Stoicism is the philosophy movement started by Zeno of Citium, in Athens, in 301 BCE. The Stoics believed it was more of a way of life than a philosophy to be discussed in the elite classrooms. So, it started on the streets, and spread in a way that it was always accessible to the common person passing through the marketplace.
How To Practice Stoicism: 6 Stoic Exercises To Successfully Navigate Modern Life
More than 2300 years after Stoicism started, the philosophy remains just as much — if not more — relevant today. These ancient Stoic practices will help us to invite order and calm into the chaotic and uncertain life we face today.
Here are 6 Stoic exercises to help you successfully navigate the modern life:
Stoic Exercise #1. Make A Stoic Affirmation
How to live like a Stoic?
Start your day with this Stoic affirmation:
I do not and can not control the events outside me. I can only control how I respond to them.
It’s a simple 10-second act. And you could do it without too much of an effort or thought.
You may not immediately feel how it affects your approach to life. But when you make it a habit with regular practice, its deeper meaning begins to seep into your way of daily living. It’s then you start to think and live like a Stoic.
It’s then you stop carrying your agitation and discomfort of negative events through your day. When something sabotages your smoothly planned day, you feel the disappointment but do not let it hang over your head like a dark personal cloud.
You see it as it is. The hard drive failed. Okay, it failed. It is inconvenient at the moment, but your getting angry at others because of it would not fix it. So, why waste your time and mental resources on it?
You see it, feel it, do what you must do to fix it. You learn from it. And then you let it go.
When someone speaks ill of you, you let yourself feel the anger but do not accept it or act on it. You feel the negative emotion, and release it.
With that affirmation for enough days, you start changing your attitude towards unforeseen negative incidents. With that, you get to keep your equanimity when someone, or life itself, throws muck at you.
In time, you learn to not allow people and circumstances to dictate your thoughts and actions. You start to mark clear lines between outside events and your judgments about them, and discard the latter. You stop others from dictating what you think, how you act, where you spend time.
A Stoic is not devoid of emotions, but rather a person not ruled by his emotions.
Man is disturbed not by things, but by the views he takes of them. — Epictetus, a master of Stoicism philosophy who was born into slavery, The Enchiridion.
Stoic Exercise #2. Do A Good Act Today
What Are Stoic Virtues?
Do a simple good act each day. Just about any small act that makes another benefit from it.
The Stoics maintained the only thing that contributes to eudaimonia or happiness is virtue. They kept it clear and strong that doing good for its own sake was the highest virtue of human life. A Stoic does a good act because it’s good to do so. Period.
So, what are Stoic virtues?
The 4 cardinal virtues of Stoicism are:
- Wisdom — knowing what is good and bad
- Justice — moral wisdom, impartiality
- Temperance — moderation, self-control, self-awareness
- Courage — bravery, grit, resilience
Living with virtue was the way of the good life of a Stoic.
The Stoics believed in was that the main goal of life is to live in agreement with Nature. By this, they meant living in agreement with the special power that makes us human above all animals — our ability to reason.
So, do a good act for another person today — without expecting any praise. In fact, if you’re praised, accept it without the least arrogance. But if you’re called names for doing it, then treat those bad words with utmost indifference.
A Stoic in a sentence: A person who lives with virtue, in agreement with nature.
Wherever there is a human being, there is an opportunity for a kindness. — Lucius Annaeus Seneca, Statesman and Stoic philosopher (4 BCE-65 CE)
Stoic Exercise #3. Eat Like A Stoic Would
How to eat like a Stoic?
The Stoic practice was to eat sparsely. They followed the Socrates idea of eating to live, not living to eat.
Musonius Rufus (30-95 CE), one of the four great Stoic philosophers of the Roman empire, and the man who taught Epictetus, held controlling one’s appetite is at the foundation of self-control.
Rufus taught the Stoics should prefer foods that are modestly priced, easy to come by, and healthful to eat. His idea was to not spend too much time shopping or making food.
Rufus, the Stoic sage, advised avoiding eating of slaughtered animals, and instead sustain oneself on grains, fruits, vegetables, milk, honey, cheese, and the like.
Rufus advised against overeating, and eating mindlessly or hurriedly. He advised to eat in moderation, with self-control, and with mindfulness.
The person who eats more than he should makes a mistake. So does the person who eats in a hurry, the person who is enthralled by gourmet food, the person who favors sweets over nutritious foods, and the person who does not share his food equally with his fellow-diners.Musonius Rufus, Lecture 18.4
Zeno, the first Stoic, ate only small loaves and honey, or at least tried to subsist on whatever could be eaten uncooked.
Zeno thought it was best to avoid gourmet and fancy food, as they spoil one’s appetites. Then one starts to crave expensive and uncommon foods that are difficult to obtain. And then they lose their ability to enjoy simple and natural foods.
Even Marcus Aurelius, the powerful Roman emperor and the last Stoic of antiquity, seemed to eat sparsely. In one of his letters, he writes:
Then we went to luncheon. What do you think I ate? A wee bit of bread, though I saw others devouring beans, onions, and herrings full of roe. We then worked hard at grape-gathering, and had a good sweat, and were merry and, as the poet says, still left some clusters hanging high as gleanings of the vintage.Marcus Aurelius to Fronto (144 – 145 CE), The Correspondence of M. Cornelius Fronto
- So, why not try fasting today? A modern way of fasting is: Intermittent Fasting (IF). In this, you keep a gap of 14 to 16 hours between the last meal of your day and the first meal of the next day. IF has some proven biological benefits too.
- Another thing could be this: When you eat your food today, make it a point to chew it for long. Note the taste of every morsel in a way that you’re tasting each particle of it. This is mindful eating.
- One final idea on Stoic way of eating: Try sitting with a food you know is unhealthy for you. Just sit there for a long while. Do not eat it. Think deep why you shouldn’t eat it, and how would it harm you later. Then trash it, however alarming that idea may seem — drop it into the dustbin.
Stoic Exercise #4. Work At Your Own Worth
How to become a true Stoic?
Do you fix your worth based on what others think of you? As a practicing Stoic, it doesn’t matter if others admire you, laugh at you, like you, or hate you. Even if they love you, they might not even think much about your goals and dreams.
And when they dislike you, of course, they wouldn’t care about your values and strengths.
In essence, they will never understand who you actually are. So, why steer your life based on what their views are about you?
Instead, why not work to raise your own worth?
Why not turn to yourself and grind out excellent quality at whatever you do, rather than working to win their validation?
You do not need to set your targets on a bounty to do meaningful work that builds your worth. You could choose one piece of work today and give it your best focus, skills, and dedication. What this would do is discipline you for a higher level of personal excellence.
The Stoic principles warn that your possessions, however high-priced, will lose their shine after a while. Then you would start taking them for granted. They would be as good as forgotten.
The same holds true for people as well. So, do not resent others for what you don’t own. Neither live a life chasing the same things as they own.
Do not deride other people for their share of appreciation they receive. If you can’t applause for them, then you neither whine about how little acclaim you have in your own life.
Instead of striving for their kind of approval, turn your focus on being as virtuous as you can with what you control — your thoughts and actions.
Work at building your own worth using the tools you have. To flourish, let go of what isn’t helping your growth, and get a stronger grip on what sharpens your skills.
Every night before going to sleep, we must ask ourselves: What weakness did I overcome today? What virtue did I acquire? — Seneca
Stoic Exercise #5. Write A Journal For Yourself
How to journal like a Stoic?
Marcus Aurelius (121-180 CE), the Roman emperor, was the most powerful Stoic to have ever walked this earth. He wrote a journal for guiding himself in life. He wrote it by his own hand, even when he was at the war-front.
The strange thing was, he didn’t want it to remain after he was dead. He was clear he wrote it only for himself, as a diary, and wanted it destroyed once he died.
But it survived. And we are thankful it did, for we can now buy it as the book Meditations.
Writing in a diary was a daily Stoic habit. The Stoic way of journaling was to write in the morning about the things they wanted to do that day. Then, at the end of the day, come back to it and analyse their day — how it went against how they wanted it to go.
The Stoics wrote to bring order to their thoughts and memories. It helped them guide themselves better through their hard times. It helped them remember, and correct, what mistakes they made while responding to difficult situations. It helped them examine their actions.
These are the things [the distinction between what one can and cannot control] which philosophers should meditate on, which they should write daily, in which they should exercise themselves. — Epictetus
So did Seneca:
I examine my entire day and go back over what I’ve said and done, hiding nothing from myself, and passing nothing by. — Seneca
Stoic Exercise #6. Detach From The Results
How to act like a Stoic?
Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius wrote on the concept of amor fati. A Latin phrase, it translates into love of fate. Nietzsche, the revolutionary philosopher who boldly uttered God is dead, expresses it as:
My formula for greatness in a human being is amor fati: that one wants nothing to be different, not forward, not backward, not in all eternity. Not merely bear what is necessary, still less conceal it—all idealism is mendacity in the face of what is necessary – but love it. — Nietzsche
When we worry, we mostly do it about a certain outcome. We get anxious thinking the future might unfold in a way we aren’t imagining it to. But wait, can you really control the results? No!
Amor fati means doing the most that we can, putting in our best efforts, to make the world a better place, without worrying about what results they bring.
When we embrace the Stoicism philosophy of amor fati, we embrace our future, our fate, whatever it may turn out to be. But it doesn’t mean to be nihilistic or pessimistic — doing nothing or expecting the worst for the belief that nothing is going to be worthwhile.
Amor fati means loving your fate, but without leaving your goals.
It means working towards what you mean to and intend to do, without attaching yourself to the results. It’s accepting the outcome, whatever it is, as you can only control the process, not the outcome.
The Stoics believed the entire cosmos is rationally organized, including the order of events in its entire time. Everything that happens is preordained to happen.
Fighting against this cosmic fate can only cause unhappiness. The better option is to embrace the result with love, and work to make the best out of it.
Think of it as an arrow you’re aiming at, with your best technique and balance, but not much worried about where it finally stops. Accept with serenity wherever it ends up. Then keep going at it better and better with each next shot.
As Epictetus’ Enchiridion advised:
Don’t demand that things to happen as you wish; rather, wish but wish that they happen as they do happen: then you will be happy.
What Does Stoic Mean?
How to be more of a Stoic person?
First, a Stoic has a different meaning from a stoic (with a small s); the latter means a serious looking person who doesn’t show any emotion — pain, joy, or love. In contrast, what Stoic means is such a person can feel as well as show both positive and negative emotions.
- Can a Stoic show emotions? Yes.
- Can a Stoic be in love? Yes.
- Can a Stoic be happy? Yes.
To become a Stoic is a long journey. But how do you live like a Stoic today? Well, you can show Stoicism in small, simple acts.
You could pick out one of these 6 Stoic exercises to do in your daily life. Doing just one exercise a day is easy, however much the uncertainty and chaos in the outside world. And when you start practicing more of these everyday, it will help you become more of a Stoic.
How to stay like a Stoic in stressful situations?
More often than not, your opinion or judgment of an event makes you more scared than the event itself. You end up believing it is that viewpoint what is actually happening. And it makes you suffer and lose your calm.
The philosophy of Stoicism can help you live with a certain inner peace in times of anxiousness, worrying, and overthinking. It can help you keep in mind what you really control is how you think about events, and your judgments and actions upon them.
The world is facing one such intensely chaotic moment in human history now, as the Corona (COVID-19) virus rampages across the countries. While the medical and front-line professionals work round the clock to handle the crisis, going far out their way, can we respond to this situation with some Stoic wisdom?
• If you reached here, then spare a few minutes more to glimpse into the fascinating story of Zeno, the founder of Stoic philosophy here.
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Author Bio: Sandip Roy is psychology writer, happiness researcher, and medical doctor. Founder of Happiness India Project, and chief editor of its blog. He writes popular-science articles on positive psychology and related topics.
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