Principles of Stoicism Part 1

Stoicism is a philosophy that can change your life.

Some of the most famous stoics include Marcus Aurelius, Seneca, and Epictetus.

These men have handed us down golden wisdom that some don’t come close to in a lifetime.

So today I would like to share with you a comprehensive guide on the Stoicism and practical applications to your daily life.

I think I will break this up into three or four parts.

Today we will go over four powerful stoic principles.

This is a long article, so I suggest reading 2 principles a day….that way you can fully process their content.

Principle #1: You don’t react to events. You react to your opinions about them, and the opinions are up to you.

“If any external thing causes you distress, it is not the thing itself that troubles you, but your own judgement about it. And this you have power to eliminate now.”-Marcus Aurelius, Meditations 

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Marcus Aurelius

“Everything depends on opinion. Ambition, luxury, greed, all look back to opinion; it is according to opinion that we suffer. Each man is as wretched as he has convinced himself he is.”-Seneca, Epistles

Men are not disturbed by the things that happen but their opinions about those things.”-Epictetus, Enchiridion\

There are many terrible things in life.

Losing a job.

Heart break.

Death.

It is obvious that any man will feel some sort of emotion upon experiencing one of the former.

Sadness, grief, anger.

These are all expected.

Application of Principle #1: When something bad happens to you, the way you talk about it to yourself often determines how much it truly affects you. 

Example: You just got fired from your job. You come home to a wife that shows you no love or affection. You are in debt to your eyeballs. The world tells you to feel ashamed because you are a man….and “men are trash”.

Upon experiencing the above the first thing you will experience is visceral reaction….

more than likely anger.

“I hate my life.”

“I am a failure.”

“It’s over.”

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“It’s not over.”

It is upon experiencing the visceral reaction you must take a step back (take a breath if you have to) and say to yourself “it is my decision to choose how i feel about this.”

Event: “I got fired.”

Visceral opinion: “I am a failure.”

Revised opinion: “I now have time to pursue that skill/business I always talked about.”

Event: “Unaffectionate wife.”

Visceral opinion: “I am unlovable.”

Revised opinion: “I will use this rejection/emotional leverage to build my body.”

This principle can be applied to any scenario….and if made habitual can truly transform your life.

Principle #2: Do not attach yourself to externals. 

“There are things up to us and things not up to us. Things up to us are our opinions, desires, aversions, and, in short, whatever is our own doing. Things not up to us are our bodies, possessions, reputations, offices, or, in short, whatever is not our own doing.” -Epictetus, Enchiridion

“There is only one road to happiness – let this rule be at hand morning, noon, and night: Stay detached from things that are not up to you.”-Epictetus, Discourses

There is so much in life that is not up to you.

What someone thinks of you.

Your upbringing/family.

Your genetics.

“Not being able to govern events, I govern myself, and if they will not adapt to me, I adapt to them.”-Montaigne, Of Presumption 

“The ordinary man places his life’s happiness in things external to him, in property, rank, wife…so that when he loses them or finds them disappointing, the foundation of his happiness is destroyed. in other words, his center of gravity is not in himself.”-Arthur Schopenhauer, The Wisdom of Life (See Schopenhauer Secrets of Wisdom)

That’s not to say we don’t prefer certain things in life.

Wealth.

Health.

Friendship.

These are all preferences.

The aim of stoicism is not to avoid the good things in life, but not let them be the sole source of your happiness.

Application of Principle #2: See externals for what they are. Do not glorify externals, discern them….and you will find truth. 

“We value no man by what he is, but add the trappings in which he is adorned.”-Seneca, Epistles. 

The first example that comes to mind from our modern world…..social media.

So many get caught up in the hype of instagram/facebook….

“Oh no one follows me.”

“My ex is posting pics of her night out on IG…..I am sitting home alone doing nothing….I am a loser.”

In this example….discern the external (social media) for what it is….

  • Purely a tool for validation, designed to spike the dopamine in your brain upon receiving a “like”/notification
  • People portray themselves as they want to be seen not as they actually are to optimize their profile for the most likes (dopamine)

An external like social media can drain your self esteem if you let it.

Don’t.

Upon discernment….you realize it’s pure fakery, and thus serves as a terrible measure of your own happiness relative to others.

Let’s do another example:

External: A girl you can’t stop thinking about (oneitis) 

In your mind you aggrandize this woman. (See Kill Your Oneitis) You think, “how could I go on without her.”

Discern the external.

Is she adding happiness to your life? No. She is costing you peace of mind.

Are there other girls like her? Yes. In fact based on the statistical sample size of Earth….there are in fact many other girls much better than her.

Is she perfect? No. Seek out evidence of her imperfections. We all have them.

The principle of detaching from externals boils down to this passage:

“Right from the start, then practice saying to every harsh appearance, ‘You are just an appearance, and not at all what you appear.’ Then examine it, and test it by those rules you have – and by this first one especially, whether it has to do with things that are up to you or things that are not up to you. And if it has to do with something not up to us, let the thought be close at hand that….

It is nothing to me.”

See externals for what they are….discern them….are they in your control or not? And if they are not in your control detach from them.

Never make externals the foundation of your happiness.

Externals are temporary in nature….and thus dangerous to hinge your happiness on.

Principle #3: Become aware of your perspective. 

“These are the two ideas you should keep at the very front of your mind and think about. One is that things in the world do not touch your spirit, but stand quietly external to it; that which disturbs us comes only from the opinions within us. Second, everything you see changes in a moment and will soon be gone. Keep in mind always how many of these changes you have already seen. The world is in constant change; your life lies in your opinion.-Marcus Aurelius, Meditations 

The above quote sounds similar to principle 1, but there are certain perspectives on different aspect of life offered by the stoics.

I will include a few below:

“You can get rid of a great number of your annoyances because they lie entirely in your own head. You will clear ample space for yourself by comprehending the scale of the universe in your mind, by observing the infinity of time, and by studying carefully the rapid change of each part of each thing-how short the time is from birth to dissolution, the time before it an abyss, the time afterwards also endless.”-Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

“We live for an instant, even less than an instant. But nature adds mockery to even this trivial span by giving it an appearance of longer extent-making one part infancy, another childhood, another youth, another the gradual slope from youth to old age, another old age itself. how many steps for so short a climb!”-Seneca, Epistles 

“We believe these affairs of ours are great because we are small.”

The essence of this principle is to zoom out.

Realize the true infinitesimal nature of human life.

Even me writing this blog….I could view it as some grand project, but in the eyes of father time it is nothing.

“How depressing.” 

Wrong.

Zooming out gives you freedom.

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Zoom out….realize the brevity of life.

You and I are not so important…..no one truly cares about our lives/actions, their significance is null in the zoomed out perspective.

Thus we are free.

Importance adds pressure.

Lift that burden.

Application of Principle #3: Zoom out. Realize that all in life is temporary. Our time here is fleeting….remind yourself daily. 

Specific example: A man feels he is at the end of his wit. He has lost touch with family and friends and works a job he hates. He is addicted to alcohol. He is out of shape. He contemplates suicide.

I bring you this example because there are a few men I knew that decided to take the path of suicide to escape their lives.

To one in particular I wish could have said: “Zoom out…..your time is so short anyways,

why not just wait and see what happens.”

The stoics teach us that all in life is temporary.

This is especially true at our lowest points.

Zoom out.

And let go.

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All in life is temporary.

There is no reason to take this all so seriously.

It will all be over soon anyways.

Remind yourself…..become aware of your daily perspective. Realize many trick themselves into making mountains out of molehills. 

 

Principle #4: Overcome the fear of death. This is considered one of the most important philosophical achievements by the stoics. 

“The thing itself is trifling; that we fear it is serious. Better that it happen once than that it always be threatening….Therefore exhort yourself as much as you can, Lucilius, against the fear of death. This is the thing that makes us abject; this is what disturbs and destroys the man whose life itself it has spared; this is what magnifies all those things like earthquakes and lightening.”-Seneca, Natural Questions

“He who has learned to die has unlearned slavery.”-Seneca, Epistles

“We must make ready for death before we make ready for life.”-Seneca, Epistles

“For life has no terrors for him who has thoroughly understood that there are no terrors for him in ceasing to live.”-Epicurus, Letter to Menoeceus

“For we are mistaken when we see death ahead of us; the greater part of it has happened already…..all past time is lost time; the very day we are now spending is shared between ourselves and death.”-Seneca, Epistles

These passages hit heavy.

Stoicism teaches us to respect our mortality but not to fear it.

No man is so wise to know what happens upon death.

Death is life’s biggest uncertainty…..that is why we fear it.

But if we don’t know what death brings….why should we live in fear of it.

I believe that is the essence of the stoic view. I would be lying if I told you I have fully conquered the fear of death.

But I am beginning to respect my mortality more and more each day.

Application of Principle #4: Discern death. Respect it. But aim not fear it. 

Death is the unknown.

Were you in pain during the vast amount of time preceding your birth?

No.

Perhaps death brings a similar fate.

I am not aiming to speculate.

Stoicism teaches us to remind ourselves daily that the time that has passed us in deaths in hand.

This is why I encourage men to focus on conquering addiction (See Purge Porn From Your Life…Watch What Happens.)

Things like pornography, drug addiction, aimlessly chasing lust…..

These are acts of giving your time to death freely….without any acknowledgement of the magnitude of such a poor trade. (See Read This Once a Month…Life Is Short)

If you are going to give your time to death….don’t do so without first planting seeds with that time.

Let death inspire you.

Start a blog.

Help other men.

Use your time to build a health body.

Yes…these are externals. But why not let death instill inside you a sense of urgency? When viewed accurately death can be life’s most powerful motivator.

And given the current climate of our world….men are submitting to death.

They live their lives out in addiction and never aim to achieve self mastery.

Sad.

Apply this principle by reminding yourself daily that death awaits you…..and accept fully that you don’t know when your final moment will arrive. 

I hope these first four principles will help guide you in your daily life. Stoicism is a powerful philosophy and should be a staple in every man’s mental tool belt.

If you guys enjoyed this one let me know, I will aim to write a 2-3 more article outlining the principles taught by stoicism.

Talk to you guys soon.

If you would like to see some of the stoic books that i recommend you can check out the resources page.

 

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2 comments

  1. Hey Mikey,
    I want to say thank you for doing what you do with your platform. I’ve taken upon Stoicism a couple months into my first heartbreak. It’s blunted the pain. It helps to see the philosophy reaching good men such as yourself. From the bottom of my heart, I appreciate what you do.

    1. Edmond,

      Thank you for the kind words brother. Sorry to hear you are going through your first heartbreak. It’s very easy to let a woman “live in your head rent free”. Refer to the principle of externals….and remember “out of sight out of mind. And be careful to not fall into the trap of perpetual bitterness…it is easy to do given the current dating market. Monk mode and staying out of contact (in all forms) will do you well.

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