Why is Stoicism popular these days? How does one be a Stoic?

By : Blog Contributor Nela Canovic

I’ll tell you what I think. The original Stoics — Seneca, Zeno, Marcus Aurelius, and Epictetus to name a few — would never have seen themselves as part of the popular crowd. I think popularity was not on their list of life goals. But they were focused on how to live a life of virtue, a more meaningful life, a life that is inward and not outward-focused.

This is what I find appealing about stoicism. When we find ways to apply it to our daily lives, stoicism can enrich our thoughts, our actions, our belief system. It can also help us navigate more easily through all the little and big surprises life has in store. And the best part of all — it can help us learn more about ourselves.

Maybe that’s why you hear about stoicism these days. There are many people who see it not just as a philosophy but as a lifestyle. They find the books by Stoic philosophers to be informative, useful, and wise. Seneca becomes a mentor to them, and so does Marcus Aurelius. They find ways to implement what they learn from these mentors, and they keep practicing stoicism as a way of life.

If you think about it this way, there is tremendous value in stoicism.

As to the HOW part of your question, one learns to be a Stoic by practicing being a Stoic in daily life.

Here are seven practical things we can learn and do.

#1. Learn to accept discomfort.

Being stoic doesn’t mean surrounding yourself with material things or other people so you feel comfortable all the time and expect this state of comfort will make you happy. Instead, it means taking life in stride and making peace with discomfort. Why is this important? Because having something today can mean you take it for granted and expect it to last forever. But what if it doesn’t last? If you learn how to rely on yourself, then when tough times come around you’re better prepared to deal with them. How do you learn to rely on yourself? Try to solve problems by yourself first even if that means making mistakes, before you give up or turn to someone else to help you fix the situation.

#2. Calm down your mind.

It’s not uncommon to have thousands of thoughts bouncing around in our mind, many of which aren’t exactly sunny and happy ones. Those thoughts can also be negative, self-critical, dismissive. They can focus on past failures, embarrassing mistakes, and tap into our insecurities. The good news is this: even though you may think so, you are not your thoughts. You are much bigger than your thoughts! And there are ways to effectively manage random thoughts and not let them rule your life, your day, and every waking hour. A short, 1-minute meditation to calm your thoughts might be a good idea — try the Headspace or Calm apps to get you in the habit. Or, practice the 4–7–8 breathing exercise to help reduce stress and help you think more clearly.

#3. Take advantage of your unique strengths.

The Stoics didn’t believe in having to change themselves completely in order to lead a high quality of life. They believed they should take advantage of their unique strengths and abilities. You can practice this in two ways. First, take an honest look at yourself — what you are doing right now and where you are going with your life. Are you overestimating your abilities or are you being objective and realistic about what you can do and how you can reach your goals? Second, think of ways in which you can take advantage of what you have going for you — your personality, the things you’re good at, the skills you possess and take pride in. Then focus on doing exactly that and on developing your strengths, instead of worrying about potential weaknesses or things you don’t already possess.

#4. Learn to do hard work before pleasure.

Our daily habits tend to play out something like this. On any given day, we give in to the urge to start our morning by checking email and social media apps on our phone and sending messages back and forth with our friends. Is that the best way to start your day? Mornings are the ideal time of day to get the hardest work out of the way. Try maximizing each morning by building a habit of doing your hard work early. It will help you deal with the feelings of procrastination whenever you have to study for an exam or finish up a project for work. Even better: it will improve your focus and concentration so that your brain can do its brilliant work more efficiently and effectively than at any other time of day.

#5. Practice self-discipline.

This is probably the top habit to embrace if you want to practice stoicism. Why? Because putting off activities that make you feel great does have its advantages. When you give yourself a good dose of self-discipline, you do something difficult first in order to reward yourself later. There’s even science to back this up. Stanford University’s Marshmallow experiment shows how delayed gratification can increase your chances at succeeding in many areas of your life. You can practice this too. For example, if you want to watch a movie or catch up with a phone call to friends, leave it for after you have completed what you planned to work on during the day.

#6. Learn not to waste time on pointless activities.

The Roman Stoic philosopher Seneca devotes a section of his book On the Shortness of Life to this problem. This was an issue for many people even back then! Seneca describes gluttony, vanity, focusing on materialistic things, and trying to impress others. That’s not at all different from our own world focused on social media where many people are busy creating a superficial image of their so-called glamorous lifestyles. Seneca’s suggestion is to use your time more wisely. For example, always focus on a specific goal you are striving towards. Don’t keep it abstract — create a plan to reach it. Don’t let random situations, chance, or other people’s behavior influence or control how you lead your life. Seneca says that nothing happens to the wise man against his expectation.

#7. Navigate obstacles in a better way.

When we reach an obstacle, we tend to react by complaining. It’s not fair! This is impossible to fix! It’s not my fault! But complaining won’t change a thing. What will make a difference is getting proactive. First, learn to anticipate obstacles. If you prepare yourself psychologically for them, they won’t feel as big or important to you when they happen. Second, use the opportunity to pause, learn something new, think it through, and try a different solution that can yield better results. And third, take advantage of this time to achieve mastery in one area to become an expert at it. By eliminating the obstacle, you’re in a position to move forward faster, better, and in line with stoic principles.

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