How to be a Stoic is a life-long journey. One that is not an easy process. The more you understand what Stoicism is, the more you will see that the goal of becoming a Stoic moves away from you. No certificate will tell you that you are a Stoic. Nor is it a goal that you will one day have achieved. Because the moment you affirm yourself to be a Stoic is when you realize you have a lot of work left to do. Perhaps others will call you a Stoic, or label your actions to be in line with Stoicism.
These are good signs that you are on the right path, if those people have the right idea of Stoicism. But we shouldn’t be fooled by these external opinions or try to chase them. We should pursue a life of Stoicism to improve our lives and become better people. For ourselves and the world around us.
The start of the Stoic journey
In this post, we will look at some of the elements that will set you on your way how to be a Stoic. Or better said, how to start your journey into Stoicism. As we go over them, we will also look at how they can be applied to your life. No, how we should applied them. This is where we make the real difference. Not only with Stoicism but with any philosophy or way of living that you uphold or follow.
It is great to read the books and learn the quotes, but that’s not going to change your life. The true test falls on the application of these concepts. It is easy to say that one must live virtuously, but to do it is a different story altogether. Therefore we must keep this in mind, as we continue. It might sound straightforward, like the next quote, but it is far from it.
“To stop talking about what the good man is like, and just be one.”Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, Book 10.16
Living in accordance with Nature
On our journey of how to be a Stoic, we must start with Nature. That is what unites us all, the Logos. The Stoic concept of God or Universal Reason. Knowing what the Nature of everything is, will give us more information about what our own nature is. In Stoicism, everything is cause and effect. That’s why what has happened and what will happen is determined from the beginning. Nietzsches ‘Amor Fati’, the love of fate, is therefore gracefully adopted by modern-day Stoics.
This reasoning part is what we share with the Logos and is what sets us apart from the rest of the animals. With whom we share the mortal aspects of instinct and self-preservation. When we apply our rational mind to the events that happen to us, we must first determine whether what we perceive is true. If it is, then we can decide the best course of action. In pure reason and logic, there is no room for good and bad. Things happen because they are supposed to happen.
The mortal side
When we add our mortal side, the animal part, we do tend to look at things from a good or bad side. Which can cause us happiness, sadness, or anger. And although we can’t control the events happening to us, we can control how we act and judge them. That’s our responsibility to reach a state of Eudaimonia, a state of inner peace and contentment. At its core, where Universal Reason is pure, that’s where true peace is found. And if we use our guiding principles, then we will also be able to live a calm and peaceful life. As long as we live virtuously and perform the duty that has been given to us, then we will be well on our way.
The Stoic Virtue
In our quest on how to be a Stoic, we must discuss the concept of Virtue. This is the only good and if you live a virtuous life, then you will find peace and calm. You’ll be living in line with Nature, like the sage example the Stoics show us. We can break Virtue down into four main parts: Wisdom, Justice, Courage, and Temperance. All four are equally important, yet some are more applicable in certain situations and different people will focus on one of them more. This all depends on who you are and what areas of life you need to work on more.
“And virtue, he holds, is a harmonious disposition, choice-worthy for its own sake and not from hope or fear or any external motive. Moreover, it is in virtue that happiness consists; for virtue is the state of the mind which tends to make the whole of life harmonious.”Chrysippus, Diogenes Laertius, Lives of Eminent Philosophers, book 7.89
Unlike the Epicureans, who hold that pleasure is the greatest good, the Stoics assign this role to Virtue. They point out that pleasure and happiness can be by-products of a virtuous life. And in all actions, opinions, and judgments, we should apply the four virtues. That’s why we were given our guiding principle, our rational mind, to examine each situation and see them for what they are to act in accordance with Nature.
Wisdom is the quest for the truth, to stay open-minded and curious to find the information and knowledge we need to have to make the correct decisions. Justice is used to act in a just manner to ourselves and the community around us, to do our duty as we are required by fate. Courage is needed to stay on the path and to apply our wisdom and justice to our lives. Then Temperance shows us to live in moderation. Where we can live with the preferred indifferences bestowed upon us, be grateful for what we have, and not want or desire more than we ought to.
What sets the Stoics apart from the Cynics, who live an ascetic life, is their take on certain externals. Not judging them as good or bad, but as under our custody for as long as Clotho has woven it into our fate. And when it is time to give them back, we can do so with gratitude and acceptance. What are these preferred indifferences we talk about in Stoicism? We could ask around and most people would agree that they would prefer health to sickness, wealth to poverty, family and friends to no family or friends, and the list can go on. But why are they indifferences, even though they are preferred?
These all fall in the category of externals, which falls outside of our control. On that more in the next part. We can try our best to be healthy, but we can’t control not to be sick. We can work our best to become wealthy, but it doesn’t depend on us. The reason why we should be indifferent to these externals is because we don’t want to give them any power over us. This could disrupt our peaceful and calm existence.
For example, you could want an expensive sports car, but what is the price you have to pay for it? If it is obtained by moral actions which do not cause harm to the Virtues, then there is no problem with it. But it should dominate your life. Where you find yourself worrying whether it can get stolen or damaged. If this is the case, then the car is in control of you.
What is Stoic Control?
The Stoic concept of control is a key component of Stoicism. So much so that Arrian starts his handbook with it based on the teachings of Epictetus. The understanding of what falls under our control and what doesn’t makes it possible to distinguish where our reasoning faculty should be applied on. It will help us focus better and it will reduce a lot of the factors we would otherwise worry about. And it makes sense, even after two thousand years. Why try to act on something you don’t have control over? But how does it work? Here’s Epictetus:
“Some things are in our control and others not. Things in our control are opinion, pursuit, desire, aversion, and, in a word, whatever is our own action. Things not in our control are body, property, reputation, command, and, in one word, whatever is not our action.”Epictetus, The Handbook of Epictetus, 1
Let’s divide it into two spheres. One is our mind, as we see from the extract of the handbook of Epictetus. Everything that belongs to it, we control. Then there’s the sphere which is outside of our mind, those are the things we don’t have any control over. But as we’ve seen with the preferred indifference part, they are things we would like to have in a certain state rather than another. However, we will accept them all and deal with them using our rational minds. Learn to see the externals for what they are objectively, then decide on the best action to take.
Wants, desires, and aversions
We’ve looked so far at living in accordance with Nature, Virtue, preferred indifferences, and control, the last step in this short guide into how to be Stoic, looks at our wants, desires, and aversions. These all fall under our sphere of control and are parts of our lives where we can make our first gains. Apart from the control side, these are also connected to the preferred indifferences we spoke about earlier. Our wants, desires, and aversions are a big cause of our unrest. They can even become our masters if they take over all of our thoughts and actions.
This is where the practical side of Stoicism comes into play and is something that we can practice every day. First, we need to identify the things that we want or wish to avoid. Then we can ask ourselves why we have these feelings. What drives us and how big is their impact on our lives? Often we allow ourselves to be defined by the things that we have or by the status we enjoy.
The Stoic lens
However, if we look at it through a Stoic lens, we can see that these externals are nothing to us. Without them, we can still live a good life, perhaps even better. What we need to learn is to be grateful and to accept the moment. When we learn to do this, then our wants, desires, and aversions become muted. We will deal with them when the time comes, but for now, our focus should lie in the moment.
These are five points of Stoicism that are important to look at and understand to make the first steps into becoming a Stoic. Even if that is not something that you aspire to, they will still help you live a better life. All of these require you to apply deep introspection and reflection on your daily actions. That’s why we have our reasoning faculty as we saw at the beginning. And that’s why I want to reiterate the importance of putting these teachings into practice. It is not an easy journey, but that’s where the beauty lies. When we overcome obstacles and struggles, the confidence gained will show us that we can deal with whatever Lady Fortune has in store for us.
If you wish to have some more guidance on your journey, you can consider taking a look at the Stoic coaching options we offer. There you can book a free consultation to see what is best for you. The Stoic Coaching programs will be tailored to you and will help you improve your life on the points we mentioned in this post. But it will go deeper than that. We will help you identify the areas where you need to pay extra attention. As your guide and mentor, we will help you harness the wisdom of these ancient teachings and help you on your way to becoming a Stoic. There is so much more to this all, but there’s no reason to delay. For we only have this moment and this is the best time to start.
“Think of yourself as dead. You have lived your life. Now take what’s left and live it properly.”Marcus Aurelius, The Meditations, Book 7.56