By" is that algorithms developed for computers can be used by people in everyday life in a wide range of situa…

    Read More

  20. Finding Signal In The Noise - How To Avoid The Noise Bottleneck

    The Art Of Being Wise Is The Art Of Knowing What To Overlook. We are blessed and cursed to live in the digital age. We have access to more information than we can possibly handle yet we struggle to fi…

    Read More

  21. The Checklist Manifesto - Your Personal Safety Net

    A Checklist Is A Safety Net That Encourages Better Results And Prevents Avoidable Mistakes. The volume and complexity of what we know has exceeded our individual ability to deliver its benefits correc…

    Read More

  22. How Not To Be Stupid - 4 Key Tips

    How To Avoid The 7 Causes Of Everyday Stupidity. We are all capable of everyday stupidity as we undertake routine tasks in our business and working lives and also in our personal lives. This is not ab…

    Read More

  23. Beginners Mind And The Voice Of Experience

    Only The Experts Survived Evolution. "In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert's there are few." These are the famous words of Shunryu Suzuki in "Zen Mind, Beginner's Min…

    Read More

  24. The Art Of Being Alone Is A Skill

    Let's Make Today A Good Day. You may not have chosen the condition of being alone, and it may have been imposed upon you by circumstances beyond your control, but your response to the situation is wit…

    Read More

  25. Intuition & Anxiety - Are There Angels Or Devils Calling Here?

    How To Tell The Difference Between Intuition and Anxiety. How do you know whether the voice of your intuition is real or just the product of your inner anxiety? We all struggle with these inner voices…

    Read More

  26. Like A Prayer - Life Is A Mystery

    It Isn't The Process Of Prayer That’s The Problem, It’s The Way It’s Framed. Regardless of what we feel about Madonna or her song the topic of prayer often arouses strong reactions. Usually, it is som…

    Read More

  27. Fear Of Missing Out - "I'll Have What She's Having!"

    We Follow The Herd - We Mimic Other People's Choices. Fear of missing out - or FOMO as it is popularly referred to - is the feeling that everyone else in your peer group is having much more fun than y…

    Read More

  28. Free - Self Improvement Resources

    Exercising Balance and Discernment. I have just updated these self improvement resources with a number of additional sources of material that are practical and can help you change your life. Check it…

    Read More

  29. Your Higher Self - Your Hardwired Portal To The Universe

    This Is The You That Is Beyond Your Thinking Mind. This is the big you, the transcendent you, the you that is often referred to as your higher consciousness or higher self. This is the you that acts a…

    Read More

  30. The Power Of Gratitude - It's Good For You!

    Gratitude And Attitude Are Not Challenges, They Are Choices. The power of gratitude quite simply is that it is good for you! Many of us were raised by parents who instilled in us the social niceties o…

    Read More



Get new posts by email:









Zen-Tools.Net





Support This Site