4 Lessons From Stoicism On Self-Discipline
Stoicism is an ancient Greco-Roman philosophy. The ideal for the Stoic, as with the Buddhist, is to show complete equanimity in the face of adversity.
The four virtues of Stoicism are wisdom, justice, courage and temperance. Temperance is subdivided into self-control, discipline and modesty.
I think that with discipline everything else falls into place.
Discipline is the fundamental action, mindset and philosophy which keeps you in a routine, making progress towards whatever you are pursuing.
Stoicism cultivates iron will in anyone who adheres to its teachings and so here are four lessons I’ve taken away which have helped me develop discipline in regards to my health and overall quality of life.
1. Find Wise People To Emulate
Seneca wrote that,
“Without a ruler to do it against, you can’t make crooked straight.”
We need to recognise the importance of having wise people in our lives which we look up to for inspiration.
These figures serve as models for ourselves to emulate.
Pick carefully and choose someone who is living a good life. By good life I mean someone who morally sound.
Envision the person you wish to become and find someone who is one step ahead of you.
Watch what they do, listen to what they say, learn from them and more importantly, pay attention to what they don’t do.
Humble yourself and embrace ignorance. Follow the words of Socrates and admit wholeheartedly to yourself that you know that you know nothing. Do this not once, not twice, but frequently through your daily life.
Ask yourself what is motivating this person’s actions, their ambitions, why are the consequences they experience happening to them?
Changing your mindset into an idealised one will build confidence and trust in yourself to stay on track and become more self-disciplined.
Apply this knowledge actively in your life and you will be rewarded.
2. Review Your Day
It’s not enough to go to sleep without considering the implications, lessons and knowledge you gained throughout the day. It’s a shame to forget to do this.
Thinking about thinking late at night were referred to as ‘evening retrospections.’ Today one may call this journalling.
What did I do well today?
Where were my discipline and self-control tested and where did I do good?
What did I do bad and why did this occur? Furthermore, how can I improve?
One of the best ways to become more disciplined is to scrutinize yourself. Find your weak spots; don’t mask them. Be brutally honest and use this time to connect with your subconscious mind.
Practicing evening retrospections on a consistent basis will allow you to become more self-aware through every step of your day because you will be actively gathering information to formulate and articulate constructive answers to the latter questions.
The moment you find something which derailed you from your pursuits, recognise it, don’t ignore it. Never regret your actions or words. The most important thing you can do is actively strive to never make the same mistake(s) moving forward.
3. Your Distractions Are Your Own Doing
Marcus Aurelius said,
“If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.”
Being distressed or being bothered by small things consantly is terrible for discipline. You have a goal, you’re working towards it and then thoughts and distress about something external [meaning it’s out of your control] distract and distresses you.
The best thing you can do in these circumstances is to apply Epictetus’ dichotomy of control.
Reinforce to yourself what is within your control and what is out of your control. If you embrace what is out of your control and accept it, you will experience tranquillity.
Refer to the following questioning next time you’re distressed:
Do you have a problem in your life? If not, then there’s no need to worry.
If you do have a problem in your life and you can do something about it, then don’t worry.
If you have a problem in your life and you can’t do something about it, then don’t worry.
Regardless of our situations, there’s no excuse not to show equanimity, for there’s no reason not be.
4. Every Day Is A New Life
“Begin at once to live, and count each separate day as a separate life.”
A bad day doesn’t have to become a bad week; a bad week doesn’t have to become a bad year and so on.
The moment you wake up, remind yourself that the new day is essentially a new life. The past shouldn’t be forgotten, but it most definitely should not be something which holds you back.
All previous actions from previous days are now out of your control and if pondered on for too long, serve you no good other than to drag you down like an anchor.
Release the anchor and move forward by opening your eyes and focusing on what’s in front of you. This is where life is truly lived.
If you binged on your diet yesterday, it does not mean you’ve failed and now there’s no point in continuing.
If you didn’t exercise when you know you should have, this doesn’t define your character for good. Your ability to keep going is what moulds you into a disciplined and strong person. This ability or this momentum is what is valuable.
Get back on the horse as the expression goes.