A Daily Regimen for the Modern Stoic

Donald Robertson lays out a practical framework for making Stoic philosophy a part of your everyday life

PocketStoic Staff
Mar 5, 2017 · 11 min read

The following article is a guest post by our friend and advisor Donald Robertson. Donald is the author of Teach Yourself: Stoicism and the Art of Happiness, Teach Yourself: Build your Resilience, and The Philosophy of Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy.

It is difficult, probably impossible, to do justice to the variety of therapeutic concepts, strategies, and techniques recommended by Stoic philosophers in an outline such as this. Nevertheless, I hope that by attempting to do so in relatively plain English, I will help to clarify their “art of living” somewhat, in a manner that may be of service to those who wish to make use of classical philosophy in modern life, for the purposes of self-help or personal development. It probably requires the self-discipline for which Stoics were renowned to follow a regime like this in full, and I imagine that the intention was to begin by attempting one step at a time. I certainly don’t propose this as an evidence-based treatment protocol but rather as an attempt to reconstruct the Stoic regime for discussion.

General

Some things are under our control, while others are not under our control. Under our control are conception [the way we define things], intention [the voluntary impulse to act], desire [to get something], aversion [the desire to avoid something], and, in a word, everything that is our own doing; not under our control are our body, our property, reputation, position [or office] in society, and, in a word, everything that is not our own doing. (Enchiridion, 1)

Those things that our under our control, essentially our own voluntary thoughts and actions, should be performed in harmony with our nature as rational beings, i.e., with wisdom and the other forms of excellence (arete). Those things outside of our direct control should be accepted as Fated by the “string of causes” that forms the universe, as if they were the Will of God, and indifferent with regard to the perfection of our own nature, which constitutes human “happiness” or flourishing (eudaimonia). Following nature in this way, according to the Stoics, is living wisely and leads to freedom (eleutheria), fearlessness (aphobia), overcoming irrational fear and desire (apatheia), absence of distress (ataraxia), serenity (euroia) and a “smooth flow of life”.

Morning Regimen

1. Meditation

1.2. The View from Above. Observe (or just imagine) the rising sun and the stars at daybreak, and think of the whole cosmos and your place within it.

2. The Prospective Morning Meditation

2.2. Mentally rehearse any potential challenges of the day ahead, and the specific precepts required to cope wisely with them, perhaps making use of the previous evening’s self-analysis. When planning any activity, even something trivial like visiting a public bath, imagine beforehand the type of things that could go wrong or hinder your plans and tell yourself: “I want to do such-and-such and at the same time to keep my volition [prohairesis] in harmony with nature” (Enchiridion, 4). That way if your actions are later obstructed you can say: “Oh well, this was not all that I had willed but also to keep my volition in harmony with nature and I cannot do so if I am upset at what’s going on” (Enchiridion, 4). (In other words, plan to act with the “reserve clause” for you are not upset by things but by your judgement about what you desired to achieve or avoid, and what is good or bad.)

2.2.1. Praemeditatio Malorum. Periodically contemplate apparent “catastrophes” such as illness, poverty, bereavement and especially your own death, rehearse facing such calamities “philosophically”, i.e., with rational composure, in order to overcome your attachment to external things (Enchiridion, 21). Contemplate the uncertainty of the future and the value of enjoying the here and now. Remember you must die, i.e., that as a mortal being each moment counts and the future is uncertain.

3. Contemplation of the Sage

Daytime Regimen

1. Mindfulness of the Ruling Faculty (prosoche).

2. Indifference & Acceptance.

3. Evaluating Profit (lusiteles).

4. Cognitive Distancing.

5. Empathic Understanding.

6. Physical Self-Control Training.

7. Impermanence & Acceptance.

8. Act with the “Reserve Clause”.

9. Natural Affection (Philostorgia) & Philanthropy.

10. Affinity (Oikeiôsis) and Cosmic Consciousness.

Evening Regimen

1. The Retrospective Evening Meditation

1.1. What done amiss? Ask yourself what mistakes you made and condemn (not yourself) but what actions you did badly; do so in a moderate and rational manner.

1.2. What done? Ask yourself what virtue, i.e., what strength or wisdom you showed, and sincerely praise yourself for what you did well.

1.3. What left undone? Ask yourself what could be done better, i.e., what you should do instead next time if a similar situation occurs.

2. Relaxation & Sleep


CONTINUE TO REPEAT THIS PROCESS EVERY DAY


Appendix: Summary of Stoic Practices

To give you an idea of the breadth of Stoic practice, I’ve added a bullet-point list of some of the techniques found in the literature…

  1. Contemplation of the Sage: Imagine the ideal Sage or exemplary historical figures (Socrates, Diogenes, Cato) and ask yourself: “What would he do?”, or imagine being observed by them and how they would comment on your actions.
  2. Contemplating the Virtues of Other People: Look for examples of virtues among your friends, family, colleagues, etc.
  3. Self-Control Training: Take physical exercise to strengthen self-discipline, practice drinking just water, eat plain food, live modestly, etc.
  4. Contemplating the Whole Cosmos: Imagine the whole universe as if it were one thing and yourself as part of the whole.
  5. The View from Above: Picture events unfolding below as if observed from Mount Olympus or a high watchtower.
  6. Objective Representation: Describe events to yourself in objective language, without rhetoric or value judgements.
  7. Contemplation of Death: Contemplate your own death regularly, the deaths of loved ones and even the demise of the universe itself.
  8. Premeditation of Adversity: Mentally rehearse potential losses or misfortunes and view them as “indifferent” (decatastrophizing), also view them as natural and inevitable to remove any sense of shock or surprise.
  9. The Financial Metaphor: View your actions as financial transactions and consider whether your behavior is profitable, e.g., if you sacrifice externals but gain virtue that’s profitable but, by contrast, “What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world but loses himself.”
  10. Accepting Fate (Amor Fati): Rather than seeking for things to be as you will, rather will for things to be as they are, and your life will go smoothly and serenely.
  11. Say to External Things: “It is nothing to me.”
  12. Say Over Loved-Ones: “Tomorrow you will die.”
  13. Cognitive Distancing: Tell yourself it is your judgement that upset you and not the thing itself.
  14. Postponement: Delay responding to things that evoke passion until you have regained your composure.
  15. Picture the Consequences: Imagine what will happen if you act on a desire and compare this to what will happen if you resist it.
  16. Cognitive Distancing: When something upsetting happens to you, imagine how you would view the same thing if it befell someone else and say, “Such things happen in life.”
  17. Empathy: Remember that no man does evil knowingly and when someone does what doesn’t seem right, say to yourself: “It seemed so to him.”
  18. Contemplate the Transience of all Things: When you lose something or someone say “I have given it back” instead of “I have lost it”, and view change as natural and inevitable.

PocketStoic

Reflections for the Stoic Path

PocketStoic Staff

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Ancient Stoic wisdom for modern life. Reboot your perspective.

PocketStoic

Reflections for the Stoic Path

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