Stoicism is an ancient philosophy that derives from the times of the Ancient Greeks. Fundamentally, it is a system and way of thinking that can help deal with the stresses and obstacles of modern life. Stoicism essentially provides a framework for living well and true to yourself.
The beauty and power of stoicism lie in its innate simplicity. Its main focus is to be at peace with one’s thoughts and be attentive to the present moment. In addition to this, Stoicism encourages the acceptance of reality and to be in harmony with nature.
Principle 1: Be Mindful.
“The happiness of your life depends upon the quality of your thoughts.”
— Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
The present moment is all you have. If you cannot learn to live in the present moment, then you are forcing yourself to live in a state of anxiety, fear, and worry. Our modern lifestyles have us worrying about things such as; paying the bills, having the latest gadgets and keeping up with the latest trends.
It is true that many of the things that you worry about never actually come to pass. On the other hand, if we continue to obsess and reminisce about the past, it is much more difficult to concentrate on personal growth, bettering ourselves and living in the present moment.
It is becoming increasingly difficult to live in the present moment. We have so many distractions and instant sources of gratification such as; fast food, social media, clickbait news, and mindless TV shows. It is important to take a step back, focus on the present moment and on every task that you do with complete attention.
The day will simply pass you by if you are continually thinking about completing your current task, just to move on to the next one. A great example of this is ‘Having a cup of coffee while thinking about doing household chores — doing household chores while thinking about browsing the internet — browsing the internet while thinking about your dinner — eating your dinner while thinking about watching tv — watching tv while thinking about work tomorrow.’
Failure to live in the present moment also makes it easier to fall prey to mindless consumption and bad habits. I encourage you to start meditation. It is a great way to increase your ability to focus on the now.
Principle 2: Take Action.
“What man actually needs is not a tensionless state but rather the striving and struggling for some goal worthy of him.”
— Viktor Frankl
You can spend 10 years of your life reading, theorizing and trying to understand the intricacies of how to play a musical instrument. I am positive that one year of playing the instrument daily will lead to much more progress than 10 years of theory.
It is easy to get caught in the trap of ‘mental masturbation’. We live in an age in which information is accessible at lightning speed. The issue is that we have so much information — and it is easy to get confused by the varying advice provided by others.
I believe that 20% reading/theory and 80% action is a good ratio to stand by. I still fall victim to over-planning and obsessing about certain things instead of just doing them. Instead of trying to find the perfect diet plan, just follow any plan for 2–3 months and you will probably see results. Action is essential.
We also must ensure that our actions are aligned with our values, goals and life mission. If you are spending most of your time working on tasks that do not correlate with your beliefs, then the chances are likely that you will be dissatisfied with your work and life in general. I encourage you to spend some time to figure out your life’s mission and then schedule your day around daily tasks that are aligned with it. Using a task manager and productivity applications are extremely helpful for holding yourself accountable.
We all can fall off the bandwagon. I have fallen off the band-wagon more times than I can count. What matters most is the ability and fortitude to get back up and learn from your mistakes.
Principle 3: Live In Accordance To Your Values.
“Waste no more time arguing about what a good man should be. Be one.”
― Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
The definition of a good human will vary depending on the person you are and the culture you are from. Your definition of a good person will also differ from mine, but here is a list of values that you can choose from:
Peace of mind
I propose that you choose the values that align with you and start to live by them. If you consider health to be your number one priority, and you are eating fast food and not exercising — do not expect to be happy. I believe that taking a look at what values resonate with us the most and living by them as best possible is a great way to find joy and understand ourselves better.
Another example I can provide is that if freedom is your number one value and you are living paycheck to paycheck in a job you are trapped in — it is no wonder that you can find yourself depressed and fed-up with life.
Find your values and live by them.
Principle 4: Escape Materialism.
Wealth consists not in having great possessions, but in having few wants.
The greater our desire to accumulate things, the deeper the empty void inside us will become. The feeling of buying a new car or fresh clothes is great — we feel joyous, but soon that feeling turns into guilt and discontent when the reality of higher maintenance costs and overspending comes to light.
Many people choose to pay for holidays and new cars using credit cards. They sacrifice their future for the now, thinking that new gadgets and toys will make them happy. All too often the person is usually trying to fill an emptiness inside them. The painful reality is that it can’t be filled with material goods.
Perhaps that person is trying to paint over their bad habits and health with flashy cars, or perhaps that person has finally given in to temptation and paid for an expensive trip just to brag on the never-ending competition that is social media.
How many times have you seen a celebrity or famous sports player who has gone broke after being extremely wealthy? Unless we curb the desire to consume and to please others, the cycle will continue.
Principle 5: Time Is Your Most Precious Asset.
“It’s not that we have little time, but more that we waste a good deal of it.”
— L. A. Seneca
Procrastination, fear of what others think and time-wasting are all potential killers. It is all too easy to ‘put off the diet until Monday’ or ‘I will start finding a new job next month when the time is right’. We tell ourselves these things because we do not want to take action. In reality, the thing you are avoiding the most is usually the thing that you should do. Having the ability to sit down, avoid distractions and focus on a task is becoming extremely rare in our society of endless entertainment.
I encourage you to live a more stoic life. The benefits that can be gained are endless. Finding peace and harmony in our modern lives can be difficult. Having a framework to do so makes it much easier.