11 Practical Stoic Principles to Live By

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Stoic Principles to Live By
Three stacks of flat rocks near the ocean at sunset

Stoicism is a wide collection of different beliefs and practices. Not everyone practices the same things, and there isn’t a set of Stoic principles you have to follow to be “a Stoic.”

I’ve studied practical stoicism for years and implemented many Stoic principles into my daily life. As a mom and business owner, Stoicism has helped me keep my feet on the ground more times than I can count. 

However, all the principles and practices within stoicism can easily get overwhelming. It’s best to implement one practice or two at a time and add more as you become more comfortable. 

Stoic Principles to Live By

Here’s a list of the best stoic principles to live by that I would recommend implementing first. Whether you’re an experienced Stoic or new to the philosophy, these practices make a great addition to your life. They are also a big part of any preparation and survival plan.

1. Circle of Control

I find it best to think of all the events in life as occurring within two circles. One circle is rather large, while the other is very small. The smaller circle is everything we control, while the larger circle is everything we don’t control. 

Circle of control diagram
Circle of Control

It’s important not to waste time worrying about things we don’t control. Before taking action, you should consider whether you control the outcome. Often, the only thing we control is our reactions and thoughts. Everything else is up in the air, controlled by nature, and adjusted by others. 

For instance, you cannot control how your child acts. However, you can control how you react to their actions. Therefore, the logical thing to do is stop worrying so much about your child’s actions and instead worry about yours. 

This practice can be implemented easily and has a huge impact. All you need to do is ask, “is this within my control” whenever you worry or think about a specific situation. If the answer is “no,” figure out if you can find something in the situation you can control and focus on that. 

Practical Applications: 

  • Accept what you cannot control, such as the weather and others’ opinions. Those aren’t ours to worry about. 
  • Focus on your thoughts and actions. We have control over our thoughts, attitudes, and behaviors, and by focusing on these things, we can improve our well-being and impact the world around us.
  • Let go of external outcomes. In most cases, you can’t control these directly. You can influence the outcome – but not control it outright.

2. Virtue First

There are many theories about what makes someone happy. The Stoics believe that the root of happiness is a virtue. You live a good, happy life by doing the right thing. 

This idea is very opposed to how the modern world often describes happiness. Many media sources say happiness is margaritas on the beach or at a bar with friends. The Stoics recognize that those sources of happiness are fleeting and, therefore, not worth pursuing. 

You may enjoy partying at the bar. However, you’ll pay for it for a few days with a hangover. 

Someone who is reliably happy puts their focus on living a virtuous life focused on their duty to society, which includes themselves and their family. The Stoics break it down even more by laying out four virtues everyone should follow: temperance, courage, justice, and wisdom. 

You should focus on doing the right thing – not whatever makes you feel good now. When you have trouble figuring out what the right thing is, consider the virtues the stoics laid out: 

  • Temperance is commonly called moderation, modesty, and self-control. It’s the ability to choose what you want to do and make yourself do it. This virtue is the base of all others. You can’t exactly follow any of the other virtues if you don’t have this one figured out. 
  • Courage is the ability to do the right then even when it is hard. It’s the ability to endure pain and fear without allowing them to undermine your values. With courage, you can do things even when they are scary.
  • Justice is treating others fairly and fulfilling your obligations to society. Practically, justice is treating others with kindness, compassion, and fairness while upholding one’s moral values and responsibilities. Ultimately, the goal of justice is to create a harmonious and equitable society that promotes the well-being and flourishing of all its members.
  • Wisdom is understanding and applying the principles of virtue and reason in daily life. It is theoretical knowledge and practical wisdom developed through a lifetime of experience, reflection, and self-discipline. 

Practical Applications:

  • Seek out new information and read, read, read. I particularly recommend reading from authors you don’t agree with. Don’t live in an echo chamber. (Given how algorithms work, if you’re chronically online, you are almost in an echo chamber.)
  • Reflect on what you know and what you don’t know. 
  • Don’t shrink away from challenges. Instead, use challenges as an opportunity to practice bravery.
  • Identify your prejudices and make a note of them whenever you’re making decisions. 
  • Learn how to manage your emotions. Counting to three or taking a “time out” can be extremely helpful. 
  • Set clear goals and boundaries for your behavior. You won’t know if you’re practicing discipline efficiently if you aren’t sure where your boundaries are. 

3. Self Awareness

You can’t get better if you aren’t aware of what you’re doing. Therefore, self-awareness is a core part of Stoicism. According to the Stoics, self-awareness is essential for developing a virtuous character and a prerequisite for personal growth and self-improvement.

To have self-awareness, you must develop practices that help you maintain self-awareness. It isn’t something you are, but more of something you do. This can be done through journaling, meditation, or other forms of introspection.

Man journaling
Journaling is a great way to discover self awareness

Self-awareness involves examining our thoughts and emotions and understanding how they influence our behavior and decisions. It also involves recognizing our strengths and weaknesses and accepting ourselves for who we are.

In Stoic philosophy, self-awareness is closely linked to the “inner citadel,” which refers to a person’s innermost self, where their values and principles reside. The Stoics believed that by developing a deep understanding of our inner citadel, we could cultivate the inner strength and resilience necessary to navigate life’s challenges with grace and dignity.

Self-awareness is knowing what makes you tick, so you don’t tick. 

Practical Applications: 

  • Reflect on your thoughts and emotions regularly. Journaling daily is a great way to implement this practice. 
  • Practice mindfulness. Practicing mindfulness can develop greater self-awareness and regulate our emotional responses.
  • Seek out feedback. We can’t see everything. I recommend being open to constructive feedback. Consider finding some mentors who will provide feedback regularly that you trust. 

4. Live According to Nature

Many of us are disconnected from nature. Even though I attempt to spend time outside with nature regularly, it takes conscious effort to connect with nature thanks to the conveniences of our modern world. 

The Stoics believed that natural laws govern the universe and that humans have a unique place within this natural order. Living by nature means living in harmony with the natural world, accepting the things we cannot change, and focusing on the things within our control.

In other words, we can’t control nature, so we must focus on flowing with nature instead. 

Living in accordance with nature also means accepting the impermanence and unpredictability of life. The Stoics believed that everything in the universe is subject to change and that nothing is permanent. 

Mountain waterfall
Spend time outside everyday

Therefore, I encouraged people to cultivate a sense of detachment from external goods and to focus on developing internal virtues and values that are not subject to the vagaries of external events.

Practical Applications:

  • Embrace change. Change is a natural part of life, and by embracing it and adapting to new situations, we can develop greater resilience and flexibility.
  • Connect with nature. Spend at least two hours a day outside – no matter the weather. 
  • Simplify your life. Nature is pretty simple. Much of the extra is just weighing us down. By simplifying our lives, we can reduce our dependence on material possessions and focus on what truly matters. Bushcraft is a great way to practice this.
  • Develop a sense of purpose. By developing a sense of purpose and direction in life, we can align our actions with our natural inclinations and lead a more fulfilling life.

5. Embrace Adversity

Embracing adversity is one way Stoics stay one step ahead and don’t get overwhelmed by setbacks. This process is easy in theory but difficult in practice. 

All you have to do is reframe your perspectives on adversity. When something challenging pops up, ask yourself what you can practice and learn from this challenge. Think about the Stoic virtues and consider which ones you can apply. 

Think of the obstacle as a way to grow – not something you’re forced to suffer. 

Embracing adversity is a shortcut to resilience. If you aren’t considering obstacles to be bad, they have less of an effect on our mental health. Resilience is often something people claim you have to build. However, it’s more of a mindset shift in my experience. 

Embracing adversity also involves practicing self-reflection. Adversity can be an influential teacher, and by reflecting on our experiences and what we can learn from them, we can gain valuable insights into our strengths and weaknesses. This can help us identify growth and improvement areas and develop self-awareness and personal growth.

Practical Applications:

  • Reframe your perspective. This is the first step to embracing adversity. Rather than seeing it as a negative experience, view it as an opportunity for growth and self-improvement. This can help you approach the situation more positively and proactively and effectively overcome obstacles.
  • Cultivate resilience. Resilience and adversity go hand-in-hand. By working on one, you work on the other. 
  • Learn about the Stoic virtues. If you haven’t memorized the Stoic virtues, now is the time to do it. They apply to nearly every situation, allowing you to purposefully embrace adversity. 

6. Mindfulness

Mindfulness is a buzzword. However, it’s been present in Stoicism for a long time and has many benefits in our modern world. 

Mindfulness is being present and fully engaged in the current moment without judgment or distraction. It involves paying attention to one’s thoughts, emotions, bodily sensations, and surroundings in a non-judgmental way. 

You’ll need to cultivate awareness and acceptance of what is happening in the present moment. Simply put, you just pay attention hard in a non-judgmental manner. 

Man meditating outside in the mountains during sunset
Meditation is the easiest way to understand your thoughts

By practicing mindfulness, Stoics can become more in tune with their thoughts and emotions and better equipped to deal with challenges and setbacks. These practices can help Stoics to cultivate inner peace, wisdom, and resilience. They help you figure out what is going on with yourself. 

Truthfully, I consider it challenging to practice any of the other Stoic principles without mindfulness. I recommend working on this one earlier on your journey. 

Practical Applications:

  • Meditating is the easiest way to build mindfulness. Look for mindful meditations on any meditation app you have or on YouTube. These meditations help you practice mindfulness to be mindful in your regular life. 
  • Refocus regularly. Figure out a common “trigger” often occurring throughout the day, like walking through a doorway. Then, train yourself to refocus on the present moment every time this trigger occurs. It takes some practice, but it’s a practical way to stay mindful. 
  • Focus on one sense. Many of us are visual creatures. Try focusing on another sense for a while, like hearing or smell. Next time you eat, focus completely on the taste. 
  • Spend more time in nature. Nature tends to have a lot less stimulation than most modern homes. Nature makes you pay attention, or you’ll miss everything.

7. Practice Gratitude and Contentment

Gratitude involves recognizing and appreciating the good things in your life, even amidst difficult circumstances or challenges. It involves cultivating a sense of appreciation for the blessings you have rather than focusing on what you lack. 

This concept is involved with the circle of control. While what you have is affected by you, you don’t control it completely. It’s an outcome that is affected by many factors. Therefore, it isn’t the thing you should be focusing on. 

Science?

Cultivating gratitude is backed by science. It improves mood, reduces stress, improves sleep, and improves relationships. The Stoics were right, after all.

Furthermore, practicing gratitude can help you avoid becoming too attached to material possessions or external circumstances, which can be impermanent and subject to change. By finding satisfaction in your current circumstances, you can learn to be more resilient and adaptable. 

Gratitude helps you focus on what matters. You can focus on what matters if you’re already content with your bank account. 

Practical Applications: 

  • Start a gratitude journal by writing down three things you’re grateful for daily. You can do this at night or in the morning – I’ve found that timing doesn’t matter much. 
  • Try gratitude meditation. Gratitude meditations are very easy and can greatly impact your mental health. It’s where I recommend most new meditators start. 
  • Always find something to be grateful for – even in hard situations. 
  • Gratitude can help with mindfulness. Whenever you aren’t being mindful, think of three things you’re grateful for right now

8. Interconnectedness

Man and nature are interdependent, and our actions and choices impact the world around us. Stoics believed that all living beings are part of a larger whole and that we should act in ways that benefit the common good rather than just our interests.

By recognizing the interconnectedness of all things, Stoics sought to cultivate a sense of empathy and compassion for others and to act in ways that promote the well-being of all beings. 

They believed that by working together for the common good, individuals could achieve greater happiness and fulfillment than pursuing their selfish desires. The Stoic virtues are significantly related to this concept. 

Furthermore, recognizing the interconnectedness of all things can also help us to cultivate a sense of gratitude and appreciation for the world around us. 

When we see ourselves as part of a larger whole, we can begin to appreciate nature’s beauty and wonder and feel a sense of responsibility to care for it and protect it for future generations.

This concept is one reason why I recommend connecting with nature regularly. When you spend enough time outdoors, interconnectedness comes a bit easier. 

Practical Applications:

  • I know I’ve said it a lot – but get outside! There is no better way to notice interconnectedness than to get outside in nature. 
  • Anytime you’re trying to make a decision, zoom out. How will this decision affect others? Even those you don’t know?
  • Spend time in your community helping those in need. If you don’t know your community, it’s hard to feel connected. This can be as simple as taking cookies to your elderly neighbor. 

9. Living in Harmony

This principle emphasizes the importance of cultivating positive relationships with others and striving to live in peace and harmony with those around us. In Stoicism, relationships with others are important to living a fulfilling and meaningful life.

Many of the other stoic principles involve living in harmony with others. That’s a bit of the point of virtues and interconnectedness. However, it can also help to think of this as a separate virtue. 

Living in harmony with others involves treating others with respect, kindness, and empathy, even in difficult situations. Stoics believed that by practicing empathy and compassion, individuals could develop stronger relationships with others, build trust, and avoid conflicts.

Furthermore, living in harmony with others also involves recognizing the interconnectedness of all things, which is a core principle of Stoicism. By recognizing our shared humanity and interconnectedness, we can cultivate compassion and empathy for others and work together for the common good.

Of course, most people (including myself) find this principle easier said than done. For this reason, I recommend working on the other principles first. If you’re mindful and live virtuously, living in harmony comes naturally. 

Practical Applications:

  • Practice virtue and self-control. Most virtues apply directly to our interactions with other people. 
  • Develop empathy. While humans are prone to empathy, you have to practice it. Try to understand and appreciate the perspectives of others, even if they are different from your own.
  • Focus on yourself. Many problems occur when we’re too worried about other people’s actions or thoughts. Remember your circle of control and don’t spend time thinking about things you can’t control. 
  • Study philosophy, science, and other disciplines to better understand the natural world and your place within it. This can help you live in harmony with the world around you.

10. Our Time is Limited

Our time on earth is finite. Because we don’t know exactly when our time will end, many people act like they have all the time in the world. It’s hard to remember that our time is surprisingly short – and this moment will never return. 

Each day presents us with opportunities to learn, grow, and positively impact the world around us. By recognizing that our time is limited, we can better appreciate the value of each moment and be more intentional about how we spend our time.

Making the most of each day does not necessarily mean cramming in as many activities as possible or striving to achieve more. Instead, it means living with purpose and intention and making choices that align with our values and goals. 

It also means being present and fully engaged in each moment rather than allowing our minds to wander or get distracted by things that don’t matter.

Our modern world is far too busy, making it hard to enjoy your time and stay mindful. If you’re like most people, you probably need to cut your obligations in half. 

Practical Applications:

  • While it may seem counterintuitive, clear your schedule whenever you can. You can’t focus on what’s important and enjoy your time here if you’re doing everything. It’s the in-between moments that tend to have the most significant impact. 
  • Grow whenever you can. You don’t have unlimited time to improve, so you must grab every obstacle by the horns. 
  • Don’t focus on things you can’t control. Again, remember the circle of control, and don’t waste precious time on something that you can’t change. 
  • Always have a plan, even if it is a bad plan. You won’t go anywhere if you don’t know where you’re going. 

11. Sense of Purpose

Most people walk through life without a purpose. You’ll be ahead of the game if you can figure out your purpose. 

The easiest way to develop a sense of purpose is to imagine what you’d like your life to be when you’re 70. Who’s with you? Where are you? What are you doing? Many people focus on accomplishments, but modern accomplishments can be meaningless. 

(At the end of your life, will you care how many employee of the month awards you have?)

Once you understand what is important to you, the next step is to work towards fulfilling that purpose. You already have your goal. Now, you just need to break that goal into smaller pieces until you have a set of actions to take each day.

It’s important to remember that developing a sense of purpose is a lifelong journey that may change over time. What is important to you now may be different from what is important to you in the future. Having a bad plan is better than not having any plan. 

The key is to stay true to your values and continue working towards your goals, despite obstacles or setbacks.

By developing a sense of purpose and working towards fulfilling it, you can find greater meaning and fulfillment in your life. You can also become more resilient, as having a strong sense of purpose can help you navigate challenges and setbacks more easily. 

Practical Applications:

  • Clarify your goals and values. Consider where you want your life to end up and make a plan to get there. Realign your goals as necessary throughout your life. 
  • Clarify your values. While we all know what we think is right and important, it can help clarify our boundaries. You can do this while setting your goals, as the goal-setting process should give you a better idea of what is essential. 
  • Find meaning in your work. Try to find work that aligns with your sense of purpose and contributes to the greater good. If that is not possible, find ways to infuse meaning into your work by focusing on how it benefits others.

What Next?

Implementing these principles can take months, if not years. Don’t rush through it. Enjoy the journey. I highly recommend implementing a journaling practice, first and foremost. 

You can learn more about journaling in our Stoic people article, which includes an explanation of practices Stoic people often have. 

You can also better understand how Stoicism works in real-world situations, including surviving emergencies and preparing a get home bag. The Stoics often talked about preparing for life’s emergencies, and it is as true today as it was then.

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Kristin is a fulltime writer with an obsession for being prepared. She spends much of her time working towards making her family self-sufficient, including homeschooling her children. When she isn’t writing, she’s shooting with her husband or homesteading.