Among most people, Stoicism is either unknown or misunderstood. This summary seeks to restore Stoicism to its rightful place as a tool in the pursuit of self-mastery, perseverance, and wisdom: something one uses to live a great life, rather than some esoteric field of academic inquiry. The philosophy asserts that virtue (meaning the virtues of self-control, courage, justice and wisdom) is happiness, and it is our perceptions of things – rather than the things themselves – that cause most of our trouble.
Stoicism teaches that we can’t control or rely on anything outside our “reasoned choice” – our ability to use our reason to choose how we categorise, respond, and reorient ourselves to external events. There are three critical disciplines: Perception (how we see and perceive the world around us), Action (the decisions and actions we take – and to what end) and Will (how we deal with the things we cannot change, attain clear and convincing judgment, and come to a true understanding of our place in the world).
Whatever you’re going through, Stoicism can help.
Part 1 – The Discipline of Perception
January – Clarity
The single most important practice in Stoic philosophy is differentiating between what we can change and what we can’t. If we can focus on making clear what parts of our day are within our control and what parts are not, we will not only be happier, we will have a distinct advantage over other people who fail to realise they are fighting an unwinnable battle.
Carry these reminders with you every day, in every decision: Control your perceptions. Direct your actions properly. Willingly accept what’s outside your control. Get clarity about who you are and what you stand for.
Serenity and stability are results of your choices and judgment, not your environment. If you seek to avoid all disruptions to tranquility – other people, external events, stress – you will never be successful. Your problems will follow you wherever you hide, but if you seek to avoid the harmful and disruptive judgments that cause those problems, then you will be stable and steady wherever you happen to be.
February – Passions and Emotions
We don’t have to be puppets to our emotions. We are in control. Next time you feel anxious, ask yourself, “Is my anxiety doing me any good?” Impulses are going to come, and your work is to control them. Think before you act. If you don’t control your impulses, you may be the very source of the disasters you fear. Many of the things that upset us are only in our imaginations. They are like bad dreams and should be treated as such. The thing that provoked you wasn’t real.
Don’t think that happiness will come at some point in the future. The yearning for more, better, someday is the enemy of your contentment. Eagerly anticipating a future event ruins your chances at happiness here and now.
March – Awareness
We begin our journey into philosophy when we become aware of the ability to analyse our own minds. Cultivate the ability to judge yourself accurately and honestly. Look inward to discern what you’re capable of and what it will take to unlock that potential.
Self-awareness is the ability to objectively evaluate the self. It is the ability to question our own instincts, patterns and assumptions. Don’t rush to conclusions about anything. Be aware of everything that’s going on so you can make the right decision.
Your mind is your most prized possession. Maintain control of it. Ego and self-deception are the enemies of the things we wish to have because we delude ourselves into believing that we already possess them. We must keep the ego away.
What you take for granted, others wouldn’t even think to dream of. Remember that you’re blessed with the capacity to use logic and reason to navigate situations and circumstances. You are always the one in control of your mind and your feelings. You can always decide to love and accept what’s happening around you.
April – Unbiased Thought
Be wary of what you let into your mind. We’ll inevitably be exposed to bad influences at some point, but we should not allow them to penetrate our minds. We have the ability to decide what we allow in. Take a beat to consider your own thoughts. Trust your instincts, but verify. Put your impressions to the test to avoid making a move on mistaken or biased ones.
Expect to change your opinions. We are not as smart and as wise as we’d like to think we are. Honour what you do not know and fight your biases and preconceptions. If you want to learn, be humble. Be willing to learn from anyone and everyone, regardless of their station in life.
Opinions are often shaped by dogma, entitlements, expectations, and sometimes, ignorance. If we can weed them out of our lives, we will feel less upset and angry. Things are neither good not bad. They just are.
Part 2 – The Discipline of Action
May – Right Action
An archer will not hit a target without first aiming. Spend some time thinking about what your priorities are. Then, work toward that and forsake everything else. It’s not enough to wish and hope. One must act – and act right. You only get one shot at today. And then it is gone and lost forever. What will you manage to make of today before it slips from your fingers and becomes the past?
Take pleasure from your actions – in taking the right actions – rather than the results that come from them. Our ambition should not be to win, but to play with our full effort. In this, we will always find contentment and resilience. Don’t wait until tomorrow to do the right thing. Today is the day we can start to be good. If you focus on doing the right thing at the right time, you can make your own good fortune and you won’t need to wait for luck.
Don’t spend much time thinking about what other people think. Think about what you think. Think instead about the results, about the impact, about whether it is the right thing to do.
June – Problem Solving
Obstacles are a part of life, but if we keep a backup plan, nothing can thwart that. Life is not easy or fair. You come from a long line of ancestors who survived unimaginable adversity, difficulty and struggle. You’re capable of what they were capable of. You always have a choice: focus on the ways you have been wronged, or use what you’ve been given and get to work. Get active in your own rescue. Stop seeking a scapegoat.
There are two kinds of people in this world. The first looks at others who have accomplished things and thinks, “Why them? Why not me?” The other looks at those same people and thinks, “If they can do it, why can’t I?”
There is no shame in needing help. You don’t have to face everything on your own. If you need help, just ask. People want freedom, happiness and the respect of their peers. All of that is right in front of you, in the choices you make. There’s no need to take the long way to get there.
Hold yourself to a high standard, but not an impossible one. And forgive yourself if and when you slip up.
July – Duty
The Stoics believed that every person, animal and thing has a purpose or place in nature. Your job is to be good. Do your job, today and every day. We cannot be of service to ourselves, to other people, or to the world unless we get up and get working. Rise and shine, and get going.
To what are you committed? What are you doing? More important, why are you doing it? Examine these questions and discover what your duty calls you to do in life. Once you discover it, you’ve moved a little closer to fulfilling it.
Everyone is the master of their own affairs. You have to live your life in such a way that it doesn’t negatively impose on others and you have to be open-minded enough to let others do the same. We are made for cooperation with each other. Your purpose is to help us render this great work together. People are depending on you. Take pride in your work, but remember that it is not everything.
August – Pragmatism
We tell ourselves that we need the right setup before we finally buckle down and get serious. It’s far better that we become pragmatic and adaptable – able to do what we need to do anywhere, anytime. The place to do your work, to live the good life, is here.
There is plenty that you could do right now, today, that would make the world a better place. There are plenty of small steps that would help move things forward. Don’t excuse yourself from doing them because the conditions aren’t right or because a better opportunity might come along soon. Do what you can now.
We are never going to be perfect. Our pursuits should be aimed at progress instead of perfection.
Part 3 – The Discipline of Will
September – Fortitude and Resilience
Misfortune leaves us with a better understanding of our own capacity and inner strength. It is empowering because you know that in the future you can survive similar adversity. If things take a bad turn today, don’t worry. This might be one of those formative experiences you will be grateful for later.
Even under the worst torture and cruelties that humans can inflict on one another, our power over our own mind and our power to make our own decisions can’t be broken – only relinquished.
If you spent one day a month experiencing the effects of poverty, hunger, complete isolation or any other things you might fear, it would start to feel normal and no longer so scary. If you do it while things are good, it will toughen your soul for occasions of greater stress. If you can get used to having and surviving on less now, it would not be so bad if you are ever forced to have less.
October – Virtue and Kindness
Here is where you are right now, and it’s as good a place as any to let virtue shine and continue to shine for as long as you exist. Remember that we are woven together and that each of us plays a role in this world. Almost every situation is made better by love – or empathy, understanding, appreciation – even situations in which you are in opposition to someone. Always love. Give people the benefit of the doubt.
You always have the choice to respond with kindness. You always have the choice to be truthful. You can choose to endure. You can choose to be happy. You can choose to be kind to others. Goodness isn’t something that simply shows up. You have to dig it up inside your own soul, and you make it with your own actions.
November – Acceptance
It is easier to change our opinion of an event than it is to change the event that has passed. We must accept rather than fight every little thing. Indeed, we can actually enjoy what has happened, whatever it is.
Events are objective. It is only our opinion that says something is good or bad. Decide to make the most of everything. Whatever happens to us, wherever we fall on the intellectual, social or physical spectra, our job is not to complain but to do the best we can to accept it and fulfill it.
We can’t control the external, but we do control our attitudes and our responses to those events.
December – Meditation on Mortality
We have an irrational fear of acknowledging our own mortality. We avoid it because we think it will be depressing. In fact, reflecting on mortality often has the opposite effect. If you were suddenly told you had one week to live, what changes would you make? Use today. Use every day. Make yourself satisfied with what you have been given. We all face the same end. Death is a radical equaliser. In death, no one is better and no one is worse. All our stories have the same finale.
Even if today was your last day on earth, would there still be plenty to be grateful for? Give thanks.
Hope you enjoyed this summary. As always leave me a comment if you did.
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