Stoicism is an ancient form of philosophy that teaches how to manage emotions through mindfulness and contemplation. We'll show you how to be a stoic and manage stress.
Stoicism is a branch of philosophy that can be used in everyday life to manage emotions and reduce stress and anxiety around things outside of one’s control. This positive mindset means that stoics tend to be more resilient to life’s ups and downs, and are capable of dealing with difficult situations in a calm manner.
Stoics tend to accept that negative things can happen in their lives. Rather than get stressed by bad situations, they work at finding a solution to problems. Stoics may look to the common Latin phrase, “memento mori”, which means, “remember that you will die”. This is not a pessimistic saying, but rather a reminder to be grateful for what you have, make the most of your days, and not waste time on things that you cannot control.
We’ll discuss the history of stoicism and how you can incorporate it into your life.
What Is Stoicism?
Stoicism involves letting go of things in life that are out of our control. Stoics believe that worrying about these things is unproductive, uses up energy and causes unnecessary stress. They would rather use their energy to think of solutions to problems and not dwell on the problems themselves.
Another tenet of Stoicism is trying not to envy others when they have something you wish you had, as this will only cause negative feelings. Material possessions are generally not important to Stoics, since they don’t bring happiness in and of themselves — Stoics instead try to feel grateful for what they already have.
When something negative happens in a stoic’s life, they try to accept the challenge and find the positive in it. For example, getting fired from one’s job is a difficult situation, but a Stoic could find the pros in this life event. They may see it as a chance to learn new skills, meet new people, or even move to a different city.
Stoicism can be summarized with the following principles:
- Morals: One should try to live virtuously and do what’s right.
- The law of reason: Everything happens for a reason and we cannot control what will happen.
- Negative events: Bad life experiences are not inerently negative, and there is always something positive to be gained from them.
- Knowledge: Feeding your knowledge and understanding can result in greater self-control.
- Enjoyment: Seeking pleasure is neither good nor bad, as long as it doesn’t get in the way of the other core principles.
- Apatheia: Perhaps the most misunderstood part of this philosophy. Emotional control is the key to Stoicism. However, this doesn’t mean that Stoics are unfeeling, but rather that they use apatheia in a positive way to keep negative emotions from immobilizing them.
Origins of Stoicism
Stoicism originated in Athens, Greece, around the year 300 BC. A philosopher called Zeno was inspired by the work of early philosophers like Plato and Xenocrates, from the school of Platonic thought. This branch of philosophy focused on the experience of human life from an ethical, religious and political point of view.
Zeno used to teach his followers about this Stoicism, which he divided into three areas — logic was taught as a way to solve problems and find solutions, physics or the natural sciences, as a way to understand active reasoning and why things happen that are beyond our control, and ethics as a way to apply the understanding of logic and physics in one’s daily life.
Stoicism gets its name from the place where Zeno used to teach, the Stoa Poikile, or painted colonnade. The main inspiration for this philosophy came from determinism, which focuses on the idea that almost everything is beyond our control, so there is not much point in worrying.
Stoics believe that the most important thing in life is to live in harmony with nature and to place less importance on possessions and material things. Stoics believe that if they can control their feelings, it will help them to overcome destructive emotions and therefore live a calm, content life.
How to Implement Stoicism in Your Daily Life
1. Embrace each moment: Whether positive or negative, accept each event that life throws at you, and try to make the best of it and learn from it. Don’t spend too much time regretting the past or worrying about the future. Instead, live in the present and embrace each day. For example, if you are worried about an exam that is months away, instead of lingering on the “what ifs” of what could happen if you fail, consider what steps you can take today to help work towards your study goal.
2. Don’t worry about what you can’t control: In stressful situations, think about this question: Is this within my control? If the answer is no, then try to let things go and remain calm. For example, if you’re stuck in a traffic jam and are late for an important meeting, it isn’t productive to get angry about it or direct your rage at other drivers. Instead, you could try to look up an alternate route while calling your client or coworkers to explain the situation — all things which you can control. You could also learn from this situation and start checking the traffic updates before leaving home if you have an important meeting.
3. Prepare for the worst: It may seem a bit pessimistic, but predicting what could go wrong and mentally preparing for it can help you to accept it if it does occur. For example, if you’re going on a trip tomorrow, what could go wrong? You could miss your flight, experience delays, or lose your luggage. Preparing yourself for the mentally for these possibilities helps to build resilience and means that you are ready to face any challenge.
4. Practice misfortune: Learn what it is like to live without the things you take for granted. This could mean altering the food that you eat, changing the kind of entertainment options you use, or even the mode of transport that you take to work. Consider fasting one day a week as a way to experience hunger and make you practice gratitude — did you know that fasting is an example of positive stress, also called hormesis? Learn more in our guide on the topic.
5. Don’t sweat the small stuff: Remember that every moment is fleeting. Letting things go brings stoics a sense of calm and helps them to focus on the here and now. A good example is parenting young children. Let’s say you just finished preparing a healthy, nutritious meal for them, only for them to refuse to eat it, throw it across the room and call you names. It’s easy to get frustrated, but try to remember that this incident will pass, and will likely not have a lasting impact on your life. Rather than getting angry or frustrated, accept the child’s feelings in the moment, and consider how you can help them adjust their behavior in the future.
The Challenges Stoics Face
If we take a look at the definition of stoicism, it describes it as “the quality of experiencing pain or trouble without complaining or showing your emotions”. While stoicism has come to have this meaning in popular culture, the philosophy of Stoicism is different. Stoics may be interpreted as unfeeling or emotionless, but the reality is that they just don’t allow their emotions to overtake them, and they try hard to keep a positive attitude.
It can be difficult to implement Stoicism into our daily lives — after all, controlling your emotions is not easy. Becoming a Stoic won’t happen overnight and there is a steep learning curve. It is important to point out that Stoics are still able to experience the full range of emotions, but rather than being controlled by their feelings, they channel them into productive and positive behaviors. Stoics do still have problems, and they can and should ask for help when they need it, whether that’s from friends, family, or a mental health professional.
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