5 Key Principles Of Stoicism Explained
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. Here are five wise lessons from antiquity on living the good life.
You may enjoy this popular video going over these 5 key Stoic principles:
1. Live Every Day As If It Were Your Last
Seneca was a Roman Stoic philosopher. He once said:
“You live as if you were destined to live forever, no thought of your frailty ever enters your head, of how much time has already gone by you take no heed. You squander time as if you drew from a full and abundant supply, though all the while that day which you bestow on some person or thing is perhaps your last.”
Death doesn’t make life pointless, death makes life worth living. The world keeps spinning when you’re gone and so many of us live life with an attitude which represents the arrogant thought that we are destined to live forever.
Your life is in an hour glass and the hole which that sand is pouring through could widen or break at any moment.
Something that also differentiated Stoicism from stereotypical philosophical discourse was the fact that it produces men who did rather than thought.
This was Epictetus’ promise of philosophy.
Sometimes the discussion about the meaning of life serves no purpose other than to distract you from the answer, which is found in front of you when you live life.
When you wake up, pretend today is your last day and live life as you would in this circumstance.
2. Food Is The Best Test Of Self-Control
Food is the best test of self-control and temperance because it’s presented to us every single day and in the modern world at any hour of the day.
Musonius Rufus was a Roman Stoic philosopher who in his two part discourse on food said:
“That God who made man provided him food and drink for the sake of preserving his life and not for giving him pleasure, one can see very well from this: when food is performing its real function, it does not produce pleasure for man, that is in the process of digestion and assimilation.”
Although the pleasure of food is experienced on the tongue, it’s clear that the purpose of food is revealed when it assimilates with the body through digestion.
The lesson here is similar to what Socrates once said which is that we should eat to live rather than live to eat.
To practice this principle one can eat plain foods without sauces or try intermittent fasting.
3. Failure Is Natural, Regret Is Foolish
Marcus Aurelius was emperor of Rome. His untitled writing, commonly known as Meditations is an important source of Stoic philosophy.
“The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.”
He means that everything, no matter whether it is good or bad is an opportunity to practice virtue.
Don’t be surprised by failure, expect it, in fact, embrace it and seek after obstacles in your life which seem uncomfortable.
It is here where your character will be tested and most importantly moulded and developed.
The Stoics called negative visualisations the premeditation of evils. The idea is to envision the worst possible scenario. An example could be twisting your ankle before you run.
Assimilate this idea into your daily actions and you will be rewarded.
Epictetus is famous for what he called the dichotomy of control which describes what is in our control.
We can apply this to failure.
The moment you start to regret something in the past you’re fundamentally acting against something which is out of your control and so there’s no practical reward from doing so only frustration and anger.
We should learn from the past and our failures, but to regret, to ponder and to revisit our previous attempts and then look at present with disdain is a crime to your character.
4. Focus On The Small Things
Zeno of Citium was the founder of Stoicism, described as living an ascetic life. He once said that:
“Well-being is attained by little and little, and nevertheless is no little thing itself.”
The idea is basically that one must never underestimate the small things in life, because who’s to say that the small things don’t define the larger and seemingness more important parts of life? They do.
Everything is worth paying attention to for all experiences and outcomes in life are interlinked in the rational system we call the universe.
If you switch soda for water every day, something significant such as weight loss may be the consequence. But it’s not the weight loss which is truly good or significant, it’s the switch which made the difference.
It’s easy to look at other people’s successes and pin them down to luck or good fortunate when in reality it was the small “insignificant” things done consistently which defined their successes.
Don’t place your satisfaction on big goals and dreams, place your satisfaction on small wins.
5. Throw Away Vanity
Epictetus was born a slave in what we call Turkey today; he lived in Rome, was then banished and spent the rest of his life in Greece. He said:
“It is impossible for a man to learn what he thinks he already knows.”
When you wish to pursue philosophy and therefore any subject of interest to you, you must throw away conceit and excessive pride before you begin.
Be willing to learn, be willing to listen, be willing to leave your ego aside to learn, evolve and develop through the wisdom of others and through embracing the joy of ignorance.
As the Socratic paradox goes:“I know that I know nothing”
“I know that I know nothing”