Stoic Tools to Conquer Your Day-to-Day Life
Stoicism is steeped in wisdom on how best to handle the adversities we face while at the same time live a virtuous life. For a philosophy as old as Stoicism, the guidance it provides is as relative today as it was when Marcus Aurelius was Emperor of Rome.
Below are seven key strategies from the Stoics to help us win the day and live a more virtuous life.
Foresee the Bad and Plan Against It
“Begin each day by telling yourself: Today I shall be meeting with interference, ingratitude, insolence, disloyalty, ill-will, and selfishness — all of them due to the offenders’ ignorance of what is good or evil.” — Marcus Aurelius. Meditations. II.1
In order for us to be prepared, we need to be able to anticipate what someone can and/or may do to disrupt our day. This can be accomplished by knowing who we will encounter, understanding their personality type, have knowledge of what makes them tic, and the like. Through this understanding, we are better prepared to foresee the obstacles (people) in our way as we try to accomplish our daily goals. It is important to remember that we may, and probably will, encounter individuals who are annoying, backstabbing, and conniving. But by knowing this, we can anticipate it and can be prepared to guard ourselves against it.
Focus on What You DO Control
“There are things which are within our power, and there are things which are beyond our power. Within our power are opinion, aim, desire, aversion, and, in one word, whatever affairs are our own. Beyond our power are body, property, reputation, office, and, in one word, whatever are not properly our own affairs.”
Epictetus. The Enchiridion. I.
Understanding what we do and do not have control over in life is the key to success throughout our day. We should not be wasting our energy pursuing things which we ultimately have no control over. We have control over our actions and our mindset. We do not have control over other people’s actions or opinions.
We have the ability to influence those around us, but that is the extent of the power and control we have over others. If you cannot influence an individual to your viewpoint, think about utilizing your energies elsewhere if possible. It’s important to always remember, focus on what you can control: Yourself.
Break it Down into First Principles
“When meat and other dainties are before you, you reflect: This is dead fish, or fowl, or pig; or: This Falernian is some of the juice from a bunch of grapes; my purple robe is sheep’s wool stained with a little gore from a shellfish; copulation is friction of members and an ejaculatory discharge. Reflections of this kind go to the bottom of things, penetrating into them and exposing their real nature. The same process should be applied to the whole life. When a thing’s credentials look most plausible, lay it bare, observe its triviality, and strip it of the cloak of verbiage that dignifies it. Pretentiousness is the arch deceiver, and never more elusive than when you imagine your work is most meritorious.”
Marcus Aurelius. Meditations. VI.13
Understand what the root of everything is. Breakdown the problem into its foundational principles. What are the pieces that make up the whole? Does the problem lie in the beginning, middle, or end? What needs to connect in order for this to be successful?
By understanding the smallest nuances of a situation, we are better equipped to handle and correct the problem at hand, strategize for future advancements, and identify faulty logic.
Be Accountable and Take Responsibility
“If you suppose anything over which you have no control to be either good or bad for you, then the accident of missing the one or encountering the other is certain to make you aggrieved with the gods, and bitter against the men and whom you know or suspect to be responsible for your failure or misfortune. We do, in fact, commit many injustices through attaching importance to things of this class. But when we limit our notions of good and evil strictly to what is within our own power, there remains no reason either to bring accusations against God or to set ourselves at variance with men.”
Marcus Aurelius. Meditations. VI.41
We have no control over others or their actions, but we do have control over our own. If we do not perform a task to the best of our ability or did not complete an assignment, take responsibility for it. If you have made a mistake, own up to it. It will be better for yourself and create more respect from those around you when they see you are taking responsibility for your actions. Do not be anti-virtuous and place blame on another. Know what you’re responsible for and hold yourself accountable to those responsibilities.
Embrace Your Fate and Enjoy the Obstacles
“The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.”
Marcus Aurelius. Meditations. V.20
“…resign yourself without a pang, and turn the obstacle into an opportunity for the exercise of some other virtue.”
Marcus Aurelius. Meditations. VI.50
Embrace the challenges of life. Understand that we all wish at times that we did not have to deal with obstacles, that instead everything could run smoothly. But it is through the obstacles, through the difficult times, that we ourselves grow. Obstacles help us to think differently, to solve problems, to grow as individuals, emotionally, intellectually, physically. Understand what happens to you — good, bad, indifferent — is providing you with skills and tools necessary to conquer your life.
Instead of being apprehensive or fearful of these challenges, embrace them, lean in, and thank them for the opportunity to grow. It is within these moments that we are tested and grow above all else. As Ray Dalio says in his book Principles, Pain + Reflection = Progress.
Life is Fleeting so Stay Present
“One thing hastens into being, another hastens out of it. Even while a thing is in the act of coming into existence, some part of it has already ceased to be.”
Marcus Aurelius. Meditations. VI.15
Life is neither long nor short, it is what we make of it. Too often we are compelled to go in multiple directions inevitably leading us down a road of half-completed work and more headaches than we want because we do not understand that time is our most valuable resource.
Understand, time is finite. The only way to gather “more time” is by prioritizing and properly executing so as to be as efficient and productive as possible. Be present in your actions and perform them to the fullest of your ability. There is no guarantee for how long we’ll be here, so isn’t it best we do the best we can while we’re still here?
“ He who is quick to believe that he has thrown away his benefits, does really throw them away; but he who presses on and adds new benefits to his former ones, forces out gratitude even from a hard and forgetful breast.” Seneca. On Benefits. I.3
You are alive. You still breathe and have the ability to live virtuously through your actions. You still have time to connect with friends and family, to do right by them and those around you, to make an impact on the world and your day. Be gracious that another day has been provided for you to live the life you want to live and accomplish the goals you wish to accomplish. One day this will no longer be the case, so be grateful for the opportunities and make the most of it.
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