Ever felt like the universe is just out to test how many curveballs you can dodge?
Or that life’s become this endless loop of ‘Why me?’ moments?
You’re not alone.
But there’s an ancient club of thinkers who had a few cheat codes.
Far from the dusty pages of philosophy books, Stoicism is like that straight-talking friend who’s got your back. A no-BS guide to handling life’s ups and downs with grit and grace.
Today, we cover five easy-to-digest things we can learn from this philosophy.
Let’s dive in.
01 Focus on things you can actually control
“The chief task in life is simply this: to identify and separate matters so that I can say clearly to myself which are externals not under my control, and which have to do with the choices I actually control. ” – Epictetus
Imagine you’ve got this swanky new suit. Fits like a dream, makes you feel like a million bucks.
But then, out of nowhere, a bird decides your shoulder is the perfect spot to… well, do its business.
Now, you’ve got two choices:
- Lose your cool, curse the bird, the universe…
- Take a deep breath, clean it up, and move on, realizing birds, much like life, can be unpredictable.
The Stoics were big on this idea.
They believed that some things are within our control (our actions, thoughts, and feelings) and some things are not (bird poop incidents, the weather, other people’s opinions).
Stressing about stuff outside your control? It’s like trying to yell at the rain to stop. Pointless and exhausting.
Instead, the Stoics would advise: Focus on your reactions.
While you can’t control every event, you sure can control how you respond.
So, the next time life (or a bird) throws a curveball your way, remember: It’s not about the mess, but how you deal with it.
02 Distinguish fear from reality
We are more often frightened than hurt; and we suffer more in imagination than in reality.” – Seneca
This insight from Seneca taps into the heart of one of our biggest battles – the one we fight within our minds.
We’ve all been there: a looming work deadline becomes a monstrous, career-defining moment; a missed call from a loved one spirals into a hundred worst-case scenarios; a simple social misstep turns into an endless loop of overthinking.
The Stoics, with their razor-sharp perception, recognized that our minds, when left unchecked, tend to amplify our fears and magnify potential harm.
In doing so, we become prisoners, not of the external world, but of our own perceptions and imagined catastrophes.
The challenge, then, is to differentiate between genuine threats and the spectres our minds create.
It’s about grounding ourselves in the present, understanding the facts, and taking a step back when our thoughts start to run wild. Because, more often than not, the real battle isn’t against the world, but against our own imagination.
So, next time your mind starts screening its own horror movie, remember Seneca’s words.
Pause, breathe, and ask yourself: Is this a genuine concern or just another scene in the mind’s theatre? Often, recognizing this distinction is half the battle won.
03 Limit your desires
“Curb your desire—don’t set your heart on so many things and you will get what you need.” – Epictetus
In today’s age of endless choices and boundless opportunities, it’s easy to become the proverbial kid in a candy store.
With sparkling gadgets, ever-evolving fashion trends, and the siren call of social media achievements, there’s an incessant tug on our desires, urging us to want more, achieve more, be more.
Epictetus, with his timeless wisdom, nudges us towards a profound realization: when we scatter our desires, we dilute our focus and energy. It’s akin to watering a garden with a hundred plants but only having enough resources to help a few truly thrive.
By refining our desires and prioritizing what genuinely aligns with our core values and needs, we ensure that our energies aren’t spread thin. This doesn’t mean suppressing aspirations but being deliberate about which ones we allow to take root in our hearts.
Practically, it’s about recognizing the difference between fleeting wants and genuine needs.
It’s choosing depth over breadth, quality over quantity, and substance over semblance.
In the end, by setting our hearts on fewer things, we not only streamline our pursuits but also achieve a more profound sense of satisfaction and fulfillment.
04 Now is all we have, embrace it
“Confine yourself to the present..” – Marcus Aurelius
You’ve probably heard the age-old saying, “Carpe Diem” or “Seize the Day.”
For the Stoics, this wasn’t just a trendy tattoo idea; it was a way of life.
In a world drowning in distractions, constantly looking forward to the next vacation, the next promotion, or reminiscing about the “good ol’ days,” Stoicism advises: anchor yourself in the here and now.
I remember being at a friend’s wedding, and instead of immersing myself in the joy and celebration, I was engrossed in snapping photos, recording videos, and planning for the after-party.
It hit me later how I had been physically present but mentally miles away, missing the genuine moments that mattered.
Stoicism is a gentle reminder that while it’s okay to plan for the future and learn from the past, life’s true essence is experienced in the present.
Whether you’re sipping your morning coffee, feeling the texture of a finely tailored suit, or laughing with loved ones, immerse yourself fully.
05 Embody your philosophy
“Don’t explain your philosophy. Embody it.” – Epictetus
In an era of information overload, where everyone has a platform and an opinion, words can often get lost in the noise. Philosophies, beliefs, and intentions are abundantly discussed, debated, and dissected.
But Epictetus offers a potent reminder: true philosophy isn’t just to be spoken about; it’s to be lived.
Our actions, choices, and behaviors serve as the most authentic representation of our beliefs.
Let’s be real: It’s easy to talk about kindness, integrity, or discipline. It’s another thing entirely to consistently practice them in our daily lives.
It’s not about putting on a performance or aiming for perfection but striving for congruence between what we profess and how we act.
This alignment not only lends credibility to our words but also shapes our character, inspiring use to move forward and tackle challenges head-on.
So, the next time you find yourself in a position to express your beliefs or values, remember Epictetus’s wisdom: let your actions do the talking.
The bottom line
Life’s unpredictable and challenging.
It’s your playbook, offering tactics to tackle it head-on.
Dive in, adapt, and thrive.
If you’ve dabbled in Stoic wisdom or have a Stoic-inspired story of your own, drop it in the comments. We’d love to learn from your journey.