Stoicism 101: Introduction to Stoic Philosophy
What do mega-achievers…
- George Washington (Founding Father)
- Bill Belichick (Superbowl winning NFL Coach)
- and Tim Ferriss (Serial Entrepreneur)
ALL have in common?
They credit the practice of STOIC PHILOSOPHY (AKA Stoicism) for their success.
What is Stoicism? What does it mean to be Stoic?
The definition of Being Stoic means having no emotion. Like a cow standing in the middle of a hurricane giving no fucks…
FALSE. This is not the definition of modern stoicism.
But don’t worry! We’ve got you covered.
On this page you’ll learn:
- The REAL definition of Stoicism
- How it’s gonna make your life better
- How to start using it today
AND we’re gonna make it simple for you. Because simple is good.
AND if that’s not enough: there is a snazzy, straight-to-the-point, infographic you can check out at the bottom of this page.
Alright, let’s get started:
A (very) Brief History of Stoicism
Life can be tough.
Apparently, this was true in 300 B.C. too.
So a Greek dude named Zeno started a new school.
The purpose of the school was to teach people a simple and extremely practical mindset for better results with less effort.
Zeno and his students gathered and discussed ideas on a stoa (AKA porch.)
Behold, “Stoicism” was born.
The Main Philosophers
Although Zeno started the school, there were 3 main guys who really paved the way for Stoicism.
We’ll call them “The Big Stoics”
The Roman Emperor, Marcus Aurelius, summarized Stoicism in his personal journal by saying…
“Objective judgement, now, at this very moment. Unselfish action, now, at this very moment. Willing acceptance – now, at this very moment – of all external events. That’s all you need.” – Marcus Aurelius
So, according to one of the “Big Stoics”, Marcus Aurelius, the 3 main characteristics of Stoic are:
- Objective Judgement
- Unselfish Action
- Willing Acceptance
Now there is obviously more to being Stoic than just these 3 things….
This is a great foundation to start with. So we’re going to explain each of them and show you how to start getting results using Stoicism today!
These Stoic traits are just as (if not more) useful today than when they were first taught 2,000 years ago.
However, today’s world is moving faster and filled with more distractions than ever before.
So our goal here is to take this awesome—but ancient—philosophy and give you a practical interpretation for our modern world.
Here we go:
DISCIPLINE #1 – OBJECTIVE JUDGEMENT
No matter what gets thrown at us in life, we can choose to respond subjectively or objectively.
Subjective response: Based on emotion and opinion
Objective response: Based on good reason and fact
Let’s consider the following example.
Johnny has been going out with his girlfriend Sarah for 6 years.
In the beginning of the relationship, sparks were flying and the couple was deeply in love.
Johnny would take her on weekly date nights, cook her dinner, massager her feet, the whole 9 yards…
But as the relationship progressed and Johnny grew more comfortable with Sarah, he began paying less attention to her.
Then one day Johnny’s world got flipped upside down when he received that dreadful text…
“I love you, but this just isn’t working…I think we should see other people.”
Johnny felt like the universe just punched him in the gut.
Not long after, he saw an Instagram picture of Sarah on a date with another dude…
Now the girl he thought he was going to marry is living happily ever after with someone else.
Johnny can respond in one of two ways…
- Subjective (emotional/opinion) Response: Johnny thinks, “I’m a worthless piece of shit. I’m never going to find another girl like Sarah. I’m going to be lonely and miserable for the rest of my life.”
- Objective (Reason/facts) Response: Johnny thinks, “Ok, let’s look at the facts. I could have definitely done a better job at keeping things fresh with Sarah. But what’s done is done. All I can do now is learn from this. Plus… there are almost 4 billion other women in the world. I’m bound to find another one that will make me just as happy, if not happier.”
So the Stoic’s wanted us to be more Objective in our judgement, decision making and our response to the stuff that happens to us.
This means catching ourselves when we are about to act on emotion and opinions. Instead, we need to take a deep breath and use that magnificent brain we all have to gather the facts and act reasonably.
A Stoic person acts objectively when he or she:
- has an open mind and doesn’t take things personally
- does not use emotions and biases to make decisions
- uses reason and compassion to develop a deeper understanding of themselves and others
Don’t just take our word for it. Here’s what the Big Stoic’s had to say:
“Never let the future disturb you. You will meet it, if you have to, with the same weapons of reason which today arm you against the present.” – Marcus Aurelius
“It is not events that disturb the minds of men, but the view they take of them.” ― Epictetus
“If you would judge, understand.” – Seneca
DISCIPLINE #2 – UNSELFISH ACTION
Let’s say you have two life paths to choose from:
- Spend your life using people to get what you want,
- become uberly successful and wealthy,
- but lose any chance of enjoying it with someone else.
- Spend your life helping others,
- feel truly fulfilled by doing meaningful work,
- and be known as the person everyone can always count on.
Which life sounds more appealing?
Chances are you went with OPTION B.
Why do we know that?
- Only jerks choose Option A. (And there are no jerks on this page.)
- People are naturally good. It’s in our nature to help each other.
With that said, sometimes we still get caught in the trap of thinking the world revolves around us.
We call this the Selfish Mindset.
Somone with a SELFISH MINDSET:
- Has weak, meaningless relationships
- Lives in their own head and drives themselves insane
- and asks questions like: “What can I get out of this?”
Fortunately, with a simple shift in our perspective, we can change everything.
A person with a SELFLESS (STOIC) MINDSET:
- Has deep, meaningful relationships
- Lives in the present moment and gives off a feeling of pure joy
- and asks questions like: “What can I do to help?”
So to sum it up, just remember this:
THE SECRET TO LIVING IS GIVING.
“To obstruct each other is unnatural. To feel anger at someone, to turn your back on him: these are unnatural.” – Marcus Aurelius
“If thy brother wrongs thee, remember not so much his wrong-doing, but more than ever that he is thy brother.” – Epictetus
“Wherever there is a human being, there is an opportunity for a kindness.” – Seneca
DISCIPLINE #3 – WILLING ACCEPTANCE
The “Great” Game
- Bus is delayed? Great, I’ll burn some calories walking.
- Spilled wine on my white shirt? Great, it’s an icebreaker to laugh about.
- Broken leg and can’t play sports for 6 months? Great, I can finally read all those books on my list.
These are positive Stoic responses to shitty events.
Now here’s the Golden Rule of Stoicism:
Only focus on what you can control, and accept everything else.
“Make the best use of what is in your power and take the rest as it occurs.” – Epictetus
So in any given situation…
What can we control?
- the things we focus on
- the meaning we give those things
- and how we respond
and what can’t we control?
- EVERYTHING ELSE.
See a trend here?
We can only control ourselves.
Let’s tie this back to our friend Johnny from Discipline #1.
In Option B, Johnny fully accepts what he couldn’t control (getting dumped), and focused solely on what he could control (his response).
So next time you’re in a “shitty” situation, ask yourself these 3 questions:
- What am I focusing on?
- What meaning am I giving it?
- What am I gonna do about it?
Think of this as your new Stoic Superpower.
“We cannot choose our external circumstances, but we can always choose how we respond to them.” – Epictetus
“You have power over your mind – not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.” – Marcus Aurelius
“It is the power of the mind to be unconquerable.” – Seneca
Here’s how to be Stoic:
- DON’T TAKE THINGS PERSONALLY
- STOP WANTING AND START GIVING
- CONTROL WHAT YOU CAN AND FORGET THE REST
Now that you’ve completed Stoicism 101, here’s where to go next:
Learn about The Big Stoics:
If you’re short on time, check out this list of our favorite stoic quotes.
PPS – Here’s the infographic we promised: