How to Think Like a Stoic
If you ever wanted to be the type of person who remained cool, calm, and collected in almost any situation, then I've got a playbook you can borrow from.
The Stoics may have a mixed reputation but understanding and adopting their core tenets can have a powerful and positive effect on your mindset — especially when navigating difficult situations.
Despite Stoicism being an ancient Greek philosophy it is making a strong comeback in modern times. This synopsis assumes you have some basic knowledge of the philosophy but if you don't you can get a primer or dive deep into it using the recommended resources at the end of this editorial.
Even if you've never heard of the Stoics before or have some misunderstandings about their principles, this guide will make it easy to interpret and embrace their way of thinking and living.
At the heart of the Stoic way of living is the ongoing process of: developing self-control, excercising clear judgment, and overcoming destructive emotions.
The following 5 principles provide a roadmap to following the Stoic way:
1. Manage your expectations and judgments
Do you tend to have very high expectations or make unrealistic assumptions? Do you exaggerate your judgement about people or situations?
When there's a big gap between what you want or expect and reality, it causes anxiety, frustration, and discord. You can have dreams, hopes, and beliefs, but better that they are sensible.
Another way to manage expectations is to occasionally reflect on worst case scenarios using an exercise called negative visualization. When you are in a tricky situation think about both the best and worst outcomes, and you'll start conditioning yourself to handle the ups and downs in life.
2. Be realistic about what you have the power to change
If you exert a lot of energy trying to change people or circumstances that are out of your control, this tenet is for you.
There's a lot about life you have no ability to influence. However, there's much you can (namely your own thoughts and actions).
Western society — the U.S. in particular — has an obsession with winning and succeeding. In reality, there are things that you won't be able to do, even if you "put your mind to it".
Learn how to distinguish what's in your power and what's not. A good rule of thumb is to start with self.
3. Practice equanimity i.e. calm and composure in negative situations
This is a powerful concept in Stoicism called Apatheia and is central to the philosophy.
Humans have a built in fight or flight mechanism that triggers anytime there's a perceived threat. It works by riling up your emotions so you react instantly and intensely.
However, as we evolved to have more control over environment (and thus more safety and security) this mechanism has remained in place, causing us to overreact to situations that aren't life or death.
With practice you can learn how to master this mechanism instead of allowing it to command you.
4. Call out your emotions for exactly what they are
How often do you feel unsettled or disturbed about something but can't clearly articulate why? Probably more than you realize.
In the midst of adverse situations your thoughts are typically muddled by overpowering emotions, so it's easy to misinterpret what you are really feeling.
By calming down enough to name the emotion and it's underlying cause, you'll be better able to address the situation in an appropriate way.
One unfounded myth of Stoicism is that practitioners seek to suppress emotions. But what they really do is recognize emotions and then put them in check so they don't cause damage.
5. Live in harmony with nature — particularly human nature
The ancient Stoics were immensely dedicated to understanding the nature of the universe and learning how to work with, not against, that knowledge.
Most importantly was acknowledging that humans are rational beings and should hone their thinking skills.
In general, if you seek wisdom you'll develop deeper insights about yourself and the world around you. You'll sharpen your intuition and replace impulse behavior with purpose, intention, and logic.
Course — The Minimalism Challenge is a 52-week course that introduces different principles of simple living including a lesson on Stoicism.
Book: A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy by William Irvine
Video: The Philosophy of Stoicism by TED-Ed