Why You Should Embrace Your Inner Stoic
Be honest with me. Does the title of this article send a shiver down your spine?
When you think of Stoicism, what probably comes to mind is something dour, and perhaps a little rigid. But stoicism isn’t about my mother-in-law. No, no, no! Stoicism is actually quite the opposite of what you think it is.
Sure, Stoicism’s foundation is partly built upon living a life without complaint, so it’s a tough sell to the victimhood crowd. But Stoicism is also built upon living a life of virtue.
Before you roll your eyes and tell me to go back to the 1950s, let me promise you that virtue is the missing piece you’ve been looking for. Yes, virtue. Not the new BMW. Not the hot new boyfriend. Not the promotion to Senior Vice President. All those things are external.
Virtue is an inside job. Accordingly, people run away from it. Because inside stuff means work. Strategy. Patience. Honesty. Failures. Persistence. More honesty. Even more persistence.
But What Is Stoicism?
At this point you want to go back to the part about the BMW. I hear you. But stay with me a little longer. I can give you Stoicism and a new BMW.
Stoicism is a practice focused on two things:
- How can we lead a fulfilling, happy life?
- How can we become better human beings?
The ancient philosophy, founded in Athens by Zeno of Citium in the early 3rd century BC, states inner peace can be attained by overcoming adversity, practicing self-control, being conscious of our impulses, realizing our ephemeral nature and the brevity of human life. It also makes clear that we do not and cannot control external events – only ourselves and hence our responses to external events.
In other words, it’s not who you are, but what you do that defines you (if you say that in a faux-gravelly voice, you will sound like Christian Bale in Batman Begins).
Second, it isn’t an insult to be called stoic; it should be considered high praise and an aspirational goal. And really, who wouldn’t want to be compared to someone like Alexander The Great? (Not that I have, but you see where I’m going with this. Yep, Alex was a Stoic).
In fact, both ancient and modern-day leaders used classic Stoic teachings to guide them.
Marcus Aurelius, the emperor of the Roman Empire (and the most powerful man on earth at the time), wrote himself daily notes about restraint, compassion, and humility. Let me repeat that: the most powerful person on earth practiced restraint, compassion, and humility. Surely those of us missing that moniker can find some wisdom in Aurelius’ actions.
President Teddy Roosevelt was a student of Stoicism. In his life prior to the White House, Roosevelt explored a dangerous section of the Amazon called the River of Doubt. And what was his reading of choice during these adventures? His copy of the Stoicism book, The Discourses of Epictetus with the Encheiridion, in which Roosevelt made copious notes. The takeaway: be more like “Rough Rider” Teddy to make your way to President Teddy.
Author, podcast host and angel investor Tim Ferriss is a vocal fan of Stoicism for its “simple and immensely practical set of rules for better results with less effort.” He practices something called negative visualization where he defines his fears, rather than his goals. By visualizing his worst fears, he acknowledges the fear and can move forward in action.
As these leaders have learned, Stoicism is a tool that we can use to become better in our careers, better friends, and better people. It teaches us to learn to want the things we have and to enjoy life as it is right now.
So How Do You Know If Stoicism Will Work For You?
If you’re still reading and haven’t been distracted by your Facebook feed, you might be ready to embrace your inner Stoic. Here’s how:
#1 – Keep your ego in check. (Yeah, I’m talking to you, social media God)
Humility goes a long way. When you acknowledge that the world does not revolve around you, you are more aware of others and their needs.
#2 – Your mindset is everything
A little self-effacing humor is good. But beating yourself up and pointing out the negative is bad and defeating. Instead, do as the Stoics do and control your response to turn setbacks into opportunities, and transform negative emotions into a sense of calm and perspective.
#3 – Live in the moment and keep it simple
The Stoics didn’t waste time debating; they believed that actions spoke louder than words. Translation: Be a good person and do the right thing, right now.
Remember, Stoicism is all about getting stuff done. Seize the moment (yeah, RIGHT NOW) to start channeling your inner Stoic.
And I promise, your newfound Stoicism will actually feel spectacular. It will feel sexy on you. Your new Stoicism won’t hurt one bit.
But if it does, contact me immediately, because you’re doing it wrong.