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What 5 Simple Stoic Practices Can You Integrate in Your Life?

 

Stoicism is a branch of philosophy that first developed around 300 BCE, thanks to the efforts of Hellenistic philosopher Zeno of Citium. The movement quickly attracted followers, and it’s no surprise that Stoicism flourished throughout Greece and Rome and is still popular today. Although the origins of the thinking date back to ancient times, many of the original teachings can still be applied, and embracing a Stoic lifestyle can lead to a greater sense of well-being and increase overall happiness. Here are five Stoic practices that can be adopted in daily life. 

1. Focus on Your Intentions

Herakles d’Apres Bourdelle, c. 1940, via Sladmore
Herakles d’Apres Bourdelle, c. 1940. Source: Sladmore

 

“The wise person considers intention, rather than outcome, in every situation” (Seneca, Letters to Lucilius).

 

Imagine an archer aiming to hit a target. His bow is well-strung, his arrows balanced, and he’s adjusted his stance to account for the sun. He’s prepared as best he can, but an unexpected gust of wind knocks his arrow off course. He’s failed.

 

Well, not exactly. This archer metaphor is one of Stoicism’s most popular as it explains a key tenet of the philosophy: Intentions are everything. Just as the archer did everything in his power to hit the target, so too do Stoics do everything to achieve good. Whether or not they actually do, though, is irrelevant. Regardless of the outcome, all that matters is they tried their best.

 

As you go throughout your day, focus less on results and more on intention. Ask yourself: What do I want to achieve, and have I done everything possible? 

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2. Know When to Take (and Give Up) Control

cicero denounces catiline late roman republic
Cicero Denounces Catiline, by Cesare Maccari, 1888. Source: The Independent

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“The only circumstances that are truly and always under your control are those internal to your own mind and subject to your volition (Cicero, Tusculan Disputations)

 

There are the things you can control (your thoughts and actions) and those you can’t (pretty much everything else). Knowing the difference between the two is central to Stoic practices. Stoics are only concerned with the things they can control. Why worry about the weather, traffic, or annoying coworker you just can’t stand? There’s nothing you can do about it. Instead, concentrate on your own thoughts and actions. You can’t control if it rains, but you can bring an umbrella. Don’t worry about traffic; just leave 10 minutes early. Try to curb your frustrations with your coworker and react with kindness, not anger.

 

The next time you feel anxious about something, ask yourself if it’s within your control to do something about it. If it is, great! Fix it. If it’s not, then don’t worry about it. 

3. Be Open-minded, Not Judgmental

epictetus portrait engraving
Epictetus by William Sonmans, engraved by Michael Burghers in 1715. Source: Wikimedia commons.

 

“Throw out your conceited opinions, for it is impossible for a person to begin to learn what he thinks he already knows.” — Epictetus, Discourses

 

Stoic practices are all about wisdom, and nothing impedes wisdom more than preconceived opinions. Whether you know it or not, we all have internal biases that impact our thinking, which can hinder our daily lives. Stoics know that to achieve true wisdom, they need to overcome these inner thoughts. But sometimes, that’s easier said than done. Most of the time, we might not even know when these thoughts are popping into our heads. 

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Every time you find yourself forming an opinion, stop and reflect on your thought process. Are you making any assumptions or relying on stereotypes? Consider what might be influencing your opinion and how you can open your mind to more possibilities. 

4. Appreciate Each Day

death of seneca painting
The Death of Seneca, Peter Paul Rubens, 1614. Source: Museo del Prado

 

“Take it that you have died today, and your life’s story is ended; and henceforward regard what future time may be given you as an uncovenanted surplus, and live it out in harmony with nature” (Marcus Aurelius, Meditations).

 

One thing Stoics are most well-known for is their infamous practice of “memento mori,” Latin for ”remember death.” Stoics believe you should imagine the worst possible outcome of a situation — which often results in picturing your death — and accept it.  Sounds morbid, right? But the Stoics believe this: either the actual outcome is much better than you thought, or if the worst-case scenario does come to pass, you’ve already come to terms with it.

 

It might seem depressing, but reflecting on mortality can help you make the most of each day you are given. Remembering that every day is a gift is a reminder to live life to the fullest because tomorrow isn’t guaranteed. As you go through the rest of this week, remind yourself every morning that today could be your last. You might find yourself appreciating each day a bit more. 

 

5. Mind Your Own Business

chrysippus bust.jph
Bust of Chryssipus, 3rd-2nd century BCE. Source: British Museum

 

“The wise man meddles little or not at all in affairs and does his own things” (Chrysippus).

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Stoicism is often misportrayed as a harsh and uncaring philosophy largely due to its doctrine of indifference. Just as Stoics don’t worry about things outside their control, they don’t care to get involved with affairs that don’t concern them. Instead, they focus on bettering themselves. Although this way of thinking appears selfish, it can be a very beneficial way of avoiding negativity and conflict. Most problems stem from internal perceptions impacting external relationships. By prioritizing yourself, you are free of other people’s expectations and can achieve inner peace. 

 

The next time you find yourself getting pulled into someone else’s drama, take a moment and think about whether it impacts you and if it is worth putting your energy into.

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By Natalie NolandBS Politics, Philosophy, and EconomicsNatalie is a freelance writer from Rhode Island. She has a BS in Politics, Philosophy, and Economics from Northeastern University with a minor in Writing. Her academic interests include ancient philosophy, logic, and game theory. She enjoys reading, watching movies, and kayaking in her spare time.

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